Sermon May 8th: Matters of the Heart

Rev. Stacy Swain

Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Luke 24: 13-35

             Throughout my pregnancies and the early years of my children’s lives, I was a voracious reader.  I read every child development or parenting book that I could get my hands on. “What to expect when you are expecting.” “What to expect in the first three years”, “Penelope Leech’s on the first five years, “The Spirited Child”, “Spiritual Parenting.”  You name it, I read it.  They were all there on my shelf with dog eared, heavily underlined pages. 

             I read so widely, you see, because I desperately wanted to know how best to care for the unfolding miracles, the precious little lives that were entrusted to me.  Nurturing the growth of children is such an enormous responsibility and I wanted to be as prepared as I possibly could be.    

             But despite all the books on the shelf, the biggest source of learning for me turned out to be from the real life example of my sister.  My sister has two daughters that are step up in years from my children and I learned so much from watching the way she practiced parenthood. 

             One of the most important things that I learned, was that when the kids were having a particularly difficult time —  overcome by some conflict or struggle, she never rushed in to solve the problem for them.

             Instead she would slow them down, and ask them to tell her what was going on and how it made them feel.  And then she would turn the conversation by asking if they could think of another way of solving the problem. And as they engaged the problem for themselves, smiles would replace tears as they delighted in the revelation of a new way out of their struggle.    

             I remember well, one particular day, when my son and niece were in the sandbox playing and an altercation erupted over the yellow shovel.  My sister stepped in with her well rehearsed pedagogy, and at the point when she asked them if they could think of another way of solving the problem besides hitting each other as they were doing, my son with looked up with complete sincerity on his open little face he said, quite earnestly “I could bite?”

            But what amazed me in this interaction was that even though it took a while for my son to move from hitting and biting as a way of dealing with their struggle, my sister was patient.  She stayed with him, saying “Humm, that is one way, but I wonder if you can think of another?”  For helping the kids develop the capacity to slow down, to see the situation, to reinterprete it in a new light, to move to a previously undiscovered resolution and to delight in the revelation of that resolution, was what she was striving for.   My sister taught me that the practice of parenthood was about not trying to eliminate struggle but instead about trying to help the children find a new way out of the struggles they surely will face.   Nurturing their capacity to seek and to engage a transformed reality was at the heart of parenthood.  


             I was thinking about Mother’s Day and all that parenting asks of one, when I entered into the Gospel lesson this week.  As I read and reread the text and watched Jesus encounter those two disciples on the road to Emmaus.  And as I saw how they were wrestling, with, struggling to find a way to make sense of all that had happened in the last week, I swear I heard Jesus put on his parenting voice and say “Hummm, that is certainly one way, but I wonder if you can think of another?” For on that road to Emmaus, Jesus is helping Cleopas and the other disciple, uncover their capacity to live as disciples of the living God seeking and engaging a transformed reality.  We see that Jesus is not trying to eliminate the struggle the disciples face, but he is trying to help them find a new way out of the struggle they face.    

             For Jesus wants Cleopas and the other disciple, who scholarship believes may very well be Cleopas’ wife, to learn how to care for the unfolding miracle of resurrection living, that enormous responsibility of discipleship that had been entrusted to them, so that they may served as an example for us all.

             So, let’s take a closer look at this pedagogy of discipleship that Jesus employs on the road that day so very long ago.   The first thing that Jesus does in nurturing the disciples capacity to seek and engage a transformed reality is asking them to recount what it is that is troubling them.  Robert McAffee Brown calls this stage “searching for truth”[1].  It is when the disciples comb through the information of the last few days over and over again trying to uncover something that they may have missed that will help make sense of what has happened.

             We do this all the time, don’t we when we are faced with a particularly difficult struggle.  When a loved one suddenly becomes ill or faces some challenging life event, we diligently track every detail, recounting for ourselves and each other what exactly happened and when.   

             Discipleship begins with where we are.  It begins with what it is that we are experiencing.  But searching for truth is only a starting point.  For in the next moment, Jesus challenges the disciples to see their story of what is in relationship to the great story of God with us, of the sweep of salvation history in the Bible.  Jesus begins opening the Scriptures to them drawing connections between their own lives and the ways that God has been present in the lives of men and women throughout the ages — how God continues to work within the world for the renewal and regeneration of all things.

             And as the story of the lives of the disciples rubs against the great story to God with us, something is sparked.  In the synergy of these two stories something is kindled and we hear the disciples say,  “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scripture to us?”

             We hear engagement of the heart as being the starting place of transformation also in the lesson from Acts.  As Peter tells them of the Jesus, both Lord and Messiah, his words “cut to the heart” of those gathered around him and following their heart they were lead into the revelation of discipleship.

             Now we often think that the climax of the road to Emmaus story is when Jesus is revealed in the breaking of the bread, the moment captured in the stained glass behind me,  but it is important to remember that revelation would not have happened if it were not for invitation.  Cleopas and the other disciple first invited the stranger to come and stay with them, — not to continue down the road but to stay with them.  Brown points out that by inviting the stranger into their house, they are enacting the reconciliation and renewal that Jesus’ life death and resurrection birthed into creation.  In this invitation with hearts aflame, they embody in their actions the precious miracle of resurrection living that the Risen Christ has given to them.  It has become who they are.   So, in this way, before they even sit down at the table, they become the bread and the wine which reveal the living presence of Jesus.   So when their eyes are finally opened and they recognized him in the breaking of the bread, they see that which was already present in and with them all along.   

             The disciples had wanted nothing more when they left Jerusalem that than for Jesus to come stay with them, but it took a long walk, a recounting of all that had happened.  It took reflecting on all that happened in the light of God’s love for them and then it took their hearts burning as they spoke the invitation that led to the revelation that the one they sought was already indeed present with them.  It took the pedagogy of discipleship to help them seek and engage the transformed reality that was indeed present.   “And their eyes, were opened, and they recognized him, in the breaking of the bread.” 

             As parents we do not rush in at every turn to solve the problems our children face because we know that the greatest gift we can give them is to help them grow in their capacity to find their own way in the world.  To be able to engage with life’s inevitable struggles in ways that open new possibilities and that lead to live giving revelations.  And so we teach them, slowly and patiently throughout the years delighting in those times when hitting and biting gives way to sharing.   

             So it is with discipleship.  Discipleship is looking out in our community to learn from each other and from Jesus, our living example.   For when we face struggles and challenges in our lives, Jesus does not just show up to solve our problems. Instead Jesus shows us to help us grow in faith and trust, teaching us how to engage our hearts in what is unfolding, to interpret our lives in relationship with the great story of God’s salvation history, to invite new possibility into our lives so that like Cleopas and the other disciple, our eyes may be opened and we may see through our own living that God is indeed with us in all that we face.  So let us grow in discipleship, let us nurture the unfolding miracle of resurrection living that has been entrusted to us through Jesus our teacher and our Christ.  Amen

[1] Robert McAfee Brown. “The Boundary Area Between Biblical Perspectives and Religious Studies: NICM Journal, 6 (Summer 1901: 69-90).