Monday, April 27, 2020

The Bethany Bullet Sermon Message - Week of April 26, 2020

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Psalm of the Day: Psalm 116:1-14
Holy Gospel: Luke 24:13-35

Message: “But Jesus Drew Near”
Text: Luke 24:15
Masks, they have become commonplace as people venture out during these days of pandemic.  They have been required by some establishments in order to gain entrance, like the grocery store or other essential businesses. 

I’m not sure if you were able to make your own, or have someone give you one (thank you Elisabeth and Karen).  Perhaps you were able to pick some up before the shelves were empty or had a stash in the garage waiting to be used, but masks have become routine.  I saw someone the other day in the grocery store wearing a mask made out of cut off sleeve of an old white t-shirt; not sure that is something I want wrapped around my nose and mouth. 

To be honest I have been guilty of passing judgment on people for how they are wearing their masks.  I’ve seen them slumped under the nose, I’m guessing they thought it was hard to breathe.  I saw the manager at a store that will go unnamed who slid his mask all the way off to use the phone, which another person used not two minutes later; not sure how that helps. 

It may just be in ignorance, or the fact that some people think wearing a mask is dumb or pointless but of course here I am passing judgment on them.  Masks are not anything new. 
If you ever watched any of the numerous doctor shows on TV you remember characters like Hawkeye from MASH, Dr. John Carter from ER, House, Dr. Meredith Grey or countless others donning masks in their vocation. 

Masks can also be used to conceal identity.  I did find it odd the other day as I put on a mask to go into a convenience store.  If I did this just a few months ago it would be seen as highly suspicious behavior, but today it’s totally normal.  I think of others who have worn a mask, like Batman, or the Lone Ranger, or Zorro (now I’m really dating myself). But it’s not just the antagonists on Scooby Doo or comic book super villains who wish to keep their true identity hidden.

The Twitter trolls, anonymous commenters, or owners of burner accounts hide from identification in order to deride, demean, and destroy using words as weapons. In some ways it fosters the negative aspects of social distancing that we find ourselves in today.  When things aren’t going the way we want, people hide. It gives them a sense of power or invincibility.  In a world that is begging for connection, many have become more distanced than ever and blind to the truth.

I think we see a little of that in our Gospel lesson for today.  The third week of Easter usually sees the account of the road to Emmaus as the appointed reading. I don’t know about you but I seem to relate a lot more to the men on the road than to some of the other principle characters in the resurrection account. Not sure I fully relate to the two Mary’s in the story. They felt the earthquake as He gave up His last breath. They peeked into the tomb and saw the angels. And when Jesus appeared to them, they were convinced. They knew it was the Lord.  It is also hard for me to relate to Thomas from last week’s reading.  Despite his initial unbelief—with which I can totally relate—he had the unique and somewhat disturbing experience of physically touching Jesus’ resurrected wounds.  That kind of creeps me out.  In contrast, the men on their way to Emmaus seem… well… normal. They were among His followers, but they were not the famous ones. They encountered Jesus, but they did not know it until He was gone.  But even in their shortsightedness, Jesus made His way into their lives. He walked with them, talked with them, sat down and broke bread with them and gave thanks with them. In the end, He worked the kind of transformation in their lives that He has worked in yours.

On this first Easter these two guys are leaving town wanting to distance themselves from the awful events of the past few days.  They had experienced the loss of their teacher, leader and friend.  Their other friends were hiding in a locked room.  They all wanted some distance from all that had turned their world upside down.  So these two guys skip town, talking to each other about what had taken place in Jerusalem as they walk along the road. And as they do, the text tells us, “Jesus approached them and began walking with them. Although they saw him, they didn’t recognize him. He asked them, “What are you discussing?” They stopped and looked very sad.  One of them, Cleopas, replied, “Are you the only one in Jerusalem who doesn’t know what has happened recently?”  “What happened?” he asked.” (Luke 24:15b-19)

Now I know it is not always good to read between the lines in the text but allow me to do a bit of that today.  I can just imagine what these two guys thought.  “Who is this chucklehead who doesn’t know what has gone on this past weekend?  Where is he from?  Is he blind, or just dumb?”  Well…at least that is what I would have said. The men believed that Jesus was wearing a mask, not over his mouth but over His eyes. That He had to be someone who lived under a rock to not know what was going on (well He was under a rock…but I digress).  The all powerful, all knowing, ever present Lord of the universe, the One who gave sight to the blind, was accused of being blind; blind to the tragedy, blind to the events, blind to the pain that these men were experiencing.

The English Standard version renders verse 15 this way, “While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them.” (Luke 24:15)

These men, distancing themselves from the difficult events of the past encounter Jesus, masked in flesh, who drew near to be socially adjacent and to bring transformation. You see, it was not Jesus who was blind, but the men.  And that is why I think I relate so well to them.  There are so many things that blind me from seeing Jesus as He draws near. We know the theological answer.  It’s the Devil, the World and the Sinful Flesh that mask our ability to see; that distract our attention and fog our vision of who Jesus is and what He has done for us.  But how does that blindness manifest itself?  Like the men on the road to Emmaus that day, I too pass judgment on those who seem to have no clue or who I think are doing it wrong (and it’s not just wearing a mask).  I also pass judgment on those who I feel have the wrong motives or who don’t see things the way I see them. 

What about you?  What masks your vision?  What blinds you from seeing Jesus who draws near? 

  • Is it the fact that we cannot gather in the Lord’s House right now?
  • Is it the rhetoric from news outlets trying to get viewers?
  • Is it a particular style of music played in worship that is not your preference?
  • Is it your desire that everyone think the same as you, or vote the same as you or hold the same values as you? 
  • Would you rather skip town than face the struggles of life?

And like many we wish to keep our faults hidden from others or accuse Jesus of being blind to our pain.  But the amazing part here is that in the midst of our blindness, transformation begins. You see, Jesus doesn’t pass judgment on us, although He could, He took the judgment for us and suffered separation from the Father all because of His love. He came to the world masked in flesh to destroy the things that blind you, to forgive you for your shortsightedness, your judgmental nature, and to cleanse you from all your faults and failures.

On that first Easter, Jesus drew near, and He does so again today.  The story of Easter is that when we want to run, when we are blind to seeing Jesus for who He is, He draws near.  He shows Himself to us over and over again and because of Christ you are forgiven; His sacrifice on the cross and His Resurrection three days later secure salvation for you. Jesus draws near in the common and ordinary stuff of life.  He comes to open your eyes as the Word is proclaimed, He comes in the waters of Baptism and in the breaking of the bread, which is exactly what He did for the men in our text.  But Jesus draws near in other ways too.  In the witness and the work of His children we can see God.  God does these things through ordinary people doing ordinary things. In people fulfilling their God given vocations, Jesus draws near, providing, protecting, and healing.

Martin Luther described this as the “mask of God.” He taught that God is hidden in ordinary people fulfilling their vocations. It’s not just in religious activities that we see the masks of God.  You encounter them every single day.  God is at work in police officers providing protection; He is at work in musicians and artists as they create, in medical professionals bringing health and healing and, as He wears the mask of the chef or grocery worker providing food for your family.

If you have ordered food from a restaurant in the past few weeks you have not only helped support your favorite restaurant, you have experienced the masks of God and have seen Jesus draw near. I love pizza and have ordered a few times recently, but let’s think about ordering pizza for a moment.  In order for me to eat pizza with my family I have to place an order.  Now, I don’t like to talk on the telephone but thanks to engineers, technicians, manufacturers, app developers and web designers I have a smart phone that I can use. In the store my order was printed on a printer that was manufactured by other workers in a factory. I’m sure several employees were involved in making the pizza.  I’m sure none of them grew the wheat or ground the flour or cured the pepperoni so all of that had to be done elsewhere by others and then was transported to the restaurant by a truck driver.  I had the pizza delivered so at some point a car was involved which means somebody had to design the car, somebody had to assemble that car in a plant. People had to test it.  In order for the engine to run someone had to put fuel in the car, which had to be formulated and transported. In order for that car to be safe, somebody had to make sure the city was safe to drive in.  We’re already at hundreds and hundreds of people who were involved, and I’m sure there are many more, just to provide pizza and bread sticks to me and my family.  You could even say that those hundreds of people were unknowingly serving my family, providing our daily bread, wearing the mask of God, and in so doing Jesus drew near. 

Jesus draws near to you in your greatest need.  He comes as you try to run away.  He comes to you even as you stand in judgment.  Jesus draws near in online services like this to forgive your sins.  And Jesus draws near as others wear the masks of God to bless you and your loved ones.  And here is where another transformation begins.  You too get to wear the mask of God as you serve and bless your neighbor, especially during these trying times. That’s the second half of verse 15 from our text, listen to it again, ““While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them.” (Luke 24:15)

Jesus has drawn near and He goes with you as you wear the mask of God for others to bring peace and pardon. Masks have indeed become commonplace. They may not always be visible to our eyes as some are these days, but through them Jesus draws near, as He comes to you and will go with you and work through you to transform lives, and that is what Easter is all about.
-Pr. Seth Moorman


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