Saturday, 17 February 2018

God is Stranger

I don’t know what its like in your house, but meals are pretty important in our house.  We have 5 boys ranging from 4 to 18 so we go through a lot of food on a weekly basis.  

In our house meals take place around our kitchen table.

But we don’t just eat around our table, we make memories.

Recently we celebrated by oldest son, James, 18th birthday around that table.  My parents and my sister came around and my sons new girlfriend sat around our table for the first, and I suspect not the last time.

I’ve written application forms for jobs on that table, we’ve organised our finances around that table.  Pictures have been drawn on that table, inventions have been created, sermons have been written, important conversations have taken place, big decisions have been made.

We have laughed, we have cried, we have argued, we have debated, and we have prayed, at times, some desperate prayers around our kitchen table.

Most of all we have welcomed strangers around our table.  Relationships have been made that have lasted for years.

The table, and the meals we enjoy are so much more than wood and food – lasting memories have been made, relationships have been formed and we hope, we have come to see Jesus a little more clearly as a result of those meals.

Meals are important in the book of Luke.  Tim Chester says in his book A Meal with Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community and Mission around the Table: ‘In Luke’s Gospel Jesus is either going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal.’

And that’s what we have in Luke 24 - we have three strangers gathered around a table, sharing food.  Two of them, Cleopas and his friend, start the meal broken and blind but leave with bursting and burning hearts.

Firstly we notice that two on the road to Emmaus were broken, Their dreams have been completely shattered.  Notice their disappointment in v 22 ‘But we had hoped that He was the one to redeem Israel.’  

How often do we have our hopes disappointed? 

Maybe like these disciples you’ve invested everything into a relationship only to be let down badly.

Maybe a job hasn’t worked out, maybe a church has let you down, maybe you have a dark secret you’ve never told anyone – whatever it is you feel broken.

Maybe you prayed for healing but your prayer wasn’t answered in the way you wanted.

Maybe you’ve begged Jesus to show up in your own ‘Road to Emmaus’ – a place of brokenness and disappointment but He never showed up.

Perhaps you’ve experienced a time when you were sure God was going to come through but in the end, He didn’t, at least in the way you wanted Him to show up.

As Krish Kandia says;

‘Sometimes it’s easier to believe in a God who never heals than to believe in one that does but won’t. Sometimes it’s easier to believe in a God who doesn’t intervene than to believe in one that does but hasn’t.  Sometimes its easier not to raise our expectations because there is less distance to fall when it all goes wrong.  Sometimes it is just easier to go home, shut the door and forget all about the God who has gone elusive on us, all the promises that evaporated.’

These disciples has seen their hopes dashed.  Their hero was dead.  They were hopeless, broken and alone, except for a stranger who had turned up uninvited.  

Image result for the road to emmaus

Secondly, as well as being broken, we also see that the disciples were blind.

Isn’t it amazing that in all their brokenness, when Jesus himself drew near in v 15 we are told that ‘their eyes were kept from recognising him’.

The incredible thing about the disciples on the Road to Emmaus is that Jesus was there all the time, walking with them but they couldn't see him.

Isn't that our own experience?  Often when God feels like a stranger, that is when He is nearest.

Remember in Gen 16 how the Lord met Hagar in the desert.  He approaches as a stranger when she was in desperate need with nobody to turn to.  Eventually Hagar called the well ‘Beer-lahai-roi’ – ‘the well of the living one who sees me’.  As a slave she had been invisible but the Lord sees her for who she is – He then gives her hope and a promise.

Remember in Genesis 18 when Abraham was camped at the ‘oaks of Mamre?’  Three strangers turned up and Abraham offered them hospitality.  Eventually one of them tells him that he will be back in a year by which time he will have a son. It was what theologians call a Christophany.

It also happened to Jacob, Gideon and to Daniels three friends in the furnace.  God turns up unannounced and (at least initially) unrecognised.

Why does God sometimes do this?  Why doesn’t he just appear and reveal himself and explain exactly what is happening?  Could it be that God sometimes wants us to wrestle with some tough questions about who He really is?  Isn't this why Jesus probes them rather than immediately offering them comfort?

We see this in Gen 28 when Jacob has a dream and suddenly awakes and says: ‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.’

Could it be that like these disciples we are so close to Christ yet miss him entirely?

Jesus is striking at the heart of the problem for so many of his disciples.

These disciples were familiar with the Old Testament Scriptures but had failed to understand the central message that Christ, the Messiah would die and be raised to life.

So much of the Christian church uses the Bible like some kind of text book but fails to understand its central message, the good news of Jesus for the stranger, the outcast and the marginalised.

As Kirsh Kandiah says; ‘it is possible to love the Bible but miss its message. It is possible to know the Scriptures but miss the Saviour.  Jesus points out to both the disciples and Pharisees alike that taking the Bible seriously should help us recognise Jesus in the stranger.’

We are never more Christ like than when we show love to a hungry, thirsty and underfed stranger.  Of course they need so much more than love - they need the gospel, but in showing love we point them to Jesus who alone can save them.

The big question for all of us is ‘have we seen Jesus?’  Do we see him as a great prophet or do we see him a Saviour and redeemer?

The disciples were hungry for more systematic Bible study, so they compel this stranger to stay with them and share a meal.  Is is the simple act of hospitality that they start to see Jesus clearly.

Thirdly and lastly we see disciples with burning hearts.

Given the priority of meals in the Gospel of Luke, it is not surprising that Jesus makes himself known through a shared meal.

Jesus takes the bread and breaks it and suddenly the two hosts recognised Jesus for who he truly is.  Some commentators wonder of the two friends looked at Jesus' hands as he broke the bread and saw the marks of the nails.  We can't say for sure but the brokenness and blindness is gone and instead we read in v 32: ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked with us on the road, ‘while he opened to us the Scriptures.’

Jesus had been there all along but they were so broken and blind they couldn’t recognise him.

Suddenly the Bible makes sense as Cleopas and his friend see the Old Testament through the mission and identity of Jesus Christ.

Jesus used meals to be socially disruptive – he knew that eating with outcasts, and the marginalised was a way of demonstrating social acceptance – table fellowship.  Eating in Jesus time was highly stratified – Jews wouldn’t eat with Gentiles, there were all sorts of Levitical food laws.  

As Tim Chester says ‘…meals expressed who were the insiders and outsiders.  Jesus turns all this…inside out.  Outsiders become insiders around the table with Jesus.’

Again, and again Jesus teaches that our welcome of others is the litmus test of our relationship with God.   How do we respond to the stranger who is hungry, homeless, thirsty, in prison, homeless, isolated, penniless and hopeless?

How do we respond to the sinner who, like the Prodigal Son, makes choices we don’t agree with?  Do we show them love and compassion as they seek refuge?  Or do we sulk in the garden and bring shame on our father?

You see it was as these disciples sought to bless a stranger that they were blessed.

This is what characterised the early church: ‘They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and to fellowship. To the braking of bread and to prayer…And all who believed were together and had all things in common’ Acts 2 v 42

What changed the world in the first century was the good news of the gospel coupled with reckless, revolutionary hospitality and love of the stranger.

This is what God calls us to today.  Our world is more divided that ever before.  The time is ripe for us to respond to God’s call to show radical hospitality and show people Jesus through the simple sharing of food of very ordinary tables.

When we do this, we see a glimpse of a future worth longing for, where there will be no more strangers.  Heaven, will be the great weeding feast, when everyone will finally be equal and where we will all see Jesus clearly.  

As Krish Kandiah says; ‘The hospitality we show now. Sharing our lives with the needy, gives the world an enticing taste of what is to come.’

That is one table I am looking forward to sitting at.