Preacher: The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.
If you ask my 3 ½ year old friend, Myles Wesch, where God is, he’ll tell you, “Right here, inside me.” And that is a true statement, but probably a bit truer for Myles and other children, and indeed all children, than it is for you and me. Not because God is less interested in us, but because children have had less time to fill their God shaped space with so much junk.
Today I want to talk about how we clear out this God shaped space to make room for God. The road to Emmaus will be our guide. But first, to know how to clear out this space, it might be helpful to understand how it got so junked up in the first place. The church has certainly played a role here.
Peter Rollins in his book The Idolatry of God talks about two existential grievances that occupy the human heart… One is the problem of the universe: why it is? And the second is: what our role is within this universe?
These questions can provoke an existential identity crisis that the church has sought to assuage through the name of Jesus. And while that is good, it is only good if the name of Jesus is an insight or an answer, not a bridge to a lesser response. Which too often has been the case as the church has lashed the name of Jesus to any passing idea it fancies like: Capitalist Jesus, or Marxist Jesus, or Republican Jesus, or Mercenary Jesus, or Social Reformer Jesus, or Revolutionary Jesus, or whatever the next best idea seems to be – Jesus.
And that is a bunch of junk that can land right here inside of you and me. No wonder the church writ large is listing and atrophying. We too often miss the point of Resurrection Jesus. Which is what was happening with those two people on the road to Emmaus. They missed the point. They were looking around and wondering why Jesus was no longer answering their practical and existential questions. He had been, and now he was dead.
It was confusing, particularly because they had known him first hand. I mean, they really knew Jesus. They saw him brush his teeth, and tie his sandals, and take a nap. These folks had seen the miracles. They witnessed Jesus reading people’s minds. They saw folks touch his shirt and be healed. They drank the wine that had been water. That was the Jesus these people knew, and that was the Jesus who died on the cross… And as they were walking to Emmaus that is the Jesus they were talking about and wondering about; the dead Jesus, not the resurrected Jesus.
When a guy came up next to them, and asked what they were talking about. And they were like: “Really? Where have you been these past three days, in a hole in the ground? Under a rock? “We are talking about Jesus of Nazareth who died on the cross.”
And this guy just shakes his head and then zings them with: “Oh how foolish you are.” And; “How slow of heart you are to believe what the prophets said.”
So now watch with me, as Jesus moves these folks from a god tied to something temporal and fleeting, to God right in here, inside. It starts slowly. One clue unveiled, then another, then another; gradually, gradually, gradually and then suddenly. It is like doing a jigsaw puzzle without benefit of the picture on the box. First, you gather the pieces on the table. Then you divide them by color. Then you start matching, by trial and error; gradually, gradually, gradually. Then suddenly the picture becomes clear. The pieces of Jesus’ life are like that, strewn on the table we know as the Bible, so we can see them together. Our lives are a jigsaw puzzle as well, only the clues are scattered in the particularity of our own history and experience.
And here is what we learn on the road to Emmaus—by witnessing how Jesus unveils the clues of his divine vocation through the context of scripture—we are given a model for how we unveil clues for our divine vocation through the context of our lives. That is why God made you and me; to learn and then live out our divine vocation.
That is what Jesus did. His divine vocation was to be the Messiah. He found those clues, and internalized them, and then lived them out. And on the road to Emmaus he shared with these two travelers what the experience was like. And they saw the jigsaw puzzle coming together right in front of their eyes. They knew the ancient scriptures, probably by heart, but suddenly, it all made sense. And they were enlightened; and their hearts were set aflame.
I love that; their hearts were on fire! Has your heart ever been on fire? Sure it has, and I know when….It was that moment when your life made the most sense. Maybe when you were proposing to your spouse, or when your child was born. Or maybe it was when you had a quiet moment sitting in your office reflecting on your job, or working in the garden, or videotaping your son’s dance recital. You know you are in the midst of your divine vocation, when your heart is on fire.
That is what was happening for these two people on the road to Emmaus. More and more their hearts were on fire; more and more life was making sense; more and more the expectations of the world were falling away, as the reality of God’s universe was coming into focus.
Then something truly normal happened; they stopped for dinner. The stranger was going to go on, but they insisted he stay for a meal. So he did and he blessed the bread and he broke the bread…and then he was gone.
Well actually, friends, he wasn’t gone, he just moved, inside them. They were ready, those two folks on the road to Emmaus.mSlowly, slowly, slowly, and then suddenly. The dross of their own agenda burned off and now, right in here, inside, there was room for Jesus. Suddenly his life became their life. Suddenly his divine vocation ignited their divine vocation. And in a flash, their lives made sense, imbued with purpose, in a universe that belonged to God.
Whatever had been drawing them to Emmaus suddenly became irrelevant, as they turned and ran back to Jerusalem. Instead of going where they wanted to go, they went back to where they knew they needed to be… their community, where they would find their divine vocation.
We live out our divine vocation in community. The unveiling of this vocation is called discernment; and as Todd said a few weeks back: discernment is the superpower of humanity. That is what we do at church. We discern together our divine vocations; gradually, gradually, gradually, and then suddenly that God- shaped space opens up within us, and resurrected Jesus takes up residence. That is what happened on the road to Emmaus; Jesus didn’t disappear, he relocated into the hearts of these two people, just like he can do in our hearts, if we let him.
It is all about uncovering clues. And so I wonder, what are the clues from the context of your life that are calling you to your deepest purpose? Do you know?
Do you want to know? If you do, maybe start by praying backward. Look back at your life. Seek the turning points. Return to the folks in the road. Reflect upon moments of suffering. Kindle the fire of your slow heart with the hot coals of self-revelation. You know them. Go get them. Uncover them. Hold them up to the light, and then connect one, to the next, to the next until, suddenly, the dross burns off and there is room for resurrected Jesus.
Your life was prophetically anticipated just like Jesus’ was. The only difference is that yours isn’t spelled out in a book called the Bible. It is spelled out in a book called your life. God planned for you. God made you for a divine purpose, make no mistake about it. And Jesus is the intersection between the particularity of your personhood and God’s great big plan for the universe.
Each week we come to this intersection at this table, where bread is blessed and broken. We call it the Eucharist, which really just means Thank You. Maybe our purpose is to say thank you to God.
And so, with this in mind we return to Peter Rollins and the two existential questions: 1) What is the meaning of the universe? 2) What is our place in it?
And you know what? We still can’t know the meaning of the universe, Our brains just aren’t big enough. We weren’t made to know all of that, nor do we need to. But the Bible does say that Jesus gives us enough for us know our purpose. We find it as we piece together the clues from our lives, gradually, gradually, gradually and then suddenly as our divine vocation materializes before our very eyes. And as that happens our hearts are set aflame.
That is what I want for you, a burning heart, but it only happens if that is what you want for yourself…like those folks on the road to Emmaus. When they stopped and invited Jesus to stay, he did; Resurrected Jesus shows up and settles in, right in here, inside.