An Unexpected Journey – August 2, 2020
Exodus 12.1-5, Luke 24:13-35
August 2, 2020
The title for this sermon, “An Unexpected Journey,” is what came to mind as I thought about this morning’s story of the Road to Emmaus. Now, some of you – and you know who you are – might be thinking I borrowed that phrase from J. R. Tolkien, and that it came from the first book of “The Lord of the Rings” series, called “The Hobbit.”
Well, hard-core Tolkien fans would tell us, that’s not exactly true. “An Unexpected Journey” is not the subtitle Tolkien gave for “The Hobbit.” If you’re watching live, I’ll let you comment if you know what Tolkien’s subtitle actually was. While you’re doing that, I’ll just remind you all that “The Hobbit” was the story of the Bilbo Baggins and his travels, that were “unexpected.” And the first chapter of that story was entitled “An Unexpected Party.” But “An Unexpected Journey” is not the subtitle Tolkien gave that book. (What was it? “There and Back Again.”) “An Unexpected Journey” is the subtitle that Peter Jackson gave his first movie, of the three he made, based on that book, “The Hobbit.” So, the first movie was entitled “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.”
Now I’m sure you Tolkien fans are glad that I cleared all of that up. But it was Peter Jackson’s subtitle that came to mind. And it was a good description of Tolkien’s story, because Bilbo’s journey was very unexpected. As Tolkien described him, he was settled down, and was quite content to live quietly in his little corner of the world, until the day the wizard Gandalf knocked on his door.
Well, I thought of all of that because I think these two travelers on the road to Emmaus also took “An Unexpected Journey.” For one thing, they took an unexpected “physical” journey! They expected to arrive back in Emmaus, which was to be the end of their journey. It was very likely that Emmaus was their home. They were probably among the many pilgrims who came to Jerusalem each year for the Passover. All good Jews hoped to celebrate the Passover at least once in their lifetime in Jerusalem, their ‘Holy City.” And those who lived close enough did so as often as they could. So, Jerusalem became a very busy place during the Passover!
Some historians have said that Jerusalem became one of the most populous cities on earth at that time of year. One historian suggested that many people built makeshift shelters on the roofs of their houses to accommodate the great number of visitors that came to the city during that time. And it was suggested that Jesus and his disciples may have shared their last meal in one of these, as their “Upper Room.” That’s an interesting thought!
So, these two travelers, Cleopas and his unnamed friend were returning from their time in Jerusalem, and they expected to resume their normal lives, much like we do after a vacation. But their “journey” wasn’t over. After what happened that day and that night, they rose immediately and went back to Jerusalem to tell the others what had happened to them on the road. (Actually, it was the next day, because the day for the Jewish people begins, when? At sundown!)
So that was an unexpected journey. And I was thinking that another way this was for them “An Unexpected Journey,” was what happened to them when they met this traveler along the road. It was an unexpected encounter, and it changed everything for them! It took their feelings about what had been happening in a while new direction!
I love this story! Jesus meets these two travelers on the road, but they don’t recognize him. Some have tried to say that they were so “grief stricken” that they couldn’t see clearly and recognize Jesus. But I think there was something supernatural going on here. Jesus kept them from recognizing him – deliberately. And this “incognito Jesus” asks them what they were discussing and why they look the way they do. They obviously looked distressed in some way. Luke tells us, “They stood there looking sad.” And so, they told him what happened while they were in Jerusalem.
Jesus listens, and then he says to them, “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” Then he goes on to explain everything about himself in the scriptures. And they still don’t know who this is! So they arrive in Emmaus, and Jesus acts like he’s going farther, and they compel him to stay. And as he is dining with them, he breaks the bread, “And their eyes were opened and they recognized him,” and then he vanishes!
One of the things I’ve often said, particularly about this story, it is that God has a great “flair for the dramatic.” Think about the great dramatic stories in the Bible! Think about the Exodus. Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, until the Passover event, then he changed his mind and let the People go. But then he changed his mind again and sent his chariots after them, and that led to the great defeat at the sea.
What a dramatic story that was! And ever since that time, the Jewish people have looked to that event as the focus of their history! They say about that event, that the Lord led them out of Egypt “With a mighty hand and an outstretched arm!” We read “The Song of Moses” from that story last week. “The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.”
As I said, God has a great “flair for the dramatic.” And I believe one of the reasons for that is that he doesn’t want just to reach our minds, he wants to touch our hearts! And these stories do that! And this one for today does that, too! Think about that. Learning is never just about our minds! If you’ve ever had a passion for learning something, that’s about the heart, isn’t it? Learning isn’t just in our heads. I love what these men said later about their encounter with Jesus on that road. It wasn’t, “Boy we learned a lot!” It was, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he spoke to us on the road.”
So, these two men found themselves on an “unexpected journey” – in a number of ways. In fact, all of Jerusalem was now on an unexpected journey. As these travelers said to the incognito Jesus, “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel!” That was a promising road they were all on. Now, that was all over. All that hope was lost! Now, they were all adrift on a new road, and they didn’t know where that road was going!
Maybe that’s been your experience, too. Maybe you’ve been on an unexpected journey in your life. Think about that. Is where you are in your life right now, where you expected to be at this point? Or are you in a place that’s much different than you were planning? Or maybe you’ve had times where things are going along pretty much like you’d expected, and then your life took an unexpected turn – and unexpected journey. Maybe you’re like Bilbo Baggins. Maybe you’re like Abraham. I was thinking this week he was a lot like Bilbo. He had settled down and was quite content to live his life in his little corner of the world, until that day God knocked on his door…
This whole time of quarantine is an unexpected journey. Isn’t it? “Who knew?” is the oft repeated question in these times. “Who knew we would ever experience anything like this? And how long will this go on? “This is not how we expected life to go!” one frustrated person said. And when we’ve been down a road we weren’t expecting personally, we may have asked that same questions. “Who knew?” And the question we asked last week. “How long, O Lord?”
We never know when we might take an unexpected journey. But one thing we can know – and I think we need to remember this every day – we can know that God is with us on the journey, just like Jesus was on that road with these two travelers. As I think of all that, I’m reminded of those words from Joshua 1:9, that are taped to my desk. “The Lord, your God is with you wherever you go.” Our lives are a journey. Some are long journeys! Some are not so long. They take us on twists and turns. Sometimes they hit dead ends, and we have to make U-turns and start again. Sometimes we feel like we’re stuck in a traffic circle, going around and round, and we can’t seem to find our way out. But no matter where life takes us, Joshua was right, the Lord our God is with us, wherever we go!
And we never know when and how we’re going to encounter him! I was thinking that’s one more thing about this story. The “Unexpected” part of this story is the “unexpected encounter” with Jesus. Who could have imagined it happening like that! And I wonder how often that may have happened since. How often have we had “unexpected encounters with Jesus?”
Maybe that’s just a matter of “seeing Jesus in others.” He said himself, “Whatever you done unto the least of these, my brethren, you have done it to me.” And there’s a sense that we do “see Jesus” in others, especially in “the least of these.” And when we have the opportunity to serve others, it is an opportunity to serve him.
But I wonder if it’s more. I wonder if we’ve ever encountered an incognito Jesus. Maybe we’ve met him along our road somewhere, and he’s tried to teach us something, and we never reached that moment of recognition.
I think Paul picked up on that idea when he wrote at the end of his letter to the Hebrews, “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
That’s an interesting concept. Does God sometimes put angels in our lives as an opportunity to see better his kingdom, to learn to love as he loved, and to serve others as he would have us serve? And do we even encounter Jesus, at times and in ways we least expect? And when we do, are our eyes kept from seeing him because we are so preoccupied with the things of this world, and the worries of this life, and even by the stress of journeys unexpected?
It is my prayer that we continue to develop a deeper awareness of God in the world around us. Every day may we see better his hand in creation. May we see him in the lives of those around us, and especially in the “least of these.” May we be more open to Jesus meeting us on this journey of life, no matter where that road may be taking us. May we feel him guiding and directing us, and being our traveling companion, no matter how unexpected the journey. And may our hearts burn within us, as we feel his touch on our lives, too.
Eternal God, we thank you that you are with us wherever we go. Help us to know your presence with us. Help us to listen as you lead. Help us to see opportunities to serve others, and to show the love of Jesus, as we seek to be his people wherever he calls us. For we pray in his name, Amen.