Preparing/Praying for Convention
June 28, 2015
Sometimes when Ryan and I have something to discuss, we like to go on a walk. There’s a little bit of privacy on the road. And the physical movement helps my brain process. So if something really good has happened. Or something bad. Or if we have a decision to make, we might just head out and start walking.
Kind of like this couple in the story we just heard. Many scholars speculate that the second, unnamed traveler in this story was Cleopas’ wife. We know where these two are going, but not why. There are lots of possibilities—maybe Emmaus is home; maybe they just want to get out of Jerusalem because it doesn’t feel safe; maybe there is a big biannual church gathering at the Emmaus Convention Center that week.
Or maybe they just need to walk. They have been through this traumatic event of Jesus’ death, and now some of the women say the tomb is empty and they don’t know what to make of it. So they walk. They walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus, which is 7 miles; much farther than Ryan and I ever walk. Still, the scenario seems familiar. Maybe walking and talking is how they imagine they can begin to process the grief and confusion of the past three days.
Whatever the reason, they are walking. Together. When a stranger joins them. Were they irritated by the intrusion? Or maybe they were happy for the distraction? They were clearly surprised that this stranger did not know about Jesus and the gruesome events of the previous Friday. And so they told him: “Jesus of Nazareth was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people.” And they go through the story.
I imagine what we have in Luke is a summary. After all, they were walking seven miles. That takes awhile. It’s long enough for Cleopas and his companion to tell their story. To put into words the joy and the devastation and the confusion of following Jesus. It helps sometimes, to tell the story; to talk through the emotions.
So they walk and talk with this stranger. And after Jesus hears their story, he provides the biblical and theological commentary. Again, the dialog is much abridged. Apparently Luke didn’t think that the details of the biblical interpretation were all that important. What was important was the three people traveling down the road together.
Now most of you know that our biannual national Mennonite Church USA convention begins on Tuesday. And most of you also know that there is strong disagreement within the Mennonite church about how to include LGBTQ people in our congregations, conferences, and denomination. There are two resolutions coming before the delegates that highlight these disagreements, but the disagreements themselves are not new.
Lots of Mennonites, myself included, have spent a lot of time hashing out the details of the biblical and theological basis of our beliefs about inclusion. We have quoted scripture and examined the Greek terms and expounded upon our theologies of creation, family, sexuality, and church. I’m pretty sure a 7-mile walk wouldn’t give me enough time to say all I have to say on the subject.
But if Luke were writing up this story he’d be like: “And beginning with Genesis and the Prophets and focusing on the life of Christ and the witness of the early church, Joanna explained to them what was said in scripture concerning full inclusion of all people.”
I don’t mean to imply I’m like Jesus. I mean to imply that the details of the biblical interpretation and theology are not that important. Which is hard for me to hear, let alone say. Because biblical theology is what I do. Writing about it is what I’m good at. And that’s fine. But it doesn’t matter that much. If even Jesus’ theology gets squeezed down to a single sentence, I certainly can’t expect mine to merit any more consideration in the grand scheme of things.
It’s not that the biblical theology is not important. It’s just that it’s not the most important. The most important thing is walking together.
There has been a whole lot of attention paid to Bible study and theological discernment and discussion leading up to Kansas City. But what we really need to do is be present together and walk with each other. And I know that is not as easy as it sounds. And I know my heart is just as resistant to being with some people as theirs is resistant to being with me. Frankly, I’m more comfortable expounding the scriptures.
But Luke is more interested in their walking together than the details of their—I’m sure insightful and profound—conversation.
Luke is also interested in what happens when the two travelers reach their destination–they invite the stranger to stay with them. They sit down together for a meal—and that is when they finally recognize Jesus.
Clearly, for Luke, this is the climax of the story. He echoes here the language of the Last Supper: “He took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and began to give it to them.”
Then, says Luke, then their eyes were opened and they recognized him.
That is what it’s all about, right? The journey and the fellowship . . . it’s about helping each other recognize Jesus. And about recognizing Jesus in each other.
My deep prayer for convention is that we will all recognize Jesus’ presence—within us and among us.
- When the delegates talk together at their tables—their eyes will be opened and they will recognize Jesus.
- When youth and adults join in worship–their eyes will be opened and they will recognize Jesus.
- When people sit with strangers during meal time–their eyes will be opened and they will recognize Jesus.
- When Pink Mennos gather to sing hyms–their eyes will be opened and they will recognize Jesus.
We want, we desperately want, to recognize Jesus’ presence among us. And sometimes we do. And that is a deep grace.
But friends, the journey is long. Seven miles, on foot, from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Thirty-Nine miles from Lawrence to Kansas City. Thirteen years since General Conference and Mennonite Church merged to form MC USA. Thirty years that Brethren Mennonite Council has been encouraging Mennonite churches toward full inclusion of LGBTQ people.
The journey is long.
Pastors have spent inordinate amounts of time speculating as to why the two travelers did not recognize Jesus sooner during this long journey. It’s easy for us to read this story and think how silly Cleopas and his companion were to not recognize Jesus as they walked along the road. Weren’t their hearts burning? How did they miss that? They should have known. Those silly disciples.
Really though, we are the silly ones–to talk about when they should have known. They know when they know. They know when Jesus offers them the bread. They know when God finally opens their eyes. They know Jesus’ presence when divine grace allows them to know it.
The knowing is out of their control. The revelation is up to God.
What Cleopas and his companion should have done is exactly what they did: welcome the stranger to journey with them; share their story; listen to his story; walk and walk and walk together for however long it takes; sit down together at the table.
The travelers did exactly what they should have done. And then God did exactly what God does: opens our eyes to the presence of Jesus in our midst.
May it be so.