Sunday, June 11, 2017

Burning Hearts

Burning Hearts
Luke 24:13-35[1]
We Presbyterians love to do things “decently and in order.” He have policies for doing things “rightly” and some of us even believe that our churches will thrive if we just follow the right procedures. And so we set about planning the programs that we hope will accomplish that goal. This approach applies to all aspects of our life together as a community of faith. It even applies to the way we assume we convey our faith to our children. If we have a good confirmation program, then they will embrace the faith we seek to live by. But I think I would have to ask whether it was the program itself that made faith “stick” in our lives, or something more.
The problem is that you cannot “program” faith. Yes, we can teach the concepts of the faith according to a plan that takes into account where our children are in their various stages of development. But that only creates the opportunity for them to experience faith. In order for it to flourish and grow into a healthy and mature faith that will direct them throughout their lives, something more than a program has to take place. That’s true for all of us: in order for the seeds that have been planted in us to bear fruit in a life that is dedicated to God, the Spirit of God must work in our lives. I’m afraid, though, that kind of language makes us think we have to have some kind of special experience for it to “count.”
As we continue to make our way through the season of Easter, our Scripture readings seem to reinforce that impression. This week’s Gospel lesson certainly seems to describe an encounter that was anything but “normal.” Two disciples walking home are joined by the risen Christ. But they are “prevented” from recognizing him. And after pouring out their disappointed hopes, he proceeds to take them on a journey through the Scriptures to show that it was “necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things” (Lk 24:26). During a meal that bore a striking resemblance to the Last Supper, “their eyes were opened” and they recognized him, and then he vanished.
Again, this all sounds like something that only the privileged few ever get to experience. And yet, there’s something interesting about the way they describe their experience. They say it this way: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” (Lk 24:32). I would like to point out again that what struck them was something very ordinary: it was the fact that “beginning with Moses and all the prophets,” Jesus explained the meaning of the Scriptures to them (Lk 24:27). When you look at it that way, it’s not something out of reach after all. In fact, I would say it’s something we can experience in our lives as well.
I’m not going to begin with “Moses and all the prophets,” but the teaching of the Scriptures is that what happened on that first Easter changed everything, and it’s continuing to change everything and everyone. The promise of the resurrection of Jesus the Christ is that we too will be raised to a new life (Rom. 6:4), and when that happens, we will be “conformed to the image of Christ” (Rom. 8:29). That’s one reason why Easter is such good news: we all get to experience the new life of Jesus’ resurrection. Easter means that “as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ” (1 Cor 15:22). It means that though we were all “dead,” we have been made “alive together with Christ” as a result of his resurrection (Eph. 2:4-6). The resurrection is not simply something that happened a long time ago to Jesus of Nazareth. The resurrection opens the door to God’s new creation that is already breaking into this world and transforming our lives.
Still, all of this sounds very spiritual, very extraordinary, very much out of reach for us common people. But the fact of the matter is that the means through which that happens in our lives are typically very “ordinary”—prayer, studying Scripture, worship, serving others. To be sure, it is God who makes these changes in our lives, but that tends happens as we go about the routines of our faith.  The unexpected thing about those routines is that as we practice them, we are opening our hearts for God to do his work in us. And when that happens, I think we would have to say it’s as if our hearts are “burning within us,” as those first disciple put it.
I think most of us can point to times in our lives when we would say that our hearts were burning. It may have been a moment in worship when the music or the Scripture or the sermon struck a chord with us. Or perhaps it was an experience of fresh insight during a time of personal prayer. Or we had a sense of God’s presence comforting and encouraging us during a time when we were struggling. Maybe it was the simple feeling of being truly alive we get when we help others in need. I think part of the challenge is to notice those experiences rather than chalking them up to just something “ordinary.”
It’s all too easy for us to overlook the genuine encounters we’ve had with God in our lives. It’s a lot easier to focus on the hardships we may have experienced in life. But the good news of Easter is that God is working in all of our lives constantly. Try as we may, we can’t program that. We do the best we can to plan our worship and study and service in this family of faith. But only God can touch our lives in such a way that it leaves us saying, “Were not our hearts burning?” And the good news of Jesus’ resurrection is that God is constantly working to make us people with burning hearts.

[1] ©2017 Alan Brehm. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 4/30/2017 at Hickman Presbyterian Church, Hickman, NE.

No comments: