April 24, 2020
When it comes to noticing details, I'm not a very observant person. Just ask Julie. When she hangs a new picture or rearranges some furniture, it may be weeks before I notice. Ken Davis was preoccupied with the rules and didn't notice which pew to go to. All of us miss some details at times.
I think of a baby. She seems to study every detail of her world, yet in truth her range of vision is quite limited. I am really missing holding her on my lap, looking into her eyes while she looks everywhere but into my eyes. She did that Thursday night on Zoom. Her grandma and I are waving and calling her name and she is looking to see what was behind the screen. Why do babies do that? Her range of vision is growing daily and I doubt she can make out much detail on the screen at home, but light, movement, shadows all capture her attention.
Our brains register what we think is important. If we men are wise, we notice and complement our wives new haircut... back when they could get their hair done. And I've failed at that more than once. It's nice if we men can be noticed when we do something extra; even if it is simple like load the dishwasher or take out the trash. Simple tasks for we are simple men.
In our Old Testament reading, Isaiah spoke about the people listening but not understanding, looking but not learning. They too filtered out what they saw as not important and so they missed the good news that Isaiah preached.
Those two men on the road to Emmaus had heard and seen a lot over the previous few days. We get some clues as to what they found important. For one, the things they saw of Jesus convinced them he was a mighty prophet. But they also saw how the chief priests and leaders turned him over to the Romans. They saw how he was crucified three days prior to this journey. They have heard reports that the tomb was empty; even reports that Jesus was alive. Their minds are busy trying to make sense of all that they had seen and heard. They shared this information with the stranger that joins them on the road to Emmaus. But this stranger is not satisfied with those key points. He points out the many details missing in their observations. “'Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?' Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.” Let's not get caught up wondering why they didn't recognize Jesus. But let's consider how easy it is for us to miss Jesus; for me to miss Jesus.
Personally, this becomes an issue for me. Life is busy. I get distracted. I forget. I always thought being a pastor would mean that everything I did would just ooze with the presence of Jesus. It doesn't. I can spend hours in my office working and not pause for a minute to think on the one for whom I labor! I know from my classes and meetings I am not the only pastor with this struggle. Like those two on the road to Emmaus, I'm spending my time with Jesus, but too often, I'm not recognizing the presence of Jesus on the road with me.
For Cleopas and his friend, the time does come for recognition to take place. And it was in the breaking of the bread. Where do you recognize Jesus? If it is in communion, that only happens once a month; not enough. If it's in church, that's only once a week, not enough. Even if it is a daily time of prayer, that leaves 90% of the day. Are we seeing Jesus throughout our day?
Now, before you get depressed about your failures, let's notice how that trip to Emmaus played out. They weren't looking for Jesus, but note that it was Jesus that sought them out. Their vision was focused on the troubles and failure they saw. Jesus brought their focus to the big picture. So there is comfort for those of us who falter in our efforts to see Jesus in and through all things. Like those disciples, like a baby, like selective filtering, we can't focus on everything at once. The disciples were focused on their grief... that can happen to us. A baby's view is limited physically...we know that is a reality in our congregation. But it is not physical sight that allows us to see the risen Lord. Paul wrote in 2nd Corinthians, “We walk not by sight but by faith.” We see Jesus through the eyes of faith. And remember this, Jesus is always seeking us. He stands at the door and knocks, never forcing his way into our lives but waiting for us to invite him in. Jesus didn't force those two on the road to Emmaus to believe, but he invited them into his story and into the experience of communion.
Our selective filtering can cause us to miss messages that we should see clearly. Like it did for the disciples. Jesus spent every day with his disciples during his ministry and they missed the message completely. How many times did Jesus tell them that he was going to Jerusalem where he would suffer, die and rise again on the third day? (13 times total in the gospels but probably 6 or 7 separate times.) And how many disciples were looking for him on the third morning after the crucifixion? None. And on that road to Emmaus, the two travelers weren't ready to see the risen Jesus. They assumed that dead was dead. They were moving on. Until Jesus revealed himself.
The noted preacher Charles Spurgeon had some things to say about seeing Jesus by faith. “Faith,” he said, “is the eye of the soul. It is the act of looking unto Jesus. In that act, by which we are saved, we look unto him and are saved. We look to him, and we find salvation. We are now disciples. Being saved from our former conversation, we are now become the disciples of the Lord Jesus; and ought we not, as disciples, to be constantly with our Master? Ought not this to be the motto of our life, “We see Jesus?” (He is our) Master, absent in one sense, but still in another point of view ever present, according to his promise— “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world”1
I love that little video of Ken Davis I showed earlier. It wasn't that he didn't recognize his wife, but he was distracted. We are here this morning because we have recognized the call of Jesus. Can we work at not being so distracted that we “sit in the wrong pew” so to speak. Let's be fully aware of Jesus, our Master and Lord, fully present with us every minute of every day. And know that, even when we are distracted and missing his presence, he is there and is never distracted from being with us. Even in a pandemic, even in isolation, even in grief, even in busyness, Jesus is with us. Give thanks and know that you are loved. Amen.
1The Complete Works of C. H. Spurgeon, Volume 13: Sermons 728 to 787