Sunday, April 30, 2017

We Had Hoped...

image: Daniel Bonnell, script: Amy Marie Epp
I am back from sabbatical and grateful to be in the pulpit again.  So this is a "What is In the Sermon" edition of the Pastor Amy blog.
Last Sunday on the way home from church I was listening to The Moth Story Hour on KUOW and one of the storytellers was an Irish woman who came from a family of 6 sisters.  Sisters who had learned how to be strong and courageous and connected to each other by their father.  When their dad died suddenly in his early seventies and they were all in middle adulthood, the bond that they thought was so strong between them began to unravel.  Each of them wondered how they were to go on being family, even being in the world without the one who was always encouraging, teaching, leading, connecting them - even as adults.

When I heard that story on The Moth, I thought of the disciples on the road.  These two friends and followers who had lost a beloved.  And not only a beloved, but the one who tied their group together.  The one who showed them what it meant to be God’s children, who told them they were beloved, who healed and served and ate with them, who was the center of their community.  And not only that - the one in whom they had hoped.  A people under occupation, they had a very real hope that Jesus was the leader that would liberate them - finally - from occupying forces.  Jesus’ leadership and charisma tied the disparate and diverse group of disciples together

When we read this story in Sunday school last week Madeleine suggested the image of a bracelet in which the knot that holds everything together has come undone.  I saw it immediately.  Each of the friend, followers, disciples a bead or a knot held together by their beloved Jesus. And once his binding presence is missing, they begin to scatter.  Cleopas and his wife are headed back home to Emmaus.  They’ve left others in Jerusalem, confused by a story of an empty tomb, a missing body and angels.

They are bitterly disappointed.  They grieve.  They had hoped…

And don’t we all.  This is a beloved Easter story, I think in part because of the details that allow us to identify with the disciples on the road.  We too have hoped. I’ve heard people experiencing infertility talk about the bitterness of hoping and longing for a child only to be disappointed - not just once but again and again.  Perhaps a disease or mental illness we thought we had seen the end of returns.  We had hoped…  Or the hope and disappointment of broken relationship.  Of love and trust betrayed.  It is kind of hope is the kind that comes with deep and long-lived yearning.  Perhaps - as in this case - even generations.  

As Jesus’ companions had hoped, we too place our hopes for political change in individuals to see those hopes dashed.

Then they meet Jesus on the road.  But of course they don’t know it’s Jesus.  But as they tell him of their broken hope and he retells the story of God’s people to them their hope begins to be re-woven.  Story by story from the torah and the prophets, he ties them back into the fabric of their community.  When, at the end they realize at the table that it is Jesus who has been with them all along, they say to each other, “Were not our hearts burning inside us when he was opening scripture to us on the road.”  These stories remind them of who and whose they are.  Not a nation’s or a leader’s but God’s.

In the Moth story about the sisters and their father, months after the funeral at which the sisters have carried their father’s coffin together and put his body to rest, one of the sisters gets a text message.  It’s from her dad.  Or at least it’s from her dad’s number.  It says, “I’m home now.  You can call on me any time.”  Honestly, I get a little weepy just thinking of it again, it was such a sweet story.  The text was (probably) some kind of glitch in the system, re-sending the last thing that her dad had texted to her.  But she took it as a prompt to connect again with her sisters, to recount the message from beyond, to wonder together and remember together whose they were and be reminded that the bonds of family could be re-knotted in a way that had their father woven into the whole fabric.

Cleopas and the other disciple, their hope for a Messiah has been disappointed.  Bitterly so. They will always be disappointed if they seek escape from the tyrany of political oppression.  Particularly if they’re waiting for some kind of a political leader to overthrow or rebel against or out-politic their occupiers.  Their hope for a Messiah who walks along with them, though, who explores God’s word together with them, who sits at a table with them, though.  That Messiah is totally present.  And that Messiah is present every time God’s people are gathered - walking, serving each other, eating together, opening scripture with each other.

Our experience of Jesus may most often happen in retrospect.  It can be very hard to see Jesus walking along beside us on the road when we are in the midst of the grief and disappointment of hopes lost.  And I don’t want to get all “footprints” on you, but it is often when we reflect back on an experience that we can say, “Didn’t my heart burn within me when such and such a thing happened?”

The two are compelled, when they realize who their walking buddy has been to turn back to community.  They realize that they have a hope of a different nature. Hope for a different kind of freedom - and into an urgency to run back to community and learn how to witness to each other, to continue the work of the loving, healing, proclaiming Jesus, to weave themselves into a community that makes Jesus presence known everywhere.   I wonder if in our disappointed hopes - particularly when they are hope tied up in political figures or aspirations - we might do well to be reminded that we are knots more securely tied into a string that God is continuing to weave together.

The eye opening, get-back-on-the-road moment for the disciples came at the table.  A table, maybe something like this one before us.  It came when Jesus broke the bread and they shared it.  Jesus known through a physical, tangible thing like bread.  In those look-back moments when we say, “Yes, that way Jesus with me.” how often are they moments that a friend or companion shared a meal, a kind word, a token of encouragement.  Maybe they are when reconciliation is found after a rift, in community gathered, in renewed physical health or a new understanding and peace with physical decline.  Around a table.

Some of you may have seen the Heineken ad that’s circulating on social media.  It’s meant to tug at your heartstrings and tear-ducts at it does.  People ideologically opposite are tasked with several challenges that they must complete together, then given a short survey in which they describe themselves to the other person.  Then they each watch a video in which this partner whom they’ve been laboring and intimately talking with talks candidly about their ideology.

Then they’re given an option - they can go on their way, or they can sit down at the bar (which they’ve just put together) and talk about their differences over a beer.  A Heineken, of course.  

Community built at a table.  And in common work.  And in shared life.  That sounds a lot like the body of Christ to me.

I invite you to join me at the table as we begin communion.  I invite you to join me the the hope that is in Jesus and in the people of God.  I invite you to join me in tying yourself into the care of community and love of God.  I invite you into hope renewed.