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1st May 2022

Waiting and Wondering: Learning the Truth

Passage: Luke 24;13-34


It had never occurred to me before just how much walking God does in the Bible. Right at the start he walks with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden; he travels with Abraham into a new country; he meets Jacob on his journeys more than once; he leads his escaping slave people safely through the sea and across the desert. Remember the hymn about the “fiery, cloudy pillar-“ that was how God led his people through the wilderness, with a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night.
When his people are taken off into exile, he walks with them; when they return, he leads them back. He walks with the prophets, he walks with the Kings, and when Jonah is foolish enough to think that if he runs fast enough and far enough he will get away from where God is to a place where is God is not, he soon finds that he has made a huge mistake- a whale-sized mistake.

And God does not only walk with his people on their physical travels from A to B; he also enters into their spiritual journeys. If you read the Psalms; prayers and poems expressing people’s experience of God, you find God entering their inner paths of pain and doubt; grief, anger, fear as well as their roads of joy, hope and exuberance. Psalm 23-The Lord is my shepherd- tells of how God leads us through quiet tracks, beside still waters, through places to feed and on paths of righteousness. Even the road through the valley of the shadow of death is less fearful because God is there beside you.

So, in our story today of Jesus walking with his friends on the road to Emmaus, Jesus is doing what God does. He walks with his friends on their seven mile hike back home, plus he enters into their journey of grief, pain and confusion after the crucifixion and then this weird tale of the body missing from the tomb. Jesus is doing what God does: walk with his people.

I have called our services between Easter and Pentecost (start of June) a time of “waiting and wondering.” The stories in the Gospels all about this time show Jesus’ followers waiting and wondering; not quite sure what was going on. Their inner journeys were more like rollercoasters as they tried to get their heads round what Jesus’ resurrection meant for them. And I found two important things they might have learned in our story today; and that we too might need to learn.

The first is that God is never static. God does not stand in one place saying, “you come here to where I am.” God goes where we go. Remember, Jesus’ friends, we heard, had been trapped in a faith which had become exclusive and very narrow in its understanding. Their image of God was that of a supreme ruler, rather similar to Julius Caesar except that God was on their side, not the Romans’. So why had not this this Saviour they had been expecting, led an army against Rome? How come this man had ended up nailed to a cross rather than seated on a throne? This was not what God was all about.
But, as Jesus entered their tortured inner journey of doubt and anger, he showed them that this was what God was all about; that God had travelled through pain, failure and grief with his people in order to bring them to the place of resurrection.

God may not be static, but religion can become so and this is what makes it dangerous. People have been tortured and murdered for questioning teachings that are “set in stone;” they have tortured themselves trying to fit into the perfect-person-shaped spaces they are told God demands of them; they create faith communities that justify the expulsion, condemnation, persecution and even annihilation of anyone “outside” their boundaries. Because this kind of religion creates a static God, who is rigid and unyielding in his judgements; remorseless in his expectations; far removed from fragile humanity.

And the trouble is, that there is something attractive about a static religion, where there is no place for argument, and everything is set down clearly in black and white. There is also something highly demanding about a faith tradition such as the URC, which expects you to work out your own relationship with and understanding of God, plus serve and worship with people who may not think exactly the way you do.

In a highly volatile world and a life riddled with uncertainty, we cannot help reaching out for something which does not change. And the clinging to an unchanging religion sometimes seems like a good option. But this is about us, our human quest for security and certainty; not about the nature of God. As Jesus walked and talked with his two friends he showed them a God who was very different from the one they had grown up with and a faith which would continue to take them on many more journeys not park them in a safe, enclosed space.

The second important thing to me, is the way that those people failed to recognise Jesus on the journey and only knew him when they invited him into their home for a meal.
The physical journey was over. They had walked seven miles and were ready for a rest. The inner journey, I suspect, was still going on. I doubt that they had really sorted out the story of the women finding the empty tomb that morning and after what Jesus had told them about a suffering Saviour, I guess they were a long way from really getting their heads round that. But they had realised that this person walking with them was making a difference to them. He was helping them to think, inspiring them to hope-just a little. They did not know who he was, but they invited him in to eat with them. Only then, as he broke the bread, did they recognise him- “it is Jesus. It has been Jesus all the time. Why could we not see him?”

The journey of faith is a lengthy and complicated one. There will always be more questions we cannot answer; more stuff we find hard to understand; more decisions we sweat over, more people who “get up our nose.” And no, even though we are told that Jesus is walking with us wherever we go, we shall not always be aware of him. All of which is why people give up on faith (or opt for a faith which does appear to offer all the answers right here, right now).
But maybe it is as we invite Jesus into our space- permit him entry into our homes, our families, our places of work, our neighbourhoods, our nation, our fun times, our sad times- ask him into our personal story, that we shall recognise him as the one who has been walking with us since before we were born.

Thinking of a few stories I have heard or read: Revd Geoffrey Studdert-Kennedy, a priest in the Church of England, became more sharply aware of the real presence of Jesus than ever before, when he went out as chaplain to the trenches of World War One and asked Christ to enter this place of horror and destruction with him; Lysa Terkheurst rediscovered the presence of Christ when she allowed him into the pain of her failing marriage; Revd Calvin Miller given a whole new creative insight when he admitted to Jesus that he felt a failure as a Minister and did not know what to do next; Joanna Jepson struggling with a faith that only started to make sense when she involved Jesus Christ in her struggles with negative body image……People have come to recognise the presence of Jesus Christ beside them is the most diverse places.

For some of us it may have been in something as simple as the first cup of tea shared with someone we loved after lockdown; or the first really scary walk up the path into this church after being isolated for so long; the looking back and wondering just how we did cope… but we did and there was someone with us.
The story of the road to Emmaus teaches us that, although Jesus is always walking beside us, we need to invite him into our space in order to recognise him.

Which brings me back to where I started- the God who always travels with his people. In a volatile world and a deeply uncertain life, we shall never find the sense of security we crave in structures and systems, whether religious or other. For no structure or system, we create can last indefinitely.
It is in the God who travels with us, through all change and chaos, that we find our peace and our security.
It is in the God who never abandons us that we find our forgiveness and our healing, time and time again.
It is in the God who travels with us that we shall, in the end, see the sense and purpose of our lives.
Blessed be God for ever. Amen.