3 Easter A—4/30/17
Acts 2:14a,36-41; Psalm 116:1-4,12-19; 1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35
Pr. Scott Kramer
A week and a half ago I stopped by the Renton History Museum for the first time. The museum features a traveling exhibit titled, “Sorting Out Racism,” which is excellent and continues through May 17th. While I was at the museum I learned about an event held at the museum this past Thursday, a panel discussion titled, Undoing Racism in Renton. The panel was an African-American pastor (Michael Thomas), an Indian-American serving in local government (Preeti Shridhar), a Native-American working with youth in local schools (Tommy Segundo), and the white police chief for the City of Renton (Kevin Milosevich). Each panel member spoke about their experience and perception of race issues in Renton.
One of the most encouraging things I learned was that African American pastors from the Renton area have been meeting with Chief Milosevich once a month since 2015. Chief Milosevich says he’s served in Renton since 1985, and of course during that time the city of Renton has grown from a sleepy town of 35,000 mostly white residents to over 100,000 residents, most of whom are people of color. Chief Milosevich said, “Many people think that increased diversity leads to higher crime rates, but that’s not true.” Then he showed us a graph that shows a significant decrease in crime in Renton since 1985.
On that first Easter two of Jesus’ disciples were walking along the road from Jerusalem to a small village seven miles outside of town called Emmaus. They were talking not only about the trauma and tragedy of Jesus’ death but the shocking and confusing news that his body had gone missing. A stranger joined them along the way and asked what they were talking about. The two disciples couldn’t believe that this guy hadn’t heard the news so they told him the whole story. “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe!” the stranger replied. Then he connected the dots for them between the events of the past days and the stories of their Scriptures. Still, they didn’t recognize the one who was speaking to them.
At last Thursday’s panel discussion Chief Milosevich talked about the racism he sees in our communities toward young black men. He said, “If a group of white kids are standing around some public area, pushing each other and making a lot of noise white people see it and say, ‘Oh, they’re just being kids.’ If white people see a group of black kids doing the same thing, they call the police and say weapons might be involved, even if they haven’t see any weapons. Six or seven squad cars then show up, even though those black youth haven’t done anything.”
Our perceptions of race may not be that different from those two disciples walking on the road: They knew what they’d heard, they knew what they believed, and in the midst of their fear and confusion they kept playing the same old tapes, telling the same stories to themselves and each other over and over. Even when Jesus himself appeared and explained to them a much bigger truth they couldn’t see it! They were stuck in their own personal world of experience, and in habits of belief that were too small to contain the living God.
And yet, dear friends, on the road those two disciples did sense that something was going on and that this stranger who had joined their conversation was the key to understanding that something. As they neared the village of Emmaus, Jesus walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us,” and he did. Finally, as they shared a meal they finally recognized him, completely changing their beliefs. And just like that, he disappeared again! God can’t be controlled by human beliefs or experience.
How often, I wonder, does Jesus appear among us and we don’t recognize him? How often? Could the living Christ appear as a white local police chief who calls out racism where he sees it? Could the living Christ be an African American pastor sharing the challenges he faces in building a multicultural congregation? Could it be the Native American teacher who in the 21st century still gets asked if his people hunt bison and live in teepees, even though as Pacific Northwest Native people they never did?
The theme of today’s Easter story is the same theme that we encounter in other stories in the early weeks of the Easter season. Nobody recognizes Jesus! But notice also that Jesus doesn’t stay where he’s not wanted. In today’s story he was ready to move on ahead of his walking companions but remained only because he was “urged strongly” to stay with them.
To what extent does each of us recognize the living Christ in the stranger? To what extent do we listen to their stories? And maybe most importantly, to what extent do we extend the gift of hospitality and ask them to be, not like us, but with us…just as they are? “Stay with us!”
Those two disciples on the road to Emmaus, afraid and confused and grieving, were caught up in a story they thought they knew. Well, we know how this works, right? Human nature drives us to spend time with others who seem like-minded, who agree with us, who have had similar experiences. Two or more friends tell each other the same stories, and the same values get reinforced day after week after month after year. Especially if, like those two disciples, we’re feeling fearful or hopeless it is hard to break out of such patterns.
It isn’t that the stories those two disciples told each other were completely false; it’s that the stories they shared, and the beliefs they held, weren’t the whole story, and not the most important part of the story! They knew that Christ had died (that was their story!); they couldn’t see that Christ had risen. The truth of the living Christ and his power was not only far greater than they knew; it was far greater than they dared imagine! They couldn’t see Jesus even though he was walking alongside them the whole time.
A couple of weeks ago our congregation received an ELCA report on ethnic diversity in our synod. What Police Chief Milosevich said last Thursday about the city of Renton is even truer for our 98178 zip code. Our zip code has the highest ethnic diversity of any Lutheran church neighborhood in all of western Washington. Our congregation likewise, out of 100 congregations, is one of the most diverse Lutheran congregations in western Washington.
It’s been said many times that around the world Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week. Where there is segregation there is ignorance and fear. Where there is segregation the stories people tell are small and not completely true. Where diverse people remain apart from one another the living, loving Christ can do very little. Remember, as today’s gospel story implies, Jesus appears among us, as he appeared on that first Easter, as the stranger, and he doesn’t stay where he’s not wanted.
On the other hand, where the stranger is invited and welcomed, there will the people find hope for resurrection. Stay with us! the two disciples said to Jesus—and he did! By welcoming diverse new stories, God’s people develop a deeper and richer understanding of God’s love for us and for the world. Consider those places in your heart, in your household, in your neighborhood, and in your community that are still mired in fear or hopelessness. We all have places in our lives that are stuck in a story that is too small, where the power of God’s love has yet to take hold.
Where you find fear and hopelessness in your heart, might it be that a stranger has sidled up to you on the road unrecognized, waiting for an invitation to be heard and to be known? Might it be that just that same stranger is the key to unlocking in your life…Easter joy and resurrection power?