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My "Emmaus Road" sermon

April 9, 2005

The great theologian Karl Barth once said that preaching should be done with a bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. Which means that we should never focus so exclusively on the bible itself that we neglect what’s going on in the world around us, and we should never become so immersed in the world around us that we forget the Bible. So it is in Barth’s spirit that I bring you some news you might have missed while watching the 24/7 coverage of the Pope’s funeral.

In Vancouver, British Columbia a 36-year-old woman grew fed up with her neighbors’ loud television. Evidently it had become a pretty strong point of contention, because the woman (whose name has not been released) got into her car, drove it through the lawn, through some patio furniture, and into the side of the neighbors’ apartment. No one was injured in the incident. In fact, the neighbors didn’t even know it had happened, because they couldn’t hear the crash over the sound of their television because it was too loud. Okay, that last bit was a joke, but the rest is absolutely true. The headline read, Woman Charged in Road-Rage Apartment Ramming. Isn’t that an interesting term, road rage? We all know what it means, and most of us have experienced it either directly or indirectly. I’m sure we’ve all heard horns blaring, engines revving, and seen people waving with less than their whole hand.

As a person who listens to music all the time, I can tell you that there really are only two kinds of songs in this world. There are songs about the heart, and there are songs about the road. Songs about the heart are all about relationships. Love songs, breakup songs, songs of unrequited love, songs about desire. Songs about longing hearts and broken hearts, of aching hearts and fulfilled hearts. Of guilty hearts and repentant hearts. Of hearts filled with regret and hearts warm with forgiveness. I don’t speak much Spanish, but I can sit in Mexican restaurants and listen to the songs and nearly every one of them will have the words “El Corazon,” which I recognize as “the heart.”

And then there are songs about the road. There are songs about specific roads (Highway 61 Revisited, Route 66, Ventura Highway) and songs about a musician’s life on the road (On The Road Again), songs about a truck driver’s life on the road (Six Days on the Road, Lookin’ At The World Through a Windshield, Truck Driver’s Blues, 18 Wheels and a Dozen Roses), songs about cars (Maybelline, Hot Rod Lincoln, Little GTO, Cadillac Ranch) and songs that just mention roads. But the best “road” songs are the ones that understand the road as a metaphor for life, for life as a journey (Life is a Journey, Rocky Road Blues, Born to Run, Midnight Rider, Stones in the Road, Everyday is a Winding Road, The Long and Winding Road). There is a kind of understanding that life is best understood as a journey, and journeys take place on roads.

This world seems to be all about roads, doesn’t it? Have you ever heard someone talk about driving on a vacation? “Yeah, the country’s beautiful out there but they don’t take care of their roads.” If it snows in the winter, we all turn on the news for one main reason – the road conditions. Every few minutes on the Weather Channel, you can get “travel weather.” One of the handiest things about the internet, to me, is that I can use Yahoo! Maps to get exact driving directions from my driveway to the parking lot of wherever I’m going.

Did you realize that modern cities are not set up to be convenient for people? Try walking around one sometime. No, they’re set up to be convenient for CARS. We’ve got drive-thru restaurants, drive-thru pharmacies, drive-thru convenience stores, drive-thru car washes. If you’ve got a credit or debit card you can buy gas in a lot of places without getting more than two feet from your car. And as often as we are told, “don’t drink and drive,” there are still drive-thru liquor stores. Figure that one out!

So what do we have here in this Bible text? We have ourselves a road story. When I enrolled in seminary, I wrote a paper about my sense of call to the ministry. I used two “road” images from the Bible to illustrate my point. I said that when some folks are called to the ministry they have a “Damascus Road” experience like Paul, where they are kind of struck down and convinced of what they need to do right away. And then there are those, like me, who have an “Emmaus Road” experience, where the plans for us are revealed over time and when we look back it all starts to make perfect sense. My call to the ministry has been more of an Emmaus road experience in that way.

The story tells us that Jesus is on the road, and he meets up with these two other folks on the road, so they share a good part of the journey together. They had to be overcome with grief, their hope for the future had been nailed to a cross, and those resurrection stories might just be rumors, you know, because they haven’t seen it with their own eyes. Maybe this “kingdom of God” thing wasn’t really going to happen, and life was going back to business as usual. So they meet up, and they don’t recognize Jesus.

When the text tells us, “their eyes were kept from recognizing him” what do you suppose that means? I know that when I tell my kids some things I could swear that their ears are kept from recognizing my words!

And when do they recognize him? Just as he starts to walk away. “Wait a minute. You know WHO THAT IS!?!?” And he comes back and breaks bread with them and shares a meal with them.

But the question really isn’t WHEN they recognize him, it’s HOW they recognize him. It was never their eyes at all, but their HEARTS. “Were not our hearts burning within us,” they ask. The heart can see things that the eyes cannot. And really, the heart can be trusted better than the eyes. Eyes can be deceived. There’s a whole industry based on that fact. David Copperfield has made millions of dollars deceiving your eyes.

So if the Emmaus story were written as a song, it would be both kinds. It’s a heart song and a road song. It starts off on the road, and it ends with the heart.

Do we trust Jesus in our hearts enough to let him accompany us on our roads? Is he truly our companion for the journey? And when he’s really near, do you feel your heart aflame within you? Are we truly Emmaus Road Christians who feel our hearts warmed by the presence of the risen Christ, who experience him in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of our table?

Or are we Emmaus Road-Rage Christians, who wander this world looking for someone to be angry at, or offended by? Are we looking for groups to blame for the state of the church? Are we just sure that some people are nothing but sinners and they are plain wrong, and we need to teach them a lesson? Do we experience the urge to drive our Christian cars into the side of someone’s apartment for their own good? Are we pretty sure that the United Methodist road would be better off without some of the lousy drivers out there, and that we are the ones who can decide who should not be driving anymore?

I pray, this day and every day, that we are not. I pray that if Jesus approaches us on our roads that we will invite him to travel with us and to warm our hearts. I pray that we allow ourselves to be closer to him, and him to be closer to us. I pray that our Road Song includes the Heart Song of Jesus and his love. I pray that we never tell Jesus “Hit the Road, Jack” and that we let him on the “Expressway to Your Heart.”

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