Today's Gospel reading is one of my favorites, and is commonly referred to as the Walk to Emmaus. Within
this text there is the revelation of Jesus' presence with us and that he indeed walks with us every day of our lives, and that our walk with Jesus is a journey, a journey of faith, a journey of promise, and a journey of hope.
In our scripture reading we encounter two disciples on the road between the towns of Jerusalem and Emmaus. They had just left Jerusalem and were on their way home. Like many other Jews they were counting on Jesus to redeem Israel, to rescue the nation from
Most Jews of that day believed that the Old Testament prophecies pointed to a military and political Messiah; so they were disappointed when Jesus didn't fulfill their understanding of prophecy. They didn't realize that the Messiah, Jesus, had come to redeem
people from a much greater enemy, their slavery to sin.
Therefore, when Jesus died most Jews lost all hope. There lives were shattered, and their dreams of a better tomorrow faded away. They didn't realize that their lives weren't shattered and that there would now be a better today and tomorrow. They didn't
realize that Jesus offered the greatest hope possible, forgiveness of sin and eternal life.
Well, this was the state of mind Cleopas and his walking partner were in as they traveled the road to go home. And as they walked along the road I can imagine they probably spoke about their disappointment to one another, and were most likely very depressed,
not unlike how we would be if we thought all hope was lost.
A number of years ago when I was doing my undergraduate work I took a class called "World Religions." We studied 5 to 7 of the world's most prominent religions. We compared and contrasted the beliefs, the rituals, and the practices.
One of the remarkable things I took away from this class was just how unique and different Christianity was to the other religions we studied.
As I now look back on that class their were two characteristics of Christianity that stood our above the other religions. The first one was Jesus, how he was God incarnate, how he died and was resurrected, how he was both fully human and fully divine, and
how he proclaimed he was God.
The other characteristic that stands out is the characteristic of relationship. And this is the characteristic I want to spend some time on this morning, within the context of our Gospel reading.
As a matter of fact, I suggest instead of calling our faith the "Christian religion," we can more accurately call our faith tradition "Christian relationship." Because without relationship Christianity ceases to be what God intended.
Lets look at this idea for a moment.
Refer to Image of Cross
On your bulletin insert you see the image of the cross and two arrows. Now take a pen or pencil and put the word "God" above the vertical bar of the cross, put the word "others" to the right of the horizontal cross bar, and put the word "me" at the foot of
the cross and to the left of the horizontal cross bar.
This image now illustrates two important relationships we have as Christians. The first is our relationship with God, which is our vertical relationship, if you will. The second relationship is our relationship with others, our horizontal relationship.
Now here's the neat part. Notice as we grow in our faith and begin to grow closer to God, in affect moving up the cross on our drawing, we reach the horizontal bar. Likewise as we grow in our relationship with others, we move from left to right on the
horizontal bar, eventually reaching the vertical bar.
But notice these aren't endpoints; the journey doesn't stop at this point. Both the vertical and horizontal bars continue on to their destination, in one case to God and in the other, to others. But look at what happens. At some point the two journeys
intersect at a point in the middle of the cross, and each relationship begins to affect the other.
In other words at some point we can't continue to grow in our relationship with God if we don't go beyond knowledge of God to seeing God throughout all creation. That is having a keen awareness of God's omnipresence.
And likewise we can't continue to grow in our relationship with others if we don't go beyond simply knowing others to seeing the image of Christ in others.
Relationships are a key to our faith, and quit frankly are absolutely imperative to growing in faith. The two greatest commandments support the importance of relationship: "Love the Lord your God, again our vertical relationship, and "love your neighbors,"
our horizontal relationship.
Now lets go back to our Gospel reading for a moment. For seven miles two people were walking to Emmaus, and as I mentioned earlier I would assume they were talking about what had happened to Jesus, and how they were no longer hopeful, and didn't really know
what to do next.
Then all of a sudden at some point along the road someone joins them on their journey. We now know this to be Jesus, but Cleopas and the other disciple didn't recognize him at the time. They, like Mary back at the tomb, were so consumed by grief and
disappointment they failed to see the resurrected Christ walking with them. They probably felt as if God let them down. They were coming up against the horizontal cross bar on our image of the cross.
Now as Jesus began to walk with them, the conversation turned to Jesus and all that happened in Jerusalem. Jesus asked the two disciples, "What are you discussing so intently?" And the two, Cleopas and the other disciple probably stopped walking, stood there
long-faced, like they lost their best friend. And Cleopas said, "Are you the only one in Jerusalem who hasn't heard what happened during the last few days?"
Jesus asked, "What happened?"
The disciples said, "The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene. He was a man of God, a prophet, dynamic in work, blessed by both God and all the people. Then our high priests and leaders betrayed him, got him sentenced to death and crucified him.
We had all our hopes and dreams shattered as we thought he was the One, the One to deliver Israel. And it's now the third day since it happened.
Now today some of the women have completely confused us. Early this morning they were at the tomb and couldn't find his body. They came back with the news that they had seen a vision of angels who said Jesus was alive. Some of our friends went to the tomb to
check things out for themselves, but they didn't see Jesus. So we're headed home, back to Emmaus."
Jesus then responded to their story by saying, "So thick -headed! So slow-hearted! Why can't you simply believe all that the prophets said? Don't you see that these things had to happen, that the Messiah had to suffer and only then enter into his glory?"
Then Jesus started at the beginning, with the Books of Moses, and went on through all the Prophets, pointing out everything in scripture that referred to him.
Jesus was helping the disciples' breakthrough both the vertical and horizontal bars that were stopping them from growing in their relationship with God and with one another.
Eventually they stopped, and all three sat down to supper. And Jesus took the bread; he blessed it, broke it and gave it to them. At that moment the breakthrough took place, their eyes were opened to the risen Christ and there lives were never the same.
Throughout his walk with the disciples' Jesus was developing a relationship, a relationship of friendship and trust. Ultimately it was the relationship that led to the revelation of who Jesus actually was. And when Jesus broke the bread, hope and the eternal
promise were revealed.
This morning as Tyler was baptized we welcomed him into a relationship, we welcomed him into a relationship with Christ, and we welcomed him into a relationship with the body of Christ, all of us, the community of believers.
It's only through these relationships that Tyler will grow in faith. It's only through these relationships we will grow in faith to be all that God wants us to be.
So how do we develop these relationships? The answer is Christian fellowship, it's about connecting, and building bridges to God and to one another. Apart from Christian fellowship there is no other way to develop our relationship with God and with others.
Cleopas and the other disciple, instead of seeking fellowship with other believers, actually turned away and headed back home to Emmaus. They turned away from the very people they needed to be with.
But once they realized that Jesus was indeed alive, they returned back to the fellowship of the faith community they left, to share with them the good news.
How many people do we know that turn waway from the church during difficult times in their lives, preferring instead to stay by themselves? Well, these are the times we really need to stay within the fellowship of believers, to be nurtured and cared for.
John Wesley was emphatic about the place of Christian fellowship and nurture in the life of a Christian. He said, "Converts (to the Christian faith), without nurture are like stillborn babies." Now as you can tell Wesley wasn't known for tact, he said it
like was, but his point is well made.
He went on to say, "Never encourage the devil by snatching souls from him that you cannot nurture." In other words Wesley was saying if you don't plan to help folks grow in their faith by nurturing them through relationship, then don't bother trying to
convert them. Without Christian fellowship these folks are too vulnerable and will find it too difficult to reject evil, and will probably fall to temptation.
Wesley insisted on the necessity for mutual encouragement, growth, and service, within the context of the means of grace. He expected the Christian faithful to do more than go to church to hear the Word and participate in the sacraments. He was basically
saying we can't grow in faith just by attending worship once a week.
Wesley believed that the church must provide a means for Christian fellowship, so that we remain connected to God, and connected to one another.
Every member of the church should feel responsible for every other member. This is never more apparent then when we take our baptismal vows, vows of re-affirmation, and when we become members of the church.
In all cases we commit to not only support the church, but to support one another in our spiritual growth. Without a sense of relationship our lives lack purpose, our faith fades, and life takes on less meaning than what God intends.
The church has the responsibility to provide the potential for nurturing human beings into the fullness of their humanity, and into a full relationship with God through Jesus Christ. We have a responsibility to innovate, support, and evaluate new forms of
community that will encourage development of every person to their fullest potential.
And of primary importance is the gospel understanding that all persons are important because they are human beings created by God, and loved through and by Jesus Christ.
The key ingredient for the church to evolve from just a place of worship to a real community of God's people, is our willingness to enter into and nurture relationships, recognizing the key relationship is with Jesus himself.
And in reality this is what we've been doing here at Trinity as we reach out to our community to understand their needs, and then develop new ministries, or engage in specific projects to meet those needs. When you stop and think about it, what we're doing
is developing relationships, encouraging relationships, and nurturing relationships, particularly our relationship with Christ.
As our relationship with Christ grows, we begin to realize that he's more than God and Savior. Jesus is our friend and confidant. Jesus is someone we can trust and count on.
And as our relationship continues to grow we recognize in a very real and personal way what a special friend we have in Jesus, and can confidently proclaim to others, "And he walks with me, and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own; and the joy we
share as we (hangout together) tarry there, none other has ever known."
Read other messages by Pastor Wade