Sunday, April 26, 2020

Paula Stoltzfus: Observe. Abide. Trust.

Easter to Pentecost: Following the Light of Resurrection
Easter 3: “With opened eyes”

Psalm 116; 1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35

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Observe. Abide. Trust
You have just heard read a passage that we come to often in the Lectionary, recounting Jesus’ steps after his resurrection.  I thought it appropriate to walk this path with together, considering Jesus’ own walk, his presence, intention, and invitation to these two individuals.  You are welcome to follow along in the text or as you listen and meditate on the steps that were taken.
In this account, Jesus was headed to Jericho.  He met in his path two people deeply engaged in conversation.  Instead of Jesus interjecting with certainty into the conversation, he observed and asked questions.  “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?”  He was curious.  As if surprised by the question, the two stood still, had he not heard what had happened?  Was his head in the clouds?
Jesus responds with yet another question, “What things have happened?” 
Jesus could have very easily declared who he was at this point,“look it’s me,” but he didn’t.  
Instead, Jesus observed these men deep in conversation, eavesdropped, and gently entered in a way that did not call attention to himself.
Jesus’ presence strikes me in this story.  We are told that Jesus’ final destination was Jericho, but he was yet walking towards Emmaus when he intersects with Cleopas and one other.  Jesus very well could have seen the time and asked for a lift on a donkey, did some long-distance running, or asked for a wagon ride.  Instead, he chose to walk.  And not only walk, but walk with people while talking.
I don’t know about you, but when I walk with people I tend to go a bit slower than my fastest gate so that we can talk.  If Jesus really had wanted to get to Jericho by days end, he would have needed a faster way.  Instead, Jesus chose the least efficient, that allowed him to observe, converse, and pay attention to that which was around him.

Encouragement to revelation:
After the men are given a chance to share their disbelief, their grief, and expression of deep sadness, Jesus reminds them of what the prophets have taught throughout the story of their faith.  He interprets for them the prophets words, that God is a part of even this unfolding of the story of the Messiah.
A connection between the three of them was made through this encounter.  Once they reached Emmaus, the two men insisted that Jesus stay with them for a meal and night because darkness was coming soon.
It was in the act of breaking bread together, communing together, that Jesus’ self was revealed to the men.  The veil of mystery was made clear in stopping, eating, and looking into the eyes of the other.
Trust in God’s spirit:
Throughout this entire encounter, Jesus took his time, observed, engaged, and trusted ultimately in God’s spirit to do the work of revealing.
Our path in a pandemic:
We are in a time of where life as we knew it has changed. We are between the yesterday and tomorrow in a way that calls the landscape of tomorrow into question.  Richard Rohr calls this liminal space. He says, “It is a graced time, but often does not feel “graced” in any way. In such space, we are not certain or in control.” It is a place where we feel vulnerable and uncomfortable.  “It takes time but this experience can help us reenter the world with freedom and new, creative approaches to life.” 
A few weeks ago we celebrated Jesus’ resurrection and yet as some shared last Sunday, it still feels like we are in the shadow of death with a hope that feels elusive.  
I can identify with our story today.  We, like the two men, have experienced Jesus’ death and yet look for the resurrection.  Where is Jesus in this pandemic?  Where is new life?  Where is our hope? Where are these new and creative approaches to life that Richard Rohr talks about?
Like the two men on the road to Emmaus, we are saddened, grieved, downcast, not sure how this is all going to unfold.  We too have many questions.
Our presence in a pandemic:
Within our own faith community we are being asked to enter different aspects of this pandemic.  Those in the healthcare field or in emergency management are being asked to give of themselves far beyond what they imagined.  Fatigue is great.  Burnout is real.  The stress and strain on personal and family life is exhausting.
Those in other areas of work are being called to set up office at home.  Schedules have shifted, demands have changed, and expectations are constantly changing.  
Parents are juggling a different family life.  Sure some aspects that Susan mentioned earlier are no longer. There aren’t the evenings running the kids around to their activities, but kids are around all the time.  Where is there time to work? How do they help their kids navigate this time of lost dreams of graduations and birthdays?  Keep engaged in peer relationships? Navigate school demands?
Retirees find their places to volunteer closed down.  Once active and able to give back in fulfilling ways, now are considered high risk and told to stay home.
This reality of a new rhythm is sinking in deep.  Some of us want to run, race to the end.  “Let’s get this done and over with so we can move on with our lives, so we can get back to the way things used to be.”
Encouragement and Invitation:
Yes, we are in uncertain times.  Yes, there are different paces we are being asked to move. 
I want each of us to consider Jesus’ pace. 
A pace that allows us to be open to who and what is going on around us. 
A pace that allows us to observe people and creation. 
A pace that allows us time to feel the discomfort and vulnerability.
A pace that allows conversation to occur.
A pace that takes into consideration the needs of others around us.
A pace that allows us to stop occasionally and hear words of encouragement that feeds, sustains, and grows us into a resilient people of faith.
It is at this pace that I heard people’s experiences of hope grow out of as individuals shared last week.
As Jesus shared encouragement through scripture, I too close with words of our faith.  
Receive these words of encouragement.
Psalm 46
God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present[a] help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
    though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
Be still, and know that I am God!
    I am exalted among the nations,
    I am exalted in the earth.”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our refuge.[d

Isaiah 43:18 
Do not remember the former things,
    or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert.

Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Romans 8
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in[o] hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes[p] for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes[q] with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God,[r] who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit[s] intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.[t]
Trust in the Spirit:
Friends, God is with us on this path.  We are not alone.
As a closing I offer this heartfelt prayer from Paul to the Ephesians.  May it be our prayer as well.
Ephesians 3
14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,[g] 15 from whom every family[h] in heaven and on earth takes its name. 16 I pray that, according to the riches of God’s glory, God may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through God’s Spirit, 17 and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 18 I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
20 Now to God who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21 to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

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