BTSR Chapel Sermon
April 3, 2013
Linda C. Moore
My all time favorite television series is “The West Wing”. Shown between 1999-2006, it was written by Aaron Sorkin about the life of a Democratic President in the White House. One of the trademark lines in the show was the phrase, “What’s Next?” You can guarantee that after a monumental event or a crisis that was resolved, one of the characters would eventually say, “Ok. What’s Next?” An assassination attempt on the President, post-op surgery on Joshua, the budget was resolved, or the newly sworn in President Santos sits in the oval office and asks, “What’s next?” It meant that the president was ready to move onto other things and motivated the staff to do the same.
We are just past a monumental moment on the Christian calendar. It’s three days after Easter. The resurrection has happened. So…..what’s next? What do we do with the trumpets, the lilies, the cloth found in the tomb, the burned out clergy, the spices that Mary prepared for Jesus’ body? More importantly, what do we do with the Resurrection?
According to Luke, what happens next turns to two men walking along the road to Emmaus, still uncertain of all that they seen and heard. They are walking along the path having their own conversation when this man comes from nowhere to join in. Unbeknownst to them, it’s Jesus.
This passage is one of my favorite ones in all the texts. I immediately get an image of these two men, walking along a country road and out of some cornfield on the side, Jesus appears. He is wearing overalls, a fishing pole in his hand, no shoes on his feet, ok, maybe sandals, and says, “What’s Up?” The Son of God has joined them on the journey. I am not trying to diminish the sanctity of this moment with Jesus, if anything, I am lifting it up, and in awe of the intimacy and moment of spontaneity that gives great insight into the message Luke is trying to get across. No other gospel has this story. Luke is the only one.
I wonder why Jesus went incognito, Or more to the truth, why didn’t they recognize him, their very eyes didn’t see who was walking with them?
- Were they not ready to see him? Were they so focused on what happened in the past, pre-occupied with their overwhelming thoughts and emotions that they couldn’t BE in the present moment, with Jesus standing right beside them?
- Were they still grieving the loss of this messiah? Still in shock over the empty tomb that in no way were they expecting Jesus just to show up right next to them? They were astounded, just as the women were when they saw the empty tomb.
- Did Jesus look different? He looked different in the ascension, so why not here? I don’t imagine he appeared wearing a crown and purple sashes, or dressed as a priest or cardinal. That’s doesn’t sound like Him. I don’t imagine some bright glow around his head. I don’t know.
And even when Jesus gave them the entire story of scriptures going back to Moses, they still had no clue who He was.
- Maybe the concern lied within their hearts and minds. Their hearts weren’t ready for that intimate moment, that moment of spontaneity where what has happened, happened, and it’s time to look at the present moment, the moment where Jesus is walking right along with them on this path.
So, What’s Next For their Journey to Emmaus?
When did they finally recognize the stranger that was walking alongside them? When was He finally revealed? He comes because of an invitation to enter their home as evening was drawing near, to have a meal together and stay until morning. It comes as they were sitting around the table, having a meal together, a meal that had been served AND blessed by Jesus. In order for them to see Jesus, the resurrected Jesus that they heard about, they had to extend an invitation to a stranger and welcome him on the path, and into their home. I am going to assume that Martha wasn’t there to clean the home and prepare the meal. They took a chance on inviting the stranger into their unprepared home, to interact with one another, in an intimate setting around the table. When all had been cleared from their mind and focused on the present moment, they were able to sit down together and get to know their beloved Jesus, who walked with them and was now sitting in front of them, at the table.
Almost a year ago, during my chaplain residency I had all of these questions and challenges coming up for me, not that this ever happens in CPE. Past behaviors, work that I had done in previous settings, situations that were taking place at the hospital. Things were changing within me and around me, and my future after residency was also in question. All of this had me thinking, worried overwhelmed and burdened.
One Sunday after church, I decided to come over here to the campus. It was a beautiful day and I came to the labyrinth, thinking I could settle my mind a bit. So much was going through it, I needed intentional focus to get out of the focus I was in, and find some clarity. The grass was just beginning to turn green again, even though there were still specks of brown. People were walking along the track and some folks were working the exercise stations but there was nobody at the labyrinth. And in all honesty, I was happy about that. It meant I could take all the time I needed and have no interruptions. It was just I, walking along the path, having an internal conversation with God and nobody was going to be around, to pop onto the scene and interrupt.
Much to my surprise, I was wrong. What I hadn’t noticed was a family over in the distance, walking their dog, a big gorgeous husky mix. And they had a little girl too, about five years old I think. I didn’t see them at first, but off in the distance, I could hear them. As one who loves children, their voices tend to catch my attention pretty quickly and her voice was no exception. Here I am trying hard to concentrate as I had just entered the labyrinth a few minutes ago and in the distance I heard in this child’s voice exclaim, “I’m going over there!” It was just the right pitch of voice, that I knew when she meant “over there” she meant, right here.
My head had been down, focused on this gravel path, the intricate turns and details. You know, being the perfectionist I am, I didn’t want to miss a step, cross when I shouldn’t have, and be sure I turned when I needed to. Well, I looked up after I heard her voice and here comes this precious girl, running and skipping across the field. Her blond locks were flowing and she was smiling as bright as the sun. She was every bit of an adventurous child who went wherever the spirit led her and she ran full speed into the labyrinth. I did take note that she didn’t start at the entrance but I didn’t say anything. As her parents got closer, I heard the father ask, “Do you need help,” and without a doubt in her mind the little girl said, “I know what to do.”
Picture this moment. Here is this precious child of God, full of spirit and joy, running and skipping all around the labyrinth. She never got in my way. She was good about that, but something told me to step out and just watch what she does and so I did. It was beautiful. She used every bit of that pathway to run, skip, and jump. She popped out of the circle when she noticed the buttercups on the side. She came to me, a stranger, and told me the story I grew up with, the one where if you hold the buttercup under your chin and there is a yellow reflection that shows you like butter. And we had a connection. We both liked butter. She told me her name and I told her mine. Then she gave the flowers to me and went back on the labyrinth path.
Her mother apologized for the interruption and the more I watched, the more I realized that it wasn’t an interruption at all. It was an answer to the very prayer I couldn’t verbalize with all the commotion going on inside my head. I happened to have my camera with me, the one tool that can usually get me out of my head. I asked the parents if they would mind if I took some photographs of her. Just as I got my camera out, the little girls stopped running and took a seat right in the center of the labyrinth. It was like her world stopped for just a moment, to give her time to reflect on all she had seen and heard on her present journey.
She sat Indian style, played with gravel a bit. Then she stretched out her legs, laid down to look up at the sky, rose back up, right back into her Indian style position, and looked off into the distance. It was a reflective moment for both of us. Then she got up again and started running around the path and asked her dad to join in.
I was smiling when my eyes were opened with tears. Again, her mom apologized for the disruption. “No,” I said. “Please don’t apologize. This wasn’t a disruption. It was exactly what I needed to hear and see. She was an answer to prayer.” This was a moment of spontaneity that included an intimate moment of coming together on a path, where I was uncertain, confused, and overwhelmed. I was searching for clarity and peace, and then my journey was interrupted with joy, laughter, buttercups, and the dancing of beautiful interruptions.
I remember thinking; I wanted so much for that little girl to be within me; her heart, soul, spirit, love, joy, laughter and spontaneity. What an intimate moment of blessing for me to be a part of, shared between two precious children on the journey.
The family left. I gathered my things and went on my way. I didn’t need to continue my labyrinth walk. I received my blessing, my communion and an answer to prayer.
So, What’s Next For You?
The last time I preached on this scripture, it was during an interim time at the church I was serving in Massachusetts. Dare I say, an anxious time for folks, they knew what had happened in the past, whether they admitted it or not and were quite uncertain about the future. Here I was preaching to them as they were going through the intentional interim process, that included book studies, sermon series, discussion groups, house meetings, future vision, budget cuts and staff cuts; all filled with fear, anger, anxiety, and uncertainty.
And here we are now.
Now I stand before you, wondering what’s going through your minds as you are in the interim time. Students are nearing the end of your 2012-13 year. Some are entering the halfway point, and some are anticipating with great joy, the end of your time at BTSR. A degree and engraved towel are within your grasp. Trust me when I say, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. However, with that light comes the uncertainty and anxiety of what’s next for you.
For the staff and professors, you are entering an interim time of your own, preparing to graduate the 2013 class, transitioning to a new Dean of Faculty, new programs, and now a new building, a new campus. All of that has to come a mix of anxiety, joy, overwhelming thoughts and anticipation of wondering, what’s next for you.
The Road to Emmaus reminds me that there’s more to Easter Sunday than Jesus’ Resurrection. I don’t believe that Jesus was the only one meant for resurrection. These two men experienced their own resurrection as their encountered true intimate moments of relationship with Jesus, with a stranger who happened to be God.
Maybe it’s time we experienced our own resurrections too. The Easter Season extends for 50 days. You have just over 50 days until the end of the term, until graduation and the end of the 2012-2013 year. My fondest memories of BTSR don’t come from the lectures, the exams and the textbooks. My fondest memories of BTSR come from the relationships with the people, my time in Cuba, my time sitting in offices talking with the
professors, in the classrooms and around the tables. My fondest memories come from the professors who took part in my ordination and what fellow students and professors said as they laid hands on me. These were the people that believed in me and I in them. People in this very room and the intimate experiences we shared together, sitting around a table.
As you all continue the journey after the Easter Sunday Resurrection, you still have the papers, the finals, the grading and finally the degrees. Others will have the planning, the discussions, the blue prints, the packing and the moving trucks. All of that is to be carefully considered and prayed over, but above all else, don’t forget to allow for those intimate moments of inviting the spirit of Christ onto the journey; like a little girl on the labyrinth or a man in overalls and a fishing pole; all coming together as one, to sit around the table and reclaim the intimacy that started it all.
Allow that to be your resurrection and what happens next for you as you are on the journey. Amen.