One of my heroes of the Bible is the disciple Cleopas and another unnamed disciple. Not because these two are so amazing, but because they are so ordinary --because they are so much like me. Paul the apostle in his writings in the New Testament talks about running the race of faith and finishing strong -- I think of myself more as a plodder. That’s the best I can do – plod along, not always understanding, yet now and then the Lord has opened my eyes to see that which is amazing and wonderful, there the Lord was all along right under my nose. Like the moment you at last find the elusive puzzle piece, snatch it up, put it in place and cannot believe you did not see it earlier. The Lord is there all along.
Two stories between the lightning and the thunder in Luke: the first, our scripture today of two disciples on the road to Emmaus. The second, Jesus appearing to the larger group of disciples who had been with Jesus for years. In both stories, Jesus appears and nobody quite sees him. In the second story Jesus appears and “showed them his hands and feet.” And then the scripture says, Luke 24:41: “they still did not believe because of joy and amazement.” Our minds can only comprehend so much. Our lives can only take so much. Between the lightning and thunder -- an amazing time, the anticipation, the uncertainty, the power, the sense of helplessness, the sense of smallness.
I am grateful for these disciples because they believe in the Lord, but don’t quite get it. This story is for those who are true believers, but fall short of full belief. The story of Cleopas and the other disciple on the road to Emmaus is similar to the verse in Hebrews that says that sometimes when you entertain strangers it just might be angels. It is only when the Lord goes into their home and eats that their eyes are opened to his true nature, the Lord Jesus Christ. “Lord come to my messy house” Cleopas and the other invite a stranger and it turns out t be the Lord himself. An unexpected guest. Many years ago Sally and I camped at Point Reyes outside of San Francisco, it was foggy, and both of us saw, or at least we thought we saw, step outside of the fog so that we could see, a white stag. Unexpected. Unbelievable. The Lord is an expected guest, to love God, but then suddenly there he is in his fullness, the presence of God, and we are so overwhelmed it is as if we aren’t sure… “they still did not believe because of joy and amazement.”
It would be amazing to have an experience like Moses and the burning bush, or Ezekiel who saw a wheel moving in all directions, or Isaiah that went to the temple and saw the hem of God’s robes, or John of Patmos who has an incredible revelation of God in all his glory, READ Rev. 1:12-18. In the days before Pauline Nims died, she described a vision of heaven. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to bottle the burning bush, and have the glory of God blaze in my backyard like an ever burning lamp./// But I am more like Cleopas… this scripture is for those of us who believe in God, truly want to see his glory, truly want to live in constant amazement of Jesus Christ, truly want him to be an ever-present companion, but more often we get caught up in the details of life, and we don’t quite see the risen Christ even though he is right there with us. Ordinary people that lack a full measure of faith, believing, but overwhelmed by life and missing God’s presence.
After the resurrection, the disciples are a tad confused, what to do next. Two of the followers of Jesus are on their way home (Luke 24:13). Whenever people go to an amazing retreat, while it is wonderful to have an incredible God encounter, the bigger question is what about afterwards, when its time to go home, back to ordinary life, how to bring Jesus home. Sometimes there is disappointment because making dinner that night and getting the kids ready to go to school does not seem all that spiritual. Cleopas and this other unnamed disciple have just been part of the most amazing experience in history: the death and resurrection of Christ, and now they are on their way home. And they were talking, trying to understand everything that just happened (Luke 24:14). Suddenly a stranger is walking with them, what they do not realize is that it is Jesus himself (Luke 24:15). They keep talking and walking and are amazed as they try to understand. And the Lord himself is with them. They don’t see him.
When I was a teenager I was in a van that rolled down the hill on the way to a mountain climbing rescue practice. Nobody was hurt. We had to wait for a tow truck to come up the narrow mountain road. My father was in a different van that stopped to assist. While we waited my father and I wandered down the road and could see how perilously the van had been driving inches away from the edge, for a quarter mile, a half a mile, as we walked we were joined by one of the other fellows. I will never forget my father going on and on about how lucky we were that the road hadn’t given away in a more dangerous slope, and he could not stop talking wondering what in the world the driver of the van was thinking. Finally, the stranger with us sheepishly confessed he was the driver. That shut my father up! As soon as we found out who this man was, the natural question is to think through what was said from this new perspective.
Jesus joins the two disciples, they don’t recognize him, and they keep talking. A freshness, an honesty about what they were saying, perhaps later they felt foolish for trying to explain to Jesus himself what happened. I imagine Jesus must have been amused by listening to such an honest account of what happened. Perhaps a little bit like when you are honored to have a child explain who Jesus is… the two disciples keep trying to understand what just happened. They are astonished their walking companion doesn’t know of the events of the past few days, yet, ironically, Jesus is the only one that does fully understand… Jesus asks the disciples to explain and they tell him (Luke 24:19-24). I have a wonderful book at home which many of you have as well, “Jesus Calling.” I am imagining a different book being read by the Lord everyday, “Jesus Listening.” What does he hear me saying? After Jesus listens, Jesus speaks, and adds to their knowledge, reminding them of what the Christ had to do, this shows the importance of knowing your bible as Jesus himself shows the disciples that what happened to Jesus is a part of the fabric of all scripture (Luke 24:25-27). Later, when Cleopas and the other disciple learn the true nature of their companion on the road, they confess, “were our hearts not burning within us while he talked…” (Luke 24:32). There eyes were dim, yet there was a yearning, a calling, a sense that they were in the presence of greatness.
There are times when the glory of God is speaking to us, when the presence of God is real, and we suppress it. May we learn to recognize God himself, the leading of God, the presence of God… the Lord is always present, and for us to learn to be aware of his presence will give us a spirit of understanding, deepening our faith, worship in fullness… between the lighting and thunder, a time of anticipation, what a great time to live, to expect… The burning within the disciples, I believe, was the prompting of the Holy Spirit, who constantly urges us to respond to God. The Holy Spirit wooing us to see God in all his glory. I have always believed God is in my life, from the time I was a little boy growing up in this church, but what is wonderful about getting older is that I am learning to recognize God more quickly in my life – the reasons for this and that.
My eyes are still too dim, my understanding lacks depth, but I can see a bit more quickly God among us, leading us, to see that God has a purpose in fitting all things together. The Holy Spirit will cause your heart to burn within you – learn to recognize, respond, accept and see that the Lord is present, that the Lord is amazing, that the Lord is good. Do not let Satan rule your heart and lead you down a road of negative thoughts, pushing people away, but yield to the Holy Spirit speaking from within, let the Lord soften your heart, change your attitude, and accept his loving guidance.
To the credit of the two disciples, even though they did not quite recognize Jesus himself at that moment, the day was getting late, and the disciples “urged [Jesus] strongly” to stay with them, “Come into our house” they were saying, come and stay in our house. Unknowingly, the two disciples were inviting Jesus Christ himself to come as a guest, an unexpected guest. The two disciples did not fully recognize Jesus, but they sensed something, that unidentifiable something, a burning of their hearts knowing there was something missing. They urged Jesus strongly.
Jesus is the unexpected guest. Our role is simply to be open to the Lord. To be open to his presence, even when we don’t quite get it. To open our homes to the Lord, our messy homes, our messy lives, to listen to the spirit within us urging us to act, to invite, to listen, to hear. I get out of this scripture that Jesus does not force himself on us, he walks beside us, he intrigues us, he offers us depth of understanding, he causes an intrigue with us, like the time between the lightning and thunder, that wonderful time of anticipation when we don’t know exactly how loud the thunder will be, that incredible boom, we are called to live in this old world between the lightning and the thunder, the lightning has struck in all it’s power, we try to understand, and now we wait.
When the meal is served and Jesus breaks the bread, that’s when their eyes are opened…. Why at the meal? This is the most personal of times. Letting somebody into your home is personal, but to eat with them is the next step. To fully recognize Jesus is the most personal of moments, to yield your life to him and embrace him with joy and amazement. A few times I let a vacuum cleaner salesperson in my house, but I never invited them to stay for dinner. Sitting down together is the most personal of moments, Jesus clearly becomes the host, the disciples had a supernatural sense this man was something amazing, they obeyed the holy spirit instinct to urge Christ to stay, and now their eyes are opened to his true identity as he breaks the bread – his presence, his action, the final recognition.
How do we recognize Christ? Talk about him to the best of our understanding, that’s all these two disciples were doing. Jesus is listening. Know your Bible, that’s what Jesus added… let the Holy Spirit speak to you, “were our hearts not burning.” Act on the prompting of the spirit, “they strongly urged” Jesus to come into their home… and your eyes will be opened to the presence of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the unexpected guest that is walking alongside us all along, listening, prompting us to respond, and waiting for an invitation to show himself. I am so grateful the Lord has the patience to wait for ordinary dim-witted people like me to reveal himself.