Posts tagged ‘Mombasa’

May 8, 2011

The way…

The Road to Mombasa

The Road to Mombasa, which I took in 1988!

Today’s sermon.  Text Luke 24:13-35 (Year A, Easter 3)

Sometimes it’s helpful to think of life (and the Christian life in particular) as like a journey on foot.  For anybody that likes hill walking, this is not hard to imagine.  There will be times when the going is good, the sun is shining, the view is amazing, the ground is firm and we are warm and dry.  But as we all know, it’s not always this way.  Sometimes the ground is wet and hard going, it’s raining and there is no view because you are stuck in a bog in the middle of nowhere surrounded by fog – all you want to do is go home!  And of course we have highs and lows in our everyday lives as Christians – times when God seems very near and easy to talk to and times when He seems quiet, distant and very difficult to talk to.

It’s probably the latter that two of Jesus’ followers are feeling as they walk along the road to the village of Emmaus, about 11 Kilometres from Jerusalem.  This is still Easter Day, the same day that the women had met with the risen Lord Jesus and the same day that Peter and John had ran to the tomb, found it to be empty and wondered what on earth was going on.  So now in the latter part of the day a follower called Cleopas and another are walking away from Jerusalem discussing everything that had happened when all of a sudden a stranger comes alongside them and asks them what they are talking about.  In response, Cleopas turns to the stranger and says:

“Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?”  (18b)

Then Cleopas goes on to tell the Stranger about Jesus of Nazareth and how He was a powerful prophet in both what he said and what he did and how the chief priests and rulers handed him over to be crucified.  Cleopas then says (you can almost hear the sadness in his voice at this point) about how they had hoped that Jesus was going to be the one who was going to set Israel free but alas it was three days ago now that he was killed.  But he hasn’t given up all hope yet because he continues by telling the stranger that that very morning some of the women in their group amazed them all by going to the tomb of Jesus and finding it empty and they talked about a vision of angels.  Then some others had gone also and found the tomb just as the women had said.

The Stranger listened to all of this and then said to Cleopas and his companion:

“Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!  Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then to enter into his glory?” (25, 26)

So then the stranger goes on to explain to them from the writings of the Old Testament about the Messiah.

Cleopas and his companion (possibly his wife, see John 19:25) are no doubt a bit confused by this stranger who has suddenly come up beside them on their journey.  Luke tells us that they were ‘looking sad’ (v.17)  After all, they were followers of Jesus and their Master, Friend and Teacher had been taken away from them like a common criminal and cruelly executed.  They couldn’t face staying in Jerusalem with the others any longer, they had to get out and go home to Emmaus.  It was too much to be able to cope with.  Were they running away?  Did they think their lives were in danger for being followers of Jesus?  Perhaps, or maybe they thought they would go home, away from Jerusalem in order to rethink and get some rest before they decided what to do next.

However, their confusion wasn’t to last much longer.  Things began to become clearer as this Stranger went through the Scriptures with them.  There are so many Old Testament passages that talk about the Messiah and the nature of His mission that we cannot go into them in any detail, but here’s perhaps some of the texts that Cleopas and his companion heard explained to them:  The promised offspring who would crush Satan in Genesis 3:15, the suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, the pierced one in Zechariah 12:10 and the Messanger of the covenant in Malachi 3:1.  There are of course many more passages throughout the Old Testament, more than enough to explain about who the Lord Jesus is and what He came to do.

So the Bible study is cut short as they arrive at the village of Emmaus.  The Stranger acts as if he is going further, but Cleopas and his companion are very impressed and want to hear more of what he has to say, so with the Sun beginning to set they urge the Stranger to come and stay with them.  No doubt their conversation about the Scriptures is continuing over their meal when all of a sudden they notice the Stranger taking a loaf of bread, giving thanks for it, breaking it and passing the pieces to them.  You can imagine the mixture of emotions can’t you?  Shock, bewilderment, fear, guilt, love, but above all excitement.  It’s Jesus!  All along it was Jesus who had met them on the road, Jesus who had been explaining the Scriptures to them and now it was Jesus who they were eating with!  I’m sure they just wanted to jump up and down and shout and sing their praises and fall at the feet of their guest and worship Him.  But before they can do any of this He disappears!

They look at each other in astonishment and say to each other:

“Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the Scriptures to us?” (32b)

Just a few hours before they had been explaining to a Stranger about how sad and confused they were.  The Stranger had ministered to them firstly through God’s word and then through the breaking of bread.  As God had revealed Himself to them through His Word and through His Son their hearts and lives had been transformed from despair and confusion to utter joy and excitement.

Even though they are 11 kilometres away from Jerusalem and it is dark they cannot keep their excitement to themselves any longer.  They get up at once and ‘hot foot it’ back to the house in Jerusalem where the disciples are staying.  Even though they have travelled on this same road just a few hours before, their journey this time is very different.  Now they are travelling in the opposite direction (and not just in a physical sense).  On their journey out, they had been sad and confused and their feet had felt heavy along with their hearts.  Now they are full of joy, there is a spring in their step and they can’t wait to get back to the disciples’ to tell them what had happened.  They have done a complete U-turn from a state of sadness and ignorance to one of joy and understanding.

And so it is for us also.  Before we encounter the risen Lord Jesus, we are wandering around in a state of spiritual sadness and confusion.  The purpose and meaning of life is not clear.  Just as Cleopas and his companion were walking away from Jerusalem, where they should have been, before we encounter Jesus we are walking in the opposite direction from that which we are meant to be travelling.  But then Jesus meets us – do we listen to Him and what He has to say?  Do we invite Him in to our hearts and lives?  Do our hearts burn within us as we listen to God’s Word?  Do we repent and turn around and walk in the right direction?  Do we long to tell others what we have learnt and experienced?

Yes, life is a journey, but only Jesus provides a map that makes any sense of it all.  Let us then let Him walk with us and show us the way.  Let’s stop trying to take our own paths thinking we know best.  Let’s listen to Him, and follow always, Him who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  Amen.

September 7, 2008

The Road to Forgiveness

The Road to Mombasa (1988)
Film Scan (Kodak G 100 ASA), Pentax P50, I’m guessing at 28mm

I’m often amazed at just how childish grown-ups can be sometimes. When we look at politicians debating with each other, refusing to listen to what the other is saying and resorting to just slagging each other off, it often has little more maturity or sophistication than a playground brawl. Unfortunately, we Christians seem to be right up there with the politicians when it comes to not listening to, not understanding and not forgiving each other. I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve spoken to who don’t go to church because of a comment that was made to them (often many years ago) or because they sat in someone else’s seat and were belittled for doing so, or because the church building that they used to worship in has closed down and they are angry at those whose building remained open. I’m afraid to say I even watched an event a couple of years ago when some people who had newly moved into the parish sat in the seat of a well-known parishioner, who then proceeded to make a lot of fuss about it, even though there were many many other seats to choose from. Not surprisingly, those people have never been back. Ironically, even people who finally get around to coming back to church after a long absence are ‘welcomed’ (in inverted commas) in such a way as to not make them feel welcome but instead to feel bad for having been away! Of course I am telling just one side of the story, I am pleased to say that for every mishap like this, there is much that is good and that must bring delight to the Lord, such as the way that most visitors and newcomers are indeed made immediately to feel at home as they worship with us.

It saddens me when I visit a home that is fractured because of unforgiveness, nearly always due to a simple misunderstanding, often over a piece of land, or unnecessarily harsh words uttered in pain or distress and taken out of context by the one who was hurt. We are so easily hurt aren’t we, so proud, so ready to be forgiven by those we have wronged but so reluctant to forgive those we have trespassed against… ?

I am reminded of author Harper Lee’s classic book “To kill a Mockingbird”. A very important lesson that we learn from that book is the one that the father, Atticus tells to his children; that “in order to be able to understand a man you need to be able to ‘walk in his shoes’”. If we were willing to step into the shoes of a person whom we had wronged or who had wronged us we would understand their point of view and therefore be able to diffuse the situation much more quickly. For example if the offended visitors who sat in a parishioners seat were able to understand that that parishioner had sat in that very seat for many many years, that their spouse and children had sat with them there too, that the spouse was long dead and the children a long time flown the nest and that when the parishioner sat there on a Sunday morning to everyone else it looked as if they were sitting on their own but in actual fact to the parishioner it was as if their spouse was still sitting next to them and the children, in their Sunday best sitting in a row alongside… If the visitors had realised this then surely they would have not been offended to the extent of never coming back, in fact they might even have made it their duty to return in order to show their love and support for the parishioner in question. Now if the parishioner had been able to ‘step into the shoes’ of the visitors who had newly moved into the parish, it would be clear that there were many seats available and that it was quite all right to sit wheresoever they chose, surely we come to church to worship God, and things such as seats don’t matter – yes children may fight over seats in the classroom, but surely not mature adults!? They probably convinced themselves not to return because they didn’t want to worship in a church where seats were more important than visitors! But of course if only they had been able to step into the parishioners shoes and had seen things from the parishioners perspective and if only the parishioner had been able to step into the visitors’ shoes and seen things from their perspective then things would have turned out differently – they might even have become friends and now be sitting alongside each other to this day…

And how many other instances are similar to this? It’s hard for me to think of anyone in the parish who hasn’t at some time told me about how another parishioner has upset them at some stage – I’m serious, and often we’re talking about things that happened so long ago that the actual details of the disagreement have long since been forgotten!

When someone upsets us we naturally want revenge, we want to get our own back – we may not actually do anything but we may secretly rejoice when some kind of mishap comes to that person later on, we even convince ourselves that they deserved it!

Okay then what does the Lord Jesus think of that? Well He makes it very clear – He wants not revenge, but reconciliation, not dislike, but love. He says:

“If your brother sins against you, go to him and show him his fault. But do it privately, just between yourselves. If he listens to you, you have won your brother back…”
(Matthew 18:15)

If someone wrongs us we want to get them back and we want to tell others in a gossipy kind of way what they have done, we try to turn other people against that person. But the best thing to do is not to tell anyone else at all, but to go and talk to that person directly, don’t phone or write or email, these are too impersonal, go directly to that person and as unaggressively and gently as possible talk with them and explain to them why you are hurt by what they said or did. Often such a humble and frank conversation will lead to a deepening and strengthening of the relationship that you have with them. It is much better to talk with the person rather than them hearing from someone else that you have gossiped to that you are upset with them…

Sometimes though the person will stand their ground and refuse to admit that they did anything wrong. Well, the Lord Jesus tells us what to do then, we take along two other persons with us as witnesses (v.16). Now these two other persons should not be body guards to ‘duff up’ the person who has wronged you, merely witnesses. The idea is that this will exert a little more pressure on the individual to admit their wrongdoing and thus be reconciled with you.

I must admit that I have no experience of stage two, just stage one, (where I have been both the wrongdoer and the person who has been wronged against). I have to admit that it isn’t very comfortable being told what you have done wrong and a close friend telling you how upset they are – but it is a very good environment to admit your mistake, just between the two of you rather than all sorts of other people being involved too.

Stage three is altogether more serious:

And if he will not listen to them, then tell the whole thing to the church. Finally, if he will not listen to the church, treat him as though he were a pagan or a tax collector. (v.17)

I don’t know if we have anyone from the Revenue Commissioners here, but be assured we love you because you are quite different from the type of tax collector that Jesus is talking about. Likewise any pagans, so long as you are not the child-sacrificing type you’re okay to stay too!

Certainly I have no experience of stage three, but of course we have all heard about or read about people who have had to be ejected from a Church community because of persistent, unrepentant wrongdoing. It is very sad and thankfully quite rare – sometimes the person is reconciled eventually to the Christian community, sometimes not.

In the last couple of verse from our reading (Matthew 18:15-20), the Lord Jesus reminds us of the greatest of all tools for mending broken relationships – prayer:

“And I tell you more: whenever two of you on earth agree about anything you pray for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, I am there with them.” (v.19,20)

How strange it is that an all-powerful God, who could so easily fix our human messes by Himself, actually does nothing unless someone, somewhere starts to pray! Perhaps He wants to give us the honour of working in partnership with Him?1

How many friendships would have remained intact, how many marriages not broken down, how many churches and Christian communities remained worshipping and living happily together if only they had listened and not shouted, if only they had stepped into the others shoes rather than on them and if only they had not fought or gossiped but prayed?

Let us pray now:

Lord, next time I’m involved in a quarrel and someone upsets me, remind me to tell you first, then the person who hurt me, but please prevent me from telling everyone else.2 Amen.


1 From Scripture Union notes, “Closer to God”, vol. 23, p.80, 2004
2 Ibid.
Also helpful was Michael Green’s book: “Matthew for Today”, Hodder & Stoughton 1989