Living Out Life with Deep Joy- a sermon for Easter 3A for St. John Lutheran Church in Beatrice, Nebraska

Outside St. John Lutheran on a beautiful sunny Sunday morning.

It was a joy to be with the people of God gathered as St. John Lutheran Church in Beatrice, Nebraska on Saturday April 22 and Sunday April 23, 2023. I was invited to preach and share greetings in the congregation’s three worship services as part of the congregation’s “Together for Joy” stewardship emphasis. I was also invited to share and join the conversation for a deep dive dreaming conversation over dinner with congregation members on Saturday evening, and to lead a time of conversation with interested members of the congregation during the Adult Forum on Sunday morning. It was a wonderful weekend, and I am grateful to have been part of it. What follows are some of the pictures from the weekend, and the manuscript that I primarily preached from. The sermon was based on Luke 24:13-25 (with brief references to Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19, and Acts 2:14a, 36-41, the appointed lessons for the Third Sunday of Easter in Year A). If you would like to watch the Sunday services or listen to them (and or the sermon instead of reading it), you can view or listen to them at the following links: 9:00am St. John Lutheran, Beatrice 4/23 and 11:15am St. John Lutheran, Beatrice 4/23.

Grace and peace from our Resurrected Lord Jesus Christ, who is with you, for you, and who loves you. Amen.

I was visiting a friend earlier this week. Something he said took me by surprise. He said, “So, kindergarten, huh? That can’t be possible.” No, it can’t. As we were catching up my friend was asking about how my wife’s and my daughters are doing, and then was noting, knowing that our oldest just turned five a couple weeks ago, that kindergarten for her begins at the end of summer. How can that be possible? Five years have gone by since I became a dad. How is that even real? Now I recognize that’s not even close to the same questions that the two walking along the road in today’s story were pondering. But in that moment, I was one of the two friends. Talking. Catching up. Trying to make sense of it all. Not sure how this has happened, or what’s next. Make no mistake, I’m filled with deep joy as a dad of two and give thanks for that every day. But that doesn’t change the fact that I still can’t understand how fast it has gone, that here we are my wife and I, are preparing to be parents of a school going kid. Maybe you can relate?

Inside the beautiful sanctuary of St. John early on Sunday morning before worship.

Setting the Scene
I start with that, because today we find ourselves in the story. This story from Luke 24, it’s so familiar. So powerful. So descriptive. There’s so much in it. But there really is only one way to fully approach this story. We have to let ourselves feel and be in it. As if we are there on the road with Cleopas and his companion on the journey together. Walking. Imagine the scene. It’s not dissimilar to the timing of the story we heard from John last week. It’s the night of the day of the Resurrection. It’s Easter evening. Again. And here we have two disciples walking away from Jerusalem and where all the events of the past three+ days have taken place.

There’s a sense of fear. Grief. Uncertainty. Anxiety. Dread. Wonder. All of this and more. There are also no doubt questions deep in their minds and wrestling deep in their heart. What does this mean? Is it true? What’s going to happen to us? What’s going to happen next?  Could the women who were at the tomb this morning be right? Could it be? These and so much more were no doubt on their minds.

Even though they are walking, there is a bit of urgency to their walk on the road to Emmaus. It’s seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus. And they are walking in the evening. The sun will soon be setting. It’s not always safe to be on the roads after dark. But especially not to be on the roads after dark amid the turmoil and events of those days. Might people’s guards have been up a bit higher than normal because of the fear, uncertainty, witness, and stories of it all? Of course. That would be human nature too.

Disciples and members of St. John Lutheran, gathered for deep conversation, dreaming, and visioning over dinner on Saturday evening at Tall Tree Tastings in Beatrice. What a fun evening!

Finding Ourselves in the Story
Amid all of this, we find ourselves in today’s story. And Jesus meets the two on the road-
just where they are at. Just as Jesus meets you and me wherever we might be, amid whatever wrestling, wondering, grief, and fear we too might be experiencing. I wonder, as you place yourself in this story. Who are you in this story today, and why? Think about that for a moment. You might hear or sense something a bit different in it with that perspective.

Whatever your answer, hold it for a moment. Jesus is just starting his post resurrection appearances in Luke here. And there’s an element of fun in the way this story begins. Unlike last week where Jesus just shows up and says, “Peace be with you,”[1] today, he shows up and doesn’t reveal himself at first. He kind of even pretends not to know what’s going on. He sees the two discussing things along the road and comes near. But they don’t know who he is. So, Jesus asks, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?”[2] That seems like a perfectly legitimate, if not a bit forward a question for a stranger to be asking of another. But the two don’t seem to mind. The two seem to take more issue with the fact that this mystery man doesn’t know about what has happened in Jerusalem “in these days.”[3]

Jesus, still pretending asks, “What things?”[4] That’s probably the best coaching question ever. Two simple but deep words. Which puts the onus back on the two walking along the road to tell about what they have seen, witnessed, and experienced. Jesus, unknowingly to them, is putting them to work. They are practicing telling the story. They are practicing being evangelists. Because now on this side of the Resurrection, the work shifts from God in Christ’s work through the cross and tomb, to the response and work of disciples and stewards. The work of sharing the Good News. The work of baptizing and teaching. The work of living out vocations and spreading the news that God’s love is real. That God is indeed with God’s people, for God’s people, and loves God’s people.

Jesus gets the sense, early on after the resurrection on that first Easter evening, that perhaps the disciples aren’t quite all ready yet. It’s too fresh. The grief is too real. They haven’t processed what they have been through. So here Jesus shows up, and invites them to process and share with him, as they walk along that road to Emmaus. So, who are you in this story? Whoever you are in it, I wonder. If a stranger were to walk up to you on the road and ask you, “What things?” What would you say? How would you describe the experiences of these days? What might your witness account be? How might you process what you are wrestling with as it comes to your faith and what God has done for you, and what God might be up and inviting with, for, and through you next?

Disciples and members of St. John gathered in a time of great conversation during the adult forum on Sunday morning. (Pastor Renae can be seen in the back left of this picture.) Conversation included dreaming about the future of the congregation, about my call and learning towards ministry, stewardship, the PMA program, and the questions and learning through the synod’s Vitality Initiative for Congregations. There was much more, but it was an absolute joy. An hour passed very quickly!

The two walking alongside do as Jesus asks. They tell him some about the things. They tell of what they have seen and heard and experienced about Jesus of Nazareth. But then after they have seemingly finished with a question mark, not sure what to make of the women’s account, Jesus says, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!”[5] It’s amazing to me that the two didn’t figure out this was Jesus at this point. But they haven’t. So, Jesus goes on to interpret Moses and the prophets and the scriptures. He might have also helped them sense that not only were the women at the tomb telling the truth, but they were also actually the first preachers and proclaimers of the gospel. So, the next time someone tells you women can’t be pastors, point them to the gospels of Luke or John.[6] Just saying.

But still, even amid this interpretation time, discipleship building, and storytelling, the two didn’t know it was Jesus. Though their hearts were surely burning.[7] They deserve credit though. Their impulse, upon coming near to Emmaus was one of hospitality and welcome. They welcomed this stranger, not knowing yet who he was, into the place they would be staying. That’s a discipleship move and good on them for embodying that part of faith. In so doing, they invited the stranger to the table. And we hear this familiar climax, “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, and he vanished from their sight.”[8] Ah-ha. Epiphany! The women were right. These two now believe. Jesus came and met them where they are at. He helped them to come and believe. And his purpose and mission for this appearance is over. He is off. He has more to do. And thus, the story turns to the two again. Alone. But the mood has changed.

There is hope. There is joy. The two talk quickly. Making sense of what just happened. “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”[9] So what do they do? They just about immediately get back on the road and go back the way they came. But now they aren’t walking. It’s evening and dark or soon to be dark. It’s seven miles to Jerusalem. You got to figure they are moving with purpose now. Maybe even running. There is work to be done. They have a message to proclaim. They find the eleven and their companions gathered together and share the good news. “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon,”[10] and they told what had happened. They recounted the story of their journey on the road, and how Jesus’ presence had been made known to them through the breaking of the bread.[11]

Jesus Meets Us Where We’re At
That’s where the story for today ends. But it’s only a beginning. What’s next? What might God be up to? What might God be inviting? These are real questions. Whether you are on the road as one of the disciples trying to make sense of the things that have come to pass with and through this Jesus of Nazareth, or meeting a friend catching up about family and trying to figure out how you got so old that you are now a parent of a soon to be kindergartner. Whether you are processing grief or fears about the unknown or an uncertain diagnosis, or someone who is looking to another chapter of life unfolding- graduation soon, a new job, a new opportunity. Or whether you are pondering and discerning about a new invitation to serve or to serve in a new way as part of your congregation, St. John Lutheran in Beatrice. No matter where you find yourself, just like the two in today’s story, Jesus meets you where you are at.

“Return to God,” seemed like a fitting thing to spot in Pastor Arden’s office, given the congregation’s stewardship theme and the question from the psalmist this week, “What shall I return to the Lord?”

That’s crystal clear in this story today, just like it was last week. Jesus shows up with and for God’s people. In whatever situation or place they might find themselves; Jesus is there and will be there. Inviting us to come and see. Inviting us to share and to grow. Inviting us to open our eyes, hearts, hands, and minds. That’s kind of why I really love your focus as a congregation, St. John. You boil down your life as disciples to this: “Know Jesus. Tell About Jesus. Love as Jesus Loves.”[12] Yep. That about covers it, doesn’t it? So, like the two on the road, and the eleven and their companions whom they return to, the story turns to them. What’s next? What will be their response? Now that they have seen and know again, that God is indeed with them, for them, and loves them, what will they do now? What will you do now?

Our Joyful Response
The psalmist asks, “What shall I return to the Lord…?”[13] The psalmist recounts for us what God has done, God’s lifesaving and life changing work for God’s beloved. And gives us all words for our response and gratitude. And that’s what stewardship is all about. A reminder of all that God has done, will do, and promises to do for God’s own, and an invitation for each of us to respond gratefully and joyfully. Not because we have to, but because we get to, and how could we not give thanks and praise and be so moved that we want to join in with God in some of God’s work here, now, today? After all, God in Christ does what only God in Christ can do. Overcome death and the grave, once and for all. Providing abundant life out of death. And the promise of the resurrection for you, for me, and for all of God’s beloved. What can we do with that, except like the two on the road, run back and tell someone with joy. Run back and tell what God has done for us. And share that good news and love with all those that we might meet and whom might be in need of care and knowing that Jesus is with them, and that God’s love is real.

That message seems to be at the heart of your stewardship focus, St. John. You are “Together for Joy.” And thank you for being a part of it. Thank you for all that you do. And particularly, as we think about this story today, it just seems so perfect. We’re left here where the two recount their story to others. You’ve got to believe that storytelling and sharing experience was one of joy. That the joy was palpable. I mean why on earth else would these two have run back at night, when it’s not safe at all, on the road towards Jerusalem? Especially after the events of those days and the real fear shared by those present and who witnessed to it.

But this is just the start. We know there will be more appearances over the weeks to come before Jesus’ ascension. There will be more to come before the Holy Spirit blows through God’s people on Pentecost. But the joy here is real. And you each are a part of it. We are together for joy as God’s people through all that we have, and all that we are.

Through whom you are the beautiful, beloved, and unique Child of God that you each are. Through your unique passions, strengths, interests, gifts, ideas, and dreams. We’re together for joy through the ministry that everyone shares. A ministry we are all baptized into as we are reminded from Acts today.[14] A ministry that through the Water and the Word, we are claimed by God once and for all, and sealed with the Holy Spirit. But one that is also grounded in promises. God’s promises for us. And our promises made by us and for us, by each other.

The St. John choir singing the anthem, “For Everyone Born, A Place at the Table.” A perfect anthem for a day including the story about the Road to Emmaus and God’s invitation and presence with and for God’s beloved. Pr. Arden can be seen in the far right, singing in the choir.

Promises which include: “to live among God’s faithful people, to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper, to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, to serve all people following the example of Jesus, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.”[15] All of these promises are at work through this story today, and the way the people show up in it. And they are at work through you and through whomever you identify most as in this story today as each and everyone in this story ultimately lives out the Good News with joy.

Living Out Together for Joy
In the months ahead you are going to continue in this theme. Leaning into and out of questions about what it might mean to live out together for joy. And each of your answers and responses to these questions matter. Because together we are the Priesthood of all Believers. Each with unique and important vocations as part of the Body of Christ. Called to care for each other, the community, and the world. Just like the two showed hospitality to the seemingly stranger whom they met on the road. Just like the two who then gathered together with the others back in Jerusalem afterwards. Just like all disciples ever since then have gathered, dwelled in the Word, been filled through the body and blood, and sent back out to serve with joy.

Today the Easter story continues. God is at work. God is active and up to something- with you and for you, and through you, because God loves you. Always. And that is something that can’t help but fill you with joy. A joy that fills us and calls us to wonder, to imagine, and to dream about who we are, and who God is calling you to be next, St. John. We do this and more, because we know like the two on the road that “The Lord has risen indeed.” Thanks be to God. Amen.

References and Citations:
[1] As in John 20:19 and John 20:26, NRSV.
[2] Luke 24:17, NRSV.
[3] Luke 24:18, NRSV.
[4] Luke 24:19, NRSV.
[5] Luke 24:25, NRSV.
[6] As in Luke 24:1-12 and John 20:1-18.
[7] Like is stated in Luke 24:32, NRSV.
[8] Luke 24:30-31, NRSV.
[9] Luke 24:32, NRSV.
[10] Luke 24:34, NRSV.
[11] Luke 24:35.
[12] “Know Jesus. Tell about Jesus. Love as Jesus loves,” as stated on the congregation’s website:
[13] Psalm 116:12, NRSV.
[14] Especially as in Acts 2:36-41.
[15] As found in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), page 236.

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