TITLE: People Like Us SCRIPTURE: Luke 24:13-35
As Luke tells the Easter story, several women discovered the empty tomb. They had taken spices to the tomb on Easter morning to prepare Jesus' body for burial, but instead found themselves confronted by two angels who asked,
"Why do you look for the living among the dead?
He is not here, but has risen" (Luke 24:5).
So the women left the tomb and reported this news to the disciples. But the disciples didn't believe the women. They considered their report nothing but "an idle tale." After all, these were just women! What did they know!
But Peter didn't dismiss their report. Peter ran to the tomb and found it as the women had described it. The tomb was open. The linen cloths that had wrapped Jesus' body were lying there -- no longer in use. Peter went home amazed -- not sure what to think, but amazed!
Then Luke tells this story of the two disciples on the Emmaus Road. On Easter afternoon, these two disciples were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, a distance of about seven miles. They had been in Jerusalem for the Passover, but it had been a terrible Passover. They were disciples of Jesus, and had gotten the shock of their lives when they learned that Jesus had been crucified. They could hardly believe it!
Luke says that as they were walking along that dusty road toward their Emmaus home, they were "talking with each other about all these things that had happened." One of the things that had happened, of course, was the crucifixion. But another thing was the report that the tomb was empty. These two disciples were discussing those things as they went along -- trying to make sense out of nonsense. Why would anyone kill Jesus? What had gone wrong? Why would the tomb be empty? What had happened? Would the authorities hunt down the disciples next? These two disciples must have wondered if their lives were in danger.
And then a stranger joined them -- a stranger who seemed to know nothing about Jesus. That was nonsense too! How could anyone know nothing about Jesus? So they began to tell him about Jesus -- how Jesus was "prophet mighty in deed and word" -- how the chief priests and leaders handed Jesus over to be crucified -- how the disciples had hoped that Jesus would be the one, but their hopes had been dashed by the crucifixion. They also told him about the women's report that the tomb was empty.
But then the stranger interrupted them. He said, "O how foolish you are and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared." And then he went on to teach them the scriptures --scriptures that they had studied since they were children. He taught them things that they had never heard before.
Then they arrived in Emmaus. The sun was beginning to set, so these two disciples -- still not understanding that they were talking to Jesus -- invited him to stay for the night. Jesus joined them for dinner.
Now in the Jewish home, the host -- the man of the house -- would take the bread and break it and bless it and pass it around the table. But this night, Jesus did that. He was the guest in this house, but he acted as the host. Luke says:
"When (Jesus) was at the table with them,
he took bread, blessed and broke it,
and gave it to them."
You recognize those words, don't you! They are very much like the words we use to observe the Lord's Supper. They describe what Jesus did at the first Lord's Supper. He took the bread and blessed it and broke it and gave it to the disciples.
But listen to what Luke says next. He says:
"Then their eyes were opened,
and they recognized him."
And then Jesus vanished from their sight.
So even though night was falling and it was seven miles to Jerusalem, these two disciples got up from their dinner table and walked back to the city so they could tell the other disciples what they had seen. They found the apostles and the other disciples talking excitedly about Peter, who had seen Jesus (24:34). And then Luke concludes the story with these words. He says:
"Then (the two disciples) told what had happened on the road,
and how (Jesus) had been made known to them
in the breaking of bread."
"Jesus had been made known to them in the breaking of bread" -- just as Jesus is made known to us today in the breaking of bread.
End of story! It's an unusual story -- told only by Luke -- but it's famous. Google "Emmaus Road" and you will get hundreds of hits:
- There's an Emmaus Road publisher -- and an Emmaus Road Quartet -- and an Emmaus Road Cafe.
- There are Emmaus Road Churches and Emmaus Road Ministries.
- In San Francisco, there is an Emmaus Road "Emergent Cohort for those of us seeking to follow Jesus." I'm not sure what an Emergent Cohort is, but the good folks of San Francisco apparently do. There are Emmaus Road groups all over the world. Emmaus Road is famous!
When I read the Emmaus Road story again this year, one of the things that stood out for me was that Jesus picked two Minor Players for a role in his Major Story. We know the name of one of them -- Cleopas -- but that's it. We know nothing about Cleopas other than his name, and we know nothing at all about his companion. Were they buddies? Were they husband and wife? Nobody knows!
But in Luke's Gospel, Cleopas and his companion were two of the first three people to see the risen Lord -- Peter being the third (24:35). The women at the tomb didn't see Jesus. They saw only angels.
Later that evening, Jesus would appear to all the disciples, but Jesus chose Peter, the leader of the disciples -- and these two nobodies -- for the signal honor of the first sightings. I don't think that happened by accident. I don't think Jesus just decided to walk down the Emmaus Road to see who he might see. I think that Jesus chose to reveal himself to Cleopas and the unnamed disciple for good reason.
I think Jesus did that to encourage the rest of us nobody disciples. Most of us are unknown Christians once we get a block or two from this church -- and much of the work that we do for Jesus seems pretty minor. We go through our churchly routines. We conduct worship. We teach our children about Jesus. We have youth groups. We have Bible study groups. We help people in need. I think that we deserve a good grade for doing what a church should be doing.
BUT we are pretty ordinary. We are ordinary Christians doing ordinary things. Nothing earthshaking! Nothing newsworthy! I'm not expecting a call this week from CBS or NBC asking what we have planned for Sunday. I'm not expecting a call from a talk show host asking for an interview.
But it was people like us to whom Jesus chose to reveal himself that first Easter afternoon -- Cleopas and the other disciple -- the one with no name. Perhaps Jesus did that as a way of showing us that he would do most of his work through ordinary disciples -- people of ordinary means -- people with ordinary jobs -- people not very well known --people like you and me.
And, in fact, that is exactly what has happened during the past twenty centuries. There have been big names in the church (Wesley, Calvin, Pope John XXIII, Martin Luther King, etc.) -- just like there were two or three big names among the apostles. But for every big name Christian there have been a million no-name Christians -- and most of the church's work has been done by these no-name Christians. That has been true over the centuries, and it is still true today. Most church work today gets done by people whose names you would not recognize -- people like you and me.
Why do I mention that? I mention it because we would all like to do something spectacular! We would like to underwrite a new church building or a pipe organ. We would like to walk into a classroom full of high school freshmen and promise to send them all to college. We would all like to write a check for a million dollars to our favorite charity.
But few of us will ever do any of those things. We are more likely to teach a Sunday school class -- or sponsor a youth group -- or sing in the choir -- or help in the church kitchen -- or serve on a committee. We are more likely to write a check for ten dollars or a hundred dollars instead of a million dollars.
And so we need to hear that it was PEOPLE LIKE US whom Jesus chose as his first disciples. It was PEOPLE LIKE US to whom the risen Christ revealed himself on Easter afternoon. It was PEOPLE LIKE US who kept the church going for the past twenty centuries. And it is PEOPLE LIKE US through whom Christ does most of his work today.
And we need to remember that the Holy Spirit multiplies the small acts of service that we render in Christ's name. I believe that, when we get to heaven, God will show us wonder after wonder that he accomplished through our small but faithful service. I believe that God will show us a life that was changed because of a kind word that we said. I believe that God will show us a man who became a good husband and father because we taught him well in Sunday school -- or a woman who became a good wife and mother because we were there for her in a youth group when she was a teenager. I believe that God will reveal to us blessing after blessing that blossomed from our ordinary lives and our faithful but ordinary service.
Let me close with these words by Helen Keller. Helen Keller was famous a generation ago, but she has been dead long enough now that some of you will not know her name --but her story inspired generations of people.
As a baby of nineteen months, Helen Keller suffered an illness that left her deaf and blind. Unable to communicate, she grew up filled with frustration and rage. But her parents sought help, and the help that they found came from a young woman -- Anne Sullivan. Anne worked with Helen and helped her to learn a new language through touch. Their breakthrough story is quite famous. Anne pumped water over Helen's hands and then touched Helen's hands in a pattern that was supposed to mean "water." All of a sudden, Helen "got it" -- realized for the first time that it would be possible for her to learn words -- to communicate. Anne and Helen danced for joy around that old water pump.
Helen went on to become a world-famous speaker and writer. She lived quite a long life, and inspired several generations with her accomplishments. But listen to what Helen Keller had to say about accomplishments. She said:
"I long to accomplish a great and noble task,
but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks
as if they were great and noble.
Green, the historian, tells us that the world is moved along,
not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes,
but also by the aggregate of the tiny pulses of each honest worker."
"The world is moved along by the (total) of the tiny pulses of each honest worker." That is true in this church today, and it has been true for twenty centuries. Jesus loves helping ordinary people -- and he loves blessing the service of ordinary Christians -- and he loves blessing the lives of those who serve.
So ask yourself what you could be doing for Jesus. Then do it in the assurance that God will bless your work -- will transform the ordinariness of your work and cause it to flower in ways that you would never have imagined. And do it in the assurance that God will bless you, too, as you give of yourself. Give a blessing, and receive a blessing. That's the way the kingdom of God works. Amen.
Come Christians Join to Sing UMH #158
He Lives UMH #310
Open My Eyes UMH #454