The following is the sermon given by the Rt. Rev. Douglas J. Fisher at the Regional Confirmation held this morning at Christ Church Cathedral, Springfield, MA.
I have been blessed to confirm several hundred people in the last 2 ½ years. Just about every time I go to a church now, someone says to me “You confirmed me.” And I usually respond: “So how is that working out? Do you feel any different?”
I ask that question in a light-hearted way, but it is a real question. What you will do in a few minutes is a radical commitment to see the world in a whole new way. And not just see the world differently, but live in it differently. Empowered by the Spirit. Let’s look at that. And let’s look at it through the lens of the Emmaus story, because that is a journey to a whole New Life for two blessed disciples.
The story begins with two disciples walking. One is named Cleopas and the other is not named. Whenever that happens in the gospels – an unnamed person – you and I, the readers, are supposed to be that person. This is our story.
They are walking away from Jerusalem where Jesus has been executed. They are walking toward Emmaus. Why Emmaus? Emmaus is only mentioned one other time in the entire bible. That is in the Hebrew Scriptures. A battle took place there and the Maccabees, fighting for Israel, were crushed by the Romans about 150 B.C. Historians say the Romans then built a garrison there. It is not far from Jerusalem (only seven miles) and they could quickly get soldiers to Jerusalem if there were any problems among the people in that occupied city. So why are Cleopas and the other disciple going to Emmaus? The have been following Jesus. But now his cause – bringing mercy, compassion and hope to the world – has been defeated. Jesus is dead and their dreams of a new world are over. Now they are going back to the place that represents “might makes right.”
If we are that other disciple, what are we returning to when we give up on the mission of Jesus? Here is how one theologian put it: “A world where we believe nothing that cannot be proven, and respect nothing we cannot understand, and value nothing we cannot sell.”
It is interesting when Jesus walks with them. They do not know it is him. They tell him the things that have happened “the last few days” including the report that the tomb was found empty. Their knowledge did not end with the death of Jesus. They know there might be something more. But they don’t know what it is so they are going back to their old life.
Jesus – remember, they still do not know he is Jesus – gets really upset with them. He calls them “foolish” and “slow of heart.” Theologian John Shea writes: “Jesus is not happy. It is hard to read this and not conclude these are the words of a ticked-off resurrected Christ. He calls them foolish. ‘Fools say in their hearts there is no God’ (Psalm 4, Psalm 51). In other words, the foolish person tries to interpret and establish life without considering the spiritual dimension. These two have interpreted Jesus in strictly sociopolitical terms. They are foolish.”
And they are “slow of heart.” In biblical spirituality the heart is connected to the eyes. When the heart burns, the fire pushes up the chest and flows out the eyes. This allows the person to see. The eyes are like the headlights of a car. (I know this is an anachronistic example.) They are lit from within in order to peer into the darkness without. This might be poor physiology but it is good spirituality.
As the story goes on, so does Jesus. He explains the scriptures to them. And just as he is about to keep going forward, they plead with him to stay for dinner. At dinner Jesus did what he did many times before (not just at the Last Supper). He took bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it away. And that is the pattern of a healthy, holy life. We are called to take our life, give thanks for it, and then discover how to give it away.
When Jesus takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it away, Cleopas and the other disciple recognize him as Jesus. He “vanishes” from their sight. Scholars of Greek say it really means “He became invisible from among them.” Jesus can go now because he has done his job. Cleopas and the other disciple (you and me) are now living from the heart.
We know this because the disciples say “were not our hearts burning within us as he explained the scriptures to us as we walked along the road?” Now they are spiritually alive. They see the world in a whole new way. They turn away from Emmaus. And we turn away from “A world where we believe nothing that cannot be proved, and respect nothing we cannot understand, and value nothing we cannot sell.” They return to the faith community. Now they share in the Resurrection – that is what “they got up” means.
In this confirmation, you are going to commit yourselves to spiritual “aliveness.” It is a whole different way of being in the world. As followers of Jesus:
- we turn away from cynicism and we turn toward hope.
- We turn away from “it is what it is” and we turn toward the endless creativity of God.
- We turn away from self-centeredness and we turn toward generosity.
- We turn away from exclusivity and we turn toward a society wherever everyone belongs.
- We turn away from siding with the powerful of this world and we turn toward the poor, the displaced, the outcasts.
- We turn away from using up creation and we turn toward caring for creation.
In three minutes this sermon is going to be over and you will have an opportunity to say to the world what you believe. Belief in the Living God who comes to us as Creator, as Savior and as Spirit that comforts us as we need to be comforted and challenges us as we need to be challenged. (That is what empowerment means.) And you will tell the world what you will do. Resist evil and when we sin, repent and return to the Lord. Proclaim the Good News of God in Christ, love our neighbors as ourselves, strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being.
That is all in the Baptismal Covenant. The way that Covenant is structured is with three “I believes” and then five “I wills.” All those “I wills” are vitally important. But the first one gives energy and wisdom and passion to all the rest. It is the one where we say, “I will pray.”
You might have heard of John and Charles Wesley. They were Anglican priests back in the 1700’s. They were known as people who heard from God in prayer and they taught their “method” to their followers who later broke from the Anglican Church as the Methodists. When asked who taught them the most about God, both brothers agreed it was their mother, Susanna. But Susanna Wesley did not have just two boys. She had 16 other children! How could she have time to pray with 18 children in the house? Here’s how. Every day at a particular time she sat on a chair in the kitchen and held her apron up over her head. For the next twenty minutes the children knew not to bother her as she was at prayer.
However we pray, whenever we pray, we need to make the time. Because it is only in an on-going relationship do we learn to hear and t see and to experience God in everything. It is only “with God’s help” that we can do the mission of mercy, compassion and hope Jesus has given us.
Come Holy Spirit. Make us spiritually alive. Make us a New and Ever-New Creation.