The Way Becomes Clear by Walking

Third Sunday of Easter – Acts 2: 14, 36-42; Luke 24:13-35; The Way Becomes Clear by Walking – St. Catherine of Sienna said, “All the way to heaven is heaven.” Wherever we are on life’s journey today, as we share again this familiar story, may we hear God’s Spirit speak and guide us a little closer to the fullness of life God intends for all. {read Luke 24:13-35}
Scholars aren’t sure where Emmaus is. More than certainty about a particular destination, what matters in living faith are relations we share on the way.

We’re on our way to Jerusalem. Health Ministry Committee members add our individual miles walked to make it from here to there together by Pentecost. Their generous interpretation of walking surely helps(!)—including all movement in our daily routines at work or home, and biking, exercising, physical activity of any kind, translated and computed with special mathematical formulas. Even the steps of our pets count on our way! At Session this week we heard an elated report of the first week’s progress. 946 miles—already into the Atlantic Ocean somewhere. You see, friends, we can walk on water! Time to read that scripture about Peter trying it, and keep our eyes on Jesus not the waves, lest we too start drowning in the storm! Anyone can join the fun of this journey together. And whether we make it, or not, that’s what really matters. Though, who knows, at this pace maybe we’ll make a few laps from here to there or make our way all around the world!

As Luke tells the story, the disciples were making their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Walking. Talking about everything that happened. Trying to compute their experience of Jesus’ death with all they remember from lessons he taught and lived along their way together. Like leaving behind the holy city itself, they tried to move on from dreams for their own lives dashed, hopes for the world shattered, failed expectations of what God’s promised reign looks like. Sadness and confusion swirled with lingering anger—how unfair! This is no calm and pleasant conversation over a cup of tea. It’s more like an emotional dump, or mental maze running. Maybe like our tweets or Facebook posts, while favorite pundits echo in the background. They’re heading to Emmaus, presumably on the way back to old normal routines of life before Jesus first caught them all in his great divine net woven with grace and mercy and love.

They’re trying to keep their eyes on Jesus, but what do you suppose keeps them from recognizing him? Was he dressing-up like the fable about a king cloaking himself as a commoner, face hidden beneath a hood? Did Jesus have a little magical Harry Potter potion or shape-shifting charm? Luke seems to suggest it’s less about him than the disciples themselves. Friends, what keeps us from recognizing the Risen Christ on our roads to Emmaus? What clouds the eyes of our hearts, and makes it hard to see and trust God’s love in those times and places when we’re not quite sure where we’re heading? Is it sadness over loss of a loved one or broken relationships? Anxious concern over job transitions or the direction of our world? Is it dashed dreams and shattered hopes amid addictions, a diagnosis, or lingering hurts? Basic assumptions that no longer seem true? Maybe sometimes it’s all the goodness in life, we’re simply growing up or our kids are and our patterns shift, old purposes seem empty. Is it unsettling questions about what the Holy One has to do with it all? In our swirls of emotion and mental mazes, no GPS navigation can magically program us out of danger, keep us from drowning in the storm. Friends, best we have is Jesus. And hearts that burn for the Way, Truth, and Life of God’s love we share in him. Yearning for the comfort, the clarity, the encouragement he offers us all, together.

Maybe Thomas Merton captures what came to fill the mind and heart of those disciples on the road to Emmaus, and so many other faithful people with Jesus and over the years since. Years ago, a friend in Presbytery gave me a copy. Mixed in with much goodness, he’s had struggles with addiction, health difficulty, relationships. I’m inspired by his humble persistence and clear purpose; by how he seems to live this way, this prayer.

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think that I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust you always
though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.[i]

The way Luke tells the story Jesus isn’t pushy or overbearing. He walks ahead as if going on. But the disciples desire God’s way for others, the right road of compassionate care and sacrificial service. They urge him, “stay with us …” And maybe, friends, that’s precisely what opens the eyes of their hearts just enough. They taste and see the goodness still inside themselves and in the world. So that when he breaks bread at table with them, they recognize the presence, the powerful love of the Risen Christ. They feast on renewed purpose for life in him.

When God enters our experience, idle conversations we think we are having, writes one scholar, limits of our perspective get broadened. We come to a crossroad. Our direction may change. But miles ahead don’t matter as much as a moment at hand when we experience eternity within time.[ii] That’s how Arthur Paul Boers sees the Camino pilgrimage in Spain and our daily Christian journey everywhere. As we journey with Jesus, he writes, we find “the way is made by walking.” “We grow and learn as we practice what Jesus preached. And all pilgrimage—whether one day, one month or an entire lifetime—unfolds before as God leads and we are invited to follow.”[iii]

It turned out to be a trip of a lifetime for the disciples. That experience of Christ changed their lives. It reoriented the direction of their mind and heart. And even as Jesus vanished again, they began to see how this trip, this faithful journey together would continue for a lifetime. Don’t we know it, dear friends? Truth is, inspiration for faithfulness often proves fleeting. It’s here. We feel it. And then life moves on into joys and difficulties, accomplishments and disappointments. We wish we always saw Jesus among us; God’s presence always clear; God’s Spirit always near. And we know epiphanies pass. We know faith is no ultimate destination we reach in this world—no complete mental explanation of life’s mysteries; no emotional place like a sanctuary of beauty and bliss where we can stay forever. In living faith, we keep trying to get it right, and sometimes we don’t. We keep trusting God is with us on the way, ready to listen and ready to love. We keep seeking that sanctuary of grace and peace God wants for all—in church life together, in our city and all creation beyond our walls and windows.

The real miracle of resurrection is how Christ comes again and again to ordinary people like you and me. Revelation of a new way to share God’s love becomes clear together. This miracle of grace made its way across ages and places, all around the world. From those first few that became a few thousand as we read in Acts. To thousands of people who’ve been members of this congregation, and a few more that join the journey among us today. You know, when we shared a conversation last Sunday afternoon, and when they came to Session this past Wednesday, no one said literally like Peter: Repent! Still, in our way, that’s what we’re all doing. Thinking again, turning around, “repenting” … like two disciples on their way to Emmaus. Turning around and walking again toward Jerusalem—toward the promise of full life in Divine Love, the purposes of Sacred grace and peace we all share with one another.

In our Presbyterian way of living together, I love the little phrase: “If the way be clear …” It means we basically know where we want to go, but there remain details to work out, unknowns to resolve. We choose a certain action and direction. And we trust that if, in God’s grace, everything falls into place then we’ll be following God’s will, as Merton prays.

That’s what came to mind and heart as I listened to her enthusiasm. As a college junior, she feels called to a summer internship doing Bible translation in Indonesia. Like the disciples her future is not entirely clear. There’s some anxiety about details of what awaits. When I explained where this sermon seemed to be going and asked to share her story, here’s how she replied:

I’m discovering that the way does seem to become clearer in the walking and talking, especially in moments when I’m reminded again of Christ’s presence. It also stands out to me how … it’s not until all are gathered together for the breaking of the bread that Jesus is made known fully. We know Christ tangibly in community and the community’s existence is possible by his passion and resurrection (and by partaking in it together).

She’s passionate about bringing Christ’s love to whole communities. And truth is, God’s already there. She’ll find the presence of Christ there to welcome, comfort and guide. As I’ve found like in Ghana, where silly concerns about heat or mosquitoes melted away amid people’s loving welcome and overwhelming warm affection.

And that’s what came to mind in the past week as I walked and talked with a finalist for our associate pastor position. A member of the Associate Pastor Nominating Committee will have a special announcement in a moment. I won’t say more, except to affirm that hope and desire is what the candidate and us surely feel. We don’t know how it will all work out. Right now we feel much excitement. And based on what we’ve already experienced, we trust that our relationships, our human connections in God’s love, how we share the journey together will enable God’s way among us to become clear.

Dear friends, I’m thrilled with new members joining us today. I’m eager for a new pastor to come in months ahead. I long to support all of us on journeys to Indonesia, or wherever Emmaus may be for us. Just this morning before worship, two more people shared news about job transitions, and one more is here among us again after long heath recuperation, affirming “it helps me connect with others.” I believe in the church, in these relationships we share, because none of us can make it all the way to Jerusalem alone. And despite the current calculations of the Health Ministry Committee, we are not expected to walk on water. None of us want to trudge through life and suddenly find one day that we’re lost and alone in the darkest scariest wilderness valley under the shadow of death, or on hectic city streets suddenly unfamiliar packed with strangers. Amid all our busyness and boredom, our gladness and concern, we need one another. We need to walk and talk with each other about everything that happens in our personal lives, about our questions of faith, about our hopes and fears for the world. Anyone can join the fun of this journey together. As we do, hold onto the joyful promise that our way becomes clear as God in Christ comes near and goes with us.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

[i] Thomas Merton, from Thoughts in Solitude (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999)
[ii] Cynthia Jarvis, “Homiletical Persepctive” in Feasting on the Word, year A, volume 2 (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 421.
[iii] Arthur Paul Boers, The Way Is Made by Walking (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 25-26.