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Walking Together: Burning Hearts

Date: 01/01/2023/Speaker: Ps Pauline Ong

Walking Together: Burning Hearts
Luke 24:13-35
1 January 2023

Introduction

Question 1 (Word Cloud)

What do you desire for 2023?
Spiritual, mental, physical, emotional, social, relational, etc.?

I desire many things – good health, meaningful time with family and friends, to grow as a person, to love and be loved. But in the bigger picture, what I truly desire in 2023 is to deepen my connection with God and with all of you. And for us as a church to be more deeply connected with God and with one another.

2023 is a special year for us as it marks FCC’s 20th anniversary. 20 years of God’s faithfulness and grace in the life of our faith community. 20 years of witnessing to the inclusive love and radical welcome of our God.

Our focus theme for 2023:
Walking each other as community towards growth and wholeness in Christ.

Background:
Started with the building of our leadership formation culture – walking with our leaders so they can walk with those under their care

Cultivating a culture of mutual care and accountability in our community

“Walking each other” – mutual, equal, watching over

“We’re all just walking each other home.” -Ram Dass

“Growth and Wholeness in Christ” – both inwards and outwards (Shalom)

The start of a (possible) 3-yr focus towards community growth and wholeness in Christ

If you attended our recent AGM, you might have heard some of this but I wanted to share this with you so that as a congregation, you have a better idea where we are heading, and we can begin 2023 together on the same page.

Some areas we want to prioritise this year:

Community: Bringing the community back together post-pandemic

Capacity: Building up the capacity of our current leaders and nurturing new leaders

Communications: Strengthening internal communication processes within and between ministries

There are various programs and activities we have lined up for this year but two I’d like to mention right at the beginning of the year because I would like you to set aside time for are:
Church retreat: 2 to 4 June 2023
Leaders retreat: 29 Apr to 1 May 2023

Ultimately what we are hoping for this year, and in the years to come, is that we learn to walk each other towards growth and wholeness in Christ as a people of God.

The Gospel of Luke tells the familiar story of how Jesus shows up and walks with two of his disciples as they journey to the village of Emmaus. I think there is a lot for us to glean from this passage of Scripture as we consider how we can walk each other towards healing and growth.

Luke 24:13-35 (NRSVue)
Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles[a] from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad.[b] 

Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth,[c] who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 

But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.[d] Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 

Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah[e] should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, and he vanished from their sight. 

32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us[f] while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem, and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Cleopas and his companion were grieving after the death of Jesus and confused about the rumors they heard that he is alive. Luke doesn’t tell us the name of Cleopas’s companion but scholars have proposed that it could have been his wife, Mary. We’re not sure why they were making their way to Emmaus but we know they were in deep discussion about everything that had happened those few days, and they were trying to make sense of things. And it is then that Jesus came near and walked with them.

And I love that – Jesus came near as they were walking each other, and he joined them on their journey. I would like to believe that this is what Jesus continues to do today. That as we walk with one another, Jesus himself would draw near and walk with us, and help us make sense of things.

What We Learn On the Road To Emmaus

1.Jesus shows up and is present as we walk with one another.

Jesus focused on being present first – Jesus walked for hours with the two on the road to Emmaus (7miles = 11 km)

Jesus didn’t appear in triumph and victory to announce his resurrection. He could have but he didn’t. He gently came alongside them and joined them on their journey. In the midst of their grief and confusion, he asked questions, got them to talk, and established a relationship with them. He then explained Scripture to them and helped them understand what had happened.

They confided in Jesus and said, “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” (Luke 24:21)  

“We had hoped” – maybe the three saddest words in Scripture. We had hoped Jesus was the one to save us, the one to restore Israel. We had hoped the people survived the natural disaster. We had hoped it was not cancer. We had hoped that our loved one would not have to suffer. We had hoped they would come back to church. We had hoped that our parents loved us better. We had hoped that by this time in life, we would be happily coupled, or have a meaningful career, or we would be able to retire. We had hoped.

“The words we speak on the road to Emmaus are words of pain, disappointment, bewilderment, and yearning.  They are the words we say when we’ve come to the end of our hopes — when our expectations have been dashed, our cherished dreams are dead, and there’s nothing left to do but leave, defeated and done. But we had hoped.” -Debi Thomas  

We know what it’s like to be disappointed and to have our hopes dashed. The disciples walking down the road to Emmaus were disappointed, confused, heartbroken.

However, this confusion, fear and grief is not the end of the story. As Cleopas and his companion walked along, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him. Perhaps their anxiety and fears blinded them, we don’t know. But what we do know is that in their time of grief, confusion, and sorrow, they were not alone. Jesus himself drew near to them and walked with them. Jesus shows up and is present when we walk with one another.

2. Be ready for burning hearts. (“Were not our hearts burning?”)

The 2 disciples recounted that when Jesus explained the Scriptures to them, their hearts felt as if they were on fire.

“Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)

Jesus first shows up and is present. He listens and hears them out. Ruth Haley Barton says, “It was only after Jesus had taken time to listen deeply to their need—for comfort, for understanding, for perspective—that he offered any sort of perspective at all. And what he chose to do was to draw them into the Biblical story, interpreting Scripture to them in such a way that all of it started to make sense. Masterfully, he helped them to locate their own story in the context of the larger story of God’s redemptive purposes in the world.

What seemed so hopeless from a human point of view was now imbued with profound spiritual significance. This “stranger” was quickly becoming a friend and more than just a friend—a spiritual companion with an uncanny ability to listen to their hearts’ deepest longings and questions.” -Ruth Haley Barton

Jesus helps the two disciples understand that the death of the Messiah finds its place in a larger cosmic arc of redemption, hope, and divine love that spans the centuries. He helps them see the bigger picture from God’s perspective. When Jesus tells them the story, the hearts of his listeners burn.

“We had hoped the story would have a better ending.” Well, it does have a better ending. That’s what Jesus helped them to see and understand.

Are you ready for your hearts to transform from one that is filled with disappointment, confusion, sadness to a heart that is burning with awe, wonder, excitement, and a desire to tell others God’s story of redemption, hope and divine love that spans the centuries?

Just like for the 2 disciples walking to Emmaus, Jesus desires to help us grow and heal by showing up, being present, and helping us make sense of God, ourselves and the Scriptures.

3. Our burning hearts lead us to choose more (“Stay with us!”)

Their burning hearts led them to beseech Jesus to stay with them.

“Stay with us!” They had a desire for more of Christ, even though at that point they hadn’t recognized him fully yet. And the fact that Jesus walked ahead as if he were going on when they reached the village just means Jesus doesn’t like to impose. He wanted them to make a choice. If they wanted him to stay, they would invite him to stay. In the same way, we seek to be a church that doesn’t impose on you or guilt you into behaving a certain way. But we will walk with you, clarify our expectations and hopes, and we hope mutuality will grow in this relationship over time, and ultimately, you will want to stay and make this your spiritual home.

Jesus wanted those 2 disciples to make a choice. Do they want him to stay? Are they willing to risk hosting a stranger in their home? Do they wish to go deeper with this person who makes their hearts burn, or are they content to leave the encounter where it stands, and return to their ordinary lives without learning or experiencing more?   

Do you desire to go deeper? Are you ready to ask Jesus to stay with you?

Deep within each and every one of us, there is a hunger and thirst. We all experience this yearning of the soul—a heart that burns with longing, but we don’t always recognize what it is for which we yearn.

“Stay with us.” That’s what Cleopas and his companion say to Jesus. Stay with us! We want more of you. It is an invitation to go deeper. A request for more. “Stay with us.” The same words Jesus patiently waits to hear from each one of us.    

4. Recognizing Jesus only when they broke bread together

Jesus was walking with them for hours, and teaching them, yet they did not recognize him. Perhaps they were lost in their feelings of despair and hopelessness. Maybe they were worried about the future and their own safety. I wonder how often are we the same? How often are we caught up in our busyness, absorbed in our worries and anxieties that we find it hard to recognize Jesus even if he’s walking right next to us?

And sometimes Jesus shows up through the people in our lives. He may be speaking through the words and actions of people around us, and we may not hear the spiritual wisdom that he is whispering into our hearts, minds and souls.

Luke tells us that it was only when he was at the table with them, and he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them, that their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. (Luke 24:30-31) It was in that moment that they truly came back to life! Something fundamentally changed within them in that moment of recognition.

“Between this day’s sunrise and today’s sunset, our world has been changed forever. Everything is new. From now on, whenever we break the bread and drink the wine, we will know that we are not alone. The risen Christ is with us, among us, and within us. In that moment, it’s not just that Jesus was resurrected. It feels like we have arisen too! We were in the tomb of defeat and despair. But now – we’re truly alive again!”
-Brian McLaren, We Make The Road By Walking

That is why we celebrate Communion regularly. It is what Communion represents. In this Communion, in the breaking of bread, we can come to know Jesus more fully and deeply. But not only that. It is in fellowship and breaking bread with one another that we come to recognize Jesus in each other. In the process, we also learn to see you and me for who we truly are. This is why community is essential to our spiritual growth. Doing church is more than consuming a worship service. It’s about diving into the messiness of human relationships, and learning to recognize Jesus in one another. It’s about walking each other towards healing and growth in Christ.

That’s why Miak and I would like to invite you to intentionally return to church in person, if you can. You may decide to do so once a month or on alternate weeks, and that’s okay. If you’ve been attending online exclusively for a while, it may be slightly intimidating to come back in person because you may see quite a number of new faces and wonder if this is still home for you. Miak and I would like to help you find ways to reconnect and rebuild bonds in this place. We need each other. Spiritual growth takes place in community, and we invite you to prayerfully make intentions in this new year to show up and be present for others and yourself.

“The encounter that took place between Jesus and these two disciples was completely reorienting and life changing. Transforming, if you will! And that is the essence of Christian community. Before Jesus draws near, a group of people journeying together is merely a human community. Once Jesus joins us on the road, it becomes a Christian community. As we discover ways to open to Jesus’ transforming presence on the road between the now and the not-yet, it becomes a transforming community!” -Ruth Haley Barton

That’s what we are called to be — a transforming community! So keep walking each other. Keep attending to your burning heart. Christ is risen, and he is waiting to journey with us. So look for him. Listen for him as you break bread together.

So what can we learn on the road to Emmaus?

  1. Jesus shows up and is present as we walk with each other.
  2. Be ready for burning hearts.
  3. Our burning hearts lead us to choose more.
  4. Recognizing Jesus only when they broke bread together.

Question 2 (Word Cloud)
What do you desire for 2023?

Jesus desires to help us grow and heal by showing up, being present, and helping us make sense of God, ourselves and the Scriptures. And sometimes Jesus shows up through the people in our lives, through community.

Do you recognize when Jesus shows up? Are you ready for burning heart moments in 2023? Will you tell Jesus, “Stay with us! We want more of you. We want to hear more, see more, understand more. More of you, Lord, in 2023!”

Will we be a community that seeks out Jesus as we walk one another towards growth and wholeness in Christ?

Let us pray together.