“Do Not Our Hearts Burn Within Us?”

Sermon – 04-23-23 – Easter 3 – Cycle A
Scripture: Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19; 1 Peter 1:17-25; Luke 24:13-35
Sermon Title: “Do Not Our Hearts Burn Within Us?”

Our scripture passage is still the day of resurrection – a Sunday. Two of Jesus followers are walking from Jerusalem to their home town of Emmaus. These two are not part of the eleven close disciples. Cleopas is the name of one of the walkers. They had heard that women found the tomb empty early that morning and angels announced to them that Jesus is alive!

So, as you and I would do, these two are moving along this seven-mile stretch of road without noticing much about the scenery. They have exciting stuff about which to talk. Suddenly a third person appears out of nowhere! “What are you discussing?” the stranger asks. “Have you not heard?” Cleopas says sadly. Of course, Jesus knows! He is the one who is causing all of this mixture of sadness and puzzled anticipation! But does Jesus say, “I am the one. I am the living Jesus!” No. Jesus simply says, “Tell me about it.”

After the two tell Jesus the story of himself, Jesus says, “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 enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interprets to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

When they reach Emmaus, the two of them are leaving the path but Jesus seems to stay on the path. Quickly the two issue the invitation (in fact, beg) for Jesus to join them for a meal. Jesus obliges after they say, “Stay with us, for it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.”

As they are seated at the table for the meal, Jesus takes bread, blesses and breaks it and gives it to these two persons. Their eyes, their mouths, and their minds open wide! Now they know! They know this is Jesus himself! B-u-u-u-u-u-t, as soon as they experience this recognition, Jesus disappears! Jesus does this ghost-like appearing and disappearing but he is really alive. He has flesh. He eats. He relates to people.

Now is when the two hosts say to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us on the road while Jesus was opening the scriptures to us?” I picture these two persons jumping from their chairs, leaving the table as it was with dirty dishes and rushing for the door to retrace their seven miles of steps back to Jerusalem. Who could sleep after an experience like this? Life is becoming more unreal by the hour.

They find the eleven disciples gathered with companions talking about their risen Jesus. They are saying that Peter saw the risen Christ. Now the two persons from Damascus tell their exciting story. And, yes, while they are still gathered in this room, Jesus suddenly appears in their midst, not having come through the door. It is definitely Jesus! He shows them his hands and his feet. Jesus says, “Touch me.” They do. Real flesh! Real bones! He asks them if they have any baked fish. They do. Jesus eats. Yes, Jesus is alive.

Did you ever noticed how prominent Peter is in the three years of Jesus’ life on earth? Now at the closing of these three years, Peter’s role seems even bigger. Peter is horrified when he finds himself denying his relationship with Jesus after declaring that he would never do such a thing. Before that, Jesus became angry with something Peter had said. Peter had said that Jesus should not be crucified. Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan!” It is easy to think that Jesus was calling Peter “Satan.” Another black mark against Peter. Peter means well but he is very impulsive. He speaks before he thinks. Do any of us have that same problem? Do you? Do I? Definitely “yes” with me. How about you?

But the greatest news of all for you and me is this! Jesus gives Peter the opportunity to be reclaimed. Do you love me, Peter? Three times Jesus asks Peter if he loves Jesus. Three times. How many times did Peter deny Jesus before the cock crowed? Three times. Jesus never asks for Peter to return the keys of the kingdom. Instead, Jesus inspires Peter to preach and write. Peter’s writing is included in the Holy Scriptures – 1st and 2nd Peter near the end of the New Testament. One of the passages we heard today is part of those writings.

The question remains: Do not our hearts burn within us? The two followers on the road to Damascus felt their hearts burning within them when Jesus was with them. Peter felt the anguish of burning humiliation when he denied Jesus three times. How refreshed is Peter’s heart when Jesus gives Peter three openings to say “I love you, Jesus.” Then comes the challenge. Peter shall feed the sheep. What does Jesus mean by this?

Peter surely carries this challenge in his heart to inspire three-thousand listeners to become baptized and to be followers of “The Way” with one preaching episode after the Holy Spirit came upon the people who were gathered in Jerusalem on Pentecost. Surely Peter carries this challenge in his writings. Surely, Peter feels the burning in his heart when God gives a vision to show Peter that the Holy Spirit is available to all people, not just Jews.

Do our hearts burn within us in the twenty-first century? Think about the times that God seems right beside you. Think about the times when you feel the impulse to help someone. Think about the times your mouth actually opened to tell someone about God’s presence in your life.

Is my heart burning as much as God wants it to be burning? Are my actions matching the burning? Let us think about these questions – each of us. Are our hearts burning enough for the Father and for Jesus? May the Holy Spirit light a spark within us that expands to fill us with this burning fire! Amen

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