Saturday, May 2, 2009

A Good Story Ruined - A sermon

Okay, I have a joke for you.  “That boy should have quit while he was a head.”  Get it?  No?  

Well, let’s try another:   “The boy gave this some thought then said to his mother, ‘Wait a minute mom. How do you get into the other kids’ houses?’”

Okay, this isn’t working.  Last try:  “A Lost Camel!”  Get it?

What’s the matter?  It’s like you’re missing part of the joke or something.

Which of course you are.  But that’s the problem with the Gospel reading you just  heard today.  You only get one part of it, which takes away part of the point Luke’s making. 

We heard today where Jesus shows amidst the disciples and terrified them because they think he’s a ghost.  But what it leaves out is that right  before this we have the famous “Road to Emmaus” story where two disciples meet Jesus on the road that first Easter Day, but they don’t recognize him.  So he teaches them about the resurrection, but they still don’t recognize him and invite him for dinner.  Finally, he breaks the bread and they recognize him.  Then he disappears, and they run back to tell the other disciples.

“We saw the Lord!” they say. “We recognized him in the breaking of the bread.”  The other disciples tell them that Simon Peter has also seen the risen Christ, and isn’t it exciting.  Then Jesus shows up again -- and they scream in terror.  They don’t recognize him at all.  They think he’s a ghost.  Even though they had seen him a little earlier, they don’t recognize him the second time around.

Now, granted this isn’t slapstick, but it just goes to show that you can’t understand things when you only take part of the story.  That’s why it’s always dangerous to just read little snippets of the bible -- there’s always more to the story.

And in this story what we get is a couple of things.  First, notice that Jesus is finally recognized in each of these scenes when there’s food around.  In Emmaus, they recognize him in the breaking of the bread.  In the next scene, he asks for food to prove he’s not a ghost.  Read through the Gospels, and you’ll see how important things tend to happen with Jesus when food is involved.

By the way, that’s why we have Coffee Hour -- oh, and communion.

But more important, sometimes things sound better as a story than the reality.  In fact, reality kind of ruins a good story.

All the disciples tell the story of seeing the risen Christ, but actually seeing him is much more confusing and terrifying.

It’s not that different from when we tell stories about our youth, when we were wild and crazy or brave and daring. [We usually tell stories to appear funny, brave, clever, or important] I used to tell friends about hitchhiking across Germany, and they’d say, “That is so cool!”  Until someone was so impressed that he said, “Let’s hitchhike here!”  The truth is, I’d never do it again.  I got cold, it took forever, and at least once I ended up in a car with people who made me uncomfortable.  Trust me, hitchhiking makes a better story than reality.

Then there's the story I wouldn't let my wife tell for ten years.  We were dating, and she had a birthday.  I decided to surprise her at work with a cake.  But she loves ice cream cake, and I was foolish enough to try to get all thirty candles on the cake.  You can guess the result -- the icing caught on fire, the cake melted all over the desk, and I was near tears.  She thought it was cute and funny and loves the story.  But the reality was not so pretty.

We tell a pretty good story in church, too.  Christ has Died.  Christ is risen!  Christ heals.  Christ says Love your neighbor as yourself.  Christ says, Pick up your cross and follow me!

Everything around Jesus sounds so great when we talk about it.  It’s only when it comes down to living it that things don’t seem so romantic.  

Instead, it can be mundane, just living each day trying to be a kind person.  Or uncomfortable -- ever reach out to someone in love who is NOT the type of person you’d prefer to associate with?  Or boring -- reading the bible puts you to sleep, trying to pray gets you nowhere.

Or terrifying -- you hear Jesus in the Gospel say, “sell everything and come follow me,” and you panic.  Because you know some people actually do that, actually give up everything and live in squallor for the sake of the Gospel.  Even that can sound romantic -- until you live it.

The point is, we say a lot about God’s love here in church.  But whatever we say can never touch reality.  Only you can go out there and live that love, live that life of following Christ.  And it probably won’t make a good story most of the time -- it’s not meant to.  But it will make a good life.