Sermons

PastorEric-2Sunday's Sermon - 
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer. 

Do you know that this is Star Wars Sunday? It is, after all the fourth of May, so, do you see why this is Star Wars Sunday? -- MAY THE FOURTH BE WITH YOU!!!

Sorry, I couldn’t resist that one!

One month ago as I began my ministry with you here at Mt. Olive I shared with you some of my thoughts about what you could expect of me as your pastor, especially in terms of my preaching.

Today, led by today’s Gospel lesson from St. Luke, the story known as the “Road to Emmaus” story, I want to suggest that a good goal for our congregation would be to become, to be, a place that welcomes broken hearts! That we become a congregation that welcomes broken hearts.

I am indebted today to scholar David Lose for his sermon ideas on this text.

Lose notes that this text is really an outline for Christian worship, especially liturgical worship as we Lutherans practice it, since there is a four-part movement in the lesson:

• Travelers are met on the road
• The scriptures are opened
• A meal is shared in which the identity and presence of Christ is revealed
• People are sent to share and live the good news

That sounds a lot like the classic Christian pattern of worship: Gather (meet), word (scripture), meal, and sending. Luke is really telling us a story, perhaps the story, of the Gospels for future generations, for those who have not yet met Christ in person – in Christian worship you will be encountered by the risen Christ as we gather in God’s name, hear God’s word, share a meal of forgiveness, and are sent into the world to serve.

And, I am also impressed with Lose’s other major response to this text: Lose talks about the four words which pop up right in the middle of today’s Gospel, four words that are among the most heartbreaking and realistic in all of scripture – Cleopas and another unnamed disciple tell the stranger they have met on the Emmaus road, not knowing that stranger is Jesus, they tell this stranger the story of Jesus and their disappointment in all that has happened. “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”

“But we had hoped …” So much is said in those four words, as they speak of a future that is not to be, a dream that created energy and enthusiasm but did not materialize, a promise that created faith that proved to be false. These words speak of a future that is closed off, now irrelevant, dead.
And there are few things more tragic than a dead future.
Once challenged to write a short-story in six words, Ernest Hemingway supposedly replied by penning on a napkin: “For Sale: Baby shoes, never used.”
It’s not just the tragedy of what happened that hurts, but the gaping hole of all that could have happened but won’t.
“But we had hoped …” I love those heartbreaking words not because I enjoy wallowing in dark or sentimental emotions, but because they ring true. They are not the only truth, of course; there is much in this life that is beautiful, daring, confident, inspiring, and more, all of which deserves our gratitude. But there is also disappointment, heartbreak, and failure. And all too often we tend to gloss over this in church.
Or if not gloss over it, at least feel the pressure to move by it, move on from it, too quickly toward some kind of resolution, fleeing the cross-like experiences of life for the promise of resurrection.
And, not only do we do this in church, but we also do it in daily life: A friend shares the news of a death of his sister, and we sympathize for a moment before changing the topic. Or a colleague shares her disappointment at not getting a promotion, and we remind her that at least she has a job. Or we see an acquaintance we know has just gone through a dreadful loss, and we avoid him or her altogether because we just don’t know what to say. We don’t mean to be callous or insensitive; we are just at such a loss with … loss. We feel inadequate to the task of confronting the darkness of our lives and this world and so we flee into denial.
In the church this is all too common while somewhat understandable. We are, after all, people of the resurrection. So when we read this story we want to hurry to the burning hearts part of the narrative, celebrating with the disciples their encounter with the Risen Christ.
But just as before there is resurrection there is cross, before Easter there IS Good Friday, so also I’d say that before there are burning hearts there are broken ones.
Can we, Mt. Olive Lutheran Church in Santa Monica, California, be a place that welcomes broken hearts?
I know that sounds easier than it is. Because I’m not talking about treating our broken hearts as a means to an end -- you know, let’s acknowledge the cross so that we can get on to the resurrection. Rather, I’m talking about recognizing that part and parcel of being human is being broken. Part and parcel of being human is being broken.
And, it is to these heartbroken disciples -- in today’s reading to the disciples on the Emmaus road and in this and every Sunday’s worship to us all -- that the Risen Christ comes, walking along with us on the road, astonished that we don’t see as we ought, teaching us the Scriptures that we may understand, sharing his presence through bread and wine, and granting burning hearts that prompt us back into the world.
But it all starts with broken hearts.
I am suggesting that we become a place where broken hearted people are invited and allowed to share their disappointment and brokenness: that the cancer returned, the addiction wasn’t overcome, the beloved died, the lover betrayed, the child walked away, the job didn’t materialize, the congregation disappointed, the family hurt instead of helped … and so on and so on.
And, once we become such a place, we can help each other move forward together. We may be broken hearted, but we can move forward with the assurance of God’s love for us and our love and care for one another.
Today, we who are broken-hearted people can share in the Lord’s Supper with its promise of forgiveness and healing. We can receive individual prayers for healing our broken hearts. We can sing and pray and listen and hope.
My friend and mentor Bishop H. George Anderson once shared with me that, when his first wife, Sonny, died of cancer, he as in deep grief and it was all he could do to drag himself to Sunday worship. He loved singing, but he couldn’t sing. He loved prayer but he couldn’t pray aloud. All he could do was be present for worship and even that was a huge struggle in his loss and grief.
But, the worshiping congregation around him sang. The community around him prayed and supported him in prayer. In his own broken-heartedness, Anderson had a community who accepted and loved him as he was then. And a community which then helped him move beyond broken-heartedness.
But we had hoped – disappointed at times, perhaps; brokenhearted and even broken at times, certainly. But always assured of God’s love and forgiveness for us. Always assured of God’s love for those of us who are broken and burdened today. Always assured of the God’s love for us and walk with us this day and all days.
And, in midst our own brokenhearted-ness, that is enough.
Thanks be to God!
Amen.

 

The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor
Mt. Olive Lutheran Church, Santa Monica, California

 


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