Monday, April 14, 2008

Luke 24:13-35 Emmaus Road

Whenever you go on a journey, what makes the journey special is the people who accompany you on it. For example, one of the highlights of my first trip to Taize was the coach journey from Birmingham to France. I can’t remember a time where I laughed so much, and had as much fun as on that trip.

Life has often been described as being like a journey. For example the expressions we use to talk about our lives conjures up images of travelling. We say things like, “Let's cross that bridge when we come to it, shall we?” or “My life has no direction at the moment,” or “I don’t’ know which way to turn!”, or “I’m at a crosswords in my life.”

The people that we meet on our journey through life can make a big impact on our lives for good or ill. Think for example about the impact friends, family, and colleagues have made on your life.
Today is a special occasion for us as a church family, as together we celebrate with Roger and Lilian their Ruby wedding anniversary. For over 40 years, Roger and Lilian have travelled together through life.

The Emmaus Road: Failure to recognise Jesus

Our reading this morning is all about a journey two people took on the very first Easter Day, three days after Jesus had been crucified. These two men, disciples of Jesus, were travelling from Jerusalem to a village called Emmaus, a journey of about 7 miles. And as they walked, they discussed all that had happened over the last few days, trying to make sense of everything they had seen and heard. These two disciples, had seen their friend Jesus killed in a most horrific fashion, and now three days later strange reports were circulating that Jesus’ tomb was empty, and that Jesus was alive. They were confused, full of doubt and anxiety. When all of a sudden, Jesus appears alongside them. But for some reason they don’t recognise him?

Why not? Luke doesn’t tell us. Maybe it was because they were so caught up in their worries that they failed to recognise him. Sometimes our worries and fears prevent us from seeing God at work in our lives, because our focus is on our worries rather than on God. For example, I find that if I’m walking up a steep hill, I find that I tend to spend more time looking at the ground immediately in front of my feet that I fail to appreciate the wonderful views around me. Sometimes if we’re not careful our worries can completely overtake us so that we fail to see anything else. Because there are times in our lives when we don’t feel the presence of God, it doesn’t mean that he is not there. Just as on a cloudy day, when we cannot see the sun, it doesn’t mean that the sun is not there, it is just hidden from our view. So God is always with us, walking along side us, even if we are unaware of his presence. God doesn’t abandon us, even when the path we are following becomes difficult, he is right with us until the end.

Another reason why we sometimes fail to recognise Jesus is because life overtakes us, we simply so busy “getting on” with life, that we fail to recognise God’s presence with us, or don’t even make time to look for him. I know that this is a trap I have fallen into many times, and it is not only that I sometimes fail to notice Jesus, I can fail to notice other people.

Jesus Listens

As Jesus walked to Emmaus with his two disciples he asked them a question. “What are you discussing as you walk along?” One of the disciples, Cleopas responds “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?”As the disciples tell this stranger walking with them everything that has happened. . They share with Jesus everything that is on their hearts, their pain, their confusion, their anger, their doubt, and their fear, and as they talk, Jesus listens.

Just as Jesus asked these disciples, what is it you’re discussing, so he also invites us to share with him all that is going on in our lives. We don’t have to pretend with God, we can be totally open and honest with him. Sharing everything that is going on in our lives, even sharing our hurt, pain, and anger.

Jesus in his own lifetime experienced the pain of bereavement, rejection, abandonment, persecution, and is therefore able to understand and sympathise with us. God is not indifferent to our sufferings, he is there right in the midst of them. The very act of sharing what is going on in our lives, can help us move forward with our lives, because we share our burdens with him. Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Mt 11:28) God is interested in everything that is going on in our lives, even those things that we may consider mundane, or seemingly unimportant or trivial. Jesus is intimately concerned about every aspect of our lives.

Jesus Speaks

After Jesus listened to the two disciples, he began to speak to them by addressing their worries, and responds to the things they have shared with him. He is not necessarily soft and gentle but comes at them with a sense of forceful rebuke! “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” (v. 25, 26). Suffering was the prerequisite to glory. These disciples, with their natural understanding of things, could only see the suffering of Christ as a defeat. They couldn’t have been further from the truth…for God had triumphed through the sufferings of Christ!

Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, maybe we sometimes fail to understand how and why God acts the way he does, but like the disciples we need to be open to allow God to speak into our lives. As the two disciples listened to Jesus, something began to change within them. They began to move from a state of despair to one of hope, and began to understand where God was to be found in the suffering of Jesus. They said to one another later, Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?

The challenge for us is to learn to listen to what God may be saying to us, and this requires us to keep open the channels of communication with God, praying, reading our Bibles, listening to the advice and guidance of Christian friends, and listening to the nudges & prompts that God gives us. If we do this, we can discover renewed hope and purpose, and direction for our journey.

Jesus is invited to stay

As the two disciples reach their destination, Jesus acts as if he is going further, but the two disciples invite him to stay and eat with them. That decision to invite Jesus to stay with them was to lead to a life changing encounter, what would have happened if they hadn’t invited Jesus to stay? The implication from the passage is that Jesus would have kept on going. Consider what the consequences are for us if we miss out on encounters with the living Christ because we quench the “nudge” that inspires us to invite the living Christ into our lives and our circumstances.

Jesus said, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” We have to make that invitation to Jesus, Jesus won’t force himself on us, we need to open the door to him.

Disciples Eyes Are Opened

In the home of these two disciples, Jesus took the bread, blessed it and then proceeded to break it and share it. Suddenly the disciples’ eyes are opened and they recognize that this stranger, is in fact the risen Jesus. Why is Jesus recognized at this particular time? Perhaps they see the nail marks in his hands as he grasps the bread to break it…or maybe it’s in the way that he intimately talks to his Father as he blessed the meal…or maybe it’s simply a matter of God’s timing. The amazing thing to note here is that Jesus was recognized in the commonplace routine of everyday life. The breaking of bread was an everyday occurrence, yet it is in this ordinary mundane moment that the fullness of Jesus’ presence is most realized and recognized.The disciples were transformed by their encounter with the risen Jesus. As soon as they recognised Jesus they were so overjoyed that the ran all the way back to Jerusalem to share this wonderful news with the other disciples. If we are open to God I believe that we too can experience that same change, discovering renewed purpose, hope and joy in our lives, knowing that Jesus who has conquered death, shares our journey, bringing us new hope and faith.

John 10:10 Abundant Life

Introduction: The Problem

A report on the BBC caught my attention this week, it stated that as a nation we are getting unhappier, Briton is now ranked only the 9th happiest country out of 15 EU nations. At the top of the league table are the Danish, Finish and Irish, and the least happy people in Europe are rather surprisingly the Italians. Clearly there is an issue here that needs to be addressed. The proportion of people in Britain saying they are 'very happy' is just 36% today, compared to 52% in 1957.

Why is it that as a nation we are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with life, when in many ways we have never had it so good? We have more disposable income than ever before; we are living longer and are healthier than we’ve ever been. But yet there are many unhappy and dissatisfied people in our world. How can we discover true happiness and freedom in life? People are searching for the answer to this question in many different places.

Leo Tolstoy, author of War and Peace wrote a book called A Confession, in which he tells the story of his search for meaning and purpose in life. He describes how he rejected Christianity as a child. As he went through life he became very ambitiuous. First of all, he thought pleasure was the answer. Having a great time. He entered the social world of Moscow and Petersburg, drinking heavily, sleeping around, gambling and leading a wild life. But it did not satisfy him. He then thought maybe money was the answer. He had inherited an estate and made a large amount of money out of his books. Yet that did not satisfy him either. He then sought success, fame and importance. But still he said, it didn’t satisfy. Then he thought, maybe the answer is family life, to give his family the best possible life. He married in 1862 and had a kind, loving wife and thirteen children. He had achieved all his ambitions and was surrounded by what appeared to be complete happiness. And yet one question brought him to the verge of suicide: ‘What meaning has my life that the inevitability of death does not destroy?’ He searched for the answer in every field of science and philosophy, but without satisfaction. Eventually he found that the peasant people of Russia had the answer he had been looking for, in their faith in God through Jesus Christ.

Jesus said “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

Full/Abundant Life

So what does full or abundant life, look like? The Greek word that we translate as ‘full’ or ‘abundantly’ is perissos – which means ‘more than sufficient’ or ‘over & above what is required’. It can also mean 'out of the ordinary', or 'superior'. So the life Jesus offers us something totally extraordinary, quite unlike anything else we can experience. A life of completeness, fulfilment and joy.

Jesus said, "I have come, that they may have life, and have it to the full." What God desires, is for his children to live a life full of happiness, peace, and a genuine friendship with God. Paul in Galatians writes about the fruit of the spirit being love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22), to this we could also add purity, humility, modesty, faith, character, wisdom, enthusiasm, dignity, optimism, confidence, and honesty. This is the life that Jesus offers us, this is what it means to have life in all its fullness.

Money can’t buy abundant life

The abundant life that Jesus offers us, is life full of all the things money can’t buy. No matter how much money you have, you can not buy more patience, peace, joy, love or self-control. These things come from God, who is the giver of all good things. The Bible says, "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change..." (James 1:17). All we need to do is ask God for these gifts.

The "abundant life" is free from the things that are bad for us.

Just as love, joy, peace, self control are marks of the abundant life, so the opposite to that is selfishness, hatred, lust, unforgiveness, envy, jealousy, fear, drunkenness, sexual immorality, discord, anger, dishonesty, greed, gossipping, slander, pessimism and despair.

The more these negative qualities are a part of a person’s behaviour, the further they are from the abundant life God wants them to experience. But the good news is that God can remove all of these negative characteristics from a person’s life. God is greater than our sins, by his grace and mercy we can be set free from these harmful habits that prevent us living life in all its fullness.

If we struggle for example with a hot temper, it’s no longer an excuse to say, "This is who I am and I
can’t change that." God can change us, if we open our selves up to the power of his holy spirit to change and transform us into the people we were created to be. God is inviting you to experience an "Abundant Life".

It is God’s desire that as his children we discover happiness and satisfaction in life. But unfortunately, many Christians are still missing out on the abundant life. Perhaps, they do not believe that such a life is truly available to them. Notice in John 10:10 that Jesus did not say, "I come that (some) may have life to the full". We are all invited to discover abundant living. It is available to all God’s children, no matter what their circumstances are in life.

Many assume the abundant life depends on circumstances, or fate or luck, or their bank account, or their status in life, or their health. But wealth, power, status, and worldly pleasure have nothing to do with living the abundant life.

Abundant life is not:

1. It is not necessarily a life of comfort and ease.
2. It is not dependent on outside circumstances, but more on how we respond to circumstances

3. It is not necessarily obtained quickly. It may take time for us to experience abundant life, because it is a process that often takes time. For example, a person who is 100 lbs. over-weight may take longer to reach their ideal weight than someone who is only 10 lbs. over-weight. Nevertheless, they still can achieve their goal, even if it takes longer. In the same way, the process for some people to obtain life in all its abundance may take longer because some people carry around a little more "spiritual baggage" than others.

How can we know if we are living life in its abundance?
A good description of Abundant living is when:
1. We learn to live each day in the light of Christ.

2. When we can look back on the past, without it ruling the present.
3. You are filled with faith, hope, and love, and live without anger, greed, guilt, envy, or thoughts of revenge.
4. You are secure in who you are, so you are at peace with God.
5 You love the unlovable, give hope to the hopeless, friendship to the friendless, and encouragement to the discouraged.
6. You can look back in forgiveness, and forward in hope, with gratitude to God.
7. You recognize, develop, and use your God-given physical, mental, and spiritual abilities to the glory of God and for the benefit of mankind.

How to receive this "Abundant Life".

There is not a magic formula. God graciously gives it to all who seek it. "Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives, he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened," Matthew 7:7-9.Jesus said "If you...know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him," Matt. 7:11.If we have said “yes” to Jesus, then we have already received eternal life, and so to receive “abundant life” all we need to do is ask God to help us grow into the fullness of life that he others us. Jesus said, "Therefore, I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours," Mark 11:24. "I have come that you may have life to the full".