Eyes Opened- A Stewardship Sermon on the Road to Emmaus

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This past weekend I had the privilege to preach at Edensburg Lutheran Church in Malmo and Alma Lutheran Church in Mead, Nebraska. Thank you to Pastor Andrew Dietzel for the invitation, and to both congregations for the warm welcome. I was invited to preach on the appointed gospel passage according to the revised common lectionary for the Third Sunday of Easter, Luke 24:13-35, or the story about the “Road to Emmaus.” What follows is the majority of the manuscript that I preached from. 

Grace and peace from our God who opens eyes, hearts, minds, and tombs, Amen.

edensburg lutheran
The pulpit and baptismal fount at Edensburg Lutheran Church in Malmo, Nebraska.

It is a great joy to be with you all today. Thank you so much Pastor Andrew for the invitation, and to all of you here for the warm welcome. On behalf of your 100,000 sisters and brothers in Christ that are the Nebraska Synod, I bring greetings. Today especially I bring Easter greetings from Bishop Maas, Assistant to the Bishop Pastor Juliet Hampton, and the whole Nebraska Synod staff. Thank you again for the invitation, and for the opportunity to preach so close to home for me. Lately when I have been out preaching and meeting with congregations I have been on the road well before 6am to get to places like Superior or Filley, or spending the whole weekend out in Scottsbluff, Holdrege, or Kearney. Today, I didn’t have to leave from home in Fontanelle until 7:15am. What a gift, so thank you!

I am excited to be with you and to share in the joy of the resurrection, as well as to wonder with you a bit about what God might be up to, and of course to share some stewardship thoughts. I think this story today of the Road to Emmaus is a beautiful passage, which is actually a great story of how faith works, of how conversations and relationships happen and form, and how together, we can wonder what God might be up to, and then have the courage and trust to follow and see where God might be leading, and how we are called to be a part of it.

On the Road to Emmaus
So, on that note, in today’s story, here we are, only hours removed from the stone being rolled away and the tomb being opened. And two disciples here are on a walk. The walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus, is about seven miles. It would be like walking from here to Wahoo, give or take a mile.

On this walk, these two men were unknowingly joined by Jesus, because, you know, what would God do after beating death at its own game? God would find two people trying to make sense of the world, fighting off their despair, and disillusionment,[1] and come alongside them. That’s just what God does– because God is present with us, and for us.

alma lutheran
Alma Lutheran in Mead, Nebraska.

When God in Christ finds these two people, you could imagine Jesus played dumb, when he asked, “what are you discussing with each other while you walk along?”[2] But I think what Jesus is really doing here, is inviting a deeper conversation. He is slowly opening these two people up and bringing to the surface the things that the two are wrestling with. By this I mean- Jesus is opening them up by having them share their angst, worries, disappointments, inability to believe the women’s story of their encounter earlier that day at the tomb, and more. They are trying to make sense of this changed world, but they can’t quite get past the despair, and wonderings of “what if” and “what now?”

I love that Jesus responds to Cleopas’ annoyed and astonished question, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?”[3] with another question, “what things?”[4] Ah, what things indeed. This is one of the first invitations to share the story of the gospel, only hours after the Easter climax. Jesus himself is inviting these two to share their story, God’s story, as well as the emotional and life stuff all tied up in it.

I imagine that it is out of love, and perhaps a bit of exasperation at this point that Jesus ultimately begins to reveal himself to these two by saying, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!”[5] Or, perhaps more accurately as another commentator translated this expression, “You sweet dummies! How could you miss this?”[6]

Thankfully, Jesus doesn’t leave them hanging, and through teaching, conversation, and the breaking of bread, he opens their eyes.

Then Their Eyes Were Opened- How about our eyes?
“Then their eyes were opened.”[7] This is probably my favorite verse in this whole story. “Then their eyes were opened…”

The two disciples are opened up, beyond themselves. They recognize the impact the whole conversation has had internally, but now are aware of it externally. They have connected their hearts, minds, souls, and eyes, and all that they are, have been opened up.

edensburg lutheran2
Opening our eyes through the meal and meeting us where we are at. (The altar area at Edensburg Lutheran)

I wonder… When have your eyes been opened? When have your eyes been opened to God working in your midst? When have you been opened up to sense that God is truly present with you? When have your eyes been opened to new ideas, possibilities, and ways of thinking?

Perhaps a story will help? I am not a native of Nebraska. My wife and I are originally from the Seattle area, and since we have been married we lived in Minnesota and went to seminary there, and then returned back to the Northwest for her internship a year and a half ago. So, you might be wondering how on earth am I here now with you? Well, long story short, I was invited to come and see, and did just that the week after Easter Sunday last year.

When I came to visit Nebraska for the first time, when my wife and I visited to discern whether to accept the Holy Spirit’s leading here, all we really knew was, Nebraska is “Big Red Country,” Omaha is supposed to have good steaks and is home to the College World Series, and there’s obviously a lot of Lutherans here. We came to learn and see, and boy did we. Our eyes that had been closed to the wonder of this state were opened. Sure, there may not be Mount Rainier here, and certainly there’s no Pacific Ocean, Mariners baseball or Seahawks football, but I know your devotion to the Huskers. And don’t tell my family and friends this, but I think yours is probably deeper (and perhaps crazier) than any passion for a northwest sports team.

The eye opening has only continued since moving here last fall. In my travels across the state since being called here to this synod with all of you, my eyes have been opened to all of the stories of generosity, of congregations doing amazing things as part of God’s work in the world. I have heard stories of faithful stewards responding to God’s promises and gifts in awe inspiring ways. I have seen congregations open their doors to communities and people in need.

faith ambassadors
One of those examples of awe-inspiring ministry and generosity happened just yesterday afternoon by celebrating with Faith Ambassadors Lutheran Parish, as five congregations came together to participate in shared ministry together. (Pictured here from left to right are Assistant to the Bishop, Rev. Juliet Hampton installing in order: Rev. Joel Schroeder, Vicar Bob Ball, and Rev. Nicki McIntyre.)

Taking a step back, to have ones’ eyes opened, also means to be changed. The two people in today’s story have been changed. From despair, they have been moved to hope. From disillusionment, they have been moved to clear purpose. From mourning to joy and perhaps even dancing. And that’s exactly what God does through Easter. God changes everything, and that’s what God does for each of us in baptism, and in different ways each and every day.

Where stewardship fits in…
This is all God’s work, and thanks be to God for that. But what do we because of this? What did the disciples do who were changed that day on the walk to Emmaus with Jesus? The answers are all about stewardship.

This story, and the stories I have heard of ministry in action across Nebraska as my eyes have been continued to be opened are all a part of stewardship. Stewardship has everything to do with responding to the question of, what will you do because of all that God has done, will do, and continues to do for you? Or, as the Psalmist asks today, “What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me?”[8]

The two in today’s story are moved to a joyful response. They don’t stay in the village that they were heading to. No, the same hour as they discover and are changed forever, they get up and return to Jerusalem where they found the eleven and companions huddling. They tell their story that, “The Lord has risen indeed!”[9] Then they share about how Jesus joined them, opened them up and was made known through their conversations, breaking of bread, food, and fellowship. By going back, they don’t run away, or keep this good news to themselves. No, they go back to the city which they left in despair and fear, to share a word of peace, hope, and joy. Because God has done what God had promised to do.

How do you live your life because of all that God has done and continues to do? How do you steward all that you have and all that you are? The decisions each of us make is our joyful response (or not) to all that God has done. God’s action are pure gifts, gifts for us. Gifts we cannot earn. But we can’t help but be so filled with joy, that we are changed because of them. And though as Lutherans we might like to sit in the back pew, we can’t help but be so filled with joy that we will share of God’s love and promises through the ways we live, the stories we tell, and all that we do.

all god's critters
At Alma Lutheran, the kids choir sang, “All God’s Critters Got a Place in the Choir.” They most certainly do. We all do- in our unique callings, passions, vocations, and identities as Children of God and stewards of God’s love and mysteries. (This was my view of the choir from behind the altar where I sat.)

This is stewardship. All that we have and all that we are, have been entrusted to us by God to use, manage, or steward. That includes our money, our time, our talents, but it also means our questions, dreams, hopes, ideas, wonders, passions, vocations, stories, relationships, and creation.

All that we do is a response to God’s gift, and that’s why telling the story of all that God has done and continues to do is stewardship, just as thanking people for being part of it is stewardship, too. So, thank you all again for the invitation and, whether you know it or not, thank you for your continued participation in giving to mission share and mission support.

Your contributions as a congregation make possible the education and development of new pastors and leaders of the church through this synod and the larger ELCA. They help support new, renewing, and transforming congregations and ministries. They also help support the many serving arms of the church including Mosaic, Lutheran Family Services, and Lutheran World Relief. Thank you for being a part of this work, and responding to God’s gifts in this way. I have the best job in the ELCA I believe because I get to hear and see your stories of generosity, but then I also have the joy of getting to thank you for them, and to share your stories with all those I meet.

Putting it all Together
The two people on the road in today’s story are so moved and changed when their eyes are opened that they’re able to proclaim as we do throughout this Easter season, “He is Risen, He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!” They can’t keep this news to themselves quietly in the small village of Emmaus. Instead, they are so moved that they get back on the road they just walked seven miles on, to walk back another seven miles to Jerusalem and to share their joy and excitement.

They have been changed, and so have we. God has done what God does, and I wonder, what will we do now?

This isn’t a one time thing, this opening of eyes that happens because Jesus meets two people on the road, listens and talks with them, and then breaks some bread. This is something that happens every week around this table with a simple meal, when we hear these words “given for you,” and “shed for you.” This is something that also happens every day when we wake up with a new day, a day that the Lord has made, so “let us be glad and rejoice in it.”[10]

God has opened the tomb. God has opened our hearts, minds, and eyes. And God will keep opening them, because that’s exactly how the Kingdom of God breaks into this hurting and broken, yet beautiful and loved world, little by little. We’re all a part of it, as God calls and creates us, because God loves us, and meets us on the road like in today’s story; in a simple meal like we’ll have together in a few moments, and each day in new and exciting ways. Thanks be to God. Amen.

_________________________________________________________

Sources/Resources/Citations:

[1] Robert Hoch, “Commentary on Gospel Luke 24:13-35,” http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3234.

[2] Luke 24:17, NRSV.

[3] Luke 24:18, NRSV.

[4] Luke 24:19, NRSV.

[5] Luke 24:25, NRSV.

[6] Robert Hoch, “Commentary on Gospel Luke 24:13-35,” http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3234.

[7] Luke 24:31, NRSV.

[8] Psalm 116:12, NRSV.

[9] Luke 24:34, NRSV.

[10] Psalm 118:24, NRSV.

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