10 Apr Drop-In Jesus
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April 11, 2021
Calvary Presbyterian Church
M. Michelle Fincher
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How do you feel about unannounced company? Some people absolutely love it when someone drops-in unexpectedly at their home. It doesn’t matter who or how many or for how long…everyone is always welcome anytime. Other people are okay with family or close friends dropping in but aren’t as thrilled if people outside their inner circle show up out of the blue. And then there are those who really do not enjoy drop-in company at all. It’s not that they don’t want people to visit; it’s just that they want to know ahead of time that they’re coming. Whether it’s to make sure the powder room toilet is clean or that that they are appropriately dressed or that there are refreshments on hand to offer or to avoid being interrupted in the middle of something going on at home, drop-in company is not for everybody.
Perhaps you’ve not considered before that Jesus seems to unexpectedly drop-in on people pretty often. In the first few days after his resurrection, he travels the country, popping up and dropping in in surprising places:
- On Easter morning, Jesus unexpectedly shows up in the garden and says to Mary, “Woman, why are you weeping?” (John 20:15).
- On Easter afternoon, he swoops in on two disciples who are walking the road to Emmaus and interprets the Scriptures to them (v. 27).
- On Easter evening, he appears to his disciples and shows them his hands and his feet (v. 39).
- A week later, Jesus drops in on Thomas and the other disciples, appears to the disciples again on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias and cooks a fish breakfast for them (John 20, 21).
- Over the next forty days, Jesus appears to more than 500 of his followers.
Jesus goes all over the place, serving people, healing, teaching, comforting, encouraging, empowering, and sharing the good news of his resurrection.
The question I want us to consider is, how does Jesus appear to us today, and what does he offer when he drops in on us? When we consider the Emmaus Road story, we see three aspects to this question: First, Jesus appears as a stranger and offers clarity about the Scriptures. Next, he appears as a guest and offers an opportunity to serve. Finally, he appears as a host and offers himself.
Luke tells the story vividly. Two disciples, in distress after the death of Jesus, leave Jerusalem to walk the seven miles to Emmaus. As they walk, they talk about the recent events in the city, sharing their grief and trying to make sense of what has happened. Unexpectedly, Jesus drops in in the form of a stranger. In the words of the gospel text, “their eyes were kept from recognizing him”.
The two disciples tell this stranger about Jesus, “a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people” (v.19), condemned to death and crucified. They report that they were astounded by the women in their group who, that very morning, had found the tomb of Jesus empty, and were told by angels that Jesus was alive. Heads spinning, the two men are not sure what to make of all this.
By first appearing as a stranger, Jesus is giving his disciples the challenge of showing hospitality, and in response, they practice philoxenia, which literally means “love of the stranger.” Philoxenia is one of the Greek words used in the New Testament for hospitality, and it stands in stark contrast to the attitude so prevalent in society today—xenophobia, which is “fear of the stranger.”
And what does Jesus as stranger offer them? Clarity about the Scriptures. “Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the Scriptures” (v. 27). As they walk and talk, he engages them in a small group Bible study to help them see how Jesus fits into God’s plan since the time of Moses.
Jesus continues to drop in on us today to offer us clarity about the Scriptures. Often, he comes in the form of a stranger, opening new insights into what God is saying. That kind of perspective is critical, because if we study the Bible in isolation, we’re prone to draw conclusions based on only one point of view.
Think of the ways in which white Southern preachers in the 1860s used the Bible to defend slavery. They pointed to the Scriptures, which said, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling” (Ephesians 6:5) and “Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect” (Titus 2:9). These Southerners were Christians who wanted to preserve slavery, and they used the words of the Bible as justification for their position.
What they needed was a stranger to come to them and point out that what God desires is a world of equality, a world in which “there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). White Southern preachers would have been helped by a conversation with devout black believers and white abolitionists, who saw slavery as a sin and a defilement of New Testament values. Bible study is most valuable when it is done in community, with strangers as well as friends.
As the walk to Emmaus continues, Jesus drops in on the disciples in the form of a guest. Luke tells us that Jesus walks ahead of the two men as if he were going on, but they urge him to be their guest, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So, Jesus goes in to stay with them, becoming their guest. They welcome him and include him in their lives.
What does Jesus offer them in the form of a guest? He offers an opportunity to serve. Jesus wants us to take good care of the guests who come to us. He challenges us to feed the hungry and welcome outcasts as he did throughout his ministry. Since we, the members of the church, are the physical body of Christ in the world today, we are supposed to be his hands and continue his work. We show his presence in the world every time we practice hospitality in his name, whether we’re feeding the hungry through a food pantry or welcoming someone who’s new to a service of worship.
Serving others has the added bonus of positively impacting our own mental, emotional and spiritual health. When we find ourselves feeling down or distressed or desperate, the best way to experience renewal is to serve someone in need. This might mean offering a hot meal to a homeless person at a shelter, tutoring a struggling student, calling someone to let them know we’re praying for them, or packing disaster preparedness kits. Prevention magazine (February 4, 2013) reports that “people who volunteer are likelier to be happier than those who don’t — regardless of how much money they make. … Researchers believe volunteering boosts happiness because it increases empathy.”
Serving a person who is a guest or a stranger puts us in touch with the resurrected Jesus. “Come, you that are blessed by my Father,” says Jesus at the final judgment. “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these…you did it to me” (Matthew 25).
Jesus comes to us as a guest, even today. When we help a person in need, we’re really helping Jesus. And this happens not only in church, but on the street, in school and in the workplace. This can be tough to do at the office, because the workplace has become such a competitive and anxious place, with everyone forced to do more with less. But even there, when you help a person in need, you’re helping Jesus.
Finally, Jesus drops in on the disciples in the village of Emmaus in the form of a host. Notice the progression. Jesus, the stranger, becomes a guest when he accepts the disciples’ invitation to stay. But then he quickly changes roles. When he sits at the table with them, he becomes their host. Rather than the owner of the home, as it would normally be, it is Jesus who takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it to those who are gathered. Then their eyes are opened and they recognize him. Jesus immediately vanishes from their sight, and they are left to say to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us … while he was opening the Scriptures to us?” (vv. 30-32).
What does Jesus deliver in the form of a host? Himself! As a host, Jesus delivers the gift of himself. He revealed himself to the disciples in the breaking of the bread, and he reveals himself to us in the very same way. This is why when we observe communion, we remind ourselves that we do not gather at a Methodist table or a Baptist table or a Presbyterian table. We gather at the Lord’s table. Jesus is our host, offering us the gift of himself and promising to nourish us for lives of faithful discipleship.
It is critically important for us to permit Jesus to be our host; to eat his bread, drink his cup and allow his body and blood to become part of our body and blood; to accept the forgiveness he offers and to allow ourselves to be strengthened and inspired.
Often, it’s easier for us to help others than to receive help. We would rather be a host than let someone else host us. But, at the Lord’s Supper, permit Jesus to be your host. Open yourself to what he wants to give you. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, your eyes will be opened and you’ll recognize him.
The story ends with the two disciples racing back to Jerusalem to share the news of their experience with the other disciples. They tell them what happened on the road, and how Jesus “had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread” (v. 35).
The disciples’ message is a proclamation, and proclamation is something we’re all challenged to do. To make a proclamation is simply to talk about how we have personally experienced the activity of God in our lives. It doesn’t have to be in fancy language. It doesn’t have to be dramatic, though for some people it will be. What matters is that it is our story and that we tell it with authenticity, grace and love.
Jesus continues to drop in on us today. He comes as a stranger, interpreting the Scriptures to us. He arrives as a guest, giving us opportunities to serve. And he swoops in as a host, offering us the gift of himself in the breaking of the bread.
Our challenge is to respond in the same way that the disciples of Emmaus did — by telling other people what has happened to us, and how Jesus has been made known to us.
Thanks be to God. Amen.