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"Recognizing Jesus is Scary" by Rev. Jillian Hankamer


 

April 14, 2024

Luke 24: 13-35

 

When I was a little girl my favorite T.V. show was Sesame Street, and my favorite character was Big Bird. I loved him so much I had my own stuffed Bird that I carried around by the neck everywhere I went, as well as Big Bird sheets, and for my sixth birthday my mom took me to see Sesame Street on Ice. Yes, my love of Bird was absolute, unshakeable; we were the best of friends. At least until I saw a movie in which Big Bird was blue. 

 

I still remember the horror of seeing my beloved Bird locked in a cage and forced to sing a pitifully sad song. But that wasn’t the worst part. For some reason, my Big Bird had been dyed blue!

 

To my six-year-old mind, it was fundamentally wrong for Bird to not be his usual cheery yellow. I was so upset I became convinced blue Bird was mean and horrible. Terrified, I ran to my room and hid under my bed, hoping the scary blue Bird couldn’t find me. It was only my mother’s gentle coaxing that got me out from under my bed, though I refused to watch another minute of that horrible movie.

 

In preparation for this sermon, I tracked down the name of that movie – it’s called  Follow That Bird - and the process led to two realizations. The first is that over two decades later blue Big Bird is still unsettling. Perhaps it’s because as a child, blue Big Bird was not something I could understand. I didn’t understand why anyone would change this character I loved so much. My first reaction to blue Big Bird was fear because I couldn’t recognize my friend in the cerulean creature on the screen, and this realization led to my second; sometimes fear makes it hard to see clearly.

 

Just as my fear kept me from seeing beyond Bird’s unfortunate dye job to recognize the character I knew so well; our fear can make it hard for us to see our friend and savior Jesus though he walks right beside us.

 

And if we’re really honest we have to admit that sometimes, recognizing Jesus can be scary. Not because our Lord and Savior is not a big yellow puppet that someone decided to take the blue Rit dye to, but because as well as we know him, as long as we’ve been coming to church, Jesus continues to be an enigma. We don’t understand him. He is fully divine and fully human at the same time; he does miracles and tells parables we’re still working to unpack thousands of years later. And just when we think we have Jesus pegged we hear stories like this one and have to consider where else Jesus might just show up.

 

Sometimes recognizing Jesus is scary, because in that moment of realization, in the moment that things click into place, it dawns we’re standing face-to-face with Christ and we’re not in control anymore. We’re forced to take a step back and recognize our new position, which can be terrifying because we like being in control of our lives.

Sometimes recognizing Jesus is scary because it requires us to admit that we believe in something that’s beyond our ability to explain. We live in a world and culture that demands proof, in which results are necessary to determine success.  We’re surrounded by statistics, TV channels that do nothing but run the news all day, and are frustrated when our phones won’t load IMDB so we can see what else the guy from The Walking Dead has been in. And yet we read a sacred text that doesn’t have all the answers and worship a God who’s mysterious and larger than our comprehension.

 

            Maybe that’s why we don’t recognize Christ as he walks alongside us.

In our fear of what that recognition means we keep ourselves from seeing our Savior and convince ourselves that this stranger who looks like Jesus, walks like Jesus, and talks like Jesus couldn’t possibly be Jesus.

 

Thankfully this blindness isn’t unique to us. The disciples on the Emmaus road had just as much trouble seeing Christ as we do.

 

Luke doesn’t give a reason for the disciples’ Jesus-specific blindness; all we know for sure is that “their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” Who can blame the disciples for being caught up in their own emotions? For being overwhelmed to the point of blindness? When we take into account the emotional roller coaster these disciples are on, are we really surprised they can’t recognize this stranger who shocks them with his claims not to have heard the news of Jesus?

 

As far as Cleopas is concerned this guy must have been living under a rock, he’s so unaware of current events. And worse, as Cleopas fills him in, the stranger doesn’t have any sympathy for what the disciples have gone through.  This guy actually has the gall to chastise Cleopas and the other disciple for their lack of understanding and then walk them through scriptures Jesus shared with them.

 

            At this point, we are left to wonder how Cleopas and the other disciple feel about this know it all stranger. If I’d been there, I have no doubt I would have been ready to walk away and leave this guy in the road.  Forget good manners, let’s get away from him! Thankfully Cleopas and the other disciple are better people than me and as they reach Emmaus and it looks as though the stranger is going to keep traveling, they urge him to stay with them.

 

I find it fascinating that despite being unable to remember what Jesus taught them or recognize Jesus as they stood face-to-face, the disciples  do manage to remember their manners. They are hospitable and by inviting this surly stranger to join them they encounter Christ.

 

            At the table, the stranger takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it to them. In that moment the disciples recognize Jesus. Their haze is gone, they see clearly, and they realize Jesus was walking with them for miles! And just as suddenly as they see him for who he is, Jesus vanishes. Alone again, the disciples get up and make the seven-mile journey back to Jerusalem to share their story. Running, jumping, skipping, falling all over themselves as they rushed back to Jerusalem, Cleopas and his partner reach the other disciples. Out of breath from running and excitement, they’re bursting at the seams to fill everyone in. In their joy their words must have rushed out of them like water exploding out of a fire hydrant, forcing them to tell it multiple times to get the details right.

 

Hearing this story invites us to think about how much we would like to be one of these lucky disciples walking to Emmaus. This story is alluring in its ability to make us wonder what it’d feel like to recognize that the stranger we’ve met by happenstance is actually Jesus. 

 

Well, here’s the good news beloved, we don’t have to wonder because the true moment of revelation in this story doesn’t happen when the disciples recognize Jesus. No, the true moment of revelation comes at the table when Jesus breaks the bread.

In that moment the disciples had the opportunity to move from “deep grief to joy, from confusion to understanding, and most importantly from disbelief to faith” and we have the same opportunity every time we gather around the table because Christ lives in and through us. Christ becomes part of us.

 

            Jesus put the moment of recognition at the table so all of us who repeat the meal have the opportunity to experience what Cleopas and his partner experienced. Their hearts burned within them because that’s where God resides with us, setting us ablaze and changing us from the inside out. So that when we live lives gathered around Christ’s table and trying to embody Jesus in all the ways and places, we can we develop, with practice and time, the courage to recognize the face of the same teacher the disciples saw in Emmaus, even in those moments when we’re looking at a face we don’t recognize.

 

            St. Theresa of Avila was a 16th century Spanish nun. Born in 1515, she’s best known for being the originator of the Carmelite Reformation which was a far reaching effort to “restore and emphasize the austerity and contemplative character of primitive Carmelite life.”[1] This order, the name used to identify different group of monks and nuns, still exists throughout the world to this day in large part because of Theresa who was made a Doctor of the Roman Catholic Church in 1970 by Pope Paul VI (6th) The first woman to be so appointed, this means Theresa’s writings and teaching are particularly important and considered to be “both true and timeless.”[2]

 

            This morning I’d like to share with you perhaps St. Theresa’s most famous prayer as it’s particularly poignant as we consider what it means to recognize Jesus both in unfamiliar faces and in ourselves.

 

Christ has no body but yours, no hands,

no feet on earth but yours,

yours are the eyes with which He looks compassion on this world,

yours are the feet with which He walks to do good,

yours are the hands, with which He blesses the world.’

 

Brothers and sisters, if we commit ourselves to live fully into what is possible at Christ’s table and recognize him in each other and ourselves the table will be so packed with people we’ll have to bring in more chairs, wine will get spilled and there will be breadcrumbs all over the tablecloth.  It’ll be so crowded we’ll have to buy a bigger table! Love and abundance and a faith lived out in word and action will abound. Not only will people know we’re Christians by our love, they will know that Christ is active and working in the world and in this church. This church where fear and grief are allowed and felt when necessary, but always exists with heaping doses of acceptance and understanding.

 

And as we work toward this goal we can live confidently, knowing that Christ walks alongside us. When we feel ourselves being overwhelmed, we can return to his table, which connects us to each other and to the whole cloud of witnesses who’ve gone before us. And when we’re afraid, when the things we love somehow end up blue instead of their usual cheery yellow, we can take comfort in the knowledge that Jesus is present with and in each of us. We are not alone, and the chances are good that someone else in our community has gotten scared and hidden under their bed a time or two. And the chances are good that that same person is willing to help us come out from under that bed and find a seat at the table where a meal is waiting as is a Savior who we might not always recognize but who makes our hearts burn and our hands itch to be of service.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1] Britannica, “Carmelite,” https://www.britannica.com/topic/Carmelites.

[2] Britannica, “Doctor of the Church,”

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