Acts 2:14a,36-41; Psalm 116:1-4,12-19; 1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35
The big story, of course, this past week was the death of Osama bin Laden. In Tuesday’s Seattle Times there was an article titled, “Despite DNA evidence, some doubt bin Laden [is] really dead”. The article began: “Conspiracy theorists on the left and right were quick to insist bin Laden was either still alive or had been dead for years…”
This comes as no surprise, does it? Almost 50 years after President Kennedy was shot conspiracy theories abound. And we all know about Elvis sightings! What is it about the violent or early death of famous men and women that stirs people up?
Not much has changed in the past 2000 years. Following Jesus’ death Christians said he died and came back to life. The Jewish leaders, of course, disputed that. Over the centuries people on many sides of the question of Jesus’ death and resurrection argue about what really happened. After a while, the conversations start to sound like ten year-olds arguing: Jesus rose from the dead. Did not! Did so! Did not! Did so!…
To be fair, even those who believed in Jesus’ resurrection had very different stories, sometimes contradicting each other. It’s one of the reasons we have four gospels and not just one.
So what are we to make of all this? How do we sift through all the information? How do we get at the truth, whether it’s about the death of a famous person in our own time—or Jesus’ death and resurrection?
Today’s gospel reading is the wonderful story of the road to Emmaus. Two disciples—we don’t know whom—are walking to a village called Emmaus. On the way, they talk about the previous few days and the incredible events leading up to and following Jesus’ death. And then, the story goes, Jesus himself shows up and they start talking with him about these same events. But they don’t recognize him. And yet, he’s so intriguing that they invite him to their home. And in the course of the meal, Luke writes, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. Immediately he “vanished.”
Well, what do you make of this? Who were these disciples? Why did Jesus appear to them? What does it mean that he “appeared” to them? How could they not recognize him? How did he suddenly disappear?
But here’s another question: How important are these questions? How important is it for us to get at the truth? Well, the answer for me is that it’s very important to seek out the truth. But that’s different from knowing the facts. I don’t know what the facts are. In fact, in today’s reading the point is not a set of facts. We’re given, as everywhere else in the Bible, a story.
That might come as a surprise for some. If you’ve gone through life thinking that Christian faith is about believing the right doctrines, or getting the facts straight, you might be surprised to learn that faith is not primarily about facts. It’s not primarily about history. It’s about stories, and the message those stories communicate to us.
In today’s reading, what do you think the message is? What’s it about? For me, the most important line in the whole reading is nothing that Jesus said. It’s what those two disciples said later: Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?
“Were not our hearts burning?” Is this the language of facts and figures? Is it about history? Or, is it something else?
Some Christians think that faith is about believing in history. This happened and this happened because the Bible says so. I got to thinking about the word “history” over the past week. Say it at normal speed and it’s “history.” Say it slowly, with a pause between the syllables, and its—His Story.
What is Christian faith for you? Is it “history”—facts based on past events? Or, is it based on a story?—His Story. There’s a lot at stake in how we answer that question. In fact, how we answer that question has a lot to do with how we live our lives. If facts are what we rely on for truth, we will constantly be taking sides. Life will be one long battle between those who know the truth and those who don’t—good guys and bad guys, winners and losers, us and them.
One message that runs through the Bible is that what we call facts are not very reliable—and we know this from our own experience. The “facts” constantly change—or, the interpretation of those facts. But there is something that is reliable, not based on facts, not based on history, but on His Story—and that is: God is Love. We don’t have to worry so much about whether every detail of every story is factually true because the power of our faith tradition is not in the facts but in the story of God’s love for you, for me, and for all people.
Try that when you read the Bible or when you hear the stories read to you at worship. What is the story that’s being told? How does that story communicate one simple message: “God is Love”?
But the Bible is just the beginning. The stories of God’s love should lead us from “His Story” to “his story”…and “her story”…and “my story”…and “our story.”
This past week I was invited to join some of you as you gathered for conversation about a book you’d read. And we discussed it over a meal, or, as today’s gospel story tells it, in the breaking of bread. You weren’t discussing facts and figures. You were sharing your stories, how His Story meets Your Story. And near the end of our conversation those who were there said, We need to do this more often! I felt that way, too. We sensed that Jesus was present—even though none of us said that in so many words—but Jesus was present, as present as he was with those disciples who spoke with him on the road and then shared a meal with him. Were not our hearts burning within us? Yes! That’s what it feels like, when our stories connect with His Story!
Jesus once said, Where two or three are gathered in my name there am I in the midst of them. Where in your life is your story being told? Where in your life is your story being heard? In what ways does His Story connect with your story? When have you felt, or when do you feel, your heart burning within you? Even when you couldn’t name it, in big ways or small, when have you felt that your own life has experienced resurrection power? In other words—when have you most clearly experienced the power of God’s love?
As you ponder your own story, may the story of the one in whose name we worship kindle within you a renewed experience of God’s power and love.
In Jesus’ name. AMEN