Archive for the ‘Sermons’ Category

Going Home

Before the days of modern navigational aids, a traveler made the Atlantic crossing in a boat equipped with two compasses. One was fixed to the deck where the man at the wheel could see it. The other compass was fastened up on one of the masts, and often a sailor would be seen climbing up to inspect it.

The passenger asked the captain, “Why do you have two compasses?”

“This is an iron vessel,” replied the captain, “and the compass on the deck is often affected by its surroundings. Such is not the case with the compass at the masthead. That one is above the influence. We steer by the compass above. As Christians, where is our compass? It is on the earth, or is it on thing above?

From the prophecies of a coming savior, to the birth of our Lord, to the death and resurrection, we celebrate these events, but we don’t give the same attention to the ascension of our Lord. For 40 days, Jesus walked the earth after his resurrection. For 40 days, he witnessed to many and showed himself to his followers. God showed that Jesus fulfilled the scriptures by allowing Jesus to walk, talk and be with others for 40 days.

He talked with his disciples during this period, after the resurrection, giving them directions of what to do next and starting to breathe on them the Holy Spirit and giving them his peace. In Mathew 28, that we read this morning, Jesus gave a direct command to his disciples. He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy  Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

At this point, the disciples had seen numerous miracles, and he was preparing them for the things to come. He used this time to build them up and commission them to go out to tell others about the way to eternal life. Jesus had no intention of remaining on the earth this way, and he told his disciples this. When the time was right, he was going back to his father and let the disciples carry on his ministry. The ascension ended Jesus’ ministry on earth and began his heavenly Kingship. The ascension demonstrated that Jesus is still alive and still at work with his Father.

The ascended Lord Jesus sends his Holy Spirit to help his people. Jesus told his disciples, “I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49)

God promised in Joel 2:28, “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh,” and this promise is fulfilled by the heavenly Lord Jesus. The ascended Lord sent the Spirit to be present with his people (John 14:16) to empower them for worldwide mission (Acts 1:8; 4:31) and to transform believers to live new lives reflecting the King in heaven. This is what we will celebrate in two weeks on Pentecost Sunday – which is the giving of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church.

God’s kingdom now has a true King of the world. According to the Apostles’ Creed, he “ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” Jesus is taken up to heaven in a cloud, and Stephen, in Acts, declares that he sees the Son of man standing at the right hand of God. These texts suggest a fulfillment of the prophecy of Daniel 7:13-14.

At Jesus’ ascension, Jesus sat down with his Father on his throne, where he receives unending praise. Jesus will reign at God’s right hand until all enemies are subdued. Thus, God’s kingdom has begun with the enthronement of Jesus, who now sits on heaven’s throne and will return on day, his second coming. The time and day are unknown.

In John 16:28 it says, “I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.” Jesus was clear with his disciples that he would be leaving this earth and would not be with them physically. Jesus said to Mary at the resurrection, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and to your Father, to my God and to your God.” (John 20:17)

Jesus was “going home” at the ascension and returning to his Father. Jesus fully accomplished his mission and glorified the Father on earth, and at Jesus’ ascension, the Father glorifies the Son in heaven. John 17:4-5, Jesus says, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.”

Jesus’ homecoming to his Father prepares the way for our homecoming to be with Jesus forever. John 14:2-4 says, “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” Someday, we will be going home to be with our Lord.

The ascended Jesus is also our heavenly mediator and high priest. Jesus sympathizes with our struggles and promises to do whatever we ask in his name. Hebrews 4:14-15 says, “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of G od, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.”

Jesus is the mediator between God and humans. 1 Timothy 2:5, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.”

Jesus’ death and resurrection secure our forgiveness, justification, and reconciliation with God. Jesus is in heaven interceding for his people – he is our advocate. During Jesus’ earthly ministry, his work was limited geographically, but now he is at work everywhere and able to hear and respond t our prayers. He knows our hearts and our needs, and he knows how we can serve him. In John 14:12 Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these because I am going to the Father.”

In Acts 1:11 two angels explain to the disciples, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Jesus’ heavenly reign will one day be fully realized on earth, for Jesus will come again. The angels who spoke gave us a promise that Jesus would again come. His coming would not be in a vision or a dream but would be a physical appearance. He will come back in another unexpected way, just as he left in an unexpected way.

His ascension was for only his disciples and not for the crowds of Jerusalem. Jesus left the world into a cloud and one day will return in the clouds. 1 Thessalonians 5:2 says, “For you know very well that the day of the Lord’s return will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night.” Just as the disciples didn’t know when Jesus was going to leave them, we don’t know when Jesus will return, so we need to be ready for him and prepared in our hearts to serve him and live for him.

Matthew 24:43 says, “But understand this: if the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into.” The second coming of Jesus is represented by the coming of the thief in the night. This is not to be understood in a bad sense, in which Satan is called one who comes to kill and destroy, but this only reflects the manner of Christ’s coming, which is like that of a thief, secretly, suddenly, and unaware.

Everyone needs to consider life knowing Christ. Everyone, especially during this pandemic, needs to consider living their life for Christ and being ready to meet him either now facing life and death or in the second coming. We are in a time of active waiting for his return, and we should be ready, our lights burning to greet him, our houses in order for his coming.

There is a story about a young lady who was getting ready for a blind date. Wanting to make a good first impression, she had taken the day off from work. She cleaned her apartment; she went out that afternoon to have her hair done and get a manicure. When she got home, she put on her best dress and was ready for her date’s arrival. The time came and went, but her date did not knock on the door. After waiting over an hour, she realized that she had been stood up. She took off her dress, let down her hair, put on her pajamas, and sat down to watch TV. Sometime later, there was a knock at the door; it was her date. He looked at her surprised and said, “What! I gave you two extra hours and you’re still not ready to go?”

Jesus has given us many extra hours, but he is coming. Does your life reveal that you are ready for his return? When Jesus was celebrating the Lord’s Supper, he said, “Do this in remembrance of me until I come again.”

Do you believe that Jesus ascended into heaven to be with his Father? The waiting began many years ago with the ascension of Jesus into his heavenly kingdom. He left because his earthly ministry was over. His heavenly job had begun. Jesus was excited – he was going home. Believers, that same heavenly home is waiting for us just as we wait for the coming of our savior. Be prepared for his second coming for he will arrive when we least expect it.

Remember that Jesus is presently reigning as King and remains active and engaged in our world and our lives. Therefore, live boldly, confidently as servants of the exalted King of haven. During this pandemic remember that Jesus knows your struggles for he has endured great suffering and is also the most merciful and sympathetic counselor and mediator. Take to your ascended Lord your cares, anxieties, fears, and joys. He hears your prayers and knows your heart.

Finally, have hope in your future. Both here on earth and in heaven, we will be with our King forever when we believe in him. In order to win the Christian race, we must keep our eyes fixed on Jesus who “sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:20)

Revelation 5:13 – “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power forever and ever.”

The ascension draws our hearts away from earthly things and causes our hearts to desire more heavenly things and helps us focus our hopes, desires, and fellowship on Jesus, the One who sits at the right hand of the heavenly Father.

Living Stones Build a Spiritual House

When my children were little, we used to go on walks, and our walks would become treasure hunts for the best sticks and the most beautiful stones. We lived in central Asia when our children were little, and it was a mountainous country with rocks everywhere. So, sometimes we came home with a bag of beautiful rocks.

Many people in New Jersey go to Cape May to find the Cape May diamonds. Beautiful stones can be found on Sunset Beach in Cape May Point. The Cape May diamonds begin their lives truly “in the rough” in the upper reaches of the Delaware River, near the Delaware Water Gap. Pieces of quartz crystal are broken off and carried in the swift-running waters of the mountain streams that feed the river. Thus begins the journey of more than 200 miles that takes thousands of years to complete. Along the way, the sharp edges of the stones are smoothed as they are tumbles and propelled along the river bottom. Eventually, the stones come to rest on the shores of the Delaware Bay in South Jersey.

Women also love precious stones and gems to wear as jewelry. Diamonds for engagement rings are traditional, and birthstones for any occasion are welcomed.

In our scripture lesson today from 1 Peter, chapter 2, verse 4, Jesus is referred to as a “living stone.” That doesn’t make sense. A stone, boulder or rock is by definition dead. It is an inanimate object. “Living stone” is an oxymoron. Living and stone are not words normally used together like that. We need to understand the land from which Peter writes this letter. Jerusalem is a city built on a hill with valleys on every side, and mostly you see rocks and stones. The city itself is stone.

Peter, in writing this letter, looks around and sees all these stones. He is writing to encourage new Christians and followers, converted Gentiles who had been scattered by persecution in what is now modern-day Turkey. He wrote this letter to give new believers counsel on how to life in difficult times. He wanted them to follow Christ’s example, that the life of Christ might become evident in their godly response to opposition and trial. He encouraged them to focus on the eternal. Peter wanted Christians to be prepared to give an answer when their faith was attacked and when they faced trials as a result of trying to live out their Christian faith in the everyday world.

In this scripture and in other scriptures, Jesus is referred to, as we said, the “Living Stone” but also as the “cornerstone” to a solid foundation to build your house upon in life. A cornerstone is the first stone that is laid when a new building is being constructed. It not only forms the base upon which the rest of the stones will be laid, it also determines how the rest of the stones will be arranged. This one stone shapes the direction and structure of the whole building.

Psalm 118:22-23 says, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and in Matthew 21:42, Jesus quotes this same Psalm 118:22-23 when he tells the parable of the wicked tenants who were caring for the vineyard and ultimately they put the owner’s sone to death, meaning Jesus in the parable will be put to death.

Peter also quotes from Isaiah 28:16, “A chief cornerstone, elect, precious and he who believes on him will be no means be put to shame.” The point is that Jesus would be rejected but that the Father would exalt him. The Jewish leaders rejected him, but God exalted him as the chief cornerstone. How did they reject him? They killed him, but God raised Jesus from the dead – our chief cornerstone – a living stone.

Peter then points to Jesus’ followers as “living stones” – becoming a spiritual house – a house not built with hands but with the Holy Spirit in us. Before we experience new birth in Christ, we are dead in our sins…we are lifeless, like a rock.

Jesus brought us from death to life through his sacrifice on the cross and his resurrection. Christ, our cornerstone, transforms us from dead rocks to living stones in his spiritual house. We are to take Peter’s words and become living stones. We are to be so filled with the love of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit that we are alive and strong and yearning to do Christ’s work in the world, praying for the world.

Over the last two months, secluded in our homes away from friends and family and church friends, we may be feeling more like dead stones that living stones, but Peter reminds us that God has a plan for each of us. Peter goes on to tell us that we are, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people. Once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

Being living stones embraces the knowledge that we are all special and that God has a plan for our life even in the midst of suffering and trials. God wants us to live – to live out our faith, especially during days that are difficult. Peter, the disciple know as the rock, says, “Come to Christ, a living stone, and let yourselves be built into a spiritual house.”

As we come together, each of us a living stone, we are built into something greater through the power of Jesus Christ. Let yourself be built into a spiritual house and serve God in some way. Each believer is a living stone, and together we build a beautiful house of God. We are special and Christ is alive in us and waiting for us to live for him.

Only God can bring life into something that is dead and lifeless, like a seed until it is planted.

When Peter speaks of “living stones,” these aren’t simply rocks you find on the ground; they are cut stones, to precise dimensions for the construction of a building – God working in our lives. So, Jesus, being the Cornerstone of God’s Spiritual Temple, we can either take our own angle and position from the cornerstone and line ourselves up with Jesus, or we can refuse to live our lives built on him and stumble over him instead by being disobedient to God.

When people come to Christ and are incorporated into his body, the church, they begin to be formed into living stones like him. The living stones, oppressed by the world and suffering for Christ – they are the ones who are being built up by God into a “spiritual house.”

The temple of God is no longer a physical place in Jerusalem, but instead, is the corporate community of faith, the spiritual temple of God, and as a holy priesthood, has access to God through Christ. The church, empowered by Christ and the Holy Spirit, has the same close access to God as ancient Israel did.

When you build your life on the cornerstone, the true living stone Jesus, you are living stones, building a spiritual temple here on earth for others to see the love and mercy of God. The building is not done yet, and we need more living stones to make it complete. There is always more space for more precious living stones.

St. Patrick, who was from England, was kidnapped and became a slave in Ireland. While he was in Ireland, God began to transform Patrick’s heart. Patrick was convinced that the kidnapping and homesickness were actually opportunities to know Christ better. He wrote, “Anything that happens to me, whether pleasant or distasteful, I ought to accept with serenity, giving thanks to God who never disappoints.” There, he was a slave for six years until he escaped and went home to England.

Then one day, Patrick knew God was calling him back to Ireland, not as a slave but as a preacher of the Gospel. Many said, “Why does this fellow waste himself among dangerous enemies who don’t even know God?” But that was exactly why Patrick wanted to return to Ireland in AD 432. Patrick then spent the rest of his life preaching the Gospel in Ireland and seeing many people come to Christ.

Patrick never got over what God had done for him. In his confessions, he wrote, “I was a dumb stone, lying squashed in the mud; the mighty and merciful God came, dug me out and set me on top of the wall. Therefore, I praise him and ought to render him something for his wonderful benefits to me, both now and in eternity.” (John W. Cowart, People Whose Faith Got Them into Trouble. InterVarsity Press, 1990, pp. 31-42)

Like Patrick, we too were stones lying in the mud, but our mighty and merciful God came, dug us out, and put us into his magnificent holy spiritual house so that, together, we could bring him glory the rest of our lives, both on the earth and in eternity with him in our heavenly home he has prepared for us.

We are the living stones of faith. Let us be a living stone in the building of the spiritual house of God. Even though we are still separated and worshipping at home, we are still a living stone in the building of the spiritual house. As we pray for each other and learn from each other and grow in the Holy Spirit, we are built into something greater through the power of Jesus.

You can’t be a living stone alone. We are to build together on earth for eternity. Invite others to be living stones and join us in building up of the spiritual house. Find a stone this week as you walk or in your yard and write on it “living stone.” Hold it and let it be a reminder to you that you are to be a living stone for Christ every day and witness to the saving and forgiving love of the cornerstone – Jesus. Amen.

Guess Who Made Breakfast?

As we look at our scripture lesson today (John 21), we find seven disciples hanging out near the lake – on the shores of Galilee. Jesus has risen from the dead and he has appeared to them two times already. He is preparing them for what is to come next – his ascension and departure and Pentecost. He is planning to leave them in charge of everything. Preaching the good news of the Gospel, building the church, making disciples, and sharing the stories of Jesus.

But here they sit on the shore not knowing what to do next, so they go back to where they feel at home, by the water, and to what they know best, fishing, and to what is comforting to their restless souls. Peter especially is restless because of the memory in his soul of the sound of the crowing rooster the night he denied knowing Jesus three times as he stood in the courtyard by the fire.

Psalm 43:5 says, “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”

Peter was especially downcast that day. It all still was fresh on his mind. He hadn’t talked with Jesus about any of it since seeing him after the resurrection. So, to take his mind off of things he said, “I’m going out to fish,” and all the other disciples joined him. Peter was the leader, and they all looked to him for direction. After fishing all night, they didn’t catch anything.

Early in the morning, Jesus was standing on the shore watching them. He called out to them, “Friends, have you caught any fish?” “No,” they answered. Three years earlier, the Lord Jesus had called Peter away from the fishing business to follow him and to be a fisher of people instead. In Matthew 4:19, “and he said to them, follow me and I will make you fishers of men. Immediately, they left their nets and followed him.”

For three years, Peter had been a faithful follower of Christ. He was there with Jesus through all the highs and lows.

John 6 – Peter declares that he would not desert Jesus.

John 13 – Peter doesn’t want Jesus to wash his feet because he feels unworthy, and Peter declares he would lay down his life for Jesus.

John 18 – Peter defends Jesus with a sword when Jesus is arrested.

John 18 – Peter denies knowing Jesus three times.

John 20 – Peter discovers the empty tomb.

Suddenly, Jesus calls to the disciples in the boat, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” “When they did, they were unable to haul the next in because of the large number of fish. The disciples began to remember this happening before – nets so full of fish that the nets began to break and the boats so full that they began to sink. Peter remembers what he said to Jesus that time, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” And Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.”

The early morning fishing trip turns from a depressing trip to a joy filled party with Jesus waiting for them, for John realizes that it is Jesus on the shore. “It is the Lord,” John declares. Peter, impetuous, Peter jumps into the water so that he can get t Jesus. His love for Jesus made him jump from the boat. His excitement to see Jesus again made him jump into the water. The disciples never knew when Jesus was going to greet them. Peter could not contain his excitement.

Remember – Peter had done this before.

In Matthew 14, Jesus came to the disciples walking on the water. Peter said, “Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you on the water. Jesus said to Peter, ‘Come.’” Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water to Jesus, but when he saw the wind, he was afraid and beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” “Immediately, Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’” Now Peter is going to Jesus, wanting to show him how much he loves him and believes in him. Peter was replacing his fear with faith.

Our ladies’ Bible study has been studying the series by John Ortberg, If You Want to Walk on Water, You Have to Get Out of the Boat. John Ortberg says, on page 83 in his book, “Most of us have an area that might be called our ‘spiritual comfort zone,’ which is the area where we feel most comfortable trusting God. When God calls us to go beyond our spiritual comfort zone, we begin to get nervous or uncomfortable. We would prefer not to go outside the zone until we feel better about it…there is only one way to increase our spiritual comfort zone…you will have to follow the path of God, which requires taking a leap of faith.”

Peter loved his Lord. He wanted to always be with him, and today seeing him on the shore was no exception.

Jesus said to all the disciples, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught and come and have breakfast.” What a treat to have someone cook you breakfast. I love it when my husband makes breakfast in the morning – pancakes, eggs, bacon. Usually, he doesn’t make fish for breakfast, but Jesus knowing fisherman are hungry after a night of fishing serves them fish and bread.

Jesus, who told them once, “I am the Living Bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” Jesus, the bread of life. “He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35)

Jesus is again teaching them they  must be servants and tell others about him. They all needed to learn how to be water-walkers for Jesus, stepping outside their comfort zones. Life will no longer be the same. They are on the other side of the resurrection, and they will soon begin their work – fishing for people, not fish.

Life will never be the same of all of us since the pandemic. We are changed forever. Our world is changed forever. As we again come out of our locked homes, like the disciples started leaving their locked room, we must learn how to adjust to the changes.

Jesus was also there that morning, not just to be the breakfast host, but to talk with Peter. He knew Peter’s heart, and he knew Peter wanted to follow him, but he had to hear Peter say it. Peter needed to face Jesus after his three denials of knowing Jesus at the burning coals the night of Jesus’ arrest.

Here again, as at the burning coals, Jesus asks Peter three questions.

“Simon, son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

“Simon, son of John, do you truly love me?” “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

The third time, Jesus said to Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”

Jesus was telling Jesus that he needed to be a shepherd to the new young believers. He needed to take care of them and keep them from danger, to protect them, and he needed to fee them and disciple them as they grew in their faith. It wasn’t going to be east, and he told Peter that he would have to die for Jesus. There would be a cost of discipleship for him and all the disciples. Jesus is asking Peter, “Will you put me first?”

Jesus then gave a command to Peter, “Follow me!” as he had three years prior, but now Peter’s heart was growing in strength and commitment to the Lord. As this quiet breakfast on the shore, Peter’s three denials are now replaced with three affirmations. The amazing grace of Jesus. This is more than forgiveness – this is healing, redemption and restoration.

Just like Peter, sometimes we fail God or others, and we need forgiveness, healing, redemption and restoration. Jesus is reaching out to us today, to restore our relationship to him and to restore another broken relationship we may have. The Lord is there for us as well to give us a second change and a fresh start. He is ready to forgive when you come to him, and he wants you to forgive yourself as well, to move forward in faith.

Your past is erased in God’s eyes. Last week we talked about making a U-turn on the Emmaus Road and running to God for new beginnings. When you turn toward Jesus and ask for forgiveness, Jesus stands ready to forgive and restore, just like he did for Peter.

God has mercy on us and will fully restore us and call us to follow him. Jesus asks us today, “Do you love me?” What is your answer?

Life is fragile, life is short. Life is a gift from God. Do you know Jesus? Do you have a relationship with Jesus? If you want to begin a deeper relationship with God or you want to heal a broken relationship with God, pray this prayer today with me:

O God, I come to you today. I know I am a sinner and I cannot save myself. I believe that Jesus died on the cross to save me and resurrected on the third day. I confess Jesus as my Lord and Savior and surrender my life to him today. I invite Jesus into my heart. I am a child of God. I want to follow you. Thank you for saving me. Amen.

Jesus invites us to his Communion Table today to know we are forgiven. He is the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation.

U-Turn on the Emmaus Road

Some of the saddest words in our English language begin with “D,” such as disappointment, doubt, difficult, disillusionment, defeat, discouragement, despondency, depression, despair, downhearted, downcast and death. Have you been dealing with any of these words, these emotions, in the last month as we are in state lockdown because of the covid-19?

As we remain in our homes away from family, friends and church gatherings, do you struggle with these “D” words? It is only natural. This time has been very difficult for our country and for the world. We are all affected by it – from the youngest school child to the elderly. We are all walking on the same road.

Our scripture lesson today, from Luke 24, is about two people walking home on the road to Emmaus, on the same day of the resurrection of Jesus. It was a seven mile walk home from Jerusalem. One was named Cleopas and many believe he was walking with his wife Mary who was one of the women who went to the tomb early that morning and found it empty. Others believe it was a friend.

They walked home slowly because they were filled with disappointment, discouragement and despair facing the death of Jesus. They had left the downhearted and defeated disciples of Jesus and felt it was time to go home now. It was over. Their hope in Jesus was now filled with disillusionment and doubt. The one they had followed and loved had been put to death.

Suddenly, there was a third person walking with them on the road to Emmaus. It was Jesus, but they didn’t recognize him. Jesus asked them what they were talking about and Cleopas was surprised that this stranger didn’t know what had happened. It would be like going into a store now and someone asking you why everyone is wearing a face mask. You would think, “Where has this person been for the last month, under a rock or on another planet.”

So, Cleopas and his wife are shocked that this stranger doesn’t understand why they are so sad. “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

Jesus said to them, “What things?” Jesus wanted them to say what they were talking about in specific terms. Jesus always wants people to voice their needs and opinions.

So, they said to him, “The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth…” They continue on to tell Jesus what happened to him. He knew the story – he lived and died the story, but he wanted to hear their story from their perspective. They said, “We were hoping that it was he who was going to redeem Israel.”

 That was precisely the reason for Jesus’ death on the cross. He was redeeming all people. They were thinking of a different kind of redemption. Jesus Christ was redeeming them from sin, and all they were thinking of was a deliverance from Rome. They wanted an earthly king to help them. Jesus had died to redeem them and us from sin. That wasn’t what they were looking for then or now.

We all want freedom to pursue our own will without any hindrance. For Christ to redeem us from sin, we must acknowledge that we need a savior and forgiveness. We need to turn from our own ways and turn toward the ways of God.

Jesus began explaining to them the scriptures, beginning with Moses and the Prophets and how all that was being fulfilled that day. That walk on the road to Emmaus was a walk those two never forgot.

Jesus said to them, “How foolish you are, and how 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?”

Their outward inability to recognize Jesus also reflected their inward unbelief of what the scriptures revealed about him. Jesus wanted to help them see, but before he opened their physical eyes, he wanted to open their hearts. As 2 Corinthians 5:7 states, “Walk by faith, not by sight.” When we doubt or walk in the dark, we may not recognize Jesus when he is walking with us.

Just like now, during this time of doubt, of despair, of fear, that is when we turn to Jesus and his Word, the scriptures, spend time with him as you talk walks, because then you will begin to see him more clearly.

For the rest of the walk on the road, the stranger explained all the references to the Christ in the scriptures. As he did, the fire of their faith that had died on Golgotha came back to life and burned within them. That familiar hope, the hope that Jesus was alive and what he said would happen, was really true. There was something about this stranger that was so familiar, so comforting, something that gave them hope in the midst of this despair.

As the three of them reached the village of Emmaus, the two pleaded with the stranger to stay with them for the night for it was evening. So, Jesus agreed to stay with them. He no longer seemed like a stranger but a friend. At the evening meal, Jesus “took bread and said the blessing; then he broke the bread and gave it to them.” Bread is a staple item to eat in many countries, so it wouldn’t be unusual to have bread and break it apart with your hands to share with those with you.

Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they knew who this stranger was, and Jesus disappeared from their sight. Jesus himself had ministered to them in their sadness. Now they knew why a change had come over them as they walked with him on the road to Emmaus. Their hearts had been opened, as well as their eyes, and they were now filled with hope and renewed faith. Jesus was alive and he had walked with them and talked with them, reviewing all he had said before his death. Cleopas and the other disciple were amazed, and now they knew why their hearts had burned within them when they were talking on the road.

The road to Emmaus is a road we are all on. This story is our story as well, There are times we are sad and downcast, doubting, depressed – maybe even now as we walk down this road with the pandemic in our world. But it is a story for us, about  meeting a stranger, hearing his words of comfort and peace. This stranger can change your life and give you hope in a world right now that seems full of despair and death. God has the final word and he does have victory over death.

When you are walking on the road to Emmaus, you aren’t walking alone. The unseen “stranger,” the Risen Jesus, is walking with us.

The disciples quickly got up and “made a U-turn” and walked back to Jerusalem to tell Jesus’ disciples. This time they weren’t walking slowly – this time they were running with good news and with hope. Sometimes, God wants us to “make a U-turn” in our lives. We are going one way and he wants us to go another way – his way.

The good news of Easter was how the disciples were able to make a U-turn and head in a new direction of life, hope and great joy. Emmaus U-turns still happen today. Nationally known Christian author and speaker, Tony Campolo, often tells the story of someone who made a U-turn in his life literally and spiritually.

Tony tells about the time he was asked to speak at a Pentecostal college. Before the service, eight men had him kneel so they could lay hands on his head and pray. Tony was glad to have the prayer, but one man started praying, not for Tony but for another man. He began to pray and said, “Dear Lord, you know Charlie Stoltzfus. He lives in that silver trailer. You know the trailer, Lord, just down the road on the right-hand side.”

Tony wanted to interrupt and tell him that God already knew where the guy lives and didn’t need directions. The prayer went on: “Lord, Charlie told me this morning that he was going to leave his wife and three kids. Step in and do something. Bring that family back together.” With that the prayer time ended and Tony want on to preach at the college chapel. Things went well and he got in his car and began to drive home. As he drove, he saw a hitchhiker an felt compelled to pick him up.

Tony said, “We drove a few minutes and I said, ‘Hi, my name is Tony Campolo. What’s yours?’ He said, ‘My name is Charlie Stoltzfus.’ I couldn’t believe it! I got off the next exit and headed back. He got a bit uneasy with that and after a few minutes he said, ‘Hey, where are you taking me?’ I said, ‘I’m taking you home.’ He narrowed his eyes and asked, ‘Why?’ I said, ‘Because you  just left your wife and children, right?’ That blew him away. ‘Yeah, yeah, that’s right.’ With shock written all over his face, he never took his eyes off me. Then he was really shocked when I took him right to his silver trailer. When I pulled up, his eyes seemed to bulge as he asked, ‘How did you know that I lived here?’ I said, ‘God told me.’

When he opened the trailer door, Charlie’s wife exclaimed, ‘You’re back! You’re back!’ He whispered in her ear and the more he talked, the bigger her eyes got. I said with real authority, ‘The two of you sit down. I’m going to talk and you two are going to listen.’ Man, did they listen all afternoon. I led those two young people to Jesus Christ. Charlie Stoltzfus experienced an Emmaus Road U-turn that day.”

God specializes in U-turns. The wonderful thing about Emmaus U-turns is that they appear all along our faith journey. Jesus is always present with us and invites us to walk with him and to follow him and to be transformed by the peace he breathes on us. Make a U-turn on the Emmaus Road and your life will be changed forever because you will encounter the Risen Christ through the power of his Holy  Spirit.

Luke is reminding us, in this story, that if we want to follow a new direction of faith, he doesn’t want us to walk alone. He wants us to walk with him and together as a community of faith. We are missing being together as the community of faith for that is what Jesus wants. We come together to worship, read the scriptures and breaking of the bread at communion, and our eyes are opened to see Jesus working in our lives.

During this pandemic, make a U-turn and have your eyes and heart opened to see Jesus, walking with you and loving you. He knows your pain and he knows your doubts. He knows your disappointments and he knows the sorrow of death.

Make a U-turn on your Emmaus Road and turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in his wonderful face; and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.

Thank God for U-turns and new beginnings. May we recognize Jesus as we walk along this journey called life. Amen.

From Fear, Doubt and Unbelief to Courage, Assurance and Peace

It has been one week since Easter – one week after we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus. What difference has the empty tomb made in our lives this past week since Easter morning?

Well, Christ’s resurrection IS a big deal; the empty tomb is a life-changing event; the resurrection does make a difference in our lives, but letting Jesus change our lives and letting him  be the leader of our lives takes time. It is a process. It means changing the way we look at life and how we make our decisions and how we live our lives. We need to realize the empty tomb was for us and for our lives. We focus on Jesus, but Jesus is focusing on us and our lives. The resurrection story begins our story of new life.

In our scripture lesson from John 20, we find the disciples in a room, afraid to come out. The doors were shut and locked. The disciples were full of fear and despair. They saw their Lord and Master crucified on a cross and buried. Then on the third day, his body disappeared from the tomb. Although angels at the tomb tried to reassure them, the ten disciples in the room were still afraid. Even though Mary ran to tell them she had seen Jesus and he was alive, the disciples still didn’t understand what they needed to do next. They thought the authorities would come and get them as well, because they had been with Jesus.

The disciples were just “overwhelmed.” They all huddled together in their fear and confusion and doubt, not knowing where to turn or what to do next. I think we can relate to the disciples and how they were feeling, as we also are in our houses feeling overwhelmed at times, feeling fearful and feeling confused about the future of our income, our position at work, our families, our children’s future, and the future economic stability of our country and the world.

The disciples didn’t understand what happened even though Jesus told them what would happen to him before his death. They were all in that room living with disappointment, living without hope or a sense of vision, direction or purpose. They were left feeling like failures because they had deserted and denied Jesus in his hour of need.

On the night of the first Easter Sunday, they were hiding behind locked doors. They didn’t recall Jesus’ promise of resurrection. They were hidden away, ashamed of themselves as well as afraid of the future.

Suddenly, in the room, Jesus was standing among them. Wow! Can you imagine Jesus suddenly standing in your living room behind your locked doors? Ten of the disciples were there. Judas Iscariot was dead, and Thomas was missing from their gathering. We don’t know where he was, but he wasn’t there. Maybe he was out looking for Jesus – he wanted to see him for himself, or maybe he was the one designated to go get food for the hungry group of doubters.

Suddenly, the disciples became aware that Jesus was standing among them in the locked room. Jesus had not abandoned them. He was always near them, and now he was standing there in the same room with them. That, also, must have been overwhelming.

Jesus knew they were afraid, and he wanted to give them hope in the midst of fear and doubt and peace in the midst of chaos, and change their unbelief to belief in the resurrection – despite the circumstances and what looked like the end of the road. Jesus wanted to give them his peace and his assurance that all was going as planned.

He showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Jesus had to show them he was resurrected and hadn’t just been taken from the tomb, still lying dead somewhere. Jesus said to them, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” When Jesus gives his peace, it is in the form of the Holy Spirit to the disciples.

This is the first giving of the Holy Spirit and the first commissioning of the disciples to carry on his message of salvation and forgiveness of sins beyond the walls of that room. As he breathed on them, he said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” The disciples in that room were receiving a gift from him. Remember, he told them that he wouldn’t leave them, and he would give them his Holy Spirit.

Back in John 14, Jesus said to his disciples, “All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you…I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen, you will believe.”

In John 14, Thomas also asked Jesus, “We don’t know where you are going, and we don’t know the way.” Thomas did not understand what Jesus was saying, so he asked Jesus questions. Jesus answered him by saying, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Thomas was curious about things, and he wasn’t afraid to ask questions. I love that about Thomas. He is so real before the Lord. That is how we are to be. It is alright to ask Jesus questions to understand more about our faith.

So, when Thomas returns to the room, all the disciples have to tell him the Good News. Can you picture them all yelling this exclamation at Thomas, like children with exciting news they can’t wait to tell, “We have seen the Lord!!!” But Thomas felt left out of the whole special time with Jesus. He wanted to see for himself. He said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

Like Thomas, the disciples were not immediately transformed by Mary’s proclamation of seeing Jesus. They had their doubts, also just like Thomas, before Jesus appeared to them in the room. It wasn’t until a week later that Jesus appears again to his disciples and says again, “Peace be with you!”

This time Thomas is with them, and Jesus says directly to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands; reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” We know “doubting Thomas” as he has been called, but he is also the “confessing Thomas.” He proclaims, “My Lord and my God.”

Do you know the end of Thomas’ story? Thomas died in India. He brought the Gospel of Christ to India and died a martyr after he was killed with spears. Thomas grew in his faith and served the lord until his death. The resurrection of Jesus Christ was real to him, and he believed the tomb was empty and Jesus his Lord was alive. That day in the room – Thomas’ faith became real to him because his Savior was really alive.

If you are in your house and locked in because of the coronavirus (covid 19) and you have fear, confusion, feeling overwhelmed by the darkness of the world, just reach out to Jesus and know he is there with you.

Jesus told Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” From this upstairs room, forgiveness is to spread like wildfire. The Holy Spirit comes by Jesus breathing on them to set them free from doubt and fear so they can help others be free of fear.

What does this man for us and our life and struggles right now during this pandemic? Jesus wants us to turn to him during this world pandemic that has changed our lives. The Risen Christ wants to change our lives. He wants to infect us with his love and forgiveness. He wants us to believe even though we haven’t seen him – or have we?

Pray for the Holy Spirit to come into your life today. Like the first disciples, we experience Jesus Risen from the dead, freeing us from doubt and fear of death, and freeing us from all the other fears that are in our world today. When we are overwhelmed with doubt and fear in our hearts it is easy to forget God and not see God at work in the world. When we are closed in our houses because of the fear of covid-19, we forget God is there for us and with us.

Jesus does not forget us. He comes to us with visual reminders in his feet and hands and side that death has been conquered. As the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord, we also can rejoice in the midst of our doubts and fears because Christ is here with us.

Doubt and fear cannot dominate our lives – hope and the love of Jesus needs to dominate our thinking. We need to change our thinking from doubt, fear and unbelief to courage, assurance and peace that only knowing Jesus, our Living Savior, can bring.

Verse 31 of John 20 says, “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, you may have life in his Name.”

1 Peter 1:6-8 reminds us: “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him, and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.”

Stop doubting and believe!

Recent Comments
    Events at the Church