Sermon 30th April 2017
Text: Luke 24:13-35 – Recognising Jesus by faith.
Have you ever stopped to think about how amazing God’s creation is?
I find the colours and variety in nature amazing.
God could have created a world full of bland experiences but chose to have colour and beauty imbedded in his creation.
God could have chosen one type of fish, one type of bird, one type of livestock as a source of food and company for us but chose a variety of species for us to enjoy.
But what I find totally remarkable is the human being created in God’s image.
Presently there are over 7 billion people living in the world today.
And just think of our facial features – 2 eyes, 2 ears, a nose and a mouth are our main identifiers.
And yet with just those few things to work with we all look different.
How does God do it?
And the leading technology companies use the uniqueness of our features as security features on their devices with fingerprint and eye retinas used to lock and unlock telephones and other secured devices.
The human creation is unique.
Our bible reading today is very similar to the Easter Sunday reading where Mary was speaking with Jesus face to face and didn’t recognise him – thinking he was the gardener.
I struggle to understand what was different about Jesus’ features that made him unrecognisable.
Today we have 2 disciples walking to Emmaus who are having a long deep and meaningful talk with Jesus.
And even though they spoke with him in such a deep and meaningful way – and in fact were speaking about Jesus to Jesus, like Mary did, they were kept from recognising Jesus.
That has always intrigued me.
Did God change the facial appearance of Jesus or did God affect their minds to not recognise him.
And why would God do that?
Wouldn’t God want to have eyewitness proof that Jesus has risen from the dead.
The interesting thing about these 2 events is that God didn’t withhold Jesus’ identity from them permanently but used a certain trigger to reveal him.
We need to think back also to last week’s experience where Doubting Thomas refused to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead unless he saw him.
But not just his facial features – he wanted to see the scars of his death to prove it was him and not just someone that looked like him.
While Jesus did agree to Thomas’s request he did say that there would be a greater blessing for those who believed without seeing.
And today’s experience of the 2 disciples on the road to Emmaus, I believe, continues this teaching of Jesus about how we are going to be truly blessed in our experience with Jesus by faith and not by sight.
God wanted Jesus recognised in a particular way and in the account of Mary and the 2 Emmaus disciples we see that recognition.
Mary didn’t recognise Jesus until he called her name (John 20:16).
Likewise we recognise Jesus when he calls our name which first occurs in our Baptism.
In baptism we link the child’s name and the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
God’s name is important.
It’s how we recognise God.
How do we know God is with us in our worship even though we cannot see him?
Because we call upon his name at the start of our worship – In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
God gave Moses his name to free the enslaved Israelites in Egypt and – not weapons – his Name.
And now God frees us as we hear God’s forgiveness in the words – I forgive you all your sins – in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
God’s name is enshrined in the commandments – You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
It was the power and authority given to Jesus when he humbled himself unto death on the cross by which God gave to him the name that is above all names – that at the name of Jesus every knee must bow and every tongue confess him as Lord.
We recognise Jesus with us not by physical means but by the use of his name.
Today we are given another way by which we see Jesus.
And that was in the “breaking of the bread” or by the 2nd Sacrament of Holy Communion.
When Jesus was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him;
We don’t see Jesus in everyday ordinary ways.
There were no cameras – no sketch artists.
Jesus said – blessed are those who believe without seeing and he is now teaching us how that actually happens.
Believing by faith is a much more powerful thing in life.
Over these past few weeks with the threats going on between the USA and North Korea, we see many images from North Korea where the people are lining the street as they parade their military strength and a procession of their bombs.
That is their strength.
And with that – what you see is what you get.
What you see is the extent of their power.
But God chose differently.
God chose a way by which his power would not be bound by physical limitations.
As St Paul said in 1 Corinthians:
God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are. (1 Corinthians 1:28).
God is hidden in mystery not in physical presentation.
God is hidden behind what appears to be weakness:
Water – bread and wine – forgiveness – meekness – mercy – servanthood – and above all LOVE.
God’s power is not limited by space and time or by what we can see with our eyes.
God’s power is unlimited and it is seen by faith.
Today, like the 2 disciples on the road to Emmaus, you come to the Lord ’s Table where bread will be broken and the cup poured out for you.
Here you will experience the true presence of God through the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
If our hope is based on physical strength then we will not only be limited to “what you see is what you get”.
Sometimes what you see is very disappointing, as we hear in the voices of the 2 disciples:
They were telling Jesus about what they saw and it was very disappointing.
“Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people. But, our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.
You can hear and feel their disappointment: “We had hoped”!
And as Christians sometimes we too have our hoped dashed when we focus on what we see:
We had hoped that Jesus would have answered our prayers and healed.
We had hoped that our church would have grown.
We had hoped that our children would have stayed in the church.
And the list of dashed hopes can go on and on if we base our experience with God on what we see.
We had hoped he wouldn’t have died.
But Christian hope is different.
Christian hope is not based on what is seen but what is promised, as the writer to the Hebrews reminds us:
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)
It’s so important to understand how we see God because God’s presence doesn’t always seem to be present particularly when we go through difficult times.
God doesn’t always reveal himself in the way we would hope just as the 2 disciples today show their disappointment – we had hoped that Jesus would be the one to relieve us from our difficulties.
Jesus is always with us but sometimes it is only after a time of difficulty that we see that Jesus has been with us to get us through.
Just like the 2 Emmaus disciples.
It was after Jesus had opened their eyes that they saw he was with them along the way.
But as soon as they realised that and their eyes were opened – Jesus disappears again.
And that can be our experience too.
Sometimes we can feel so close to God and other times so distant.
It’s not about how or what we feel but about what God has promised.
Sometimes we only see Jesus as we look back after a time of suffering where our hearts were burning – longing for Jesus to be with us – and realising that he was and got us through.
Looking back and seeing one set of footprints thinking we were alone and then realising that those footprints were God’s while he carried us.
Like Mary and the 2 Emmaus disciples, sometimes we don’t recognise Jesus with us but he is there as he was with them.
Sometimes he is there in a friend or neighbour.
And sometimes we are there for others.
It is not his physical presence which makes him present but his promise to be with us always till the end of the age.