God in our midst

Apr 28, 2024 by: Sam Hestorff| Series: Altered: Life After Resurrection
Scripture: Luke 24:13–35

This year, we’ve been exploring this idea that we can encounter God at any point of lives.  That it doesn’t have to happen only on a day that we have culturally set aside for the worship of God.

In fact, I have been suggesting that more often than not, we experience God in unexpected places but sometimes we just need to slow down, pause, and stop in order to recognize God with us.

This week I learned about a guy named Joshua Bell, a famous violinist who can pack the world’s most prestigious concert halls with people paying hundreds of dollars for seats to hear him play.

In 2007, Bell agreed with the staff of the Post to try an experiment where he would play a 45-minute concert on his 3.5-million-dollar Stradivarius violin during rush hour, propping his case open with a few coins to seed the pot, just to see what would happen. 

Well, here’s what happened and what they learned.  WATCH VIDEO

For the entire 45 minutes, Joshua Bell never attracted a crowd.  Not once!  Sure, a couple of people stopped but most people were rushing too fast to get to wherever they were headed.

And this story made me think that life has a way of monopolizing our attention so that matters of immediate urgency – I have to do this now, be there now, feel this now – fill our hearts and our minds and absorb us . . . limiting our vision of the big picture, limiting our ability to see God in our midst, doesn’t it? 

Today we’re in the fourth week of the sermon series “Altered, life after resurrection”, and we’ve been doing our best to walk alongside those first followers of Jesus who had suddenly found themselves thrust into the task of becoming disciples in the wake of crucifixion and resurrection. 

And I can only imagine how overwhelmed they must have felt.  

  • They had just lived through a week of utter trauma, where someone they knew and loved had been tortured and killed. 
  • Their city was in political turmoil.
  • Their own futures, given their association with Jesus, were uncertain. 
  • And the future of the movement in which they had placed all their hopes was unclear.

All of this trauma lay like a burial shroud over them all but in the middle of it, Jesus showed up unexpectantly, one of which is our text today. 

Let’s listen to our text: Luke 24:13-32

The Road to Emmaus passage, as the passage is often called, is one of several “post-resurrection appearances of Jesus”.

A couple weeks ago, we heard about Jesus appearing to disciples almost magically through a locked door in a room where they were hiding in utter fear – which was kind of strange.

Then he appeared to them on the beach after fishing all night and gave them a few fishing tips and all of a sudden, they had more fish than they knew what to do with – which is kind of strange.

And the Road to Emmaus passage is also kind of strange.  In fact, without exception, all the post resurrection appearances of Jesus are kind of strange.

And rightly so – mostly because no one expected it.

But the Gospel writers included post resurrection stories of Jesus in their memoirs because they wanted to somehow communicate to the Christians who were reading years after the events - just how earth-shaking and mind rattling and unnerving resurrection was. 

This resurrection story we just read happens in the Gospel of Luke right after his report of the events at the tomb Easter morning.  The story lasts for 22 verses and tells of two people who were somehow connected to Jesus, walking from Jerusalem to a town called Emmaus, which was about 7 miles away. 

We know that one of the people on the road was Cleopas—and scholars debate how and if we could ever know exactly how he was related to Jesus’ inner circle—there are many different theories. 

The other person is unnamed, and because of that and some other textual reasons, most hypothesize that she was probably a woman. 

As they walked along the road, they were consumed in discussing the events of the days just past.

After all, these two had just watched as incredibly horrific events unfolded, the kind of things that you can’t really sort out until you go over and over what you saw, what you heard, what you think, where you were when you heard the news - you know how it is. 

These were life-defining experiences they’d lived through and they were trying to understand!

The text says that they ran into Jesus on the road, but they didn’t recognize him. 

Everyone, typically, has a different theory about why the travelers could not recognize Jesus—grief, Jesus had changed, they didn’t know him well to start with, God closed their eyes—the guesses are endless. 

Anyway, the story goes, they are walking and talking there’s this stranger right behind them, whose pace coincides with theirs, getting all up in their space . . . kinda creepy . . . and it’s clear he’s listening to their conversation because he asks them what they’re chatting about.

“Dude, we’re trying to have a conversation here” but they engage because they couldn’t believe that he didn’t know what was going on. 

And so, they tell this uninformed stranger all about Jesus – his life, his death, and rumored resurrection.  Essentially telling Jesus, about Jesus.

The stranger listens . . . and then he mocks them for their lack of faith. And then he starts quoting scripture at them.

And they were like, “Come on man, you didn’t even know about this until we told you”

When the three travelers eventually reached Emmaus, Jesus—this one who was a total stranger to Cleopas and his traveling companion—kept going on the road.  Even though they didn’t know him, Cleopas and his friend invited Jesus in to stay. 

Of course, traveling between cities by foot in those days was one of the most dangerous things you could do—it was very common for bands of robbers to attack travelers, especially if they were traveling alone (Good Samaritan, anyone?). 

Roadside motels were a thing of the future, so it was a matter of hospitality that Cleopas and friend would express concern for the stranger to continue alone, especially as night was falling. 

He would have been easy prey for robbers. 

They didn’t know him; the man seemed a little strange, as he had no idea about the events of the last few days for a start.  But they overcame their suspicion and extended hospitality to the stranger, invited him in for dinner and rest.

And as they began the meal, in much the same way Jesus had presided over the table with his disciples just a few days before and probably many times in the previous years, Jesus blessed the food and immediately they recognized him. 

In the meal they shared together, they suddenly saw him.  They saw God. 

There are many things about the Emmaus story that are puzzling, but one thing is for sure: resurrection had tilted the world, turned everything on its head, and nothing would ever be the same again. 

These two travelers made their way down the road as life, (as it has the tendency to do) just went on after the grief they’d faced. 

They were overcome, sidetracked, distracted by the events of human living.  They’d set out on the journey of discipleship, following Jesus who inspired them to remember that God is always at work in the world, and then to join in. 

But now, the future was uncertain.  Had everything they’d believed been worthless? 

They couldn’t see much more than the grief, pain, and uncertainty all around them, and their vision was so compromised, they could not even recognize God right in front of them.  Right there! 

  • It finally happened when they pushed through the fog of their grief. 
  • It happened when they took the risk of showing hospitality to a stranger. 
  • It happened when they gathered around the table and broke bread together.

We too live in the tension of believing, of wanting with every part of who we are to experience God but like those Metro riders during rush hour who never even noticed Joshua Bell, we sometimes don’t slow down enough to see that God is right there among us.

Life is too hard, too distracting sometimes.  We walk on by; we never even notice. 

But resurrection is real. 

God is here—in the company of strangers and in the breaking of bread together.

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