This is Us - Small Groups
January 21, 2018 Series: This is Us
Passage: Luke 24:13–24:35,
01.21.2018 This Is Us Small Groups
Scripture: Luke 24: 13-35
I was fortunate enough to grow up living fifteen minutes from my grandparents. Grandparents are those wonderful people when your kids that will give you everything your parents don’t want you to have. My grandparents car went to McDonalds way more often than my parents car. My grandparents car went to Blockbuster (remember Blockbuster?) way more often than my parents car. My grandparents pantry had candy way more often than my parents pantry and my grandparents were way more likely to reach into the pantry for candy than my parents. Oh and my grandparents refrigerator always had mint chocolate chip ice cream.
My granny died when I was a junior in high school. After that, my grandad started coming over for dinner a couple times a week. And as the years went on he came more nights per week. I was in college at the time, but at some point he just started coming over for dinner every night. And it was great. My parents, my brother, and when I was home on breaks myself got to spend a lot of time with him in the couple years before he passed.
When he was alive we encountered my grandad a lot. We saw him daily. We could talk to him, hear his stories. I told y’all a couple weeks ago he won a Pulitzer Prize, interviewed Hellen Keller, and covered the Apollo missions. So he had some stories. When he died his loss was pronounced. It was felt every night at dinner when there was an empty chair, his empty chair.
We talked about him often in the days and weeks and months after he passed. We still talk about him often. We talk about his life, we talk about his personality, we tell stories like the time he hit a bridge worker with a golf ball square in the rear end. He didn’t throw the ball either, he hit it. With his driver. Into a bridge worker. In the rear end. Guy couldn’t find the fairway with 10 drives but could make that shot. And when we told the stories and talked about his life and his personality and how he would respond to news, in some way we encountered him even though he’d died. In some way, some part of him was still with us, was still made present to us, was still here.
Here at Spirit and Life we talk about encountering Jesus. Now encountering Jesus is not like encountering my grandad because where I have faith that my grandfather has been raised to new life in Jesus, stories of encounters of the risen Christ are categorically different from remembering a loved one. But yet we are still talking about how we encounter someone who is not physically present to us. So it does beg the question, how do we do this? How do we encounter Jesus who is not physically present to us? This morning we’re going to look at a story of how two followers of Christ encountered Jesus after Christ’s death.
Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him. He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 “What things?” he asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.” He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.
This is one of the most fully developed, polished, and detailed story of Jesus’ resurrection in the Gospels. And it begins like a Black Mirror episode. There are two guys walking down a road. We are told the road would lead to Emmaus which is seven miles outside of Jerusalem. Now is when I tell you about the town of Emmaus so here we go. Ummmm…
We don’t know what town this refers to. There was a town called Emmaus-Nicopolis but that was nearly 20 miles outside of Jerusalem. Other than that there are three towns it likely would have been, none of whose names I can pronounce. Perhaps the best thing we can say of Emmaus is what Frederick Buechner said, saying that Emmaus is “the place we go to in order to escape—a bar, a movie, wherever it is we throw up our hands and say…it makes no difference anyway…Emmaus is whatever we do or wherever we go to make ourselves forget that the world holds nothing sacred: that even the wisest and bravest and loveliest decay and die; that even the noblest ideas that men have had-ideas about love and freedom and justice—have always in time been twisted out of shape by selfish men for selfish ends.”
These two men had just experienced the death of their teacher, the death of their rabbi, the death of their movement. They thought that Jesus had come into Jerusalem to break the wheel that had crushed so many of their friends, family, and fellow Israelites. Jesus was supposed to overthrow Rome. Jesus was supposed to reform the Temple. Jesus was supposed to establish a rule of peace and prosperity for Israel. The decisive time had come when God was moving and acting and fulfilling. And then it ended. Jesus was arrested, tried, convicted, tortured, and executed. Not with a bang but a whimper, their hopes and dreams were dashed.
There’s a song in Les Mis, a song that’s truly heartbreaking, called Empty Chairs at Empty Tables. It begins:
There's a grief that can't be spoken,
There's a pain goes on and on.
Empty chairs at empty tables,
Now my friends are dead and gone.
Here they talked of revolution,
Here it was they lit the flame,
Here they sang about tomorrow and tomorrow never came.
That is how these men walked to Emmaus. Defeated. Dejected. They’re on a road to forget what they had just experienced and to try to find some way to move on.
We walk our own roads to Emmaus all the time, don’t we? We have our own Emmauses. We have our places we go when we feel like a failure at our jobs, in our families, in life. We have our own places we go when we are overwhelmed and under appreciated. We have our own places we go when we feel lonely and lost. We have our own places we go when we just don’t know what else to do.
What’s really interesting about this story is that most of the stories we have of the disciples after the crucifixion begin with the remaining disciples being together, or at least a large group of them being together. They’re locked in the upper room, they’re going fishing. A group of women walk together to the tomb. These two men in this story are not with the group. This story is about two men on their own. I wonder how much their lack of relationship drives them to Emmaus? I wonder how much our lack of relationship, our lack of a group of caring people, drives us to our Emmaus?
Then they are joined by a third traveling companion. And he asks what they are talking about. And Cleopas says to Jesus “Are you the only person in Jerusalem who doesn’t know what happened here?” Which is such dramatic irony. I love it. Cleopas enlightens Jesus on the things that took place to Jesus including that women went to the tomb and could not find the body of Jesus, perhaps because the body of Jesus was standing there in front of him.
Then Jesus begins to blow their minds by going through Moses and the Prophets and telling the huge story God has been telling throughout the history of Israel that led to the decisive events that took place in Jerusalem. They wind up sharing a meal in Emmaus during which Jesus takes break, breaks it and they realize their travel companion is not just some random dude but Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.
And when Jesus left them, they realized that their hearts were burning on the road as he opened their eyes to the Scriptures. They then returned to Jerusalem, rejoined the other disciples, and reported what they had seen and experienced.
What does this story mean for our lives?
The first takeaway is that Jesus meets us on our road to Emmaus. When we are going to the places we go when hope seems foolish, when we are lonely, when we are overwhelmed, Jesus goes there with us. The story says that they arrived at Emmaus, Cleopas and his friend wanted to stop and Jesus was going to keep going. But when asked, Jesus stopped with them. Even in our moments of deep darkness, despair, loneliness, and gloom, there isn’t any place we can go that Jesus won’t go with us.
When we are lost, when we feel forsaken, when we feel like there’s nowhere to turn, Jesus meets us. Jesus is always there. Jesus is always with us. And wherever we go to cope with our feelings of hopelessness, our sadness, our grief, Jesus goes with us. Jesus wants us to keep moving forward with him. Jesus wants us to keep going on to healing with him. But Jesus will also stop with us. Jesus will also stay with us. Jesus will also wallow with us. We have friends and we have family who will be there to support us in our moments of greatest need. But maybe we fear that there might be places we can go where our friends and family wouldn’t join us. There’s no place Jesus won’t join us.
The second takeaway for us is the interplay between encounter with Jesus, the opening up of Scripture, and Communion. These are the three activities that happen while the two men are with Jesus. Jesus opens the Scriptures to them, Jesus breaks bread which is an early allusion to Communion, and the people realize they are in the presence of Christ. And all of this leads to their healing. All of this leads to them leaving the place of despair. All of this leads to their salvation from the real life things from which they needed saving.
Jesus agrees to meet us in the means of grace. Jesus agrees to meet us in worship. Jesus agrees to meet us in Scripture. Jesus agrees to meet us in prayer. Jesus agrees to meet us in service. Jesus agrees to meet us in these places if we will just seek him. If we are lost, if we are lonely, if we need healing, wholeness, grace, and mercy, all of that begins by seeking Jesus in the places He is known and has promised to be found.
But the biggest takeaway from this story is what comes at the very end. Cleopas and his friend had left Jerusalem, they had left the company of the other disciples to go and grieve alone. They were running away from connection with others and shared life together. They encounter Jesus on the road and what do they do: they return to Jerusalem. They return to the other disciples. They return to their small group.
Part of how we process the ways in which we have encountered Christ in the world is through small groups. Through meeting together with other people, other Christians. Praying together. Studying the Bible together. Talking about how our faith impacts our lives together. Sharing life together. We can hear about how others have encountered Christ, how others are still seeing Christ at work in our world today. We can think about where God is calling us, how God is leading us, how God is moving in our lives. We can figure out together what this whole life of faith is all about.
When we meet in small groups we can hold each other accountable. And I don’t mean we play gotcha with each other. But we can ask how is it with your soul? Are you engaging in the means of grace? Are you seeking out Jesus in Scripture, in prayer?
For a while, I was a runner. I hope to be again one day soon. Oftentimes runners will have a running buddy, someone to train with, someone to talk about training with, someone to race with. And oftentimes you need a running buddy to keep you accountable. In a five year stretch I ran a marathon and ten half marathons. I was in great shape. And I let my training slide for a bit. And for a while I could still run good distances. I was still in decent shape. But now I find myself barely able to run more than a couple miles. The same is true with our spiritual lives. If we don’t have someone or someones to keep us accountable, we can begin to slide. And we won’t notice it right away. For a while we’ll be fine. And for a while when we don’t feel fine, dipping a toe back in will usually right the ship. But eventually we’ll get to a point where it feels like we are starting over from the very beginning. And that’s hard. That’s painful. Accountability keeps us from doing that. It keeps us moving forward even when we feel like we’re fine.
At the heart of this is a simple truth: our connection with God and our connection with others have a symbiotic relationship. We need both. And the two work together. Cleopas and his friend had lost their connection to God, or at least their connection to Jesus so they forsake their connection to the disciples. When their connection to Jesus is restored, they resume their connection to others.
Small groups at Spirit & Life attempt to connect you with God and connect you with other people. Because those relationships work together. Your connection with God should drive you to connect with others. And your connection with other people should fuel your relationship with God. That’s why we’re so big on small groups here.
I want to urge you to try them out. We have small groups starting today, we have groups that meet during the week that are happy to take new members. Try it. Because we need to connect with God. Regularly. And we need to connect with other people. Regularly. And we need those two relationships to work together to bring about our healing, wholeness, and flourishing. Let us pray.