Sunday, May 4, 2014

Phil Kniss: Revelation on the Road

Easter 3: Alleluia! Praise the God of Revelation!
Luke 24:13-35; Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Psalm 116:1-4, 8-9, 12-19

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Today, we praise the God of Revelation.
    We celebrate the reality that
        even though God is far beyond our capacity to perceive,
        and although God is transcendent,
        and is characterized by mystery and unknowing,
            God also makes himself known.
            God is self-revealing.
    God wants to be known by us,
        to the extent that God would voluntarily
            enter into our sphere of human limitations,
        and take on the burden of those limitations
            and live among us,
            and be with us, Emmanuel,
        that we might perceive of God’s nature and character,
            and that we might receive, and return, God’s love.
    And to be clear, I’m not only talking about past revelation,
        in scripture, and in the person of Jesus,
        that has come to us, and been handed down to us.
    I’m talking about the God who continues to want to be known,
        and through the Spirit, continues to reveal Godself.
    So, today, we praise the God of revelation.

Were that it was so simple.
    In truth,
        revelation is neither simple, nor quick and easy, nor complete.
    God’s self-revelation, which is obviously a gift and grace of God,
        requires our active participation and response,
        and it comes to us, often, slowly and incrementally.
    It’s a journey.
    Revelation comes to us on the road.

So, this morning,
    I share my reflections with you on the road,
        a journey in three segments,
        with short rest stops between,
            to sing and reflect.


The first leg of the journey focuses on our attitude,
    the posture we must take
        if we ever want to encounter this self-revealing God.
    I will call the posture receptivity.
        I could also call it hospitality.

Whenever I read this Gospel story from Luke 24,
    the account of the two disciples walking home to Emmaus,
        I am inspired by how receptive and hospitable they were,
            to this stranger on the road,
            despite their circumstances.

The two of them were probably at the lowest point of their lives, ever.
    They were confused, depressed, disillusioned.
    They had put all their hope in Jesus,
        they said, to the stranger,
        “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.
            We had hoped.
            We had believed he was the Messiah.
            Past tense.
    Now, their hopes and their beliefs were crushed.

    Nevertheless, as they walked with this perfect stranger,
        they listened to the stranger with open minds and open hearts.
        And then they opened their home.
    Yes, they were confused and depressed,
        but not to the point of closing themselves off
        to one who offered a new perspective.
    Of course, this stranger wasn’t a complete stranger.
        He was in their faith family.
        They didn’t know it was Jesus,
            but they did know he shared their same faith and scriptures.

Then their eyes were opened when Jesus broke the bread.
    But they would never have gotten to that point of revelation
        had they not been actively receptive.
    They would never have received the revelation God wanted to give
        had they not been prepared to give and receive hospitality,
            to take a risk,
            to be willing to be impacted by another.
    They had every right and every reason to turn inward,
        to assume a posture of defensiveness and self-protection.
        to focus on their own disappointment and defeat,
        to protect themselves from further pain,
            by not letting the stranger into their lives.
    After all, they had just left an upper room in Jerusalem,
        where all their friends were protecting themselves
            behind locked doors.
    They could have let the stranger go his way,
        and gone into their own house, and bolted the door.
    They could have closed themselves off to the world,
        and crashed.
    With what they had been through,
        nobody would have judged or criticized,
        if they chose survival mode,
        gave themselves time and space to recover.

But directly as a result of their receptivity,
    directly as a result of their practice of hospitality,
    God showed up, and revealed himself.

        He comes to us as one unknown,
        a breath unseen, unheard;
        as though within a heart of stone,
        or shriveled seed in darkness sown,
        a pulse of being stirred.

        He comes when souls in silence lie
        and thoughts of day depart,
        half-seen upon the inward eye,
        a falling star across the sky
        of night within the heart.



The gift of revelation may come to us
    when we are receptive to it,
    when we assume a posture of whole-life hospitality,
    and are open to the possibility of God’s revelation.

But more is yet required of us.
    God’s gift of revelation, at least if it’s going to make a difference,
        if it’s going matter at all, in the end,
        calls for a response from us.
    A gift that elicits no response, or has no impact on the recipient,
        is like a gift never given.

So on this next leg of the journey,
    let us to consider the essential role of “repentance” in revelation.
    Yes. Repentance.
    Why, you might well ask,
        do I choose something like “repentance” to make a point of—
            isn’t that a bit of a downer?
    If God’s revelation is a beautiful gift, and an act of love and grace,
        can’t we just rejoice in it,
        instead of going all negative and repenting?

We might ask that because we give repentance
    an undeserved negative connotation.
    This is not about getting all down on ourselves
        and wallowing in sadness and self-focused grief.
    Of course, we might, depending what we’re repenting of,
        have a deep experience of grief and sorrow and remorse.
        It may be mild. It may be severe.
        But it might be none of that.
            It might be more like joy and freedom.

An example of grief in times of repentance
    is found in the other Gospel story we heard this morning.

    In Acts 2, the story of Pentecost,
        Peter preached a powerful sermon to the crowds,
        and the writer says, “They were cut to the heart.”
    Vivid language.
        You can almost picture the pained expressions on their faces.
        The grief hit them so hard,
            they could feel it in their chest.
            They were “cut to the heart.”
    They saw the love and power of God in the story of Jesus Christ,
        and as a result, they saw themselves in a new light,
        and what they saw grieved them.

What we may not realize
    is that this feeling of sorrow and grief,
    is not the same thing as repentance.
        It is actually a response to repentance.
    What repentance means, literally,
        is a change in our thinking.
    What revelation does to us,
        is confront us with our illusions.
        It confronts us with some reality we were not seeing.
            Either we really, and truly, had not seen this reality before.
            Or it had come across our field of vision,
                but we hadn’t noticed it.
            Or we had noticed,
                but didn’t give it any serious consideration.
            Or we had considered it,
                but chose to ignore it, or decided it was false.

        Whatever the case,
            this revelation, this new vision of reality—
                once we notice, consider, and accept—
            causes us to change our former way of thinking.
        By definition,
            new revelation requires new thinking.
            So revelation demands repentance.
        It may be a kind of new thinking, or repentance,
            that comes as a huge relief,
            it might elicit deep joy and delight,
                when we repent of our old, limited vision of reality,
                and now rejoice in the freedom of this new sight.

        But it might very well, pain us deeply to see this new truth,
            truth about ourselves, or about our situation,
                or truth about the world.
            This kind of repentance, even if we may welcome it,
                may bring sorrow and remorse.
            This new thinking may bring with it a realization of need—
                a need to restore a relationship,
                to reconcile with an enemy,
                to seek forgiveness of sin, before God and others.

Peter’s sermon elicited that kind of repentance.
    The people came to see Jesus differently.
    The one they had helped to shamefully crucify,
        was the one who was sent by God to redeem Israel,
        but now, it turns out, was alive again, and still able to save.
    They accepted this new truth,
        and repented, and were baptized into the new community,
            the body of Christ.

        He comes to us in sound of seas,
        the ocean’s fume and foam;
        yet small and still upon the breeze,
        a wind that stirs the tops of trees,
        a voice to call us home.

        He comes in love as once he came
        by flesh and blood and birth;
        to bear within our mortal frame
        a life, a death, a saving name
        for every child of earth.



The revelation came to the people at Pentecost,
    because they were receptive and open.
    And once they received it, they repented,
        and chose to think in new ways.

But the journey of revelation doesn’t stop there.
    Repenting and thinking new thoughts,
        means little without movement in a new direction.
    A saving response to Jesus Christ,
        we have always taught,
        necessarily includes a continuing life of discipleship,
            of following Jesus as a disciple,
            of following Jesus in a new direction, for life.

In the eastern orthodox tradition of the church,
    I understand the ritual of baptism, for adult converts,
    has built into it a ritual of turning, physically.
During the baptism ritual,
    the priest and the one being baptized,
    face the west, the direction of the setting sun,
    and say words something to effect of rejecting the way of sin,
        the way of the world,
        the way that leads to death.
    Then they make a 180-degree turn and face the east,
        toward the rising sun,
        and say something about receiving the gift of new life,
        and walking in a new direction.
That’s a dramatic ritual.
    And it leaves a clear impression
        of what needs to follow one’s repentance.

In Acts 2, the people not only were baptized
    at that crucial turning point in their lives,
    they also “devoted themselves
        to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship,
        to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
They started living in a radically new way.
    When they changed direction, they meant it.
    Because that turning was followed by movement.

Turning and movement must go together.
    It’s true if you’re a child on a tricycle,
        or an adult behind the wheel of a car,
        or the captain of a ship at sea.
    If there is no movement, there is no turning.
    You can turn the steering mechanism as hard and far as you want.
        But if you don’t pedal, or don’t give it some gas,

            you won’t be turning.

Now, all these things we’ve been speaking of on the road—
    receptivity, repentance, redirection—
     all are gifts and graces of God.
    The capacity to be open and receptive,
    The ability to change our patterns of thinking,
    The power to turn and move in a new direction,
        is by God’s grace.
    We can do none of this without the gift and grace of God
        in Christ, through the Spirit.

    God will not force us down this road.
        We must still open ourselves to it,
            and choose it, continually.

    Our part in this equation is significant,
        but we need not be intimidated by it.
        There is no reason to fear.

We read part of Psalm 116 in our call to worship this morning.
    In it the psalmist mentions his previous distress and anguish,
        the snares of death that encompassed him.
        He already had one foot in the grave.
    But when he called on the Lord, the Lord delivered him.
        The Lord showed him a new direction.
    And then, the psalmist said,
        “I walk before the Lord in the land of the living.”

I love that image.
    Discipleship is following Jesus.
    But not necessarily always walking behind.
        In fact, in the Gospels, Jesus several times
            sent his disciples out ahead of him,
            to do his bidding before he got there.
    When I walk before the Lord,
        I picture it as walking into the unknown,
            with the Lord holding my elbow with one hand,
            and pointing the way with the other.
    As if to say, “Here it is.  Go on in.  I’m right behind you.”
        I’m being escorted by the Lord.
    The psalmist could have written,
        “The Lord is escorting me through the land of the living.”

God comes to us as one unknown,
    but in the end,
    by our Spirit-empowered receptivity, repentance, and redirection,
        becomes known as Savior and Lord.

Thanks be to God!

        He comes to us as one unknown,
        a breath unseen, unheard;
        as though within a heart of stone,
        or shriveled seed in darkness sown,
        a pulse of being stirred.

        He comes in truth when faith is grown;
        believed, obeyed, adored:
        the Christ in all the scriptures shown,
        as yet unseen, but not unknown,
        our Savior, and our Lord.

—Phil Kniss, May 4, 2014

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