Bishop Sue Briner’s Sunday Sermon

Grace to you and peace, from God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Here we are, right at the end of the Easter season. Last Thursday the Church commemorated the Ascension of Jesus, where the Messiah returned to his father and commissioned his disciples. But today we have one more Easter story before next Sunday’s festival of Pentecost. Today, we have another post-resurrection story of two disciples on a journey.

They’re on a physical journey, from Jerusalem to Emmaus. We’re not sure what waits for them there because that town isn’t mentioned anywhere else in the New Testament. Maybe it’s just a getaway place after the horror of watching their friend’s torture and death.

They’re also on an emotional journey. They’re processing out loud with each other all these things that have happened, and they’re trying to make sense of it all.

And they’re on a spiritual journey as well. They put their faith in the man who called himself the Son of God. But instead of making all their dreams come true, their spiritual leader suffered and died ingloriously on a cross. And now his disciples are being hunted down and might just face the same fate.

And in the midst of these journeys, Jesus himself comes near to them and joins them on the road. But in the midst of their pain and sorrow, they cannot recognize him for who he is. Which isn’t, at the end of the day, all that surprising. “But we had hoped that he was the one…” they lamented.

After all, God’s chosen people had waited and hoped for generations for a Messiah, and when he finally appeared on the scene they were elated! They had followed Jesus around for three years, their friend and mentor, watching him heal and drive out demons, soaking up his teaching. And the more they saw the miracles he performed, the more they hoped; the more they were convinced that this man was going to make Israel great again!

He was going to restore their fortunes; to overthrow the Romans and all who had oppressed them. He was going to bring back the glory days under Kings David and Solomon, where there was a vast kingdom and a grand temple. But then to witness the horrific torture and killing of their dear friend and the death of their hopes and dreams for a better future; it was more than these disciples could bear. And even though some women had told them that Jesus was alive, it must surely have been an idle tale, because the world still looked pretty bleak to them on this side of the resurrection.

But Jesus doesn’t give up on them. Ever patiently, he goes back through the story of scripture and shows them how it all happened just as it should have. He reminds them that there is no glory without suffering; there is no resurrection without death.

Some of you may know about Joel Osteen, the prosperity gospel preacher in Houston who has about 50,000 people attend his weekly services and several million others who watch him online.

It’s estimated that 1 in 5 church goers in the US attend some kind of prosperity gospel church, where they espouse – God wants you to be happy and safe and to bless you materially; the more you give, the more you get. Now this movement is growing – worldwide! I wonder if that’s at least partially due to people looking to “insulate” themselves from the bad in the world, thinking, if I just do ‘this and this’ then God will protect and prosper me. Or perhaps they want to justify why they don’t have to help others, because if you’re poor, they reason, you must have done something to deserve it.

But that’s not the gospel that Jesus proclaims and it’s not the reality of the world we live in. No one gets to escape pain and suffering in this life. This is a broken, fallen world and we are a broken, fallen people.

Think of all the painful and tragic news that we’ve absorbed just in the past few months. More and more school shootings. Churches, synagogues and mosques burned and bombed. Plane crashes and refugee crises. Suicides and murders. Hunger and homelessness. Extreme weather causing massive devastation. Sexual abuse and harassment scandals. Racial violence. Despot leaders. The list goes on and on.

But we have a God who was not content to leave us this way, who sent his only Son, to meet us in the midst of this pain and suffering, and who was willing to undergo torture and death for our sake, and for the sake of the world. We have a God who has promised that this broken, fallen world is being and will be renewed and reborn!

Well, these disciples still don’t get it, but they humor Jesus, and they invite him to come and stay with him so that he doesn’t have to walk alone after dark. And during the meal, in the midst of Jesus taking the bread, blessing, breaking and giving it to them, the disciples finally get it.

THIS is the Messiah. THIS is the one who broke bread with them on the night in which he was betrayed. THIS is the one whose body was broken for them and for the sake of the world. THIS is God who finally and fully revealed God’s power and love for them and for us on the cross. In a split second – they see it! They see the risen Christ for who he really is. And then, just like that, Jesus vanishes from their sight.

This is the God who often appears in unexpected ways and places, The God who often seems hidden from us, but who has promised us that we can always count on God to show up, in water and Word, bread and wine! So now, having feasted with Jesus, the disciples finally get it! And they’re so excited, that even though it’s evening they get up from the table and hurry back to Jerusalem to let their friends know that Jesus is alive, and that changes everything.

They have seen, heard and tasted hope in the resurrected Jesus. God has now opened their eyes and caused their hearts to burn so that they can also look back and see the resurrected Christ on the road with them throughout their journey. Their strength and spirit are renewed and they can’t wait to be hope to their fellow disciples.

How about with you? How is your spirit and your strength right now? Where are you on your journey? How have you seen hope in the midst of the hard places and pain? And if you have not been able to see much hope lately, reach for the bread and wine, for there you will find healing and hope.

And seeing hope, we are called to be hope in this broken fallen world. We are called to embody the crucified and risen Christ, who suffers in solidarity with the poor, the marginalized, the homeless and hopeless. And when I see what we are doing as a church to be hope in the world, I am so encouraged.

There’s our companion synod – the Lutheran Church in Costa Rica, who is small but mighty. They stand in solidarity with and speak out for indigenous people, abused women, gay, lesbianand transgender persons, immigrants and young people.

There’s our national church, with its advocacy ministries that speaks on behalf of the marginalized in areas such as affordable housing and criminal justice reform. And our ELCA
AMMPARO initiative, which seeks to accompany refugees and migrants in this country, and throughout Central America in this humanitarian crisis we find ourselves in the midst of. As the ELCA, we have raised over $100 million dollars toward world hunger initiatives.

Then there are ministries in our own synod like Platicas, where they gather Latinas who have felt marginalized by the church and they hear the message of God’s radical grace. We have
congregations who are cooperating for the sake of mission all over our territory. We have congregations that have been hard at work learning to connect to their neighborhoods in new
ways. We have congregations, campus and outdoor ministries who are intentional about forming faith in the next generations. .And many of our congregations work in feeding and homeless ministries caring for the least of these in our midst.

And through all this and more, we can see hope and we can be hope for those around us! I imagine you have your own stories to share bout how you or your congregation has seen hope and been hope. I invite you to take just a moment and share a brief story with a neighbor about seeing or being hope in some way.

(I encourage you to share stories around your dinner table tonight.)

May God open your eyes and make your heart burn with God’s grace and mercy. May God renew your strength and your spirit. May you continue to see hope, and be hope for the sake of the world God loves.

Amen.

-Bishop Sue Briner