Sunday, May 8, 2011

Third Sunday of Easter, Series A

Sermon on Luke 24:13-35
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
May 8, 2011 (The Third Sunday of Easter, Series A)

If someone were to ask any of you about their feelings regarding Easter Sunday, and the Church’s celebration of it, you might get a variety of answers, but I suspect that not many people would say that their feelings regarding the Resurrection of our Lord include being perplexed or sad. Of course, most of us have known the whole story for much of our lives, while the two disciples in today’s Gospel lesson had just lived through the first Good Friday and Easter Sunday. In fact, the reports of the resurrection had reached them only hours before the events St. Luke records here. But we still would like to think that we would have been joyful, overflowing with happiness and confidence and excitement that Jesus had been resurrected, not perplexed and sad about the whole thing.

And yet, perplexed and sad is what we all too often are. Of course, when it comes to the Easter celebration itself, we’re properly joyful and exuberant. But as we go about our lives, as we serve our neighbors in the various callings God has given us in this life, as we experience and hear about the many pains and sorrows, illnesses and injuries, calamities, wars, and rumors of wars that surround us in this old world, we do think and act as if Christ were not raised, and thus we end up perplexed and sad, confused and anxious, unsettled and unbalanced as we go about our daily lives.

Now, to be sure, I’m not saying that sadness or confusion is itself a sin. This old world really is messed up, and things really do happen that don’t make sense to us, and may never make sense to us until we arrive before our Father’s face and can ask Him directly what His intentions were in this or that situation. And in the meanwhile, the emotions of sadness or grief or confusion as we look at these things are perfectly natural. It’s unrealistic to expect Christians to simply float above these things and always be smiling and cheerful and happy.

What I am saying, however, is that our feelings and reactions to life in this old world should not dominate or control us to the point that we lose sight of the greater victory Christ won for us on the cross and proclaimed to us in the resurrection. When that happens, we do become like the two disciples on the road.

The kinds of things that happen in this old world, the unfairness, the random hurt that nature and man can inflict upon us and our fellow human beings, really can make us wonder if God really is watching out for us and taking care of us. They can make us doubt whether the message of the resurrection, that God in Christ has reconciled the world to Himself and rescued us from the perils of sin and death, is really true. When that happens, we are in grave danger of losing the faith entirely. And of course, it doesn’t help at all that many of our fellow Christians have been misled by the health and wealth, name it and claim it (or, as one Lutheran podcast host recently put it, blab it and grab it) preachers into thinking that when things go wrong for us it means we’re lacking in faith or being punished somehow by means of what we’re suffering. During my ministry I’ve had several of my sheep in the hospital who were, at some point during their stay, visited by a relative or friend or even some random ambulance-chasing evangelist who told them that if only they had more faith they wouldn’t still be sick or injured. This, first of all, is not true, and secondly it is spiritual poison of the worst sort, because it causes us to look at ourselves for the key to our relationship with God, and not to Him who has already provided us with that key in His Son’s death and resurrection.

Of course, looking inward, at ourselves, is what the Old Adam likes to do most of all. We are born with ourselves as our own gods. And so all the things that happen to us in this old world, whether good or bad, are going to look like a reward or punishment for our own actions and behavior. That’s why the solution to the problem we face, and the problem the disciples on the road faced, is not found in simply criticizing the lack of faith. Pointing out the lack of faith, or the weakness of faith, may be a correct diagnosis of the problem, but it doesn’t fix it. Which is why after Jesus points out the disciples’ weakness of faith, He goes on to fix the problem in the way Jesus always fixes Christians’ faith problems: Word and Sacrament.

You see, faith is not created or sustained by pointing out that it is weak or dead. Faith is created and sustained by the good news in which faith trusts. Which is why we Lutherans always almost obsessively focus on the Gospel, the good news of what God did for us in Jesus Christ, and not on principles or steps we’re supposed to take to bring us closer to Him. God must be the one to do the work, not only because for us to try to fix our relationship with Him ourselves is to break the First Commandment, but also because He’s the only one that can fix things.

And so, Jesus remedies these two disciples’ lack of faith the same way He creates and sustains faith in all believers: Word and Sacrament. He preaches to them from the Scriptures, and He feeds them with His body and blood. For the earliest Church to whom Luke was writing, “the breaking of the bread” was a nickname for the Lord’s Supper. In the sequel to Luke’s Gospel, He refers to “the breaking of the bread” quite a few times when describing the participation of Christians in the Lord’s Supper. That’s why I believe that what Jesus shared with these two men was not simply an ordinary meal, but the Holy Supper itself. And so Jesus the Good Shepherd feeds His two wandering, lost sheep in the same good pasture and quiet waters which He always feeds us. He proclaims to them Himself, from the Holy Scriptures, thus giving them perspective to see the things that happened on Good Friday and Easter Sunday as salvation rather than failure, and He feeds them Himself, nourishing their new selves which will live before Him in righteousness and purity forever. He feeds them, and us, Himself, thereby reassuring them, and us, that He is to be found for our blessing, for our strengthening in faith, in the Word and in the breaking of the bread. He may speak through the mouths of human pastors, men who are just as sinful as everyone else, but it is His powerful Word and His body and blood that He gives us here. He is the one speaking, absolving, preaching, and His body and blood are what we eat and drink. He is recognized, also by us today, in the breaking of the bread. Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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