Four Little Sermons…Pick the One You Need Rev Dr Durrell Watkins, Easter 3 (2015) Today is the third Sunday of Eastertide and so we continue to hear Resurrection narratives. Today’s story from Luke’s gospel takes place on Easter day. Two disciples who we never hear from again are walking home to Emmaus from Jerusalem when […]
Four Little Sermons…Pick the One You Need
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins, Easter 3 (2015)
Today is the third Sunday of Eastertide and so we continue to hear Resurrection narratives. Today’s story from Luke’s gospel takes place on Easter day. Two disciples who we never hear from again are walking home to Emmaus from Jerusalem when they encounter the Christ Light shining through a stranger they meet on the way.
The story isn’t repeated in the bible, though some want someone in John’s gospel with a similar name to Cleopas to be the same person, but it probably isn’t, and in a later addition to Mark’s gospel there are two verses about two people walking in a field, but of course a field isn’t the road to Emmaus and the people in that story aren’t named. So, really, the story of Cleopas and his companion returning to Emmaus is only shared by Luke, six to nine decades after the crucifixion of Jesus. So the story is unique and it appears quite late in the tradition.
Still, this Johnny-come-lately and unrepeated narrative somehow sticks out for us. I think it is because it is one of the most layered stories in scriptures. So today, we are going to briefly explore some of those many levels. This story offers many sermons, so listen for the sermon that is for you, and receive it as your own.
Sermon #1 ~ We Must Know Ourselves Because Not Everyone Really Knows Us
Cleopas and his companion are identified as disciples, students and followers of Jesus. They knew him, or so they thought, but when he shows up in a context beyond their expectation, they don’t recognize him at all.
It might actually be worse than that. A church leader named Eusebius lived just 200 years after Jesus. He was an historian and a bishop and he claimed to have met a grandchild of one of the apostles. Eusebius from his research determined that Cleopas from today’s gospel story was actually the brother of Joseph of Nazareth. That would make him Jesus’ uncle! Of course, I’m not sure Joseph was an actual person; he may have been a literary invention based on Joseph the dreamer from the book of Genesis. But for that matter, I don’t know that Cleopas was an actual person.
In any case, within the story, Cleopas is a disciple, a follower, a student, a friend, and possibly even uncle an uncle of Jesus’. He represents someone who should know Jesus very well, but he may only know what he wants Jesus to be, what he assumes Jesus to be; perhaps, he doesn’t really know Jesus very well at all. How else could he not recognize him on the road to Emmaus?
Cleopas and his unnamed companion “had hoped” that Jesus was going to be an armed rebel to raise an army and set up a revolutionary government. They were disappointed (even though Jesus never said that he had planned to take on Rome by means of force). They had cast Jesus in the role they wanted him to play, and then they were disappointed when Jesus turned out to be something other than what they had envisioned for him. Doesn’t that sound familiar?
We are often disappointed when we try to decide who others “should” be rather than listening to them tell us who they are. LBGT folk know what it is like to be marginalized because we didn’t turn out to be who others thought we should be.
Families that abandon their Queer children, they don’t really know them. They don’t see the divine light within them.
Politicians who demonize the poor don’t really know them, how hard they work, how they sacrifice for their children, how they deserve so much more than circumstances have offered them.
Churches that insist that women can’t be called to ministry don’t really know them. They don’t know that women, like men, are made in God’s image and the lack of a Y chromosome doesn’t prevent one from serving the people of God.
War hawks who are always wanting to bomb or invade countries…countries filled with grandmothers, babies, religiously devout people, people who love their families, teachers, nurses, doctors…they don’t see their so-called enemies as humans. They don’t know that all people are children of God.
We will never see what is good about others if we insist that they fit into our preconceived ideas, our prejudices, our expectations. Cleopas probably told Jesus dozens of times that he loved him, but in reality, he never really saw him for who he was; he couldn’t even recognize him when he showed up in a way that differed from his expectations.
Sermon #2 ~ We Have to Look Up to See Miracles
Cleopas and pal are “downcast”…when they are looking down, they can’t recognize the opportunities and possibilities before them. Like Hagar in the wilderness, we don’t find the miracle until we look up. While they were downcast, they were missing out on Resurrection Power. A resurrection experience is happening to them and they don’t even know it; they are too focused on what is wrong, what is miserable, what is broken. They have forgotten to look up, to see what is possible, what good lies ahead, what opportunities for healing exist beyond their disappointment. Until they look up, they can’t be lifted up. Without looking up, they’ll miss out on the miracles that are available to them.
Sermon #3 ~ It’s Time to Notice and Name the Other in our Midst
Since Cleopas is named and his traveling companion isn’t, it is reasonable to assume that his companion might be a woman (women are often left unnamed in scripture). The woman may be his wife, a woman disciple.
Isn’t it time that we recognize, name, and value “the other” in our midst? Women, children, immigrants, the poor, people with disabilities, same-gender loving folk, gender non-conforming folk, etc.?
Sermon #4 ~ Kindness is the True Creed
Mr & Mrs Cleopas show biblical hospitality. They say “stay with us for evening is at hand” – reminding us of Sodom & Gomorrah where Lot (who treated his daughters in the most deplorable way) was the only person to treat strangers with hospitality. It is kindness, not dogma that opens Cleopas and Cleopette to a life-changing miracle.
Rather than using dogma to exclude, vilify, control, and punish people we don’t understand or like, the Road to Emmaus story reminds us that the greatest commandment is to love, that the better part of spiritual living is treating others the way we would like to be treated, that divine Love is unconditional and all-inclusive.
Jesus became a very controversial figure by sharing table-fellowship with people beyond his social group. When the Cleopas family invite Jesus to share their table, that’s when they experience the Christ Nature. Sharing, inclusion, hospitality, compassion…these are divine qualities and as we embrace them, we experience Resurrection in our lives.
I doubt if today’s story is literal history, but it is very true; indeed, it offers a variety of truths for us to consider and apply to our lives.
1. We must know ourselves because not everyone really knows us.
2. We have to look up to see miracles.
3. It’s time to notice and name the Other in our midst.
4. Kindness is the true creed.
Whichever of these short sermons you embrace today, be assured, it is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2015
I know myself as a blessed child of God.
I look up and see miracles all around me.
I look out and see the sacred value of all people.
As I share loving-kindness, I share the power of God.
And so it is.