The Rector’s sermon for April 30, 2017    


Acts 2:14a, 36-41;  Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17; 1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35


There is a 2015 book written by a Laura Schreffler entitled Legendary Actor Kevin Bacon Has Gone Bi-Coastal.  Just about everybody knows Kevin Bacon from his movies, from television shows and commercials, and from his guitar music.  He was also the subject of a game known as “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.”  It was based on the theory that anyone on earth can be connected to any other person on the planet through a chain of acquaintances. You know someone… who knows someone else… who knows this other person… who knows someone who knows someone else, by which time you should have established a connection with just about anyone anywhere in the world.


In the case of the Kevin Bacon game, one player names an actor and the other one attempts to make a connection in six moves, through actors who have acted with that one actor, with Kevin Bacon.  Though Kevin Bacon is almost instantly recognizable, there was one time he wasn’t.  As an experiment, he had worked with a makeup artist who created a prosthetic that made very subtle changes to Bacon’s face and suddenly he was able to walk around Los Angeles without being recognized.  And what did he say about that?  He didn’t like it.  He said it was disturbing.  He said that people looked right through him and some weren’t nice to him.  He was used to being treated like a celebrity, and he didn’t like not being recognized.


We are not as famous as Kevin Bacon, but we may have had a similar experience.  We know lots of people who wear a certain type of clothing for their job or profession, such as a doctor, a nurse, a police officer, even a priest.  But take off the uniform—so to speak, or leave your place of work, or show up with a child in hand, and suddenly you are unrecognizable.   When my youngest son was five years old, we bumped into our priest at the grocery store who was wearing jeans and a t-shirt, and while he recognized our priest, his comment was, “Mommy, Mr. Coyle has legs!”  When we see someone out of context, things are different.  Sometimes we don’t recognize that person; sometimes the relationship becomes awkward.


Today’s passage from scripture tells of an incident following the resurrection. A disciple named Cleopas, possibly the same person whose wife is mentioned in the Gospel of John as standing by the cross during the crucifixion, and an unnamed disciple are walking to Emmaus, a town a little more than seven miles from Jerusalem.   Suddenly the risen Christ joins them…and they don’t recognize Him!  Why?  Yes, he had a resurrected body, but was there a subtle change to his face?  Was it because Jesus was the last person they expected to see on the road?


There are plenty of examples from the Bible of folks coming into the presence of a “divine being” or of angels and they are not recognized.  Abraham encounters the divine presence of God in the three men at the Oaks of Mamre and he doesn’t recognize the “divine”.   Moses hears a voice speaking out of the burning bush but, at first, he doesn’t know who it is.  Because these disciples offer hospitality to who they think is a stranger, the story will have a happy ending, as is written in the Letter to the Hebrews, we should show hospitality to strangers, “for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”   Even so, there is a sense in this passage that the disciples should have known who was walking with them.  “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” they ask each other later.


So, what did they miss?  Rather than focus right away on what they got wrong, let’s look at a few things they got right.


The first thing they do correctly is while walking, they widen their circle to include this outsider.  They don’t walk a little faster or ignore him.  Even though they don’t recognize Jesus, they enter into a conversation with him about recent events and they are astonished that this “stranger” apparently knows nothing about the crucifixion of Jesus. They explain about their disappointment, because they’d had such hopes in Jesus, and how now, three days later, the women (one perhaps including Cleopas’ wife!) had found the tomb empty, and the women had received a vision of angels telling them Jesus is alive, but the men don’t believe!     These disciples are talking to the risen Jesus about the death of Jesus and the possibility that Jesus is risen, and they don’t realize that they are talking to Jesus!  How could that be?  How could they miss the obvious?


In the short story “Silver Blaze,” Sherlock Holmes solves a crime that took place in a horse enclosure by drawing the attention of the Scotland Yard detective “to the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”  The detective doesn’t understand.  “The dog did nothing in the night-time,” replies the detective.  And Holmes replies, “That was the curious incident.”   Holmes goes on to explain that had a stranger entered, the dog would have barked. Therefore, the suspect had to be someone known to the dog, which drastically cut down on the number of suspects.


So in this case on the Emmaus road, what was the curious thing they overlooked?  It was the witness of the women they mentioned earlier.  In that era, women were not allowed to testify in a Roman court because they were considered—by men—to be untrustworthy witnesses. Well, God apparently doesn’t agree because in all four gospels, the first people to carry the news of the empty tomb…are women!   So the disciples were probably blinded by their preconceptions. The gender the ancient world considered second-class was the first source of the Resurrection’s proclamation!   These disciples had rejected the testimony of the women, and they were not prepared to see Jesus, even though the resurrected Jesus was standing right before them!  But, despite their blindness, Jesus stays with them.  He explains to the disciples other clues they ought to have gotten—those passages in the Law and the Prophets that pointed to a Christ who would be a suffering servant.


The story ends happily because even though the disciples don’t recognize Jesus right away, they still act with holy hospitality in welcoming the stranger.  In Jesus’ time, guests were expected to refuse an offer of hospitality until they were strongly urged to stay and eat.  This the disciples do, and Jesus, who to this day does not force himself on us, took over the role of host, giving thanks and breaking the bread.  And in doing so, suddenly, as if he had put back on his nurse’s scrubs or police uniform or a clergy collar, the disciples finally recognize Him!  And how they recognize him is perhaps the most profound thing this scripture tells us:  We recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread…then and today as well.  We also see Jesus in each other when we extend hospitality, when we open the circle to a stranger, when we welcome newcomers into our midst.  Think of the people who have become significant in your life.   Perhaps you knew the moment you met someone that your life would be forever changed, but so often it’s only in hindsight that we see how important they have become to us.   And looking back on our lives, we often only recognize Jesus and his presence in hindsight.


There’s a wonderful irony to this story.  The disciples think they know everything about Jesus, but Jesus knows everything about them.  This reminds us that we’re not the experts we think we are.  Listen to each other.  Listen to the stranger in our midst.  After they recognize Jesus and he instantly disappears from their midst, wherever the disciples were headed, doesn’t seem so important any more.  Immediately, they head straight back to Jerusalem, from which they had just come.  This too is a sign that the Resurrection is alive among us—when we are prompted: Turn around!  Change your plans!


The stranger in our midst probably won’t be Kevin Bacon or any other celebrity; however, the stranger that God sends into our midst may very well be Jesus with us.  That is, after all, our task…isn’t it… to see Jesus in each other?

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