Sermon by Reverend Dr. John W. Mann | April 16, 2023 – Snow Day
Years ago, there was a Saturday afternoon where I had two weddings scheduled. The first wedding was at 1:00 PM and the second at 3:00. It was a compare and contrast afternoon. Those of us involved in the weddings, me, the organist and the church officers all commented on what a difference there was between the two wedding congregations.
In the first wedding, the wedding party and many of the attendees we would describe as, “Aye, they were a wee bit gobby.” Not in a judgmental way, but as an observation. What is gobby? People who are gobby don’t behave well in public. They tend not to follow social norms; they can be loud; they are often drunk, and they get in fights. I read last week in a Glasgow newspaper that bus services have discontinued after 6:00 PM in my old parish, because of gobby behaviors.
Our church had a come one, come all policy, so we knew how to tolerate and manage the occasional gobby guests. No one wanted to be shown the door at a wedding. We conducted the wedding with as much dignity as we could muster, and we were thankful when it was over.
The second wedding was for a young woman who had grown up in the church. She was a regular in worship and the man she was marrying was a newly certified police officer. They made a lovely couple.
Both families and their guests were very nice, the groom’s especially so. Their surname was Murray. It’s a common enough name. They were no relation to the Murrays of tennis fame. I commented to the groom, “I’ll remember the Murrays from this wedding.”
In the years that followed, children were born into the family and brought to the church for Baptisms. All of the Murrays came for the event and folks in the congregation even commented, “What a lovely family. Who are they?”
It only dawned on me who this family was when I was watching the news one day. There was a report on how a van driver had crashed into the ancient stone gates of the Scone Palace, causing considerable damage. Scone Palace is the home of the Earl of Mansfield. The family had been involved in Scottish affairs for centuries. A 2013 film entitled “Belle” tells the story of a famous portrait and how the first Earl had been instrumental in the abolishment of slavery in Great Britain. The news team was interviewing the Earl.
I said, “I know that guy!” He was Mr. Murray, the father of the groom and grandfather of those babies I baptized. Never once in all the times he had been with us did he say, “Listen here, I’m the Earl of Mansfield! You’d better show some respect!”
Just like, in the end stories of the Gospels, Jesus never went around saying, “Listen here, I’m the risen Lord! You’d better show me some respect.”
No, Jesus came along quietly. They thought he was the gardener. He showed up in a locked room. There he was, cooking breakfast on the beach. They met him on walking along the road and talked with him for hours. They didn’t realize he was Jesus, until they realized he was Jesus.
The story is told of two people going on a journey. It was a fairly common trip, a walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus which is seven miles. Two travelling companions, maybe friends, maybe husband and wife – who knows, just one of them was named: Cleopas – literally “son of a strong father.”
Cleopas and his traveling companion were followers of Jesus, or they had been. Just the day before yesterday Jesus had been executed – crucified, dead and buried. They descended into hell; the hell of lost dreams and misplaced loyalties; and the desolate pain of grief.
This journey with Jesus was not supposed to turn out that way. Some people expected that when the Messiah came, that he would “set the people free,” in a political sense. Jesus didn’t seem to be moving in that direction. Maybe it was as if his way would inspire a more grass roots transformation. But even against that there was opposition. The religious system was unwilling to make room for him, let alone to give up its power. Resistance to Jesus spilled over into outright hostility. It was easier to put him to death in the hope that out of sight became out of mind.
There were other travelers on the road that day. One of them was Jesus. But how could that be? According to the story, he had been raised from the dead. The two travelers were unaware of that. They were talking about “he’s dead” and “we’re sad,” when Jesus joined them. He fell into step with them. They didn’t recognize him. Why should they – he was dead and dead means gone. But there he was walking along with them.
This is not a story about anecdotal evidence, as if to say, “This proves it!” It’s more like a parable – a story about the journeys of our lives. They didn’t recognize him because they weren’t looking for him. In their view, he was dead. The empty tomb was a mystery – a missing body at least. He wanted to know what they were talking about, as if to say, “Let me in on the secret.”
“Are you the only stranger who hasn’t heard about these things?” they said. What they called him – stranger – the Greek word in the story is “Paroikeis.” It means traveler or sojourner. Someone who comes and who eventually moves on. The idea there is that Jesus is a traveler through life just as we are. And he can also be the stranger in our midst.
They told him about what had happened, to him. They told him about their hopes for him and how he had been killed. They told him about the empty tomb and what some women who went there said about angels. They were astounded by it all, and sad.
That was one ending to the story and Jesus the stranger began to tell them another way to look at it. As they walked along, he began to weave a tale of possibilities and hope. That’s the way it is with stories. The same story, depending on who does the telling, can be either a lost cause or a bright possibility.
That would give them something to think about. They came to the fork in the road that bent off to Emmaus and Jesus, having finished his story walked on ahead of them. “Thanks for sharing the road,” he might have said. And it might have ended that Jesus the stranger came along, told a heart-warming tale to pass the time and moved on. One wonders how many stories end that way. Or how many end that way, but don’t have to; stories that could have had a different outcome.
Why not take hold of a different possibility? “Wait, don’t go. Stay with us. It will be night soon.” Like so many stories that move from ending to possible new chapters, this one continued because Cleopas and his friend extended a bit of welcome and hospitality.
This may cause us to wonder about the stories of our own lives and the difference that hospitality has made – the friends we’ve made because someone took the risk to extend an invitation – or even the changing of outcomes because someone dared to suggest – stay with me.
Jesus went in with them, and as he did, he went from stranger to welcome guest. They prepared a meal and sat at the table. Jesus took a piece of bread and he blessed it. He broke it and gave it to them saying… nothing at all. He didn’t need to say any more. Suddenly the stranger in their midst was revealed for who he was. In that moment he disappeared from their sight.
Why did they suddenly see him? Or, how do any of us ever recognize Christ among us? Of all the reasons we could think of, probably the most likely was that as they did something very Christ-like they were able to see the Christ in their midst. It was a simple thing really; they welcomed a stranger. That was a Christ-like thing. When he broke the bread and gave it to them, it was a Christ-like act of sharing.
And so, it’s not a story at all about magic and miracles – it’s a story about simple things – hope, hospitality and welcome. These are not great quests to accomplish. They are small things, but like the small mustard seed grows a big plant, the small faith moves big mountains. This story is not one about fitting life into a prefabricated pattern so much as it is a story about seeing what is actually there.
It causes me to wonder how many times I’ve seen him and didn’t know it. Amen.