Third Sunday of Easter (Year A - LCMS Readings)
Saturday, April 9, and Sunday, April 10, 2005
What in your life has shaken your faith to the core? Has there been a moment of extreme doubt when you thought about a cashing it all in, walking away from this Christianity thing? It seems that for many of us there’s been those moments—perhaps a moment that only lasted a few minutes, but maybe also a moment lasting hours, days, weeks, years.
What was it that rocked your faith right off its foundation? For me, I think at times I’ve gotten pretty shaky about my faith when I’m trying to wrestle with some teaching of Christ. It comes during those times when you feel pretty confident, like you understand how God works, and then you come up against another teaching from Scripture which doesn’t seem to fit in. It feels like trying to put a square block into a round hole (use toy block sorter); it just doesn’t work. When you hit that moment, haven’t you ever felt like throwing the whole thing out, letting it crumble, letting it get shoved to the back of the closet where it will be dusty and forgotten? If it’s that hard to understand, well, then maybe it’s just not worth it. Perhaps, then, you’re like me; at times, trying to understand the teachings of Christ causes you to consider giving up on Christ completely.
That’s how it was for those two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus. Their faith had been rocked to the core. They couldn’t figure out how the teaching of Christ fit with reality. Christ had said He was the Savior, He would save His people, but the reality was: Jesus died. They’re reeling, heads spinning. You can imagine them staggering away from Jerusalem, heading down the road in disbelief, fear, loneliness, and confusion.
As readers of Luke’s Gospel, we’re kind of in-the-know. We know more than these two disciples. We know that Jesus truly rose from the dead; we know that’s the way it was meant to happen. When the stranger starts talking to the disciples on the road, as readers, we’re clued in; we know the stranger is Jesus. Yet, just because we’re in-the-know shouldn’t mean that we should get cocky, self-assured about our faith. We’re no different than those two disciples. We could just as easily have our faith rocked off its foundation.
Maybe your faith was rocked to the core, not when you were wrestling with the teaching of Christ, maybe it was an event that happened in your life. I know there’s been those times in my life when Jesus seemed so far away. There’s been death of loved ones, days that were lonely or painful, days when I’ve experienced someone’s betrayal or harsh words. Those are the moments when you have trouble holding onto to your Christian faith. Those are the events that could shake your faith for minutes, hours, days, weeks, years. What events have shaken your faith?
That’s what happened for those two disciples who were walking to Emmaus. (build tower of blocks) They had believed in Jesus; they had trusted Him; they followed Him; they thought they understood His mission. But seeing Him die on the cross, seeing Him be buried, well, that event completely shook their faith. (bust up tower) They lost all confidence and direction. What now? What would they do now? How could they ever hope again because their hope had been completely taken away?
If we’re honest with ourselves, then, we’re no different than those two disciples. We’ve had those times in our lives when our faith has been rocked, shaken, and ripped right out of our hearts. There’s been those times when we’ve walked away from the faith, walked away, shaking our heads in disbelief. Maybe you walked away for a long time; maybe those pangs of doubt only lasted a brief moment. It doesn’t really matter how long they last, those moments of feeling like there’s nothing to believe in, that this Christian thing is for the birds, no moment how fleeting those moments are they still show us just how fragile our faith is, just how fickle, weak, wandering, and blind our hearts are.
This reading from Luke’s Gospel puts us in-the-know, and we could easily pretend that those two disciples were silly not to believe. Yet, if we’ll let this reading work with our hearts, if we’ll let the Holy Spirit peel away our layers of protection, we’ll admit that we’re no different. We’re weak in our faith; we’ve got that fight-or-flight instinct, ready to run away from our faith if it just gets too tough. We can’t claim that our faith is so strong that nothing will every shake it.
Why do I want you to remember those times that your faith wavered? Why do I want you to admit that your faith can be shaken and rocked? Why do I want you to think of yourselves as no different than the two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus with no clue about why Jesus died? Because I want you to realize how important the words of Scripture are to your faith. I want you to realize that the way Jesus shored up, built up, and strengthened those two disciples, that’s how Jesus will build your faith.
(building tower of blocks again) “Starting with Moses and all the Prophets, Jesus explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself.” God came to Moses, saying that He had heard the crying of His people, the misery of His people in slavery. God would use Moses to free His people, and through Moses, God would promise that He would always save His people (Exodus 3:7-10). Through the prophet Isaiah, God promised that a king would come who would reign forever, establishing justice and mercy in the land (9:2-7). Through the prophet Zephaniah, God promised to take away our punishment for sins (3:14-17). In Ezekiel, God promised that He Himself would be our Shepherd, going to great lengths to find all of the lost sheep (34:11-16).
Jesus builds your faith. (put block on head, fall off) He doesn’t build it on your ability to remain faithful. He doesn’t build the faith on how strong or committed you are. That isn’t what He tells those disciples on the road; He doesn’t say, “Well, you’ve got to be stronger in your faith. You’ve got to look deep inside yourselves, find that strength in your heart.” That isn’t what Jesus does.
(put block on tower) Jesus takes them back to Scripture; He takes them back to God’s Word. The disciples had been shaken in their faith, because the teaching of Christ didn’t make sense now that Jesus had been crucified. So, Jesus took them back to the foundations of their faith, took them back to Scripture to help them to see how it all points to the Savior needing to die, needing to die for the sins of the world.
The disciples had felt lost in their faith, because they had seen their Savior die. The tragic events in the last few days caused them to feel lost and confused. So, Jesus took them back to Scripture, which would guide them in their confusion. Every time God’s people had felt defeated, felt separated from God, felt like there was no hope, God continued to promise hope. Every time God’s people had gotten confused by God’s actions, God kept saying, “Trust me, I know what I’m doing.” And sure enough, every time God kept His promise, and He continued to save His people.
Jesus builds this faith again for the disciples, builds it again on the strong foundation of God’s promises. In this reading from Luke’s Gospel, we see the transformation taking place in the hearts of those disciples. They begin to see again how the teaching of Christ does fit together with His death. Instead of trying to fit the death of Christ through their small understanding of Christ, which is like a square block in a round hole (block into sorter)—well, Jesus just completely changes everything. (take top off sorter) Jesus shows the disciples and us that His death means victory, His death was not the end, His death paid the punishment for sins, His death would give us life after death. Jesus changes everything about how we understand His teachings.
Jesus builds this faith again for the disciples, builds it again on the strong foundation of God’s promises. Jesus tells the disciples that the Christ had to die. (holding block for tower) Jesus takes this awful event that has completely rocked the faith of the disciples, Jesus takes that event and says it doesn’t have to change anything, doesn’t have to destroy their faith. In fact, Jesus explains that everything the disciples had been taught was pointing to, leading to the death on the cross (put block on the tower). The death on the cross would become the pinnacle, the high point, the event that gives the true hope.
It was such a different tower, such a different faith than the disciples had imagine. It is such a different faith than we would imagine. If the top point, the most important teaching and event in Christianity is the death of Jesus on the cross, that kind of makes the tower seem weak, broken. But there’s Jesus on the road with the two disciples telling them that this weak tower is exactly what they need. There’s Jesus in the Bible telling us that this weak tower is what will save us from the devil, sin, and death. Everyone in the world might tell us that this faith is weak, but Jesus is saying that His death is the strongest thing out there, the only truth, the only thing that will truly give us life after death.
You see, that’s the amazing thing: God takes something that looks like defeat and pulls hope from out of it. God takes something that’s weak and makes it so strong. God takes the death of Jesus and brings life for the whole world through it.
It’s like the blues. I’ve really come to appreciate blues music, because of the way it can express some gut-wrenching emotions in the music, the lyrics, the beat, and those guitar solos. But with blues, we shouldn’t forget the hope. There is hope in blues music. Oh, the refrain might be about how sad life is, but at least there is a line or two of hope, and that’s what we need to remember. We can’t forget the hope, because if you just concentrate on the sad lines, you’ll never see the hope.
That’s how it is with the Word of God. On the surface, it looks like only sadness, but this is full-on blues song, a song of sadness that also contains words of hope. Today’s reading from Luke would make a terrific blues song: a tragic tale about the teacher being killed and His two followers wandering down a country road not sure where to go. Then this stranger shows up, gets them to go deeper, find out that the cross is a victory, that His death meant a defeat of hell. You can’t forget the hope. You can’t walk down that country road, walk away from the truth, walk away from hope. You’ve got to sing the whole song, you’ve got to remember the whole truth, you’ve got to realize there’s hope in God where you could never imagine there’s hope. Ah, a blues song can turn a corner from sadness to hope only because we’ve got the true model for turning the corner in Scripture.
We keep singing the blues not because it always just so sad, but we keep singing the blues because its got hope in it. And we keep reading the Word of God not because it keeps reminding us of how lost we are. We keep reading it, because it reminds us of the hope that we have.
When you’re listening to the blues, you gotta get the beat into your soul. And then when you’re fixed on it, your foot starts tapping, and then your head starts nodding. And even if you’re feeling pretty sad, and you’re thinking the lyrics are exactly what you’re thinking about, at least your head is bobbing and at least your foot is tapping. And you’re starting to feel just a little bit better.
And that’s same with the Word of God. You gotta fix it in your heart, because when you got it fixed in your heart, your head starts bobbing remembering God’s love for you. Then even if you’re feeling pretty sad, pretty scared about today, then you got the Word of God there fixed right with you.
That’s what happened for the two disciples on the road that day: Jesus put hope in their hearts. That’s what happened for us today: Jesus put hope in our hearts through His Word. So no matter what rocks your soul, shakes your faith, tries to drive hope out of you, no matter what, Jesus comes to play some blues music, soothing your soul, building up your faith, and showing you that the worst thing imaginable, the death of our Savior, well, that my friends is our hope. Jesus pulls hope out of the blues; Jesus pulls strength out of the destroyed; Jesus builds our faith on the ruins of our soul. Whatever it is that rocks your faith off its foundation, Jesus comes to give you new hope.