When Jesus Appears


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Easter Sunday

Never underestimate what miracles may come from behind a seemingly ordinary stone. The Master Sculptor is calling us to emerge from the tomb of Good Friday to reveal the beauty of Christ’s resurrection.

He is risen!

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This Week’s Sermon Was Drawn From the Following Scripture

Luke 24:13-23; 36-37

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive.

While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.

 

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Have you ever been in the presence of greatness—and been completely oblivious?

Earlier this month, my wife, Colleen, was at a restaurant for a birthday celebration with a group of girlfriends. As she sat at the end of the table across from her friend Lisa, Colleen immediately recognized the couple sitting next to them. She felt nervous and found it challenging to concentrate on her conversation with Lisa, who didn’t seem to realize that a major celebrity was an arm’s length away. With her seat facing the wall, Lisa continued on through the meal, talking to Colleen about normal life things. In the background, Colleen could see other customers approaching the celebrity, only to be sent away by the restaurant manager. This went on for close to two hours!

At one point during the meal, Colleen’s group posed for a picture as birthday party people often do. Just as they were snapping the picture, the major celebrity turned to pose.

Lisa, still oblivious, turned to the man and playfully said, “Are you photo-bombing us?,” and went on to talk about how she has kids who are also pranksters and would do the same thing.

Finally, Lisa seemed to realize that something was going on.

Shielding her mouth so the celebrity couldn’t see, Lisa said “Who is that?”

“Steph Curry!,” Colleen replied in an exasperated whisper.

“Basketball?,” Lisa motioned, suddenly becoming very self-conscious.

Yes, the man was one Stephen Curry, star of the Golden State Warriors and Most Valuable Player of the National Basketball Association. In addition to being one of the most talented athletes in the history of the sport, Steph seems to be that rare star who is humble and caring beyond the court.

He has achieved all of this this despite being at least four inches shorter and many pounds lighter than the average professional player, not playing for a major college program—kudos to the Presbyterians at Davidson College for recruiting Steph, and starting his career with so many injuries that people questioned whether he could make it through a season. He is a David in a sea of Goliaths.

Steph writes part of the Bible verse Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me,” on his Under Armour shoe before each game. He wears Under Armour in part because an ill-informed Nike executive mispronounced his name in a pitch meeting.

I doubt that Steph was shocked or deeply offended that Lisa didn’t recognize him.

Sometimes greatness is right there and we miss it.

Many of you have dined next to Michael Tilson Thomas and had no idea. Others have been in the presence of some of my heroes, Glenda Hope, Rita Semel and Yvette Flunder, without having a clue. If you don’t recognize those last three names, look them up and find a way to support them.

We have a God who continually reminds us that greatness comes from the places and people you would least expect.

In today’s Scripture lesson, we encountered two men on the very first Easter, walking about seven miles outside of Jerusalem. Cleopas and his companion encounter a man they do not recognize. They tell him about the empty tomb, visions of angels and rumors that he was alive.

It is important to note that the men only knew about the astounding story through sources whose voices were considered insignificant— a group of women, including Mary Magdalene. The disciples dismissed the reports of the women as an “idle tale, and they did not believe them.” (Luke 24:11)

If you ever believe that God endorses and favors people with existing power, carefully reread the Easter story in Luke 24.

At this point, Jesus loses his cool: “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!” (Luke 24:25, NRSV)

The men still walk on, oblivious that the risen Jesus is journeying with them.

Biblical scholar Luke Timothy Johnson explains that the Greek text krateē indicates that their “eyes were held.”[1]

It’s understandable that they struggled to see Jesus. Injustice was rampant, the poor were everywhere, political leaders were frustrating and dominating, and even the religious leaders were more concerned with holding onto power than ushering in God’s justice. The supposed Savior healed and fed and spoke wise words, but didn’t even save himself from death on a cross.

Their eyes were held and their hearts were hardened by the world.

Many here today can relate to the challenge of seeing Jesus and the reality of having our hearts hardened as global and local violence and terror continues in Belgium, Turkey, and too many other places. Transgender people in North Carolina are subject to inhuman discrimination. Flint residents can’t even get a clean glass of water and the San Francisco homeless population suffers while more and more luxury condos are built around them. Meanwhile, one of the major stories of the week focused on the appearance of presidential candidates’ wives. Really?

I see too many people who have faced the sudden loss of loved ones, or are preparing for loss or bracing for medical crises.

Where is Jesus?

It’s understandable that we struggle to see him and layers of stone build up around our hearts.

I am here with you today because I have faith that God is still working and that the spirit of Christ’s resurrection calls us to a reality that fear cannot quash.

Sometimes our eyes are opened in unexpected ways.

A doctor from Oakland had a very demanding medical career as a specialist in HIV/AIDS before the disease even had a name. To decompress, he liked to travel to Zimbabwe to pursue one of his artistic passions, Shona sculpture. As time went on in his trips to Zimbabwe, the doctor mourned as artists he had come to know died of AIDS. While in Zimbabwe, he heard a story about a community called Mother of Peace, which was caring for a growing number of children orphaned or abandoned. Mother to child transmission was claiming the lives of too many little ones, with a heartbreaking graveyard growing at a staggering rate. The doctor hired a car to take him to Mother of Peace, and made it his mission to ensure that the graveyard stop being filled with children.

I met Dr. Robert Scott at Allen Temple Baptist Church on International Boulevard in East Oakland. When I explained that I had a group prayerfully considering opportunities to serve, he put his arm around me and the next thing I knew our group joined one of his quarterly journeys on the 11,000-mile trip to Zimbabwe, with suitcases filled with anti-retroviral medication his team led by an incredible nurse named David Greenberg salvaged.

Dr. Scott’s clinics became the stuff of legend. People would travel two or more days to attend and get their medicine. The first trip was the closest I have ever come to understanding what it would have been like to travel with Jesus while he was on Earth. As we exited the bus, people were singing and dancing and crying and praying.

As his mission grew, the graveyard at Mother of Peace went from an average of two burials of children per month to zero. Dr. Scott continued his clinics until his death in 2009. While the need in Zimbabwe is still great, Dr. Scott inspired people from across North America, Europe and Africa to step up and ensure that life-saving medications made it to patients through local clinics.

Dr. Scott didn’t go to Zimbabwe looking to be the hands and feet of Christ.

He had a passion for a beautiful art form.

It started with a seemingly ordinary stone.

Many Shona sculptors approach their work as a spiritual practice, using basic chisels to reveal the spirit of the stone. Highly regarded sculptor Henry Munyaradzi says, “The sculpture is already hidden in the stone, I just let it out.”[2]

I have a sculpture from a talented artist named Rhoda Jemali, who told me that her love for her unborn son inspired her to find the spirit of this stone. It features an impression of Rhoda’s hand over her pregnant belly as she waited for her miracle to emerge.

Easter is a reminder that world changing greatness emerges in unexpected ways, and from unexpected people.

The Savior people had been expecting to ride in on a war-horse and bring down the Roman Empire by force, instead ended up dying a humiliating death on a cross. When he was laid to rest in the tomb and it was sealed with the stone, even his closest friends thought that was the end of the story.

Never underestimate what miracles may come from behind a seemingly ordinary stone. The Master Sculptor is calling us to emerge from the tomb of Good Friday to reveal the beauty of Christ’s resurrection.

He is risen!

He is risen indeed!

[1] Luke Timothy Johnson, Sacra Pagina: the Gospel of Luke (Collegeville, MN: Michael Glazier, 2006), 393.

[2] http://shonasculptures.com/whyshona.aspx

 

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