Rev. Dr. Scott Herr

Please Read: Luke 24:13-35; I Peter 1:17-23

As it is Mother’s Day in the U.S., I have been thinking of my own mom and how she faithfully loved me. There was a time when I was a teenager and quite angry with my mom. I think she had decided that I could not use the car on a Friday night or something, and I became very upset and yelled at her and said some unkind things, and was so ashamed and hurt I slammed the door on the way out and ran away. I began walking into town. We lived out in the countryside, near a river and it was a long walk back to civilization. I just kept on walking. About half way between our house and town, a car pulled up behind me. It was my mom. She had come after me and said, please get in the car, I’ll take you home.

That was one of those moments that touched my heart growing up. My mom taught me that real love means pursuing someone. That’s just what Jesus did for those disciples walking away from Jerusalem on the way to Emmaus. We are not told why they are going to Emmaus, but it was about a days walk there. Emmaus is west and just slightly north toward the coast of Israel from Jerusalem. It’s on the way to Joppa a major port town. Maybe they were thinking they’d take a cruise somewhere. Who knows? The were walking out of town, though. They were done. They were tired, perplexed, depressed and defeated and walking away, but Jesus came and joined them.

This last Thursday Ken Vaux shared a lecture on Vincent Van Gogh’s time here in Paris. I learned that Van Gogh painted a lot of shoes here in Paris. Walking is the transportation of choice in Paris. Painting shoes was a way of communicating if you’re going to experience the living God, you have to be on the move. Ken shared one of the interpretations of the tetragrammaton, YHWH, which is often translated, “I am who I am… or I will be who I will be.” But he said it also can be translated “I’m moving out!” With the underlying question, “Are you with me?”

Luke was perhaps making a connection with those disciples experience of the Living God. They didn’t recognize him at first. That’s a common experience of God moments, isn’t it? Sometimes it’s hard to see God at work in our lives, in our world. But as they gathered around the table, and when he broke the bread, they recognized that it was him all along. Their hearts were strangely warmed. He was here, and then he’s gone... It’s not so much that God is a hide and seek God, but that God is on the move, alive. God is not fixed or static. God cannot be nailed down...

It’s a bitter-sweet day because many of you have recently received the news of Laurie’s departure in the coming month. That’s hard for us all. It is also a poignant reminder that we are a community of people on the way, going somewhere. Nothing remains the same here in this community (or in all of life)! Part of that is painful for those of us left behind, but it is also an important reminder that the people of God have always been and will always be a people on the move! We are to be going forward, out into the world to be the people of God in the world, because that is who God is. God is on the move and is a sending God and we are a sent people…

Where we are headed in the world and why makes all the difference, though, doesn’t it? I personally was saddened to see my countrymen dancing and celebrating in the streets at the death of Osama Bin Laden. Don’t misunderstand me… I’m no fan of Bin Laden, but I take no joy in any man’s death. It is sad when somehow death is cause for partying. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be. How many of us prayed for Osama Bin Laden? This may offend you, but that’s actually what Jesus commanded us to do: Pray for your enemies… Yes, we are to pray for the Bin Ladens, the Mouammar Kadhafis, the other Taliban-types of this world.  

It’s been a long time since a clear “V-Day,” and sometimes we are like those first disciples walking out of town after the events of Holy Week with heavy hearts because of death, loss, unwanted change, the random violence of this world, dreams that don’t materialize... During such times it’s hard to see good news.

But Jesus comes and walks beside us. We may not see him at first, but he takes time to reveal himself to us. For those first disciples, Jesus showed how all the scriptures pointed to him. This is one of the most important verses for me in the whole New Testament. Of course Jesus, when he was teaching the scriptures, was teaching from the Hebrew Bible, from Scriptures that would make part of what we now call the Old Testament. That does not mean that all of the scriptures refer to Jesus directly, but rather that Jesus can be either compared or contrasted to other teachings in the Bible. I’d like for you to reflect on the question: Is the Bible the same as the Good News? It’s a tricky question, isn’t it…

You’ll remember that even the devil used scripture to tempt Jesus. In other words, there is a difference between The Word of God revealed in Jesus and the Bible. There is a difference between the Good News and the Bible. In other words, sometimes Jesus is revealed in Scriptures inversely, or by negative example. We need to interpret all of Scripture in light of the gospel of Jesus Christ! He is the new interpretive lens, or hermeneutic, by which we need to study all of scripture. Jesus himself practiced this, you’ll remember: “You’ve heard it said… But I tell you…” His ethic of love goes deeper than the older ethic of the Mosaic law. He re-interprets everything in light of his own self-giving love; in light of his life, death and resurrection.

As we continue through Peter’s letter, I want to remind you that Peter was writing to exiles, Christians living in what was called the diaspora. That’s the word used in the Greek in the greeting. People who were walking away from Jerusalem, in a sense. And Peter wanted to remind them that Jesus had not abandoned them. He was still walking with them. And until they see him, Peter was saying how important it is to remember that we are a called people. God calls us by name and wants us to live in a way that points to the power of God’s love.

Peter emphasizes the importance of obedience to the truth. But what truth is that? Sorry to refer back to the Royal Wedding again, but indeed a very old word was used there in the vows that William and Catherine made to one another: “I thee troth.” You may see the connection to the word “betrothed” in English as well. Troth has to do with the promise between a husband and wife, but do you see the important connection to the English word truth?? Indeed, Christian truth is not abstract or impersonal; it is always relational! The truth of the gospel is always revealed in relationship ways, around the table, through caring conversation and patience and loving learning. But this is an important point. Gospel truth should always produces more loving relationships. Love’s the litmus test for where we are being obedient to Christ’s truth or not!

It was Jesus who commanded his disciples to love one another as he loved them… Bear one another’s burdens; forgive one another; speak the truth in love; live a life worthy of the gospel; love your neighbors as yourself; love your enemies… I can’t wait to hear Mark Labberton talk about “Following an Enemy-Loving God.”

As Mark Twain is said to have remarked, “It is not what I don’t understand in the Bible that troubles me it is what is perfectly clear that does.”

Peter reminds us that obedience to the truth will result in genuine mutual love…  This is what our community is all about. They will know that we are Christians by our… Love!

Let’s be clear that this is not some emotional refiguring, but rather involves action and risk… Tertullian tells how the early Christians in the year 215 looked out for the needs of others: Each of us puts in a small amount one day a month, or whenever he pleases; but only if he pleases and if he is able; for there is no compulsion in the matter, everyone contributing of his own free will. These monies are, as it were, the deposits of piety. They are expended upon no banquets of drinking-bouts or useless eating-houses, but on feeding and burying poor people, on behalf of boys and girls who have neither parents nor money, in support of old folk unable now to go about, as well as for people who are shipwrecked, or who may be in the lines or exiled in islands or in prison – so long as their distress is for the sake of Gods fellowship, and they themselves entitled to maintenance by their confession.” He went on to write, “It is our care of the helpless, our practice of loving kindness that brands us in the eyes of so many of our opponents. ‘Only look’ they say, ‘look how they love one another!”[1]

A Chinese proverb says, “The best time to plant a tree is ten years ago.” But there is a corollary to this that is often left out: “The second best time to plant a tree is today.”

Do we practice genuine mutual love? Perhaps the best way to start is with the people all around us, even if they may treat us like an enemy…

I love the story with which Mark Labberton begins his book, The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor. It’s a story about Doris, an 80 year old lady who got mugged and kidnapped the same morning he was visiting her at her home. “There aren’t any muffins,” she explained, “because I got kidnapped…” As she was getting to the store, a young man pushed her into the passenger seat of her car, and drove us off in search of an ATM… “The first thing I did was ask his name.” Of course! When getting mugged and kidnapped, ask your kidnapper’s name. His name was Jesse. She asked Jesse what he was doing. “I’m taking you to an ATM to get money because I need drugs,” he said. So Doris told him, “You really shouldn’t be a drug addict. It’s not the way you should be living life.  God wants to help you.” At the third bank stop, and when he had hit her withdrawal limit, he said he was going to leave her there. But she wasn’t finished with him yet. She said she was going to pray for him, that we would get caught so that he could get help…”You need God to give you the strength to get off drugs and have a better life.” Mark notes sarcastically he’s sure he would have said something similar to a kidnapper!

Jesse was just going to leave her there, but she couldn’t get out of the car. She was battered and stiff. So he gave her his arm so she could get into the driver’s seat to go home. He put the seatbelt on her, leaned in, and kissed her on the cheek… Mark showed as much empathy as he could to Doris… “It’s true, it is horrible what happened to me,” she said. But the really horrible thing is Jesse’s addiction to drugs. Let’s pray for me, but also for Jesse…”[2]

It wasn’t a great surprise, Mark writes, that within a couple of months, Doris was at the police station identifying Jesse. Soon after that, she sat in a witness box at the courthouse. “Yes, hello, Jesse, remember me? Doris? I said I was going to pray for this moment and I told you why. Here we are! …Yes, Judge, Jess was the one, and yes, he did do all those bad things. But another thing, Judge, Jesse really needs a good drug rehab program so he can get his life back. I know he’s guilty. But he also really needs help, please, Judge.”

Whether we are (new members, or confirmands, or) parents or children, husbands or wives, fathers or mothers, brothers or sisters, people who are leaving or people who are on the way, victims of injustice or those who have committed injustice, may we as a followers of Jesus Christ grow more in genuine mutual love. Love that gives. Love that forgives. Love that risks. Love that goes out on the road. Love that seeks to bless all people, even our enemies.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Eric Swanson and Sam Williams, To Transform a City (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 85-85.

[2] Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor: Seeing Others Through the Eyes of Jesus (Downer’s Grove, Ill.: IVP Books, 2010), 13-16.