The Journey of Faith – April 6, 2008
Ezekiel 33:23-33, Luke 24:13-35
April 6, 2008
As you may know, when I was in Seminary, I came to this Church every Sunday. Maybe you saw me. I was driving a white VW Beetle. (Anybody remember?) It was 1978, and I was giving a ride to a classmate who didn’t have a car. His name was David Perkins. It’s amazing to me that no one here seems to remember David Perkins! Dave was a guy you couldn’t forget!
Well, after I dropped him off each Sunday morning, I went to the church I was serving as a student pastor, the Macalestor-Torresdale Presbyterian Church. It’s still there, just a few miles down the road off on Morrell Avenue
I remember at one time that year, Al discovered a statement he liked very much, and he used it often. I think he even had some posters made of it that he put up around the Church. The statement said, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” Did you ever hear that one? “ Life is a journey, not a destination.”
The idea was that we should be living this life with the attitude that we are always moving forward. We shouldn’t think we’re arrived at one place in this life and just stop and move no more. All of our lives, in fact, can be seen as a journey, and there’s always more of the journey ahead of us. Well, I’ve thought of that saying many times since then. And I think it’s true. Life is a journey. No matter where you are in this life, you can look back over the long journey of your past, and you can look ahead and see that there’s still more of the journey ahead.
A while ago I was watching a video of the Eddington Centennial celebration. And in that video, one of your former pastors read a quote from one of my favorite authors, J. R. R. Tolkien. (John Ronald Reuel Tolkien!) Immediately, I remembered the words as those of the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins in “The Lord of the Rings.”
The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.
Life is a journey. The road goes ever on and on. And it is a journey which we take with other people, isn’t it? It seems so natural to travel the long road of life together. In fact, I believe that God “wired us” to be on this journey with each other. And I believe he wired us to be on this journey with him. Many times I’ve heard the life of faith referred to as the “Christian Walk.” “How are you doing on your Christian Walk?” one might ask. And I think that’s a great metaphor. Because life is a journey!
Well, with all that in mind, let me remind us that today’s story is one that took place on a journey. And it was a journey, not just in terms of distance traveled, but in growth in the “life journey” of these disciples. And as we remember this story, I’d like us to think about our own journey of faith. Where are we on that road?
This was not a very long journey. It was around 7 miles, it says, from Jerusalem to Emmaus. That’s something like a two hour walk, maybe a bit more. But a lot happened in those two hours. And I think it is wonderful how God causes this story to unfold! And I think there’s no doubt he did!
I once heard it said that these two travelers didn’t recognize Jesus at first because they were “so overcome with grief and sorrow.” Isn’t it amazing how people are so quick to “explain away” the supernatural? I find it amusing – and sad at the same time. Because the non-recognition here of Jesus is what makes this such a great story! These men were prevented from recognizing him. There’s no question of that in this text. They were prevented from recognizing him so that he could teach them. But more than that, they were prevented from recognizing him so that he could touch their hearts. And that certainly was a result of this journey!
If you remember, I talked last week a little bit about the difference between teaching the head, and touching the heart. I talked about the difference between convincing and exhorting. But one thing I didn’t want to do was to imply that it’s either one or the other. Our minds and our emotions work together. Our heads and our hearts work in “tandem.” The question is, which is the “Captain,” and which is the “Stoker?” That’s what the two people on a tandem bicycle are called. Did you know that? The captain is in the front, and the stoker is in the back.
So which is it with our head and our heart? Who steers, and who give the power in our lives of faith? The answer to that is, it’s sometimes hard to say. It’s not always certain to me whether God inspires the mind first and from there touches the heart, or if it’s the other way around.
I do know one thing, though. Throughout the Bible, God is the God of the dramatic! He’s the God of the great flood, the burning bush, the Passover, and the Red Sea. He’s the God of the Lions’ Den and the Fiery Furnace. He’s the God of Esther and Jonah, and the visions of Ezekiel and Daniel. He’s the God who shakes people up, and stirs them out of their complacency into lives of great service. And now he’s the God of the greatest drama of all, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ!
No matter how it happens, God both inspires the mind and touches the heart. And any of you who are teachers know that both of those things are essential for learning. God teaches the mind and so inspires us to know him better. And he touches the heart, and so moves us in the depth of our soul to shake us, to stir us to action, and to have us remember the joy of life with him.
That’s what Jesus did here on the road. He used this brief journey to help these travelers on their life’s journey. He taught them some things. He opened to them the scriptures. He explained to them his life and purpose through the Law and the Prophets. He raised their understanding and peaked their interest. And he made them want to know more. Do we ever feel that way about these stories? Do we hear them and want to know more?
Well, there was more. Jesus acted as though he was going further on that road. And the disciples compelled him to stay with them. Why? Because it was getting late, because it was time to rest, and because it wasn’t safe to travel further on that or any road in the dark. Yes, sort of! They really wanted him to stay because they wanted to hear more.
Then in what can only be described as a dramatic moment, Jesus broke the bread, he caused them to recognize who he was, and vanished. There was no “teaching” there, was there? This was not a “learning opportunity.” This wasn’t instruction for the mind. This was pure drama intended to touch the heart! And at that moment, they realize that both had happened. Yes, he had taught them on the road. He had raised their understanding. But they realized at the same time he had touched their hearts. “Didn’t our hearts burned within us?” they asked, “While he opened to us the scriptures!”
Their minds were “informed,” and their hearts were aflame and they rose right away and went back to Jerusalem. Again, that was not a safe thing to do in the dark! But it didn’t matter. They were excited! And they couldn’t wait to go and tell. And I ask you, are we ever that excited about our faith? If not, why not? Something has to inspire that excitement, doesn’t it? And it’s not always something dramatic. Sometimes it’s subtle.
There’s the story of a man named Clive who boarded a train in London with very agnostic, very ambivalent feelings towards God. But something happened on that train, something he couldn’t explain. He didn’t know where along the route it happened. But when he reached his destination, he knew he had become a disciple of Jesus Christ. It was subtle, but powerful. He was a man of great learning, but now his heart was won. By the way, his full name was Clive Staples – Lewis.
I believe in this life of faith that we need to look to God for that inspiration both in our minds and in our hearts. Remember, the word “inspire” literally means “to have the spirit inside.” And that produces another thing in us which is also a very “theological” word. That is the word “enthusiasm.” That word literally means to have God – Theus – within us. And when we have God in us, it should engender en-thus-iasm!
As we close today, thinking of the interplay between our heads and our hearts, I want us to think about two words. The are the words “Order” and “Ardor.” They’re easy to remember because they sound alike – Order and Ardor.”
The first word “order” we know. In fact, we Presbyterians are real big on “order.” It’s almost as much a part of our collective persona as the word “Predestination!” (But don’t worry, we won’t go into that one today!) We take our cue from Paul in I Corinthians 14, where he’s talking about some seemingly “un-Presbyterian” things. He says, “So, my brethren, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues…” We think of those things as being more “Pentecostal.” “but” he says, “all things should be done decently and in order.” And we Presbyterians have always been big on order.
Now, the word “Ardor” is almost the antithesis of that. It means “unbridled enthusiasm.” “Ardor” is akin to the word “zeal,” and the word “fervor.” Ardor is an excitement that cannot be contained. It is an aliveness, and a passion and I believe should be just as much a part of our faith as “order.” I’ve heard it said, and I think it’s true, that with the “Order” of our faith, should come a healthy balance of “Ardor.” Along the journey of life, there should be a mix of “orderliness” and this “unbridled enthusiasm.” We Presbyterians have the “order” part down. We just need to add the “ardor!”
So I ask you, as you go along in your journey of faith, do you feel a balance between the learning of the mind and the inspiration of the heart? Does your “Christian walk” have in it both order and ardor? Do you have in your faith a measure of sense and reason, as well as unbridled enthusiasm?
Eternal God, help us to know you better all the time. Inspire our hearts, excite our minds, fill us with the joyful enthusiasm that is part of the life of faith. Shake us out of our complacency, stir us to action. Kindle within us the flame of your spirit, your love, and your amazing grace. For we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.