Easter 3A (April 30, 2017)

Christians share their faith. It is a central component of being Christian: we share our faith through actions and through words that explain the actions. Or, we’re supposed to. It can be difficult. Some of the difficulty comes from the naturally challenging nature of persuasively explaining why you do what you do. (Sometimes you get talking about your reasons for doing something and realize you don’t like your reasons for doing it!) Some of it is the …aggressive manner in which some share the faith. Like the time Homer Simpson opens the door, sees Rev. Lovejoy and Mrs. Lovejoy, and the holy roller next door neighbors, the Flanders, and Homer says, “Aw, this isn’t going to be about Jesus, is it?” We don’t want to be those people, who hit you over the head with a steel Christ, who want their hang-ups and taboos to be off limits to everyone. Some of the difficulty arises from the intimate nature of faith. It’s deep down and present for things you don’t always want to talk about. As intimate, say, as the little meal between Jesus and two disciples on the way to Emmaus.

Luke doesn’t intend for us to keep this sort of faith to ourselves, though. It’s worth noting how Luke presents this scene. Presentation tells you a lot about what an author wants us to think. If characters are in period costume, you’re supposed to notice. Luke uses some “period words” we might not notice. Luke has the disciples refer to Jesus as “Jesus of Nazareth.” Luke uses that name of Jesus only three times: here, once on the lips of a beggar, and once on the lips of a demon. So, it’s noteworthy. And the English “of Nazareth” is a guess. We think that was Jesus’ hometown. But the word in Greek is also the word for Nazirite, a special sort of priest, dedicated to serve God. Samson is probably the most famous Nazirite. Samson’s from the Book of Judges. This is not the only reference to the Book of Judges that Luke makes, here.

The disciples speak of thinking Jesus was the one to redeem Israel. They do so with words from the Book of Judges following the Midianite invasion, just before God designated Gideon as the new Judge. Before Gideon was the namesake of the people who put King James Version bibles in hotels and hospitals, he was famous for defeating the whole Midianite army with only three hundred guys armed with torches. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that the Jews expected a political and military messiah. This is one of my major psychotic hatreds, and usually I avoid mentioning it because it’s more complicated than that (not all Jews were expecting this, and those who did may not have thought it would happen right then). Here, though, it sounds like at least two of Jesus’ disciples wanted Jesus to be like Gideon, and overthrow the oppressors with violence and glory.

Luke’s not done referring to Judges. Jesus, still not known to his disciples, walks with them until evening. The two invite Jesus to stay with them. They use the precise words of a man in Judges who invites his daughter and son-in-law to stay the night. It’s a notorious and terrifying story of an angry mob coming to the house, the man throwing his daughter to them to be raped all night in exchange for leaving him alone. It’s a story that seems intended to show how horrible life was under the Judges, before the Kings reigned and brought law and order, and in the story this rape motivates a muster of Israel and an attack on those who committed the crime. Luke has a lot of Judges echoes. Luke presents his story of the road to Emmaus with these overtones. He primes us to want a Nazirite, expect a warrior, and think something horrible is about to happen.

Instead, Jesus breaks bread. Jesus responds to a cry for a violent solution by breaking bread. It is a political response, not a violent one. This is another one of my major psychotic hatreds of the story that the Jews wanted a political messiah and Jesus wasn’t about that. Yes, he was. Jesus wasn’t a conquering hero or a guerilla warrior or a liberator of a nation. He was political, though, constantly in the face of the authorities and disrupting the local economy with free healings and free food. Jesus eats a lot in the Gospel of Luke. Only three times, though, does he “break bread.” He does it when he feeds the 5,000, he does it at the Last Supper when he says he is going to die for the sake of the world, and he does it here at what is basically the first Holy Communion. Luke wants us to think of Holy Communion in light of Jesus giving himself for the sake of the world and to think of Holy Communion in the light of Jesus feeding 5,000 hungry people for free no questions asked.

Jesus responds to a cry for political salvation by feeding the hungry and saving the world. And this little, intimate meal with Jesus sets the pattern for us, as his sisters and brothers: Feed the hungry and give yourselves away for the sake of the world. That’s our new life in Christ. That’s the faith into which we baptize. First Peter talks of being renewed and having new life in Christ, and this is what he means. We are Christ’s sisters and brothers, called into a community that responds to the cries of a broken world by giving ourselves away and feeding the hungry. We are going to baptize little Nora Rae Otto this morning. We’ll be baptizing her into a life of giving herself away and feeding the hungry. Her parents and sponsor and all of us will agree to help her in that life.

That life is difficult because the cries of the world may make you want to react violently. There is a part of me that looks at how Rome and the Herods treated Israel and thinks that maybe a well-organized zealot revolutionary force would have been a better response from God than this bread breaker. I’ve been to hearings and meetings where the opposition has tried to provoke us, or me, or my own allies have gotten worked up and decided it was time to start burning bridges, literally if possible. I don’t get to do that. I also don’t get to be a doormat. And I think this is a source of our difficulty in living the life of faith in deeds and words. We don’t want to hit you over the head with a steel Christ, and we don’t want people trampling on us. And so, sometimes we say, Just to be safe, let’s keep Christ to ourselves.

A response to this came to mind as I was on the plane to Gettysburg. One of my worship professors, Gerry Christianson, long ago issued his famous Laws of Liturgics, and between knowing I would see him and reading Luke describe the first Holy Communion, I thought of Christianson’s Law, “Beware of using ‘Desert Island Scenarios’ as the basis for general decisions.” Example: “Can we use milk and cookies instead of wine and bread for Holy Communion?” No. “Ah, but what if we were on a desert island that, for reasons we won’t get into now, had only milk and cookies available? And we needed to celebrate communion?” Well, possibly. “Ah! So, it is okay? Well, let’s do it!” No. You are not currently on a desert island with only milk and cookies. Get some wine and bread. Same thing applies to us in giving ourselves away. “What if someone abuses your generosity? Just to be safe, shouldn’t we be stingy?” Someone is going to abuse our generosity, and we will deal with that individually when it arises, and continue being generous. We may need to point that person to a different kind of help, and we cannot force them to accept it.

Being Christians means sharing the faith in words and deeds, being neither aggressors nor doormats. We keep giving ourselves away and feeding the hungry. The faith we experience in this intimate meal with Jesus is no less than Jesus’ political/economic response to the cries of his people, and no less than Jesus’ cosmic response to sin, death, and the powers of this world, and through these responses Jesus saves you. And Jesus calls us to respond as he does. That response takes the form of loving actions that give us away and feed the hungry, and of words that proclaim Christ while we do it. And it’s weird, and it can be hard, because we don’t get to beat people with Jesus but we also don’t get to let people abuse us. But, it works.

It only works because of Christ, though. It only works because Christ keeps giving himself away and feeding the hungry. It only works because the story Luke tells today keeps happening. We gather with Jesus, hear words written about him and spoken of him, and then he shows up and acts out what the Spirit spoke of him through books and people, and gives himself away, feeding us and assuring us that he claims us as his own. And then he sends us to do the same, which we can do because he keeps giving himself away.