Preached by Rev. Gary Dalton, April 30, 2017
Scripture: Luke 24:13-35
Let’s take a moment to look at today’s sermon title printed in the bulletin. This is going to be kind of like a Rorschach Test. What do you see in that sermon title? Does that mean anything to anyone here this morning? Anything?
It’s the license plate number off a pickup truck I followed one day out of Charlottesville on my way home. I was driving east on Route 250 and came up behind this truck at the last traffic light heading out of town.
The sermon title is what was on the driver’s license plate. It’s a vanity plate, of course. Maybe the driver’s last name? Hah-duck? Haddok? I don’t know, maybe the guy’s from Norwegians or some such people and it’s the family name?
I don’t know the driver; never had seen him before that day at the stoplight, and I’ve never seen him or his truck since around here. But, the moment I saw the license plate, I knew the driver. If the owner of this truck just happens to be listening by radio this morning, you can let me know if I’m right or if I’m wrong.
I’m pretty sure that this vanity plate is pronounced “Hayduke”, as in George Washington Hayduke III. Hayduke is a character out of a novel by Edward Abbey. Abbey’s novel is entitled “ The Monkey Wrench Gang,” which Abbey later followed with the sequel, “Hayduke Lives!”
Abbey’s character, George Hayduke, is a ex-Green Beret, Vietnam vet. His speciality in Vietnam was explosives. He comes home embittered and scarred by his war experience; he retreats into the wilderness of the American Southwest. That’s where we meet him.
Hayduke emerges from the wilderness to join up with an odd collection of other individuals to form what they will call, “the Monkey Wrench Gang”. The members of the Monkey Wrench Gang are not really environmentalists, so much as they’re just anti-development. They’re especially aggravated over the damming up of the Colorado River.
So, the Monkey Wrench Gang proceeds to sabotage, vandalize, and generally harass any developer who attempts to start a project in the southwest desert lands. Hayduke, ever true to his explosives training, is constantly brandishing sticks of dynamite, always wanting to blow up something: bull dozers, construction shacks and whatever else his fellow gang members will let him blow up. He really wants to blow up one of the dams on the Colorado River, but they won’t let him do that.
I enjoyed reading both “The Monkey Wrench Gang” and its sequel “Hayduke Lives!”, but not enough to go put vanity plates on my truck about it. But, this guy in front of me at the stoplight, he’s got a major commitment to the life of George Washington Hayduke III.
As I said, I’ve never met the guy. I would guess that most people pulling up behind him, would kind of scratch their heads, take a shot at pronouncing what they saw there on his license plate, and just assume it’s an odd, last name on a vanity plate.
But, having read these books by Edward Abbey I think I could do a fair job of describing him and his values he’s identified with so strongly that he puts it out there like a coded message on his truck for other like-minded people.
That is a lot like what our Gospel reading dramatizes for us today. There’s a context—a large body of writings, the Hebrew Bible—and then comes a coded message that ties it all together for these two friends from Emmaus.
They’re traveling home, when they encounter a stranger on the road. They know nothing at all about this guy. As Luke describes in verse 27, the stranger reminds them about writings of Moses and the prophets. Then, he conveys a kind of coded message. He takes bread they’ve offered him, he gives thanks for it, he breaks it and gives it to them. It speaks volumes to them.
A loaf of bread: as common and as ordinary an object for them, as a license plate on a truck is for us. But, for these two travelers from Emmaus, when they see this stranger take up that loaf of bread, it’s suddenly not just a loaf of bread.
The breaking of the bread signifies something in the light of those Scriptures; it represents, it announces, the most unexpected thing, Jesus of Nazareth…Lives! And, in fact, it is Jesus of Nazareth himself, the Resurrected Christ, who breaks bread with them. Something about that summed up for them what their Teacher was all about.
Now, in fact, this whole walk to Emmaus is a brief re-enactment of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus, the stranger, the rabbi, traveled from village to village on his way to Jerusalem. As he encountered people along the way Jesus would open to them the Word of God.
As Jesus did that traveling and teaching, something would ignite within the hearts of his listeners, a new life would erupt from deep within their souls, and they would see this traveling rabbi as something more. Dare they believe? Dare they commit themselves to this Teacher? Dare they allow themselves the hope that this is the One to redeem Israel?
Cleopas says as much in verse 21, But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. They had hoped.
On this his Resurrection Day, Jesus once again puts on his teaching mantle. He starts off with a bit of rebuke that I find a little surprising; the circumstances being what they were, I sure wouldn’t have expected these two or any of the rest to do other than what they are doing: shaking their heads, coping with shock and horror and grief so profound one wonders how they manage to get up and go on with their lives at all!
But, of course, we’ve got to extend to Jesus a little understanding, too. Afterall, he’s the one who just got crucified, so he’s had a rough few days! In my personal theology, I think the crucifixion came as something of a shock for Jesus as much as it did for his followers.
I don’t think Jesus himself knew exactly what God was going to do next on that past Thursday night. Jesus only knew to preach and teach and live the Gospel: the kingdom of God had come. It was a Gospel that gathered all who would come to share around God’s table. Through Jesus himself, through his flesh-and-blood life, he was forming a new body, a new Israel, a new covenant people of God.
That previous Thursday night at dinner, he had told them, “This cup [of wine] which is poured out for you [represents] the new covenant in my blood [in my very life force].”
In his very person, through his obedient testimony, God was now establishing God’s kingdom community of love on this good earth, around Jesus.
The problem was, there already were plenty of kingdoms firmly in place, who were presently running the show. Their kingdoms simply didn’t allow room for yet another kingdom to come set up shop, not even the kingdom of God. So, all the powers that be: ecclesiastical and political and imperial, combined their collective self-interest and killed Jesus. Plain and simple.
Jesus went through with it all, saying to God, “I don’t get it. But, I see where all this is headed, and if this is what you want, so be it.” That’s a rough paraphrase of Jesus’ prayer, Garden of Gethsemane, Luke chapter 22, verse 42: Father, if thou are willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.
Not what he wants, says Jesus, but he goes on obedient to God to the bitter end and gasps out his last mortal breath, Luke chapter 23, verse 46: Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!, and then he dies.
Lo and behold! On the third morning, God vindicates and validates Jesus’ faith and obedience. Jesus awakes to discover, he is the Resurrected Christ. If we’d gone through all that, we’d be a bit impatient, too, to get that group of disciples roused back up out of their despair and get on with the work at hand!
In resurrecting Jesus, God says: this is how the kingdom of God gets done. You gather all who will come to my table and you break bread with them, which means, of course, the folks who’ve got the bread share it with the folks who have no bread, so that everybody gets something to eat.
We focus on the cross, we focus on the empty tomb, but what does Jesus focus on? The bread.
Throughout his ministry, Jesus uses bread. Luke chapter 9, verses 10 – 17, Jesus acts out that truth in the feeding of the 5,000. Jesus receives five loaves and two fish, blesses it and feeds those thousands. And all ate and were satisfied, Luke writes. And they [i.e., the twelve apostles] took up what was left over, twelve baskets of broken pieces, Luke tells us.
Which was Jesus’ way of saying to each of those Twelve apostles: here, each of you get a basket of bread to hold: hold it! Feel the weight of it! Remember this! This is the kingdom at work. Food that feeds the hungry; food enough for all with plenty left over, when you first thought there was not anywhere enough to even get started feeding this crowd.
On God’s earth and under God’s kingdom-rule, there is plenty enough for all with more than enough left over. The bread signified the kingdom of God’s abundance and care. But on earth ruled by human rulers in their own self-interests, there is scarcity with little left to be distributed.
The feast of the unleavened bread, the eve of his arrest, Luke tells us, Jesus again breaks the bread and passes it to each of them so they each have a piece of bread; he passes the common cup of wine so each can have a sip. Jesus says, this is my body which is given for you….this is my blood which is poured out for you. Jesus is saying to them, and to us: this is my life…if you receive my life, it now becomes your life, too.
“My way of life is now your way of life. My witness of God’s community of love now come on this earth is now your witness of God’s community of love now come on this earth. Live it! Jesus tells them. Live it, even if the powers that be don’t like it. Because I warn you, they will not like it at all. Live it, even at risk of life and limb, if you must!
Jesus gives them the bread, he gives them the cup, and he warns them: “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘the servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you.” (John 15:20)
The stranger who meets these two along the way, assumes the role of Teacher once again. They welcome him into their home. They welcome him to their table. They offer him their bread, and he assumes the role of Host, blesses the bread and returns it to them. Now, they get it.
The burning which smoldered now bursts into flame. Now, they become the ones who are impatient. Even now, in this late evening hour, they must rush back to find the others still hiding away in Jerusalem. They return to discover heir fellow followers are already well on their way to waking up to the truth.
Verses 34 – 35: The Lord has risen indeed and has appeared to Simon! Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread. “Oh, my goodness, how could we not see that!” perhaps they said to one another.
When I went out to California to get my year of training as a furniture maker, I rented a room from a couple named Meg and Kevin. Over the first few weeks, we had few meals together there in their kitchen to get acquainted with each other. They told me about a class they were just about to finish up in Japanese calligraphy.
There was a retired Japanese man named Shozo Sato who lived just north of town. He taught flower arranging and calligraphy and did some pottery and so forth. I thought, well, that’s all very nice. As they were winding up their class with Mr. Sato, Meg and Kevin wanted to show their appreciation by hosting a dinner for him and his wife. They invited me to come to the dinner, too.
It was a nice, quiet meal there in their dining room; just the five of us: Meg and Kevin, Mr. Sato and his wife, and me. The food was good, the conversation was pleasant, and then that was that. The Sato’s went home, I helped Meg and Kevin clean up and then I went to my room. A nice evening.
It was only a few months later that I learned that this pleasant retired Japanese man was actually Dr. Shozo Sato. If you were to go on-line and google Shozo Sato, you would read something like this:
“Shozo Sato [is] an internationally renowned Japanese master of Zen arts and [a] visionary theatre director, most known for adapting Western classics to Japanese Kabuki theatre.” *
Yada, yada, yada…then here comes the kicker: In 2004, the Emperor of Japan awarded Shozo Sato with “The Japanese Order of the Sacred Treasure”, which is somewhere along the lines of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and getting knighted by the Queen, all rolled up in one. That’s who I had that quiet intimate dinner with that night!
When I learned that, all I could do is smack myself in the forehead: “think! think! what did I say?! what did I talk about?! how many ways did I embarrass myself and bring shame on the family name?!” Honestly, I have no clue.
I didn’t understand with whom I was breaking bread. I couldn’t appreciate the significance of who this was before me. So, I can guess a little at what these two folks from Emmaus felt like when they finally figured out with whom they shared this meal. Too often, I do the very same thing at the Lord’s table.
Regularly, we share this meal we call, the Lord’s Supper. Do we see who is at table with us? To our detriment, I believe—we have isolated this meal, as a look back, to one specific night long ago in Jesus’ life. We have assigned it one specific meaning, it’s a kind blood sacrifice so God can forgive my sins so when I die I get to go to heaven.
To assign only that narrow meaning to this Lord’s Supper, I think is like me seeing Mr. Sato as just a nice retired Japanese man who happens to teach calligraphy classes in a studio out behind his house.
The bread and the cup:
the meaning of the Kingdom of God among us on earth, is in this meal;
the reasons why the kingdoms of this earth joined up to kill Jesus, are in this meal;
the way of doing church in this world among these kingdoms of the world is in this meal.
In the breaking of the bread, whenever we do it, may God grant the Spirit of the Living Christ, to rouse us up out of our stupor, so we will leave this room, to call others with this good news: The Lord has risen indeed! The kingdom of God has now come among us!