Sunday, April 11, 2021

SERMON: "Everything Worthwhile"

The Second Sunday of Easter
Sunday, April 11, 2021
Luke 24:13-35


These two disciples—at the end of Luke’s Gospel—they’re headed away from Jerusalem, away from the action, away from the destruction of Good Friday and the confusion of Sunday morning. And you really can’t blame them for this. They’re disappointed and sad. They’re understandably anxious that the violence, that the cruelty of that weekend won’t stop at Jesus’ cross. So they’re off to Emmaus. Rehashing details. Working through their grief.

When a stranger catches up with them.

And you notice in so many of these resurrection stories, that the Risen One is a stranger. In John’s Gospel, the Risen One’s a gardener, doing what gardeners always do. And here, in Luke’s Gospel, the Risen One’s a pilgrim, a traveler, a stranger. Just like the two of them. Just like all the others on the road that day. Heading home, maybe, after a long day of work. Wandering the roads, maybe, looking for a place to sleep. But it’s this ordinary stranger, this tired traveler, this pilgrim who questions the two of them, and then shares his own experience, his own questions, his own hopes with them. And along the way, they’re moved by his commitment, they’re inspired by his curiosity, they’re persuaded to invite him to dinner.

So—maybe this is the first Easter lesson. We discover Jesus in relationships. Right? And what we discover about Jesus, what we discover in relationships, is changing, evolving, deepening all the time. If Jesus is that pilgrim in the road, then Jesus is the old friend now, whose pain you’re asked to witness, and bear, these days; and Jesus is the refugee now, whose hope you’re invited to nurture these days; and Jesus is the colleague now, whose question, whose bewilderment puzzles you, but draws you deeper in conversation and wonder.

And it’s not just individual relationships we’re talking about. We encounter Jesus, we meet the Divine, in relationships with whole communities, in collaborative relationships with friends at the New Roots Church, for example, or the Seacoast Interfaith Sanctuary Coalition, for another. We discover Jesus in relationships: as we listen to one another, as we bear one another’s pain, as we open our hearts to one another’s wonder and joy and faith. You’ve all got stories about this. I know you do. The empire’s tomb couldn’t extinguish Jesus’ light. The empire’s violence couldn’t contain Jesus’ love. That love is everywhere we are, and in every soul, every story, every stranger we meet on the road.


So they invite that stranger in for dinner, and not just for dinner, right? They invite him to stay with them, to abide with them, to make their home his home for a bit. This is a little community that’s come together on the road out of Jerusalem, in the shadow of all that violence and fear. And he goes in with them, to stay for a while, to share a meal. And it’s there—over that meal, at that table—that their eyes are opened at last, that he breaks bread and passes it around, and their eyes are opened. This stranger is their teacher. This stranger is the one who died on Friday. This stranger is the Risen One.

And of course, being a good story, it takes a sudden turn. Because just as soon as they recognize this stranger, just as soon as they see Jesus in him, he vanishes from their sight. Poof. He’s gone. Or is he?

I want to speak to the 21-Day Equity Challenge for a moment, and celebrate the commitment so many of you have made to learning together, and wrestling together, and questioning assumptions and patterns and even prejudice together. I heard a lovely African proverb this week, that goes like this: “Everything worthwhile is done together.” “Everything worthwhile is done together.” We grow into our human calling together. We tap into our capacity for tenderness and compromise and bold action together. And, in our 21-Day Challenge, you’re leaning into the challenge of healing broken food systems, you’re leaning into the work of ending racism; and you doing this, not in some abstract state of mind, but in relationship. Heart to heart. With a partner you discuss the journey with. Heart to heart. With another church in another place, with other ideas and needs. “Everything worthwhile is done together.” And Jesus comes to us, every time, as a stranger.

Emmaus, Emmanuel Garibay, 2000

Now, I think it’s no coincidence that the disciples recognize Jesus in the breaking of bread that night. I think it’s no coincidence that they are moved by his presence at their table, in the passing of a bread basket and the savoring of a meal and the reminder of all that’s good and holy in the earth. For Jesus and his friends, every meal was a celebration and a feast, and every meal was a renewal of moral and theological urgency. The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof. Right? Every river flowing through every forest, every crop growing in every field, every valley and every desert belong to God, and invite human communities to communion and justice and celebration.

So it’s not a stretch to say that, every time Jesus sat at a table, with old friends or new friends, with lovers or adversaries: every time Jesus broke bread he had food systems in mind. He had God’s commonwealth in mind. And he asked his dining companions, every time, to spend a moment wondering who was hungry that night? Who was thirsty that night? Who was cut out of the joy and the sustenance and the nourishment of God’s feast? I think Jesus enjoyed his mealtimes, enjoyed the whole process of harvesting and preparing and cooking up the food he shared with friends. And I think all that joy he experienced at all those tables served only to intensify his commitment to communion as a way of life. Not just a ritual, you see, but a way of life!


You know in the same gospel we read today, in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus launches his public ministry, his work among the people, with a sermon in Nazareth, in the synagogue his family attended there. And in that sermon, way back in Chapter Four, Jesus quotes another Hebrew prophet, Isaiah, and proclaims that his purpose, his ministry, his passion is to inaugurate the Year of the Jubilee. The Year of the Jubilee. It’s a concept that shines in the Hebrew Bible, and is celebrated by Jesus himself, but one that Christians in the modern age are mostly disinterested in or maybe unaware of. We should change that!

God insists that the Hebrews commit every 50th year, every 50th year, to addressing inequities in land-ownership, to addressing imbalances in economic opportunity, to addressing injustice as it manifests in poverty and indebtedness, and then repairing those broken systems. Making them whole and right again. Every 50th year. That’s the Year of the Jubilee. God tells the Hebrews—this is after bringing them out of Egypt, out of enslavement, out of their own oppression there—God tells the Hebrews, you will be a people of discipline; you will be a people of equity and justice. And every 50th year, you will take a long, hard look at where systems are unfair; you will take a long, hard look at where poverty cripples communities, where racism impoverishes communities, where indebtedness suffocates communities—and you will restore the people to the promise, to the land, to the vitality for which they’re created. Morally. Spiritually. Economically. It’s all one. Because, remember, says the God of the Hebrews: The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.

So across the pages of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus consistently links celebration and communion with Jubilee and reparations. To delight in the goodness of the earth is to confess what’s wrong, and to repair what’s broken, and to make it right again. To commune in joy with your church, with sisters and brothers and siblings in the church, is to commit to feeding the poor and hungry, and even more, to addressing the systems that enforce poverty and reward bigotry and enshrine white supremacy as public policy. Read Luke’s Gospel sometime soon, and watch for this theme. It’s everywhere you look. It’s everywhere Jesus goes. It’s every time he breaks a loaf of bread or picks a stalk of wheat or raises a cup of wine. Love is the Year of Jubilee.

So when he vanishes that night, when the two startled disciples are left there wondering what just happened, you and I have every reason to believe that his project is our project now.

Our faith isn’t limited to a tiny bit of bread and a shot glass of grape juice, and a comforting blessing on the way out the door. Our faith is Jesus’ faith, which is Isaiah’s faith and Mary’s faith and the faith of so many ancestors before them. Our faith is about finding resurrection and hope in the hard work we’re doing with New Roots and the 21-Day Challenge this month. Our faith is about collaborating with friends we know and love, and probably some friends we don’t know and don’t yet love, to address inequities and redistribute land and wealth, and repair what’s been broken for generations on this continent. Our faith is about the Love which bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. And on that road, from Jerusalem to Emmaus, or from Durham to Boston, or from Portsmouth to Concord—on that road we will surely find Jesus, the Risen and Restless Christ. He may vanish from time to time. But he’s out there. And he’s waiting for you and me. Because: “Everything worth doing is worth doing together.”