Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter

Text: Luke 24:13-19
On that same day two of Jesus' followers were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking to each other about all the things that had happened. As they talked and discussed, Jesus himself drew near and walked along with them; they saw him, but somehow did not recognize him. Jesus said to them, "What are you talking about to each other, as you walk along?"
They stood still, with sad faces. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, "Are you the only visitor in Jerusalem who doesn't know the things that have been happening there these last few days?" "What things?" he asked.
"The things that happened to Jesus of Nazareth," they answered.

The power of hope

A few years ago a railway worker accidentally locked himself in a refrigerator car. He searched the carriage for a possible way to break out. Banged on the walls and door. All to no avail. He resigned himself to the fact that he would never get out alive. As he felt his body becoming numb with cold he took a pencil out of his pocket and recorded the story of his approaching death. He scribbled on the walls of the car: "I am becoming colder... still colder... I am slowly freezing... half asleep - these may be my last words."

When the carriage was opened the man was found dead, but the temperature of the car was normal. Officials found that the freezing mechanism was out of order and that there was plenty of fresh air available. There was no physical reason why the man had died. It was concluded that he had died because he had believed that he would die. He had lost all hope.

Hope can be a very fragile thing. Discouragement, confusion, doubt and a series of negative events can esily destroy hope.

Two men are walking down a road. Two confused, dejected, sad men. They had been followers of Jesus. They had seen his power; they had great hopes that this man was the one who had been promised by God. As they walked along they used words like, "We had hoped that he would be the one who would set Israel free but now he is dead. Heís been dead for 3 days now and we have heard reports that even his body is missing from the tomb."

These men had heard reports of the women who had found the tomb empty and how the angels had said he was alive.
"If onlyÖ.!
If only that were possible!
If only it were true!
Now this walk down this road is full of emptiness, itís mindless, weíre not really going anywhere, weíre just walking. Two men walking down a roadÖ.".

When hope withers, itís difficult to revive.
We need to note the number of people who take their own life because despair and discouragement have sucked the last bit of hope out of their lives.
When someone you love and care for is overtaken by a serious illness, which goes on, and on, despair sets in. It almost becomes impossible to hope for recovery. You may even be afraid to hope because you believe that you couldnít cope with another letdown.

Have you ever walked like that? Feeling empty inside, churned up because of the way things have turned out. Kind of walking aimlessly, wondering what itís all about really? It feels like the bottom has fallen out of your world. The things you had pinned your hopes on, the dreams you had, the expectations Ė shattered. Have you ever walked down that road, the road to nowhere?

These two men walking with all hope dashed to pieces donít even recognise Jesus when he starts to walk right beside them.
Could it be that they were so despondent that they didnít even look up?
Could it be that they were so preoccupied with their unanswered questions, so filled with the feeling of hopelessness that they werenít able to see what they so desperately wanted to see, right alongside of them?
Could it be that the last three days had been so dark, so full of despair that their hearts were filled with so much darkness that they couldnít even see the light that was walking every step of the way with them?

I wonder how often we walk along the road of life often with more downs than ups not realising thatís Jesus is walking there right beside us. We are so overwhelmed with our circumstances, so focussed on what has sucked the energy and life out of us, wondering why Jesus hasnít done something to help us, that we donít see him walking with us. We say with those disciples, "We had hopedÖ that things would turn out differently. If only Jesus would be here with us at least we would be feeling so lost and feeling helpless and hopeless. If only Ö!"

We know what he did, we know what he said, we know the promises he made, but sometimes we walk down that road and all that seems so distant and removed and unrelated. But regardless how we feel Jesus walks right beside us and we donít even know it!

As those disciples plodded on, a stranger, Jesus himself, joined them and listened to them!  He sees their despondent looks and hears their saddened voices and immediately asks them what it is that they are talking about. He says nothing more and just listens to them! The triumphant, risen, glorious Christ travelled incognito and listened to their fears, doubts and tentative hopes.

In our twisted way of thinking, we believe that very important people do not listen to us. They speak with us and more often they talk at us. The more dignified the person, the more we are supposed to shut up and listen.

But Jesus said, "Tell me what it is that is troubling you?" And then he listened to them. And they talked how everything that could go wrong had. Life was a bummer. Evil people were the winners and good people were the losers. Jesus of Nazareth, the most wonderful and most grace-full person they had ever met, had been brutally executed. How could God allow this to happen? Why didnít Jesus use his power to stop this atrocity?  "We had such high hopes for Jesus, but now, well, what is left to hope for?"

As they unburdened themselves, Jesus listened. A good friend is not someone who just soaks up all the burdens and troubles of someone else but wants to restore hope. And so when they had finished it was the strangerís turn to talk and he took up what they had been saying and helped them to see that this is far from a hopeless situation. He reminded them of the way God had walked with his people in the past through the wilderness and then with the prophets as they faced all kinds of hopeless situations. He tried to help them see that the events of the past few days were all part of a much bigger plan Ė the plan to save all humanity. It might seem that evil had won the day and that everything seemed hopeless. That was far from the truth. Jesus died and rose to restore hope for all those who are despondent and upset.

As he helped them make sense of all that had gone wrong, life did not seem so devastatingly pointless any more. It was as if someone had turned on a light in a dark room; their hearts no longer felt desperately cold; hope started to resurrect within their own being.  Later they remembered this and said, "Wasnít it like a fire burning in us when he talked to us on the road?" This is the fire of hope being rekindled in their hearts. Not all was doom and gloom. There was more yet to come.

God speaks to us when we are down and almost out and as we listen we find that what he has to say suddenly takes on a new relevance and we can see that there is hope. God is a great giver of hope and Jesus' resurrection gives us an even greater hope. Jesus is our living Lord who is committed to walking with us and helping us to endure all things. He tells us that nothing can separate us from his love Ė nothing in all creation and beyond. He tells us that we can be contented and at peace even when there are things that threaten us and our safety. But all this can only happen if we listen. Having poured out our hearts we need to listen, rather than continuing to complain about our hurts and fears and doubts.  That is true of discipleship in our world today just as much as it was on that road to Emmaus.

Hope is a powerful thing. I remember reading about an experiment that was done with rats. They were placed in a container of water. The rats couldnít get out and after 17 minutes drowned. Another group of rats were placed in the water and just as they were about to give up they were rescued. Some time later those same rats were placed in the water again. This time they swam for 36 hours because, it is believed, they were always hopeful that they would be rescued. And they were.

If that can happen to rats how much more are we able to have hope in the face of inexplicable events. We have a living Saviour who gives us the certainty that, come what may, his love and his understanding of what we are going through will never stop. Even if the events in our lives lead to our death, we know for certain there awaits us a life in heaven that is so wonderful that it defies description. The apostle Paul made the point that it doesnít matter what may come his way, and he certainly did endure some gruelling times, he was always confident that he will have the strength to endure because of the power of Christ that lived in him. This gave him hope in the most hopeless situations.

The road to Emmaus is a symbol of the Christian life. This story is about ordinary despair, and ordinary Monday-morning drudgery. It is a story about meeting a stranger, hearing his words of comfort, sitting down at table and sharing a meal. This is story about the meaning of Easter for us. It enables us to see that the risen Lord gives hope and joy, when all we see is disappointment, discouragement and despair. It enables us to see the world, not as a place of death, decay, and defeat, but as a place waiting, groaning toward God's final victory.

You can imagine how these two men told their story with some embarrassment at first, and how later they probably were able to tell it with a bit of a laugh at themselves, "We were so dumb! We were so wrapped up in our disappointment and sadness, so turned in on ourselves and our heads so low that we didnít see who was walking with us. There he was, right beside us. We were talking about him, I mean to him about him, but we didnít recognise him. But now we know. Now we know where to look. Now we know the impossible is possible Ė with him".

This story about the walk to Emmaus is a story for every day life in 2008. If you are walking the Emmaus road right now or when you will walk it in the future filled with disappointment, disillusionment, discouragement and despair Ė letís remember we are not walking alone. The risen Jesus is walking with us. With Jesus walking with us our road will become a great highway of companionship, trust and hope.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
6th April 2008
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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