Sunday April 26, 2020

3rd Sunday of Easter - 2020a

New Testament - Luke 24:13-35


INTRODUCTION: As legend has it, Karl Barth, one of the greatest theologians of the 20th Century, was on a bus one day in Basel, Switzerland where he lived and taught as a professor.


At one of the stops, a tourist visiting the city got on the bus and took a seat next to Barth. Well, the two men started chatting and after learning that the man was a tourist, Barth asked if there was anything in particular he hoped to do while in Basel.


“Why yes!” said the man. “I’d love to meet the famous theologian Karl Barth. Do you by chance know him?” Barth replied, “As a matter of fact, I do know him. I actually give him a shave every morning.”


The tourist, getting off the bus at the next stop, was clearly delighted as he headed back to his hotel. And after running into a traveling companion in the lobby, the man excitedly said to his friend, “Guess what? I met Karl Barth’s barber today. Can you believe it?”


Well, we hear a story about a man not recognizing Karl Barth, the person he most wants to meet, while sitting right next to him on a bus, and the story of Cleopas and his unnamed traveling companion also comes to mind. After all, they too failed to recognize the man they probably wanted to see most of all as well.


It’s the evening of Jesus’ resurrection and the two travelers are making their way back to Emmaus deflated and dejected. Picking up a traveling companion as they trudge home, the two fail to realize they’re walking with the very man they’re sure is now gone.

Although Cleopas and his friend have heard stories about the empty tomb, they too, just like so many of the other disciples, aren’t quite sure what to make of such reports. As far as they’re concerned, it’s just as likely the empty tomb means the authorities, as a final insult, removed Jesus’ body during the night and took it someplace else.


And so in a funny little turn, the two travelers proceed to relate to Jesus the events of the past few days as if he’s a social dolt who has somehow managed to be oblivious to the hot gossip that has been rolling out of Jerusalem. “We had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel,” laments Cleopas to their new found traveling mate, completely unaware the very subject of his story is actually standing right in front of him.


“Hey, guess what? I met Karl Barth’s barber today!”


Of course, surely a big factor in the two travelers' inability to recognise Jesus has to do with their doubts about his resurrection.


For just like so many of Jesus’ other followers on Easter, they too seem slow to believe the reports of his rising. Or as one translation puts Luke’s description of the matter, “But they were not able to recognize who [Jesus] was.”     


You see, here’s the thing...while doubts about the resurrection are easy to come by, especially for us modern people, such handy reasons are really just a way, I think, to conceal the real source for why we humans can be slow to believe.


For if Easter is really true, as one theologian has liked to claim, then that means a whole lot of lives are suddenly going to have to change. Believe in Easter, in other words, and none of us get to keep on being the same old people we’ve always been. So people find all sorts of reasons not to believe in Easter. Because change...well, who wants to deal with that!


There’s an old cartoon about change I’ve always liked. It’s a picture of a boss handing an employee a bunch of papers while saying, “I want you to find a bold and innovative way to do everything exactly the same way it’s been done for the last 25 years.” Needless to say, change is not one of our fortes, is it? 


But, you see, Easter is way more than just the idea that death no longer has the final word. For Easter is also about a whole new world. Yep, as far as the New Testament is concerned, on that first Easter a whole new creation was also inaugurated and begun in Jesus Christ.


No wonder in 1 Peter we are told we have been given a “new birth” through the resurrection of Jesus Christ and that we’re told again and again in various other letters to start living as new people and citizens - citizens of God’s new world begun in Jesus Christ. “Stop living as if you belong to the old world with all its failings and brokenness!” we’re exhorted in one way or another. “Instead, get busy living as if you are now a member of God’s new world.”           


So doubts about Easter are easy to come by. Because if Easter is true, then a whole lot of lives, including mine, are gonna have to start changing. Because one can’t really believe in Easter, and then just go on being the same old person. 


Of course, the New Testament, and the Bible as a whole, has a  funny, and admittedly outdated, way of talking about what it means to change one’s life. For when the Bible starts talking about a person changing, it keeps using a strange word. “Repent,” says the Bible, “repent.”   


Now admittedly, in a region of the country where evangelical theology rules-the-roost, repentance often gets reduced to an emotional show of tears and a sinner’s prayer. And while I believe such experiences have been profound for many, many people, repentance, biblically speaking, is always way more than that.


For repentance is, primarily, about a change in direction. It’s the process of striving to no longer live one way in life, so one can begin to live in a new way. Or, again, it’s about living as if we are citizens of a whole new world. A world begun and started in Jesus Christ with his resurrection.   


There’s the story about a woman informing her minister that she was, finally, cancer free despite a grim prognosis when first diagnosed.

 “Wonderful!” exclaimed the minister.

 “Yes, wonderful” replied the woman, “but it’s also a bit disconcerting.”

“How do you mean?” asked the minister.

“Well, I took the doctors at their word. They said I was terminal; there was little chance that therapy would be successful. So I planned to live for about a year and then die...Now, to be told that I have many more years to live, that I have a future, well, it’s just a bit disconcerting. I’ve got to go ahead and live despite my plans to die!” (Lectionary Sermon Resource: Year A  by Will Willimon)


The man who tells the story sees the woman’s plight as a kind of metaphor for why it can be hard to believe in resurrection. Because resurrection can be so darn demanding. For if Easter is true, then that means we all have to get busy living new lives.   


CONCLUSION: So now here’s the thing. That terminal diagnosis that we all lived with has now been lifted, right? For Christ is risen and now everywhere around us is new life.

So I guess the only thing left to do is to get busy living again - living for God and that new world begun in Jesus Christ.


And now to the God of all grace, who calls us to share in God’s eternal glory in union with Christ, be the power forever and ever. Amen!