What was the moment of recognition?

A sermon preached by Pastor Ken Carrothers on May 17, 2020

•Luke 24:13-35•

There is this great video that came out at the end of 2015 entitled: When Adele wasn’t Adele… but was Jenny! For those that don’t know Adele is an English singer and songwriter. For a BBC show, Adele decided to change her appearance and enter an Adele impersonator show with other impersonators.

Adele put on a prostetic nose and chin. She made her lips a little smaller and she wore gloves to hide her tatoos. She spoke with a  slower clip as she embodied, Jenny, the nanny. In the 5 minute YouTube video I watched this week, it showed Adele’s interactions with the other singers, none of which was the wiser. The closer it gets to Jenny’s turn on stage the more she feigns nerves. As the last singer, she misses her first cue to come in and asked for one more try. And then she lets loose.

It takes one of the other impersonators about five seconds to realize who is actually before them. For others it took a bit longer, but by midway through the song they are all on board and convinced and beside themselves with glee. What was the moment of recognition?  For this group it was when Adele began singing — then their eyes were opened and they recognized her.

Another story, this one from this month’s Living Lutheran by Bishop Leila Ortiz of the Metro D.C. synod. She begins her article by talking about growing up in a Pentecostal church and believing that God’s love, grace and salvation were conditional. “Even still,” Ortiz wrote, “by the grace of God, the Spirit inspired and Jesus insisted I get to know him better.” So one day Ortiz spent all her lunch money and bus fare so she wouldn’t be tempted to take the bus home. “The 2-mile walk,” she said, “would be my alone time with God. I met up with my friend Jesus and told him about my day and my dreams. It was such a delightful walk that I did the same thing the next day.”

Ortiz continues, “Jesus was awe-inspiring to me, and I couldn’t get enough of him. Eventually, this devotional time evolved into a love affair. I looked forward to our intentional time together, and I talked about him to anyone who would listen. I loved Jesus then, and this love overflowed into the rest of my life, through today.” What was the moment of recognition?  For Ortiz it was when she took a walk with God — then her eyes were opened and she recognized him.

In light of Ortiz’s story, there is then a certain irony that for the two disciples in our reading today, their eyes were kept from recognizing Jesus as they walked with him. Now I have often interpreted that as an outside force holding these two disciples at bay — as though Jesu held a veil over their eyes — but this week I am not so sure. This week I started wondering if these two were perhaps too caught up in the story to see what was before them — to seized by their own stuff — to held by their own grief.

Jesus asks them what they are talking about and they share the story with him. They tell Jesus the facts of what happened. And Jesus tells them how foolish they are. Jesus doesn’t discount the facts, but reminds them what is under the facts — that is what the heart of the story is.

As they near the village Jesus walked ahead, but they urge him to stay. How much easier things would have been in that moment to simply let Jesus walk on. To invite him to stay with them is to risk — there is vulnerability in the ask — to open up one’s home. To share what one has. And yet that is what they do. They make the offer of radical hospitality to a seeming stranger. 

And I find it interesting that it is in the same token that they recognize Jesus — in an act of radical hospitality. For Jesus takes bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Jesus enacts communion. Jesus offers himself. What was the moment of recognition?  For these disciples it was in the meal — then their eyes were opened and they recognized him.

It is exactly what is supposed to happen in communion. When Jesus first shared it with his disciples he said, “do this in remembrance of me.” And that is what these two disciples did. They remembered and then they got out on the road and acted. They shared what had happened and how Jesus had become known to them.

This is communion at its finest. It is a meal that draws us in and then sends us out. We remember Jesus and we remember that Jesus was all about others. Jesus is all about going out. Jesus is about sharing what we receive. Another way to put it would be this — Remembering Jesus is about loving our neighbor. Loving the most vulnerable. Loving those whom society has kicked to the curb. Loving them as Jesus did.

Now in this difficult time some people are loving their neighbors in extraordinary ways: paramedics, nurses, doctors, pharmacists and therapists. Some of these professionals are caring for people where they live. While others have traveled to hotspots like my friend’s husband who spent four weeks in New Jersey working 28 straight 12 hour shifts. Are they all Christians, or people of faith? Of course not. But are they instruments of God’s healing, nonetheless? I think so. For they are loving their neighbor in word and action.

And while these acts may seem out of grasp for us — loving the neighbor is never out of our reach. Our neighbor may need a phone call of encouragement. Our neighbor may need a couple rolls of toilet paper. Our neighbor may simply need a wave. For in the end what our neighbors really need is for us to put their needs ahead of our wants and desires.

Martin Luther wrote, “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject of all, subject to all.” Yes, we are free. By God’s grace we are free. But our freedom is not a freedom to do whatever we want. Within in our freedom is a call to serve our neighbor.

I am recalling that each year in staff training at Christikon we were told a story. A group of campers was out on the trail with two counselors. The counselors really wanted to see the sunrise on top of the mountain, but knew their group didn’t have the stamina or drive to climb the mountain. So the two counselors woke up at 3am and quietly made their way out of the tents and up the mountain with plans to return before anyone woke-up and was any the wiser. Unbeknownst to them, the advisor did wake up as they were leaving. The advisor couldn’t go back to sleep as he worried for the next 4 hours while they were gone what he would do if they didn’t come back. In addition to the liability, which was a huge issue, the story was shared as a reminder that the group’s safety was more important than our own personal agendas. Or for our purposes today, our neighbor’s needs are more important than our wants and desires.

But of course it is never as simple as it sounds. English priest, Sam Wells said this week, “we are trying to pursue two non-identical goods — health and well-being. They are not the same, but they are hugely overlapping and it is very difficult to achieve both right now.” And adding to Wells comments, it is even more difficult when one considers health and well-being in light of Luther’s understanding of a Christian — perfectly free, perfectly servant.

We live in a difficult time. There are challenging choices ahead, individually, as a community and for us as a church. How will we reengage with one another? When do we gather for worship in-person again? What does that gathering even look like? Taxing questions for us all.

Whatever our answers — whatever we do, let it be oriented toward the well-being and health of our neighbor — and ourselves, but not in a way that harms our neighbor. For  I pray by setting aside our own desires and wants in favor of love — love of our neighbor, love of those most vulnerable among us — the world’s eyes will be opened, the world’s heart will burn and the world will recognize Jesus has been on the road with us all — this whole time.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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