A few years back we were vacationing in Minnesota. I was standing in the check-out line at Wal-Mart, when someone came up to me and asked me what kind of bait I would recommend to use for Walleye at this time of year.
Now, that’s not an unusual question to hear in Minnesota, but as I looked up to tell the person that I wasn’t from this area and didn’t really know, I saw the familiar face of an old friend from the small town that I grew up near. I had not seen him for years! He just happened to be vacationing in the same area and had come to this store at the same time that I had.
Do you know what I said to him?
I just stood there with my mouth hanging open. He had caught me so off guard that I couldn’t think of a thing to say! I recognized him, but couldn’t think of his name. I couldn’t put a sentence together at all, and finally just stammered out, “Well, hi.”
I’ll bet you’ve had experiences like that before haven’t you? You run into someone you didn’t expect to see, in an unfamiliar setting, and you just go blank with surprise.
I think that is part of what is happening in today’s Gospel lesson.
This is Luke’s account of Jesus appearing to the disciples for the first time after the resurrection.
They have heard the strange stories of the women, and the men walking to Emmaus, and you might have thought that those things would have prepared them, but really, how do you prepare to see someone who is supposed to be dead popping up alive again?
I think you could even experience that more than once and still be left speechless by it all! No matter how good it would be to see that person alive again. Luke puts it this way, “While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering….”
Joyful, yes; but it is still hard to believe. Jesus is here, really here? That is something to wonder about!
I think that it is still the same way for you and for me when it comes to recognizing the power of the Risen Christ at work in our lives.
We have a hard time believing in the promise that Jesus gave, the promise that he would be with us always. No matter how we might equip ourselves to look for that, we never quite expect him to really show up.
So it is that when he does pop up, (often in the most unexpected of places,) we too, are just left speechless.
Catching a vision of the Risen Lord popping into you life requires that you begin to look at the events of your life with the eyes of faith.
Catching a vision of the Risen Lord appearing means that we need to pay particular attention to the everyday events and circumstances, so that we begin to see that there are no coincidences in life.
If we take this Gospel lesson at its face value, we find out that Jesus chooses to show up in the ordinary stuff.
It is while you are broiling a piece of fish, while you’re getting ready to eat, while you’re talking with your friends—that’s when Jesus pops in and enters the conversation. He wants to be a part of the action.
Why are we so surprised when that happens?
In the midst of ordinary conversation things begin turn to matters of faith, of love, of hurt or questions about meaning, and it catches us completely off guard.
I mean, we were just going to have a little backyard barbeque. All of a sudden out of the blue a friend starts talking about really deep stuff!
How tough life is for them right now.
The trouble they are in.
The doubts they have, or the diagnosis they just heard about, or the trouble with a child.
It is a sacred moment, a holy moment, when that person opens up.
That is the moment where Jesus is waiting in the wings to enter the conversation.
So then, why does this kind of moment so often leave us speechless? Has not Jesus given us the very words to speak; the very words of encouragement to give to them?
It is in the ordinary that the Risen Lord meets us.
It is in the ordinary day to day life that Jesus encourages us to remember his words and to speak them.
We know that when the words of Jesus are uttered into the ordinary, they can often take on extraordinary power and significance. We have the very words that can move people in a new direction.
Words can un-stick the stuck, they can challenge the bitter, they can bring hope and possibility to the despairing.
The words that Jesus speaks to us have power, and they are meant to be shared.
Think about some of those words given to us to speak.
From today’s Gospel we are given, “Peace be with you.” It sounds archaic perhaps, but there is something powerful about wishing peace upon someone that moves that person deeply.
“Peace, yes, peace, that is what I’m looking for…”,
In this decision I have to make, in this situation I find myself in. Yes, to have some peace about it, that would be a good thing, and here is someone wishing me peace – in Jesus’ name.
Think of the words, the promises that Jesus has given us to share with others.
“I will not leave you desolate,” Jesus says to us, “I will send the Holy Spirit the comforter to guide you.”
You are not in this alone. You are not the only one facing this thing, whatever it is, Cancer, addiction, bankruptcy, rebellious children, failing health—“I will not leave you desolate,” Jesus promises. “I’m sending someone to guide you.”
Think of the words we have to say.
“Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of you.”
“Whatever you ask in my name shall be given to you by my Father in heaven, who will hear you.”
These are the words we have to say into the face of this world’s pain and suffering and confusion.
They are words that can encourage us.
Words that remind us that God promises to come to us.
They are words that speak of a Resurrected Lord who pops in to ordinary lives at extraordinary times.
There will be days of course, where you won’t be able to see God anywhere.
The day the diagnosis comes.
The day the job is lost.
The day when the child goes missing, the friend is struck down, or the parent dies. Those are days that are not ordinary at all, except in the context of a sin- wracked world.
In a sin-wracked world you can expect such things to happen.
And it is because we live in just such a sin-wracked world that it is absolutely critical that we be about the task of being reminded of the words of Jesus in the ordinary times.
It is because we live in a sin-wracked world that we need to be about the task of witnessing, of inviting people to worship, of telling them our faith story and what those words of Jesus mean to us in our ordinary lives.
Because you see, if you haven’t heard the word of Jesus in the ordinary days, (when things are relatively calm and smooth,) when you are confronted with trouble, difficulty and despair, those words can be too faint to hear clearly!
Did Jesus really say he would be with me? Or was that something I dreamed up?
Did Jesus really promise that he would listen, or is that something I’m just wishing would happen because I’m in trouble here?
When the heat is on in this world, you don’t want to be caught off guard or speechless!
That’s the best reason I can give people for being faithful in worship. You need to hear these words, sing these songs, let them fill the crevasses of your life, your soul, so that you will have a ready reserve to draw upon in both the good times and the bad.
What do you have to say? The very words of Jesus have been given to you.
“I will be with you always.” Jesus promises. That’s a blessing that is as good for the person in grief as it is for the child being sent off to college or to start their own life. “Don’t forget, Jesus promised he would be with you.”
“Take my yoke upon you, for my yoke is easy, and by burden is light.” Jesus said. That is a word that is as good to hear when you are taking on a new task as it is to hear when you feel overwhelmed and overburdened in life.
“Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you.” Jesus said. Those are good words to hear, and to be reminded of when things seem closed off to you, and equally good to hear when you feel lost in this life. God is determined to find you, and to be with you. No door stands in his way.
What do we have to say to this world? We have the very words of Jesus which can spring across the centuries and bring the very presence of Christ into the here and now!
The Risen Lord pops up still, where you least expect him, in the ordinary days.
Look with the eyes of faith.
Be attentive to the words, and Jesus will reveal himself to you, and through you Jesus will speak into the lives of others, revealing himself again to a world that longs to see him.
Of this, the power of Jesus words to bring life and hope anew, you will be witnesses.