April 6, 2008
Edwards (Knox) United Church
Third Sunday of Easter
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The Rev. Dr. George Hermanson
Every so often Suzanne and I feel the need for a road trip. This is a time of exploration. As we drive out of our driveway we put on road music, beginning with the Guess Who. We go off, looking for adventure and new vistas, being changed by new realities and situations. Even when we are off to sunny climes, we go off to explore the local reality, to move beyond our comfort zones, to get a wider sense of our world.
Our culture is full of stories and movies about road trips. As a teenager I read On the Road, by Jack Kerouac. It was one of those mind expanding readings, moving my boundary of reality into a wider world of experience. Our stories of road trips explore how we are transformed by movement. Remember route 66. That movement could be a walk in the woods, and exploration of our neighborhood, stopping to see it with new eyes, listening to sounds we had not been aware of. Road trips can take us into territories and a people that can refresh us, push us, change our perspective. Roads less traveled have informed our imaginations.
In our stories of Easter there is an affirmation we are transformed by movement. We find the Risen Christ in moments of spiritual movement and growth, adventures in ideas, novel behaviors, and in pilgrimages by foot, automobile, or airplane. We are transformed by our moving. God’s Easter Spirit is found most significantly in process, rather than stability. To experience God’s inspiration more fully, we have to be on the move, because God is on the move!
Our Gospel is about a road trip. Two people walking a road with some sense of loss, with some depression because of what has happened to them. They are in the process of regrouping, going to join others of their community. And then the stranger joins them. He seems to be unaware of what has happened. The first thing they do is to explain, to recite an early statement of faith. What is interesting is that it does not open their eyes to see the stranger as Jesus. The familiar ways of affirming faith do not work. So they keep moving until the evening is almost on them. They stop, and here is the important point in the story - they invite the stranger to stay with them and share food.
It is in the welcome of the stranger that they begin to leave behind their loss and fear. And then, in the breaking of bread, and the sharing of the table their eyes are opened. They recognize that their road trip was one of transformation, their hearts were being warmed, and in the sharing of what they had they experienced the risen Christ.
God’s resurrection power is found when we let go of familiar landmarks and ways of understanding. Let go of comfort zones of old ways of understanding God in order to discover God’s lively, creative, and novel spirit-movements in the now. Resurrection transforms the known world and opens us to undreamed adventures in companionship with God. Resurrection life is filled with abundant surprise and unexpected adventure. A living faith does not cling to the certainty of the “old time religion,” but “originates novelty” to match the novelty of the environment, whether the novelty be resurrection, an encounter with pluralism, a mystical experience, racial tension, or global warming.
The road trip, when we return, reminds us that where have begun is also full of novelty. We see our familiar situation as different because we have new eyes. Renewed we can respond in creative ways to the issues before us.
The novel experience of the resurrection calls us to new opportunities and new situations. The question is what “new things”, what novel practices and behaviors, what new ways of living are we being called to?
Resurrection is a road trip to new surprises. Our boundaries are expanded. We see in new ways what is being asked of us. In the welcome of the stranger, the travelers on the road give us a metaphor for our time. How are the strangers being taken care of in our world? What roads not taken does the inclusion of those who are not like us ask us to take? What kind of society is called for when we see the sharing of our goods is demanded of us? In the breaking and sharing of our resources we experience the novelty of resurrection.
How do we respond to resurrection in all its surprise and novelty in our personal and congregational lives? Living by resurrection inspires us to awaken to novelty – what new thing will God do in our lives? What new thing will we do in response to divine inspiration as persons and congregations?
In the road trip the travelers found themselves being drawn forward, moving them to new life. Here is the important point, they were not conscious that this trip was calling them to a new reality.
In our living we often miss the hints of possibilities that are around us. We often close ourselves off from novel understandings. God works with the world as it is to offer visions and possibilities; guidance so we work for the healing of our world. The problem is we are not always attuned to these hints. We are busy, overwhelmed by events of our life, the stresses of our reality. It is hard to hear the hints for wholeness. That is why taking a road trip works. It changes our routine. It places us in strange contexts. New understandings come because we have changed our normal ways of being. The resurrection is a road trip into a new way of understanding our reality and ourselves. We see ourselves as claimed by love, sent by love to share that love with all.
This road trip with the stranger asked the travelers to let go of the past. Yes the events have defined them but they cannot hold on to the Jesus they knew. Notice that as soon as they recognize him, he vanishes from their sight. Mystical experiences come and go. Moments of assurance are fleeting. Inspiration is transitory. Health is temporary. But, God is in each detail, filling it with holiness and then moving on the next and inviting us to follow. Faithfulness is in the remembering but also in movements that create new memories and new possibilities. As the Emmaus story notes, hospitality is the open door to creative transformation and an expanded vision of possibilities.
Out of this encounter on the road they have not receive a specific command but what they do is they immediately and excitedly return to Jerusalem. Tasting the bread of the Eucharist, having been fed by the Spirit of God, they now have courage and energy. They have a new life to share. What the experience tells us is that the Aim of God is specific to each of us, crafted to each person’s need, it is intimate. And that intimacy is also for the whole world, for the universal reality of God is found in many guises and ways. Inspiration is global as well as specific.
This road trip finds its way into the Acts of the Apostles. Newcomers join the way of the Risen Christ. It is a moment of transformation, “turn around and take another path.” In the turning, new life is experienced. This is a whole earth promise and is for everyone. This is to be read that the Spirit of God is found in ways we have not expected nor do we have exclusive claims on that Spirit. Our road trips into new locations show us that God is already there. God is at work and we join that work, with others who care for the lost and lonely, care for an earth that needs protection, where the poor are fed. Road trips are taking paths that open our eyes to the work of God in our world, and an invitation to join in that work. We do that out of our sense of resurrection, that the good news is God is at work in our world. We can trust. We can love.
With thanks to Bruce Epperly and his reflections on the text in Process and Faith.