Sermons

A Stranger In Our Midst (Luke 24:13-35)

Joan MacPherson, April 23, 2017
Part of the Sunday series, preached at a Sunday Morning service

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The Stranger in Our Midst
Luke 24:13-35
They head out to Emmaus. They leave Jerusalem. Why wouldn’t they? Why would they stay there now? They had gone in with such hope. Their dreams and passions wild with possibility, promise, the new Jerusalem, the compassion of God, the inclusivity of Jesus, the peace and justice. The crowds had gathered as they came. Shouts of hosanna. Emotion that still stirs congregations and choirs these 2000 years later. On top of the world and ready to usher in a new way of being that is healing, that is generous, that is kind. Except the establishment and politically powerful were thinking differently and they had the resources and the authority to grab their leader and literally hang him out to die. Which had happened just 3 days earlier. Emotions were all over the place. The women had shown up earlier that morning and told them Jesus had risen but they knew that was nonsense. What they knew was what they had hoped to have happen was not what happened. What they knew was that their rabbi, teacher, friend had been killed. What they knew was this arrival and time in Jerusalem had not gone at all in the way they had been thinking it would. What they knew was they could well be the next up for crucifixion. They literally get out.
On the road again but this time its all so different. It’s just the two of them wrapped in their despair and confusion. Tapped out. Bottomed out. What is the future going to be for them? What do you imagine are the questions and concerns that flooded their hearts and minds in this time? We don’t get to hear in detail. I project onto them all the confusion and unsettledness that I imagine I would be feeling in that situation. I make them out to be in a pretty bad place. Our sacred story confirms that a bit when we here them talking with the stranger that shows up. They tell the stranger that they had hoped but…In that I hear the confirmation that all they had dreamed and wanted in their life with Jesus and God turns out not to be like that at all. I am grateful that our sacred story is honest and dares to say what we can feel. That dreams crash down or the future feels threatening and undefined because this happens, right? But, but - I am not letting go of the but yet - but, the story and experience continues. They tell their visitor about the disappointment. They feel and name all that is wrong and without hope. Circumstances and opportunities are limited for sure. But, but…when the end of the day comes, when they are raw from pain, when they are using all they have to get away from Jerusalem and its threats, when its all undefined and without hope, when they are about to enter a place for rest and they might finally feel some ease, when they see that this stranger in their midst doesn’t have a place to be and looks to be needing to walk on into the dark of night, they say to the stranger. “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over."
There is nothing to indicate that they have any resources to take care of themselves or a stranger. There is nothing that says they have called ahead and made sure there was enough food and an extra bed. There is simply, faithfully, powerfully their ingrained compassion - they had learned, they had been shaped by their rabbi, it was part of them now - they might not have been aware of it but it was part of them - generosity and compassion - you just do it, you just offer it. To a stranger. With all the unknowns and risks that brings. When they did they ended up having a powerful experience, they recognized the Risen Christ with them. They didn’t know what that meant or how the future would unfold. It wasn’t an answer it was a presence and the presence enables far more than an answer. Far more but undefined and not specific.
This is what followers of Jesus do. Offer hospitality to the stranger in our midst. With all the unknowns and risks that brings and with the trust that we will recognize the risen Christ in our midst. We practiced this here at Main Street Church in early March. We hosted a “Know Your Rights” Workshop with an immigration attorney providing legal guidance for undocumented people and those that want to provide support or sanctuary. As we waited to begin the pit in my stomach announced itself. My co-host that night was the mom of a 14 month old baby, what risk was she being exposed as we opened the doors of welcome? Looking out the window I saw a man in a uniform walking across the parking lot. Pit in stomach announces itself more. Was it someone from I.C.E.? I went out into the parking lot to talk to him - and encountered the Risen Christ. He was an Amesbury policeman who was trying to help a young woman and her infant who were looking for the workshop. She told the officer that she was trying to get to an immigration workshop and he decided it would be Main Street Church hosting it and brought her here and then left. She came in and the young mom co-hosting with me welcomed them both and watching their interaction I encountered the Risen Christ again.
Hospitality to strangers. That is what the men do on the road to Emmaus. That is what religious folk from many traditions are called to do. As we do that, in the life giving, world transforming, non standard way of God, our caring for the stranger in our midst opens us to the presence of God. Amen.

Joan MacPherson
Main Street Congregational UCC
April 23, 2017

Note: This manuscript was prepared for oral delivery only.
It contains excerpted material not properly cited.
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Luke 24:13-35

13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up 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 happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even 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 him they did not see.” 25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

28 So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, 29 but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” 33 And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34 saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread. (ESV)

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