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First Presbyterian Church, Nashville

Dr. Todd B. Jones

November 15, 2015

When Guests Become Hosts

Isaiah 55:1-10; Luke 24:13-32

            I often ponder how much poorer the church would be were it not for Luke, and the stories he tells that no one else ever had the skill or the sense to impart.  Luke alone tells us the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, who gives birth to a boy in their old age that they name John.  Only Luke tells of John the Baptist’s parents and birth.  Only Luke tells us of the Angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary, and of that angel’s astounding news that the Holy Spirit will come upon her and overshadow her, and that the child she shall bear will be great.  Only Luke tells us the Christmas story, the one that begins with “a decree [that] went out from Caesar Augustus,” and tells of shepherds and angels, and leaves us with Mary keeping “all these things, pondering them in her heart.”  Only Luke tells us Jesus’ two best-known parables, the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan.

            But honestly, of all the powerful stories that Luke gives to us, I swear, he might have saved the best for last.  There may be no more exquisitely told account than that of the Emmaus Road encounter.  I never tire of reading it, and every time I revisit it, I find it offering something utterly new.

            “That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus….”  That very day, of course, is Easter Day.  Only these two travelers have no idea that it is Easter.  No one else does at this point.  For them, it is still very much a Good Friday kind of world, like it is today in Paris and around this violent, tragic world.  We learn in this story that the disciples, Cleopas and his companion, are sad as they travel the road to Emmaus.  And, of course, we learn why as they talk with the Stranger.  Fred Buechner has suggested that we all know something of the road or way to Emmaus.  It is “the place we go in order to escape,” when life becomes too much of a burden for us to bear.  Emmaus is the road we travel when life becomes unbearable.  We hear that despair in their voices when they say, “But we had hoped that He would be the one to redeem Israel.”

          The other thing to note is that mysterious comment by Luke, “their eyes were kept from recognizing Jesus.”  For Luke, and surely Matthew and Paul as well, we only see God when God chooses to reveal Himself to us.  Christ is only known by the gracious gift of Divine revelation.  Such revelation is always a gift – something of God’s own doing and not of our own making.  Sometimes, our “eyes are kept from recognizing Jesus,” even when Jesus is clearly in our midst.  The presence of God is not something we can ever grasp or control, or summon like we would a genie we hold in a bottle.  And like the two travelers on that road, we often walk many miles in Jesus’ presence and never recognize that He was with us all along, only our “eyes were kept from recognizing Him.”

            Note as well the irony in the question that Cleopas and his companion pose to Jesus.  Jesus asks, “What is this conversation which you are holding with each other as you walk?”  (Literally, “What words are you pitching back and forth as you walk?”)  They stood, looking sad, and Cleopas asked, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place in these days?”  In fact, Jesus is the only one who does know the meaning in all that has happened in Jerusalem.  Cleopas and his companion in their sorrow think they know, but they haven’t a clue of what God has been up to in all these events that have left them devastated.

            They outline these events, what we know as the Gospel story, for the Stranger, including a report of the women of an angelic vision.  But still, “their eyes are kept from recognizing” the Stranger.

            Jesus then proceeds to share with them what I always like to call “the greatest Bible study ever.”  “Beginning with Moses and all the prophets He interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself.”  Note Luke’s assumption that “all the scriptures” point to Jesus, that “all the scriptures” find their fulfillment in Him.

            But the best is yet to come.  As they drew near their destination, “He walked ahead as if He were going further.”  On the surface, this could have been a form of social deference on Jesus’ part, never presuming to invite Himself into their homes.  To this day, polite middle easterners refuse the offer of hospitality a number of times before finally saying yes.  But theologically, Luke is also telling us something else: Jesus never forces Himself upon us.  We are free to invite Jesus into our lives, or free not to do so.  Plato said once that “love is only love if it is freely given.”  Faith is always a voluntary, freely-given assent to God’s grace.  Note as well that Jesus is always “going on ahead” in the Gospels; this is the nature of the Gospel itself, as Jesus sends us even “to the ends of the earth” to share God’s redeeming, reconciling love.

            But just at this point where they are free to let the Stranger go, they choose otherwise.  They “urge Him strongly.”  “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.”  (I like even better how the Revised Standard Version puts it: “Stay with us, for it is toward evening, the day is now far spent.”)

            They offer to this Stranger hospitality.  They invite Jesus to eat with them.  If they had not acted hospitably, the whole story would never have been told – they would never have learned who the Stranger really was, and they would have gone on blind to the presence of the Risen Christ in their very midst, which I am convinced that we do all the time!

            But, of course, we have here a Gospel story, one of the best the Bible has to tell.  And when they welcomed Jesus to their table, He “took” the bread, He “blessed” it and He “broke” it, and “gave it to them.”  Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized Jesus.  Note what happened – as they hosted this Stranger, they not only had their eyes opened, but they soon discovered that their guest became the host.  Jesus gave them the nourishment they so desperately needed.  Their despair, their desire to escape, was transformed into joy, and a desire to return and to share their Good News.  “Did not our hearts burn within us, while He was talking to us on the road, while He was opening to us the scriptures?”

            Of course, Jesus vanishes from their sight almost as soon as they recognize Him.  We don’t even control the revelation of God – God comes to us in fleeting moments, but those moments leave their mark, and they have the power to change everything for us.  For Cleopas and his partner, maybe his wife, it sent them running back to Jerusalem.  It turned tragedy into triumph, and it was such triumphant news that they simply had to share it.  I wonder what happened to Cleopas.  We never really learn.  But I bet he was forever changed by what he learned that day about God.  I bet this Stranger was not the last one that they invited into their home!  Who knows, maybe they opened a restaurant or an inn.

            What we do know is that the experience of the presence of God, graciously granted to us, is never meant to be a private gift, or a possession only granted to us.  It is meant to be shared with others.  It is a call to warm, open-hearted hospitality.  This place should be the most welcoming, inviting place in Nashville.  Because Easter did not end that night with sunset.  Easter was just beginning for these two hospitable souls.

            The second day of our visit to the Dominican Republic we spent the day in a town near the Yaque Rios at a lovely new school, where hundreds of children and their parents came to meet with and be examined by our doctors and our dentist.  At lunch some of us took a walk, and we came upon a family sitting out front.  They brought out chairs and insisted we sit with them, under the shade of the only tree in their dirt yard.  Someone later came to Dr. Cato and asked if he would come to his house to see his father, who had been comatose for twenty days.  At the end of the day we entered his home.  His name was Santo Reyes.  He was ninety-six years old.  You could tell by his hands he had been a strong, vigorous man.  Their home was what we might call a shack, made up of no more than three rooms.  But in a bedroom with two open windows, this family was keeping their ailing father.  Dr. Cato and Dr. Triggs examined him, could see that this ninety-six-year-old patriarch had likely had a serious stroke.  Dr. Cato told them that there was little they could do, but assured them that they were taking very good care of this man.  Dr. Cato asked if I would pray for him and for this whole family.  And in this home, I did just that.  I prayed for God’s blessing.  I don’t remember now a word that fell from my lips, but we all felt something of God’s gracious, peaceful presence.  We shook hands and hugged as we left – but a part of that little house and Santo Reyes, and his loving family stayed with us all.  When guests become hosts and hosts become guests, and we recognize that Jesus is present, life is forever changed, and we are most richly blessed.

                                                                                    Amen.

 

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