Sunday, May 04, 2014

A new hope

Luke 24: 13 – 35

New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE

May 4, 2014


             Many of you may have heard the news this week of the cast list for Episode VII of the Star Wars movie saga, which will be released in December of next year.  Today is also a special day in the Star Wars universe: May the fourth, as in, “May the Fourth be with you.”  I myself was especially pleased that this is a Communion Sunday, when typically we begin the communion prayer with words like “May the peace of God be with you”.  (You get the idea.)  Then there’s the lectionary reading from which gospel?  Extra points to you if you recognize the sermon title.

            Of course, the Star Wars universe and its fandom are all over social media sites speculating about the plot for the newest episode and lamenting once again the treatment of the first three episodes or prequels.  If it’s one thing that’s important to human beings, across history and cultures, it’s story and the traditions that come from it.  Though the Star Wars saga has continued through an expanded universe of comic books, video games, and novels, the original six films produced by George Lucas are indeed referred to as the canon, containing a fixed history and characters to which all other Star Wars material must align.  There is even a Jedi code, what might be called a creed. 

            Though we strive not to be literalistic in our faith, we still carry within us the capacity for a literalistic mindset; that there are certain stories and traditions that are closed rather than open; that can be expanded upon but only so far as the original story will allow.

            Today’s lectionary reading, the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, sounds like an encounter with a Jedi master.  The scene resembles the uneasy experience of a story in three parts, the transition between the second and final installments.  It looks like the empire has won, the hero has been struck down, and two friends left behind are getting out of town for a while to lick their wounds.  Frederick Buechner writes that Emmaus is that place we go when we lose hope, when things don’t work out the way we wanted them to, a place to escape, to forget, to give up, and oftentimes it’s the church.  And when the church becomes the place where we lose hope, where things don’t work  out the way we wanted them to, often we leave church for another Emmaus, another place to escape and forget and give up.

Lyndel Littleton: Journey to Emmaus, acrylics on canvas, 2010.

            Our spiritual path can then become a place of wandering despair, our spiritual practice reduced to licking those wounds rather than allowing them to heal.  We find it difficult to allow the story to be opened up to us, our story to be opened; that perhaps there is another plot trajectory we hadn’t considered, new characters and teachers we’ve yet to meet.  When we’ve looked back, all we could see were the places we felt abandoned or didn’t belong rather than the salvation story we’ve been living in all along.

            And by salvation story I mean this:  that God, the holy, the sacred, can break open our story, open our eyes, and speak to us and through us:  anytime, anywhere, through anyone.  We know all too well that the bad and the evil can not only break open our story but shatter it into pieces.  But it is God who breaks into our lives and into our life together with healing, resurrection, and forgiveness, if we would only recognize it.  It is God who expands both our individual story and our community story beyond the limits we impose on them.

            What limits have we imposed on our own stories and on the story of this church?  What are some of the wounds that still need healing?  When was the last time you shared your story with someone else or listened to theirs?  When was the last time your heart was on fire, when you felt alive in the Spirit?  What are you hungry for?  How do you need to be fed spiritually?

            The dark side in each one of us seems to have all the bread it needs, but it is the light that the world craves and needs.  And so we gather at this table of mystery, seeking to be fed by elements that can become more than just bread and fruit of the vine: strength for the journey, sweetness for the wounds, our story broken open into a larger story of hope.  May the Force that is the love of God be with us all.  Amen.


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