Easter 3a, May 4, 2014

May 5, 2014

The Unveiled Treasure
Luke 24:13-35

24:13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. 28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

It may be more taxing than a 7 mile hike, but bear with me as I take you on a journey back to the mid-seventies when I was a teenager with some really odd interests. I won’t mortify you with all of the directions my mind and body were inclined to go, but I had this odd fixation on learning how to live off the land. I wasn’t exactly what you would call a survivalist – I didn’t want to build up an arsenal, but I wanted to develop the skills of a back-to-the-lander.

Back in the 70’s there was this series of books entitled Foxfire, and those books described how to build log cabins, butcher hogs, smoke meat, make soap, and every other thing that people used to do before you could go get it all at the local trading post. It was an odd fascination that I harbored for a few years. I wasn’t totally committed to the cause – I enjoyed living in a house with a television, but I didn’t let the reality of life get in the way of what I intended to do when I became an adult. I imagined the lifestyle of a self-sufficient-hunter-gatherer-shepherd-farmer to be far more compelling than that of someone in sales or preaching.

So I collected all of the Foxfire Books, and I read Mother Earth News at the Cross County Library, but the most significant publication I came across was a book that was made famous by Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show. It was called Stalking the Wild Asparagus, and it was written by a man named Euell Gibbons. I don’t know how many jokes Johnny Carson was able to extract from what Euell Gibbons said you could eat. He went on about him the way David Letterman goes on about Gov. Chris Christie.

But I loved what Euell Gibbons had to say. His book described all of the wild foods you could find in various habitats and how to prepare them – along with a few anecdotes of when he discovered various wild delicacies. I didn’t find much of what he had to say to be easily accessible, but I actually did stalk some wild asparagus. Other than where it grows, there is no difference between wild asparagus and domesticated asparagus, and one interesting thing he said about wild asparagus is that you can often find it growing along railroad track levees.

There was a railroad track that ran behind my grandparent’s house, and I discovered that there was in fact some asparagus growing in places along that levee. I would have to walk about a quarter of a mile to find a dozen sprouts, but they were there, and finding an asparagus plant was like finding a hidden treasure.

They weren’t easy to find, but I never would have seen these plants if I hadn’t been alerted to watch for them. That was about the most success I ever had as a back-to-the-lander, but it was a good lesson for me to pay attention to what may be at hand.

I actually used those same plant stalking skills when Sharla was taking a class that required her to collect and identify 60 wildflowers over the course of a semester. That was no small task, but it provided a great mission for me. Sharla was my girlfriend at the time instead of my wife, and I’ll never forget how heroic I felt when I came across new wildflower specimens for her to identify. I spent weeks with my head down, but my spirits were high because I had a great task. I was in constant search for new blooms growing in ditches, forests, and fields. It’s actually quite amazing how many different wildflowers you can find when you are keeping an eye out for them.

And it’s equally amazing what we miss when we aren’t paying attention. Actually what those exercises in asparagus stalking and flower hunting identified for me is the way in which we can be oblivious to what is at hand or we can become sensitized to our surroundings. I’m guessing that we all are paying attention to something throughout each day, and it’s a good idea for us to be conscious of that to which we are giving our attention. I think we can give a lot of attention to things that don’t provide much satisfaction and we can miss the presence of the One who gives us true life.

I’m thinking of the way in which these disciples were unable to see who Jesus was as they walked along with him for seven miles. I think I walk at an average pace, and I go about 3 miles/hour. We aren’t told when Jesus joined these two disciples, but it seems they were with him for a good two hours before they realized who they were talking to. This story does highlight the way in which Christ comes to us when we recall the story of his life and death and we share bread and wine together, but I’m also conscious of the opportunity that was squandered prior to the breaking of the bread.

Jesus didn’t depart without revealing himself to these two travelers, but they weren’t exactly quick to pick up on who he was. I don’t want to be overly critical of who they were, but this story makes me want to be a bit more attentive to what’s going on. It may well be that they were somehow prevented from seeing who he was, but they don’t really come across as being quick to pick up on what was going on. He could have just shook his head and gone on when they arrived in Emmaus, and it seems that he started to do that, but they urged him to stay with them, and he did. This is the good news – Jesus doesn’t abandon us even when we don’t quite get it, but I think we are supposed to learn something from these disciples. And the message I’m hearing is that we need to pay attention to our fellow travelers.

I haven’t spent any time in the communities that were recently hit by the tornado. I feel so bad for the people who have lost their homes and their loved ones. I know there is a world of pain going on over there, but I also believe that people are having some vivid encounters with the living Christ. What I trust is that Christ does come to people in dark hours. Just as we see in this story of how Christ came to these two men who were in deep despair over the events that had transpired in Jerusalem, I believe Christ comes to us when our worlds get shredded and our hopes are dashed.

I’m guessing there are a lot of people who are finding more than cherished photographs and belongings in those piles of rubble – I dare say people are discovering the presence of Christ in the midst of that chaos. And if we are wise we will find ways to connect with them as well.

It’s not easy to want to be near to people who are standing in the rubble of life – whether it’s rubble caused by a tornado or those less dramatic but equally insidious forces of destruction that we encounter in life, but I think it’s in those places that we encounter the presence of the most redeeming love.

You don’t find wild asparagus growing along the sidewalk. It grows along the wooliest and most untended stretches of land that you will find running across the country. You can find a handful of wildflowers growing in the yard – at least in a yard like mine that isn’t very well controlled, but you’ve got to go out of your way to find a few dozen.

Jesus is never that far away from us, but I think we can oblivious to his presence if we aren’t paying attention to the places and the people Jesus was always known to be near. He became known to those travelers when he blessed and broke the bread, but he had been with them for hours.

We break and share this bread today trusting that he has risen and is with us. We have been alerted to his presence and our challenge is to step out of here today in search of his holy presence. Our mission is to go out as those who trust that we aren’t alone in this world and to share this good news with others – not just with our words but with all of our attention.

Jesus may very well be sitting in here right now – in fact I think we should assume he is in here right now because if we make that assumption we will be more likely to see his life-giving presence. His is a mysterious presence, but we have good clues as to where we might experience him. He is with us when we share and when we care for one another. This is what is required of us if we wish to see the holy treasure that’s in our midst.

Thanks be to God for the opportunity we have to search and to find.


2 Responses to “Easter 3a, May 4, 2014”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Lovely sermon, Thompson! Thanks!

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