Acts 2: 14a, 36-41
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them
Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.
1 Peter 1:17-23
If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God. Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.
Luke 24: 13-35
Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 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. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Happy Easter! Before we get into talking about this weeks message, I just want to say that the hymn that we have just sung “Grace Greater Than Our Sin” talks about God’s Grace. In the Methodist circles we have so many different names for God’s Grace like Prevenient Grace, Justifying Grace, Sanctifying Grace, Perfecting Grace. All of these to say are how we have experienced God acting in our lives in different parts of our lives.
So, I want to begin our Third Sunday of Easter with a story. Jackie and I a couple of weeks ago were driving down the highway when she looked over at me and asked me a rather odd, but honest question, she asked, “Josh, you know on the side of the highway those signs that have those spinny boxes, What are those things for?” Took me a moment or two to realize what she was talking about, and then it dawned on me that she was meaning in a construction zone, some signs have these blaze orange boxes that spin around. I thought for a moment and said I suppose it’s to get your attention and pay attention to whatever that sign is trying to tell you. And me, being the pastor that I am, sometimes don’t know how to shut off from being the preacher I am, said and you know that would make a really good sermon illustration someday. God is very much like those spinny boxes, always moving, always finding ways to grab our attention to bring us back into right relationship with God. As we begun to discuss God’s movement, we began to discuss this very story shared with us in the Gospel of Luke, often called the Walk to Emmaus.
It is with this journey of Cleopas and his friend that today we will be looking at God’s Radical Resurrection Actions that we have termed as God’s Grace. This story of the walk to Emmaus is one that has caught the attention of many and even has entire retreats based around it. This story begins with two friends, who were disciples of Jesus, walking home after a rather horrific weekend, but left with some mystery. Easter morning has come and has passed, Mary and Mary have reported back to the disciples that they had seen the risen Lord, Peter and another disciple ran to the tomb to find it empty just as they said, but throughout that entire day, the risen Lord had only appeared to Mary that morning. That first Easter morning was not a great celebration, but rather one with many questions and still much more mystery. And so, as these two walked home from this strange weekend, they were of course discussing what it could mean if the women were truly telling the truth, what would it mean if Jesus had really risen? The ironic part of this narrative is that what they were discussing was about to be made a reality…what would it mean if Jesus was truly resurrected? They were about to find out…
Jesus enters the conversation, asking these men what they were talking about? Unbeknownst to these two men, they were talking with the risen Lord. They responded to God’s action of first reaching out to them. The men share with him all that had occurred over these few days, and ironically they are telling the story about what literally happened, but Jesus does not stay on the level of what happened on the surface level. Once they were done telling them all that had happened that weekend, Jesus goes beyond what took place physically and begins to tell them all that happened spiritually. Jesus teaches them all about himself from the scriptures beginning with Moses and moving throughout the Prophets, showing these disciples what had taken place through the death and resurrection of himself. Jesus does not only do these things for them (undergo suffering, dying on a roman cross), but then he goes beyond just atoning for their sins but then explains it to them. All the while, these disciples have no idea who this man is that they have been journeying alongside walking down from Jerusalem to their hometown of Emmaus. In the Methodist church we understand all of God’s actions toward humanity as Grace because it is any action from God towards fallen humanity is undeserved. We in our fallen state deserve no action from God. But when God acts towards us, God always acts for our better good and thus we call all of God’s actions Grace. In this narrative of the Emmaus story, we have one of the first recordings of Jesus’ appearances to his disciples and in our Methodism a good example of what we call Prevenient Grace. This word Prevenient is not a common word used outside of Methodist circles, but it comes from a Latin root. Venient, means to come. Much like if you know Spanish “Ven” means to come. And Pre as many of us know means ‘before’. And so, Prevenient simply means to come before. And so, Prevenient Grace, is God’s action before we come to accept Christ as Lord. It is the understanding that God is working within our lives, catching out attention like those spinny boxes on the side of the highway. This is how we as Methodists understand this first part of the story of Emmaus as these two are walking, Jesus preveniently gracing them with his presence and wisdom. As their journey is coming to an end, they invite Jesus to stay with them. Jesus accepts the hospitality of these two travelling partners and as they come around the table, Jesus uses the four-part sequence that he so often used in his ministry. He first takes the bread (1), Gives Thanks or Blessed the Bread(2), Breaks the Bread (3), then gave it to them (4). This four-fold pattern you may recognize from the very same way we celebrate our Holy Communion. Anyways, in the breaking and receiving of the bread, their eyes are opened and they recognized their Lord, and he vanished from their sight. This is what is so special about Holy Communion for us and for the many Christians around the world, it is in this breaking of the bread that we commune literally with our risen Lord. This is a gift from God, a grace for us to being enlivened by the Spirit of Christ in this ordinary means of Grace of Communion.
Now this is the best part of the story for me. AT ONCE, that very evening! After just walking 7 miles down a MOUNTAIN, I mean a steep steep mountain, so steep I was wondering if our bus was going to make up it or not when we were there, at once, they set out back up the 7 miles or so to Jerusalem to tell of the Good News that they had seen the risen savior. This is the response of these two because of the Grace that they had received in this meal with their risen Lord. When we experience God in our worship, when we experience God in our daily scripture readings, we should respond with a burning desire in our hearts and fervently needing to tell someone this good news of our living Savior, both in our words and by our actions. When we lose the eagerness to climb mountains to tell of the good news, then we must be reminded and remember that great love shown for us on the cross, that great love shown for us that not even death could withhold our Lord from us. And because of this great Love, this Justifying Grace of our Lord on the cross and have responded in faith, may we go on to “purify [our] souls by [our] obedience to the truth so that [we] have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. [We] have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God. “ In the words of Wesley we are to go on to perfection through the sanctifying grace of our Lord. I would like to close with these words of Wesley in regards to God’s Perfecting Grace,
“What is Christian perfection? The loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. This implies that no wrong temper, none contrary to love, remains in the soul; and that all the thoughts, words and actions are governed by pure love. The perfection I teach is perfect love; loving God with all the heart, receiving Christ as Prophet, Priest and King, to reign alone over all our thoughts, words and actions.”