Sermon transcript for May 4, 2014
Their Eyes Were Opened
Belmont UMC—May 4, 2014
Ken Edwards, preaching
Audio - MP3
Let’s begin with a quote from Frederick Buechner, “Jesus is apt to come, into the very midst of life at its most real and inescapable moments. Not in a blaze of unearthly light, not in the midst of a sermon, not in the throes of some kind of religious daydream, but . . . at supper time, or walking along a road . . . He never approached from on high, but always in the midst, in the midst of real life and the questions that real life asks.” (The Magnificent Defeat)
As we hear this text we always ask the obvious questions: Why is it that these disciples do not recognize Jesus? What causes their eyes to be opened to his presence? And we might turn the questions on ourselves and ask: Why is it that we fail to acknowledge the presence of Christ in our lives each day? When we do see the risen Christ in our everyday lives, what causes our eyes to be opened?
My extended family comes together on several occasions throughout the year. One of those is Easter Sunday. We are blessed that my parents at 85 years of age are still up to hosting those gatherings at their home in Springfield, TN. Our gatherings are a little chaotic, checking on the little ones who have grown a lot since our last gathering at Christmas, pulling food together, waiting for the niece or nephew, who always seem to be running late. Then we hold hands in the kitchen and pray over our food, and then we gather around the big cherry dining room table. And there is always a wonderful “aha” moment for me. Yes, this is it; this is how I remember it. This is what it feels like to come home. It doesn’t feel like Easter without that this gathering and these people--my people. It is about relationship, presence and familiarity.
It must have been something like that for these two disciples who walked along the road to Emmaus with Jesus, who was a stranger to them. They invited him to stay with them and he sat at the table with them. He had opened the scriptures to them, as he had so many times before. Then at the table he took bread and broke it and blessed it and their eyes were opened. This was the risen Christ.
What happened to you this week that made you aware of the risen Christ?
My wife and I served as counselors for a Junior High camp one year. It was a week long event at Beersheba Springs, where we have our All Church Retreat, but it was during more primitive time when there were no rooms with bathrooms. One had to walk down the path to a bathhouse and the water was always cold.
We had a wonderful time. Eighty-five junior high youth--I was responsible for a cabin of 5 boys and Kathryn had a cabin of 5 girls. This made up our small group each day. We went hiking, shared our stories, went swimming below the waterfall, saw a lot of snakes, and provided nourishment for a host of mosquitoes and ticks. We went to Vesper Point for devotionals, gathered around bonfires at night and told ghost stories, made crafts and shared Bible studies.
We were serious and silly, controlled and out of control. I spent a lot of time with the boys in my group. I taught them a few things about kindness. There were times when I thought they were completely impossible and other times when they gave me much joy. I kept us with some of those guys until were out of high school.
At night we gathered in the large room above the dining hall. This room had always been a bit run down. On our last night we gathered there for a talent show that was a lot fun.
Our camp leader announced that we would have closing communion service the next day before heading home. The tradition was that the service was held in the chapel, but he told us that he had decided to have the service in the room above the dining hall. I looked around the room; it was a wreck. It did not look like a place that could house a sacred gathering like communion. I questioned his decision and he assured me that it would be okay.
The next morning we gathered in that room. We sat on the floor. A make-shift altar was set up in the middle of the room. On the altar were rolls like the ones we ate in the dining hall and there were a few paper cups, the ones we had used for snack time. They were filled with grape juice. There was a well used candle and crude cross made of sticks.
Our leader held up a roll and he said, “This is bread. You know bread. Your mom probably bakes bread and you’ve been eating bread all your life. Wheat flour, yeast, oil, and things like that make up this bread. It is merely bread.”
Then he picked up a paper cup with grape juice and he said, “And this, this is grape juice—no big deal, right--juice that has been squeezed from grapes. Some of you drink grape juice everyday and never think twice about it.”
“But today, when you eat this bread and share this juice, something wonderful will happen to you. You will think about Jesus. You will remember how much Jesus loves you and you will sense his presence with you in this place. The reason I wanted to come here, to this familiar place, for this closing service, is to remind you that Jesus has been with us all week, whether we thought about him or not. He was with us on our hike and here with us last night when we were having fun and he has been with us around tables in the dining hall.”
We passed around rolls and cups of juice and I watched my 5 boys tear pieces of bread and dip them in the cup and I watched their eyes fill with tears as they became aware of Jesus’ presence with them. It was something about relationship, presence and familiarity coming together. Our eyes were opened and we knew Jesus was with us.
The story in the Luke has a lot to do with expectation. The disciples did not expect to see Jesus because they knew he had died. Have you ever run into someone completely out of context and it throws you a bit and you cannot remember who the person is or where you knew them? It happens a lot to those of us who have served in a number of ministry settings. Well, the walk to Emmaus is Jesus completely out of context for the disciples. But the story teaches us to live with expectation of Jesus in our midst.
Where were you this week when your eyes were opened to the presence of the risen Christ? It happened for me when I was sharing a meal with former pastor and friend, John Collett. It happened when I was visiting Belmonters in the hospital. We held hands and prayed together. It happened when I was comforting a young man whose father had died. It happened late last night when I received a text message from a young pastor, that read, “Praying for you; love you!”
It will happen for us this morning when we gather around this table and break bread together and remember. What happens at this table is about relationships, and presence, and something wonderfully familiar.
Sermon transcript for April 20, 2014
Why Are You Weeping?
Belmont UMC – Easter, April 20, 2014
Ken Edwards, preaching
Recently, I was sitting in a circle of good friends, colleagues in ministry. We were sitting on a porch on bright spring day, sipping ice tea and talking about Easter. As I looked around the circle at these beloved friends, I realized that 2 of them had experienced the death of young adult children. Then the two of them began to talk about preaching Easter sermons following their children’s deaths. This was powerful and moving experience for me. There was a lot of love and grace in that circle.
That may not be the kind of thing we want to hear on Easter. But is not this is the point of Easter. We are not here today to deny the reality of sadness, but to be reminded that the story doesn’t end with weeping. And if Holy Week is the ultimate climax of God’s love story for us, the story does not end on Good Friday and it’s just getting started on Sunday morning.
There is a lot of sadness and weeping in these weeks of Lent. Two weeks ago we read of the story of the death of Lazarus, the story of his sisters, Mary and Martha and their grief, the story of Jesus standing at the tomb of Lazarus and weeping. There are actually two stories of Jesus’ weeping—toward the end Jesus stood on the Mount of Olives, looked out over the city of Jerusalem and wept as he expressed his longing for the welfare of his people. There is the sadness of Jesus’ last days and Passover meal with the disciples, the sadness of farewell, and the sadness of betrayal.
Today’s Gospel story begins with sadness: “Mary stood weeping outside the tomb.” Mary was weeping. Mary of Magdala had followed Jesus with inexpressible gratitude since the day he freed her from 7 demons. Released—made whole by the love of God. If Mary wanted to know what resurrection was like, she only needed to remember how he had given her life back to her. From that moment she had lived in complete devotion to Jesus.
Mary was weeping. She had been at the cross until the gruesome end—even after the disciples ran away in fear. She had been there when they took his body down. She had been there when the body was placed in a borrowed tomb. She had listened as the stone had rolled across the entry with heavy, grinding finality.
The Sabbath had passed in silence—Mary had been alone in her grief, battling with the reality of what had happened. On Sunday she made her way back to the tomb to mourn and to help prepare the body for a proper burial. She was prepared for facing death; she was not prepared to find the tomb open and the body missing. Being a realist she assumed the body had been taken. It was bad enough that he had been executed, but then someone had stolen his body.
Mary wept at the thought of this. Mary wept because that is what we do at the grave of a friend. Mary wept because the one who had set her free had died a prisoner’s death. Mary wept over a world in which there are powers that seem to beat the life out of love and kindness. Mary wept over a kind of mob violence that would choose a Barabbas and execute the Prince of Peace.
There were plenty of reasons for Mary’s weeping—futility and despair ruled her emotions. We have felt this futility—we, too, have wept at the side of a friend’s grave or at the bedside of a terminal patient. We have wept over injustice and scenes of senseless violence. Sometimes there is nothing left to do but weep.
But on that Sunday morning Mary encountered a person she assumed to be a gardener. “Do you know where they have put his body? If you moved it, tell me where you have laid him, I will take him away.”
But the man did not answer her question. Instead he said one word, her name, “Mary.” No angels singing, no jubilant choruses, just “Mary.” The man said her name and with that her predictable, rational, cause and effect world came to a screeching halt—hope sprang up inside of her and she replied with one word, “Rabbouni” or “Teacher.”
Somehow God had wondrously intervened and defeat and futility had been turned into hope and purposefulness. That day a new hope dawned in the lives of Mary and the other followers. That day a new hope dawned in human hearts—our hearts.
God has a way of bringing hope to desperate situations. God has a way of turning things around. The resurrection means we do not have to settle for darkness and defeat—that we know that more deeply than we have ever known that love is stronger than hate, that good is stronger than evil, that truth will outlast falsehood, and that life will triumph over death. We know that faith is not in vain. We know that God has caused hope to dawn in human hearts.
We need this hope—hope that carries us through the dark days of this life. We need hope when the unpredictable or unimaginable happens. We need a confidence and courage in the midst of life events that would normally evoke resignation.
The resurrection means that we can stand by the side of the tomb and hope no matter how much evidence piles up against it. God gives us this hope!
So in the circle of colleagues on that bright spring day, one of them shared a story that she found helpful when her son died. It is a story told by a Pastor after his friend, David, had returned from a funeral near his Mississippi home town. His nephew, Zeke, had been the victim of a drunk driver, leaving behind his wife, Andrea, and two small children.
The Pastor asked David about the funeral. David began sharing his happiness at being back in his rural Mississippi community. David then spoke about the funeral, “The service was alright but gathering at the cemetery, that made the difference. As we brought the casket to the grave, the little band played spirituals, songs of pain, grief and sorrow like “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.” We all sang through our tears.”
“The elders read scripture and prayed as the casket was lowered into the ground. We began covering it with dirt. We wept together and we wept individually.”
“Suddenly, a stillness settled over the cemetery. Out of that quiet the band resumed, increasing their volume and tempo . . . resurrection jazz; trombone, trumpet, saxophone . . . Everyone sang their way back to the cars and to the church for dinner.”
“Incredible,” said the Pastor, “but what about Andrea and the children? They have no father, no husband.”
David continued, “They will weep for a long time . . . the house will seem empty . . . the clothes in the closet a constant reminder of what should have been. But at the cemetery that day we were all reminded that we have two songs to sing: a spiritual of sorrow and a hymn of promise.”
The Pastor asked, “Can the family sing both songs?”
David replied, “I don’t know. Perhaps they can only sing spirituals of grief . . . I do know that the church will sing both songs every week. They can will sing spiritual songs of trouble and songs of promise . . . they will sing with Andrea and on behalf of Andrea . . . My guess is that eventually Andrea and the children will sing both songs . . . for one another and for others in the community in grief and joy.” (Source unknown)
My friend was saying that for a long time after her son died all she could sing were the spirituals of grief, but others sang the hymns of promise and resurrection for her, until she was able to stand with them and sing them, too.
For a time in her life, Mary of Magdala, could only sing songs of sorrow. I don’t know what it means to have 7 demons and the scriptures don’t offer a description, but during those days, it must have felt like being trapped, and cut off from community. It must have felt like dying. Jesus set Mary free and brought her back to life.
Today, Mary stands in a garden and hears the Lord calling her name. Today, Mary stops her weeping. Today, Mary can sing the songs of promise and resurrection. And today, she goes out to preach the first Easter sermon, five words, “I have seen the Lord!”
The message of Easter is not a denial of death or grief—realities of life. But Easter means that we believe the words of Paul that “Nothing in life or in death can ever separate us from the love of God.” (Romans 8) And we affirm with Psalmist, “Weeping may last for a night but joy comes in the morning.” (Ps. 30)
And as Easter People we hope for those who have lost hope and we sing the hymn of promise and resurrection for them when they cannot. God will use us to give birth to hope. Today, hope is dawning in human hearts. God is turning things around. Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia! Alleluia!
Call to Serve:
We hear the call of God to take the hope of resurrection into the world.
Everywhere the church goes, Easter is happening:
Where the hungry are fed, Easter is happening!
Where the poor are raised up. . .
Where the stranger is offered hospitality. . .
Where the prisoner is visited. . .
Where the good news is shared. . .
Where the thirsty are offered a drink. . .
Where those who weep are given hope. . .
Everywhere the church goes, Easter happens!