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Monday, April 20, 2015

A Story Worth Remembering

Scripture: John 10:11-18

Preached 04/19/2015

She met the risen Christ at a cramped kitchen table in North Carolina. Miss Willa Mae Mashburn’s kitchen table, to be exact.  Chelsey, along the seven others on the work crew, had traveled to Miss Mashburn’s home to install a wheelchair ramp on what had been a sagging and dangerous porch.  Before Chelsey and the others began their journey from St. Louis to North Carolina, they had been given loads of instructions on ways to avoid imposing on the woman they were going to serve.  Bring your own food, eat under a tree, use a porta-potty to avoid running up the water bill, don’t create more of a mess than you can clean up. And so on.

So on that first day, when Chelsey and the others were a mess of dirt, sweat, paint, and sawdust from their work on the porch, and full to the brim of those instructions to avoid imposing, they weren’t quite sure how to respond when Miss Mashburn invited them in for a lunch she had cooked for them all. So, they said yes. And all of them- that’s nine including Miss Mashburn, gathered around a small kitchen table in the middle of a tiny kitchen, rubbing elbows, spreading dirt, and listening to the stories Miss Mashburn had to tell.

And she was full of stories. She told them how her husband had built the home with his own hands, and how it once bustled full of children, friends, and nearly burst at the seams with love. About the day they installed indoor plumbing, long after the four children had been born. She told them about the interesting patchwork of repairs they saw on the porch, and how they’d kept it going, though sagging to one side, for years. Now, with her children far away and her husband deceased, Miss Mashburn found it hard to keep up with the maintenance of the home. Mr. Mashburn had always taken care of all that, she said, almost wistfully.

They thought the lunch was over, so they got up to head back to work, but Miss Mashburn sat them right back down. She squeezed behind the chairs to the old, avocado green refrigerator and opened the door, and then produced a cheesecake. She sliced it and served it to them. And in that moment, Chelsey’s eyes were opened, and she recognized the risen Christ at the table with her. She knew it immediately; felt it instantly; recognized it fully. The risen Christ was there. Right there.

It’s a moment that feels almost magical in the scripture reading. All of a sudden, even though they had been hanging out with him a good chunk of the day, the disciples recognize the risen Christ sitting at the table with them. I don’t know about you, but this story- this sudden recognition after the road to Emmaus- always surprises me. It always These were people who knew the living Jesus. Why in the world didn’t they recognize the resurrected one sooner?

I mean, I’d like to think I would have caught on before that bread-breaking moment. You know- “Hey Cleopas, doesn’t that guy look exactly like Jesus except for those crucifixion scars he’s rocking?”  Or maybe “Hi Jesus! Whatcha doing out here? Aren’t you supposed to be in a tomb somewhere?” Or maybe just simply “Hey! You’re not dead! You really got me there!”

And as surprised as I always am, and as confident as I always am about my own Jesus-recognizing ability, I have to admit that there’s also a spooky element to this story. I’ve already said it and I’ll say it again. There were men who knew Jesus. And they didn’t even recognize him, right beside them, right in front of them. So I suppose the question that’s really most interesting for the morning is how did they not see him, but how in the world are we, people born thousands of years after Christ died, how are we ever supposed to recognize the risen Christ?

There’s a part in this story that our Spark Story Bible translation kind of glosses over, and really even Luke’s translation makes it difficult to notice, but it’s crucial for us, so I’m going to go back and read it from the Luke, rather than the Spark text. This comes after Jesus and the disciples have been walking together all day. “28As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.”

He walked ahead as if he were going on, and they urged him to stay with them. It’s a small, quiet moment. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, at first. But that moment is the turning point of the whole story. Without that invitation- given to a man who, even though he was Jesus, was a stranger to them at that point- they never would have known they’d met the risen Christ. This story never would have made it into the gospel, because it would just be some guys walking down the road, and that’s hardly the kind of story you keep going for thousands of years, that’ you’d put in your Gospel, that we’d read and talk about in church so much. Cleopas and the other disciple probably wouldn’t even remember it a few years later, let alone us, thousands of years removed.

But Jesus walked ahead as if he were going on, and they invited him to stay. That must have been quite a moment for Jesus. He was their teacher, after all, and here were his students, who had just stumbled and perhaps failed their “understanding of what Jesus kept telling us about the resurrection” exam. But this- this invitation to stay and break bread with them extended to a stranger- this is the disciples getting it just right.

Because, you remember of course that this is so much of what Jesus did. Yes, breaking bread with others- with sinners, tax-collectors, Pharisees, and prostitutes. Challenging the societal norm of segregating ourselves only to those who look like us, think like us, and have the same amount of money as us. Breaking bread, but also breaking boundaries. Going past that place where you are expected to go, and discovering Christ on the other side.

There’s a scene we can imagine here, that no one ever saw. Miss Mashburn in her kitchen, baking a cheesecake. Stirring up the filling, jiggling it in the oven, lovingly spooning the cherries over the top. She didn’t know Chelsey. She didn’t know any of that crew that was coming to work on her porch. She didn’t owe any of them a thing. All she was expected to do was let them work on her home. And she decided to sit down and have a meal with them. And then she decided to bake them a cheesecake. And because of her loving gesture that went so far beyond what was required of her, Chelsey was able to recognize that the risen Christ was there.

The disciples, even though they knew the living Jesus, didn’t know they knew the resurrected one. They didn’t owe anything to this man, who had just walked up alongside them and honestly been pretty rude to them in their grief and confusion. But they decided to invite him to stay, and to have a meal with them too. And the risen Christ was there, and because of that turning point, that going beyond what they had to do, they were able to recognize that the risen Christ was there.

I would bet that many of you, too have stories about meeting the risen Christ in one way or another- in a hospital room, class room, around a table, or during some kind of mission work. And while those stories are important and I encourage you to share them, what’s even more important is that you keep seeking out more of those stories. Not heard, but experienced, lived. You, inter, ntionally setting out to meet and recognize the risen Christ around you. And while you’re out there looking to meet him, acting like you already know him.

Going that extra step mile, that extra meal, that extra person. Inviting someone different to join you, listening to their story, learning from their wisdom. Extending hospitality far beyond the bare minimum, really welcoming the stranger. It might look like buying the homeless person a meal instead of avoiding their eyes next time you see them. Or maybe sitting down with them at Room at the Inn the next time we host. It might look like delivering food to Isaiah or Feed My People, and even volunteering to stay and help do more. Or having a real conversation- not about the weather or the Cardinals with someone who sits in a different pew- or a neighbor, or a co-worker. It might look like accepting an invitation to join someone, or try something, new. It might look like a cheesecake, lovingly prepared and sliced for people you hardly know.

There isn’t a magic formula for encountering and knowing the risen Christ. Sometimes, the ways you try to go beyond the minimum will indeed make your heart burn with joy in you. And other times, you may struggle to recognize Christ at all, even if he is right with you.

We remember this story of the road to Emmaus because two men went a bit extended an invitation to a stranger. Chelsey remembers her story because she accepted such an invitation. Why will other remember yours? Make it so. Amen.

*Many thanks to Chelsey Hillyer for the story and inspiration for this sermon! All credit for anything related to Miss Mashburn is hers, not my own, and much of the material of the sermon either comes from or is inspired by a sermon she preached*

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