Blessed Strangers, April 26

Blessed Strangers

Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19; Luke 24:13-35

Rev. Catherine E. Schuyler

Catskill, Palenville, Quarryville United Methodist Churches, online; April 26, 2020

 

Rick and I took our dog for a walk late last night, as we do most nights.  Obadiah rarely lets me forget to take him.  Our most frequent route is up to Woodland, down Woodland to William St., down William St. to Prospect and south from there.  Sometimes we only go partway down and then head home again.  Sometimes we go all the way to the Friary and then around the block.  It’s not an especially long walk, whichever route we take, and we always come back home.  It’s pretty predictable, and rarely eventful.

 

The person we’ve named Luke, the author of the books of Luke and Acts in the New Testament, likes long walks.  Many of the stories Luke tells involve journeys, most of them apparently on foot, and unlike my evening walks with Obadiah, important events happen on Luke’s journeys.  Mary and Joseph make the trek to Bethlehem just before Jesus is born.  They take their family to Jerusalem 12 years later and realize they’re missing their oldest son as they walk home.  Jesus’ stories of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son, both unique to Luke’s gospel, both have journeys on the road that are central to the plot; and Saul, in Acts, is confronted by the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus and his life is claimed by the Lord as the Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles.  Today’s wonderful story, of two disciples en route to Emmaus, unfolds in the course of a walk of probably about seven miles.  People who are used to walking, as we trust these two were, since cars aren’t around yet and chariots are only for soldiers and emperors, can cover seven miles comfortably in about two and a half hours, maybe three hours if they’re walking slowly.  We are told from the beginning of the story that these two are not walking with joy or enthusiasm in their stride.  They are trudging, slowly heading home, heart-broken with disappointment after a painful few days.   Some scholars speculate that these two are a married couple, Cleopas and his wife, which would explain their comfortable relationship and their joint invitation to their companion to stay for dinner.  I like this interpretation.  I won’t try to prove it to you; I like it in large part because I’m married to fellow disciple of Jesus, and I can imagine us trudging home in disappointment and deep conversation after such a weekend.  But there the similarity between our walking and their walking ends.  Our nightly walks with our dog begin and end at the same place – our home, just down the street here in Catskill.  These two disciples are walking home at the end of something that will never be again.  They were followers of Jesus during his active ministry, and now that way of life of being with Jesus and the community of his friends is finished.  By the end of the story, when they run back to Jerusalem with the incredible news that Jesus is alive, and they have seen him, they are not running back to what was, but to something brand new.  The life of the community of disciples after the resurrection of Jesus is not the life that had been; it’s not just a return to what was.  The life of Jesus followers after that first Easter is utterly new.  Jesus is not simply alive again; Jesus is alive anew, and their lives are headed on a new trajectory, a new journey, of faith and service and love and the presence of the Spirit that will change their world, and the whole world, from then on.  They leave Jerusalem that morning in sadness and disappointment; they return with joy, filled with hope and excitement. We aren’t told specifically what happens to these two disciples; they may well end up back in Emmaus, hosting a church in their home, living out their lives proclaiming the good news of the resurrection to their neighbors and to anyone whom they meet.  Or maybe they travel with Thomas to the far reaches of India to preach and teach the gospel.  We don’t know.  But we know that they are transformed into newness because they met the risen Christ. 

 

We are on a journey together at the moment.  It’s a journey marked by time, not by space.  Most of us aren’t physically going anywhere, and probably won’t go anywhere beyond our front yard for at least another month.  We’re all holding out hope for the time we can come back together for worship, the day when we can be together here in this place, and in the Palenville and Quarryville churches, to pray together, to pass the peace, to sing ‘O for a thousand tongues – or even just twenty or forty or sixty tongues to sing – our great redeemer’s praise.’ 

 

I so miss worshiping in these sacred spaces with you.  This is hard, this sheltering in place.  It’s important; it’s necessary; it’s how we are loving each other, in the church, and in the larger community.  And it’s really hard. 

 

If I were to talk about our lives this Spring as a journey, it’s as if I set out on a walk with Obadiah, and when I got to the Friary, there was a road block in place, so I couldn’t go down the hill to Main St. This sheltering in place is as if I took the path that heads off from there into the woods toward the river.  That path is strange, not our usual way at all, but it eventually comes out into Dutchman’s Landing, and from there Obie and I could walk up Main St. to William St. and end up back home.  It would be a long and strenuous walk, with different sights to see along the way, but we’d still end up home.  Our hope is that after these long, strenuous weeks of staying home, we can come back to church and end up back home again, just as it was.    But it’s not going to be like that.

 

The journey we’re on this season is much more like the walk to Emmaus.   We have walked away from the worship we shared in February and before, and when we return, it will be different.  It will never be the same as it was.  When we first return to worship together, it will be with restrictions in place.  We who can be there, who are not overly compromised by our health, will need to wear masks and to keep appropriate and safe distance from one another.  There will be music, but we may not be able to sing together.  We won’t yet be able to hug one another, nor will it be wise to gather for coffee afterwards.  We will be together carefully. 

 

If we are wise, we won’t stop livestreaming worship.  We’ve expanded our possibility to include people we might not have shared with since we’ve gone online.  The word from Peter’s sermon in Acts says, 39For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’ When we offer worship through Facebook, we share with people who are here in Catskill and people who are as far away as Michigan or Massachusetts or Minnesota.  Maybe some week we’ll reach Mozambique or Myanmar.  Since we’ve been online, my daughter Charis has worshiped with us each week, once from Cuba, and since then from northern Virginia.  We couldn’t welcome her in our midst like that without this new technology; we needn’t leave it that opportunity behind when we return to Jerusalem, I mean, to our sanctuaries. 

 

Our society, too, will be different.  We’re not going to unlearn how we’ve cared for one another.  Catskill Mutual Aid is now bringing food and picking up prescriptions and laundry soap and supplies for people who can’t get out; they’re working together making masks and organizing care and food for those who need it.  Those relationships we’re building now will continue to bind us together as the pandemic subsides.  We won’t go back to where we were before, because this crisis has laid bare that the social contract we were living under didn’t work.  It’s not sustainable to have so much of the population only a paycheck or two away from an inability to keep on keepin’ on.  A society built primarily on minimum-wage jobs doesn’t work.  We need to work toward a living wage.  We can’t go back to what we knew as normal. 

 

We’ve also seen that there is no such thing as individual health.  That’s a dangerous illusion. People without healthcare put us all in jeopardy, not just themselves. We’ll need to find a new way of caring for all people who are sick, including workers who care for others and who serve and sell food.  Paid sick leave, access to health care for all – these are ideas we’re going to have to work for on the other side of this crisis.  There has to be newness instead of going back to what was.  Because what was has proven dangerous to the lives and livelihoods of all of us. 

 

We’re in the midst of the disappointing walk away from what was at the moment.  We’re on the road, still far from our eventual destination.  But Luke is right.  Things happen on journeys.   Cleopas and his beloved walk and talk together. They welcome a stranger into their midst, a stranger who turns out to be Jesus himself.  In another gospel, in Matthew, Jesus promises to be among us in a similar manner, as a stranger, as a hungry or thirsty or imprisoned stranger, whom we care for and serve.  We are living, even now, in the life of the resurrection.  We meet Christ not only in one another, but in those who worship with us from far away, in people who need the masks that we make in order to stay safe, in the lives of people we pray for whom we don’t know, and those who pray for us.  Our lives together, even far apart, are set on fire by the presence of the risen Christ.  They are always changing as the world changes, always new in God’s love.  If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.  We are on a journey through this strange time, into another, strange, new time as the church.  The recognizable constant will be the love and presence of God in our midst.   That will not change – just as it didn’t change for the two disciples on the Emmaus road.  Our challenge is to keep our hearts open, ready to welcome the stranger, the newness, and the presence of Jesus, in the new life we will live together in the weeks, months, and years before us. 

 

Let us pray:

Open our hearts, Lord.

Open our eyes to see your presence in the strangeness. 

Open our lives to welcome you and your love. 

Amen.

Acts 2:14a, 36-41

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them:

36Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.’

37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ 38Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’ 40And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ 41So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.

 

Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19 (UMH 837)

1 I love the Lord, because he has heard
my voice and my supplications.
2 Because he inclined his ear to me,
therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
3 The snares of death encompassed me;
the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
I suffered distress and anguish.

4 Then I called on the name of the Lord:
‘O Lord, I pray, save my life!’

….

12 What shall I return to the Lord
for all his bounty to me?
13 I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the Lord,
14 I will pay my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people.
15 Precious in the sight of the Lord
is the death of his faithful ones.
16 O Lord, I am your servant;
I am your servant, the child of your serving-maid.
You have loosed my bonds.

17 I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice
and call on the name of the Lord.
18 I will pay my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people,
19 in the courts of the house of the Lord,
in your midst, O Jerusalem.
Praise the Lord!

Luke 24:13-35

13Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. 28As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.