Pastoral Relief and Retreat

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Wethersfield, CT, United States
I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Lord's Day Message: Another Loaf of Bread

Lord’s Day Message: Another Loaf of Bread
Luke 24:13-35 ESV
That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
            So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.
This is the Word of the Lord!

Thanks be to God!

“Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”

These two disciples, whose presence in the Easter narrative is our only clue that they ever existed, are talking about a particular kind of aching or craving that is actually very common to human experience. 

We can dispense with the purely physical here.  They had not eaten something earlier in the day that gave them what we call heartburn.  But there is a burning deep within that all people know.  It is really a kind of love.

A chef knows it when he is cooking and tastes his sauce.  Out of the vast array of spices on his shelf he knows there is one in particular that is lacking that will make this sauce perfect.  Nothing else will do.  He needs a pinch of clove, otherwise this sauce can just be thrown out.

Poets and writers know this longing.  They furiously write a whole page or paragraph that might have taken them 10 minutes to produce, and then sit there with a dazed expression on their face, staring out the window at… nothing… for hours until the word comes that makes all the rest more than just so much drivel.  In finding that word they have moved from being a casual conveyer of thoughts to being a mover of hearts.

Artists know there is only one color that will perfectly express for all time what they saw in the rose they were trying to paint.  Yes, in today’s world they could have simply taken a picture of the rose, but in a few brush stokes with that color, so much more than the rose is there on the canvas.  Their own burning desire is impressed along with the image of the rose because they chose that color and their hand was on the canvas.

But you don’t need to be a cook or a poet or an artist to have known the feeling these two disciples knew.  Human lovers of all kinds have experienced it all down through the ages, beginning with Adam’s eloquent exaltation upon first seeing Eve, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!”  Nor is this merely a physical or sexual desire, though sexual desire shorthands our explanation of it, for the burning of passion is like what they felt in its most base form.  Even the most committed lovers know that sometimes there are situations in life when just one person will fill the aching hole in their heart at the moment, and it isn’t the person they are married to.

Did not our hearts burn within us?

One thing more that we need to say is that this burning they are talking about is irrational.  If the experience of “being saved” was something merely logical, based on a person’s knowledge about God, these to First Century Jews would have used totally different language to express it.  For they understood what is lost on our ears, that in their culture the goodness or badness of a man – a salvation based on his actions – had to do with a different organ.  If they were looking for intellectual enlightenment to save them, if they were placing their hope in correct doctrine, they would have said, “Did not our kidneys burn within us,” because, to the ancient Jews, a man was judged to be good or bad based on the condition of his kidneys, not the condition of his heart. 

The heart was the inner core of a person’s hopes, dreams, and aspirations.  The heart was the fountain from which all those other longing loves sprung.  And so, when these two disciples said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us,” they were talking about that irrational, subjective, intangible deep ache that says, “All the rest is  rubbish if I don’t have this one.”  Without this, I am helpless.

Blaise Pascal, the 17th Century French writer and philosopher wrote in his Pensees, “What does this [greed and] helplessness proclaim, except that there was once within us true happiness of which all that now remains is the outline and empty trace?  Man tries unsuccessfully to fill this void with everything that surrounds him, seeking in absent things the help he cannot find in those that are present, but all are incapable of it.  This infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite, immutable object, that is to say, God himself. 

He alone is our true good.  From the time we have forsaken him, it is a curious thing that nothing in nature has been capable of taking his place: stars, sky, earth, elements, plants, cabbages, leeks, animals, insects, calves, snakes, fever, plague, war, famine, vice, adultery, incest.  From the time he lost his true good, man can see it everywhere, even in his own destruction, though it is so contrary to God, reason, and nature, all at once.”

Pascal knew that this kind of longing, owned when we do not know what it is we are longing for will drive us to excesses of all kinds, to gluttony, alcoholism, wild addictions to adventure and risk taking, even to suicide, because we are sending a signal out into the universe that is not being answered by the one-and-only thing that can.

Did not our hearts burn within us?

The funny, almost sad thing about these two guys walking on the road between Jerusalem and Emmaus is that they had gotten all wrapped up in discussion.  Sometime between dawn on Sunday morning and mid-afternoon, Ceopas and his friend had started to walk and talk to each other.  The narrative never tells us why they were walking out to Emmaus.  The home base for Jesus and his disciples when they were in Jerusalem was in Bethany, not Emmaus.  Maybe one of them had relatives in Emmaus they wanted to tell about the strange events that morning.  That would make sense, since they clearly had someplace they were headed where dinner was going to be waiting for them.  I suspect a good many of us will get into our cars after worship this morning and drive to other towns to spend Easter with family. 

On the roughly seven-mile walk they had gotten into heated discussion about “all the things that had happened in Jerusalem.”  This is the kind of discussion that can make a long walk or a long car ride go by very quickly.   In this kind of discussion there is a lot of energy, a lot of back and forth: clarify, joust, volley, aerate until one of you suddenly says, “Oh… we’re here.  I don’t remember passing exit 39.” 

Of course, all that discussing didn’t stop the burning in their hearts or fulfill their longing.  In fact, they were so wrapped up in discussion that they didn’t even recognize Jesus when he joined them on the road.  They were so all about the flight of thoughts they were having that they simply couldn’t see.  

You can discuss Jesus to death, and still not see Jesus. 

Did not our hearts burn within us?

Another sad thing is that after all that discussion, when the “stranger” joined them they were very articulate in expressing what the object of their longing was.  They said, “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”  In their hoping they had all the right information.  They knew it was Jesus they were hoping in.  They knew that their longed-for Messiah was Jesus of Nazareth.  They knew that he was a Prophet.  They knew that he had spoken with authority and that he had acted in such powerful ways.  They had seen his sermons and his signs, and they knew this was the One Israel had hoped for.  They knew the prophecies and how Messiah would be rejected by the chief priests and rulers of the people.  They even knew that he would be crucified and rise on the third day.    Even if Jesus hadn’t said all these things directly to them, which he did, they still had the Hebrew Scriptures, and it was clear from them that HE was the One to redeem Israel.  

What they stumbled over was that sometimes you can hope for something so long that your longing itself blinds the eyes of your heart. 

Did not our hearts burn within us?

Beyond that, they were amazed, and they still didn’t get it.  I think the reason may be that they had gotten pretty invested in the script of what was going to happen. And nothing, absolutely nothing had gone the way they expected.  If I were writing my own script for that first Sunday morning I’d have had Peter, John, and James go to the tomb because by now they were expecting a Resurrection.  If nothing else, they were three strong men and would have some hope of being able to remove the boulder that had been rolled in front of the opening to the cave where they had hurriedly buried Jesus on Friday afternoon to avoid desecrating the Sabbath.  But that’s not what happened. 

The Bible tells us that the first people to see the empty grave were a group of women.  Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of the disciple we know as James the son of Alphaeus, and a woman named Joanna, along with a few other mourning women were doing something quite irrational and had brought spices to anoint a body they had no reasonable hope of reaching.  They had understood the longing for the one thing.  

And while the story they had told the assembled disciples had shocked them and amazed them, it had not answered the longing Cleopas and his friend felt, or they would have gone to the tomb themselves.  But instead they left the city and went out to Emmaus because the thing they felt they needed to do was to spread the word about the amazing and unbelievable tale the women had told them.

You can be amazed by Jesus and still have that burning in your heart.

Did not our hearts burn within us?

Even when Jesus sat down with them and poured over the Scriptures that told plainly about who Messiah would be and what he would do, they still didn’t see.  Why?  It was all there:

Isaiah 50:6 – Messiah spat upon and beaten
Isaiah 53:7 – Messiah would be silent before his accusers
Isaiah 53:12 – Messiah poured out his life and was numbered with the transgressers.
Isaiah 53:9 – Messiah buried in a rich man’s tomb
Issiah 53:4-6 – Messiah would die for our sins
Psalm 22:1 – Messiah forsaken by God
Psalm 41:9 – Messiah will be betrayed by a friend

Zechariah 9:9 – Messiah enters the city riding on a donkey’s colt
Zehariah 10:12 – Messiah would be pierced
Zechariah 11:12-13 – Messiah betrayed for 30 pieces of silver

Jesus had said as much to them when he was alive.  In John 5:39 he says, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have life, and it is they that bear witness to me.”

Did not our hearts burn within us?

For the past several weeks we’ve been looking at how God uses little things to bring his purposes about.  You can discuss Jesus and not recognize him.  You can hope in Jesus and not recognize him.  You can be amazed by Jesus and not recognize him.  You can even study the Scriptures about Jesus and not recognize him. 

My daughter-in-law Alice had a pastor when she was in college who had worked as a barista in a coffee shop while he was trying to plant a church in Indiana where she went to school.  He had stumbled upon a great formula for evangelism and church planting, and so as he trained other young men to go out and plant he also gave them a business model for a bi-vocational life, and he and they planted coffee shops and churches all over the mid-west. 

A few years later, the pastor was in a horrible car accident and was in a coma for a long time.  When he came out of the coma he couldn’t remember anything about his former life.   His amnesia was complete.  He languished in a rehab hospital for a very long time until one day a friend stopped by to see him, carrying with him two cups of coffee, the particular blend of coffee the pastor served at his coffee shop.  The moment he smelled the one and only one kind of coffee that he had worked with and lived with and brewed and blended and chatted with people over and introduced himself and Jesus to; the particular kind of coffee he knew so well – the minute he smelled THAT coffee, all his memories came flooding back.

It wasn’t the discussion or the hope or the amazement or the studying that caused them to recognize that it was Jesus with them.  It happened when he picked up a simple loaf of bread and, as he had the previous Thursday, blessed and broke it and gave it to them.  These two hadn’t been in the room that Thursday night, so I have to assume that Jesus had picked up many, many, loaves of bread and blessed and broken them throughout his ministry.  It wasn’t the bread that gave them life.  It was the bread of life breaking bread with them that caused them to recognize him.   It was the repeated action of sharing the most basic part of life – eating together with Jesus – meal after meal after meal after meal that had satisfied the longing of their hearts, and that will satisfy that longing in you and me. 

Has your heart been burning?  Maybe it is because you’ve never sat down and really dined with Jesus.  There’s a richness there you can’t get from talking about him or hoping someday Messiah will come, or being amazed by miracles, or even studying the Scriptures.   But when you go to visit your family this afternoon, Jesus will be there.  When you go back to work tomorrow morning, Jesus will be in your office.  When you sit and watch TV with your family night after night, Jesus will be present.  But until you break bread with him and recognize he was there all along, you’ll still be left saying, Did not our hearts burn within us?


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