“The Road of Recognition”

“The Road of Recognition”
1 Peter 1:21-23; Luke 24:13-35
Dr. Bobby Hulme-Lippert
April 23, 2023

Most of our passage takes place on a seven-mile road from Jerusalem to a village called Emmaus.

And this is very much like Luke.

Do you remember way back near the beginning of the Gospel of Luke, there is the story of Jesus’ birth? And the drama really picks up when Mary and Joseph travel along a road from Nazareth to Bethlehem, where Jesus is born.

Later in Luke, a couple of the most famous parables Jesus has. One is the Good Samaritan.

It begins on the road: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho…he is robbed and beaten…and ultimately saved by a Samaritan.”

Almost the entire second half of the Gospel of Luke (9:51 to 19:28), actually, Jesus is traveling toward Jerusalem. The whole of his ministry is on a road.

In the book of Acts, written by Luke, the famous Apostle Paul first encounters Jesus along a road to Damascus.

I point these out simply to say that for Luke, roads are a defining feature of a lot of the key narratives. There is simply something about the space of traveling, of walking, of moving from one place to another…something the transition space, something about often overlooked, just-trying-to-get-some-place space, something time on the road that is ripe with God possibilities.

Today, it’s the road to Emmaus.

Cleopas is the name of one disciple, and we are not given the other’s name probably because we’re meant to situate ourselves on this walk. We’re meant to understand that right now, we are on this walk in some manner.

And these two disciples are doing what any of us would do after a big moment: they are talking about all that has happened recently with Jesus.

And somewhere in all of the walking and talking, Jesus himself draws near.

But we read, “Their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” Strange phrase. Who is “keeping” their eyes? Their grief? Their expectations? God?

We are not told, but we know enough to know that things often happen on roads. And maybe the point is that Jesus shows up on the road far earlier than we usually recognize.

And how might Jesus show up? Even if we did not recognize him at first, what might give us a hint that his presence is near?

Here, he arrives with a question: “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’

‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’

And then another question: “What things?”

What a great moment…The God who knows all things asks, “What things?”

Of course, think of some of your best teachers. Best counselors. Best coaches. Best mentors. Even best friends. I bet they have at least one, critical thing in common: they ask good questions.

Jesus could have begun right in with these two disciples teaching Scripture, telling them all that happened to him and now he is alive. But…Jesus is a master rabbi (teacher), and the best teachers lean in with questions.

Because good questions invite us to explore.

Questions invite connection.

Questions open us.

Questions are a form of grace.

And honestly, if you search the Gospels and you will see time and again that Jesus often ministers through questions:

  • “What do you want?”
  • Why are you terrified?
  • “How many loaves do you have?”
  • “How do you read it?”
  • “Who do you say that I am?”
  • “Do you love me?”

307 times in the Bible, Jesus asks a question. He asks many more questions than he ever gives answers.

And how often the Risen Jesus still ministers by way of questions to people along the road (though we too may not realize it at first).

I’ll never forget how we were looking at this passage three years ago at this very time – about six weeks into the pandemic. And no one was in this space except me, Philip, Jeff, and then, uniquely, on that Sunday… David Lee Hulsey was up here doing the children’s message, and Hendrix, Roscoe, and Maggie Seaman were all present because they had just been baptized.

David Lee is telling them about the kinds of things we need for all the trips that we take in this life of ours, how to travel on the ‘road of life’ …and right after he prays, Maggie Seaman raises her hand, “But what if it’s a long road?”

And it felt like it articulated something very big for everyone who heard it amid all the wonderings and anxiety and of the early pandemic…

And I began wondering at that moment… “Was that grace? Was that Jesus through Maggie showing up in a way we almost didn’t recognize? Jesus, who has long been fond of ministering through questions (and children, by the way)? Was that Jesus preparing us for the road?”

I wonder how we articulate where and how Jesus showed up in the long road of these three years since that moment?

The two disciples do respond to Jesus’ questions. They tell him the facts about all of what has been happening in Jerusalem in recent days with Jesus’s death and the empty tomb.

But then here is another thing about honest, good questions. Like grace, they open us. And eventually, we are responding to the questions not just with “the facts’” but with the heart.

“But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”

They make clear that is the road of profound disappointment and grief. They really believed Jesus was the Messiah who would confront and overcome the power of Rome and raise Israel to its former and great glory as a people. And he now he’s been crucified at the hands of the Empire.

We had hoped…

All of us are on some kind of road all of the time – some kind of movement from one thing to another, one challenge to another, one opportunity to another, one season to another…but few roads are difficult to keep walking along as that of great disappointment and grief.

  • We had hoped to have overcome this challenge by now…
  • We had hoped for a very different diagnosis…
  • We had hoped the church in North America would be a continually growing people, and central aspect of our shared life together…
  • We had hoped that surely there’d be no more after Columbine, Blacksburg, Sandy Hook, Parkland, Santa Fe, Uvalde, Nashville…
  • We had hoped the administration, the leadership, the person would be on the one to turn the tide…
  • We had hoped the addiction would never return…

Heavy is the “We had hoped” road. What are the particulars of that road for us today?

The disciples go on to explain the strange thing about the women seeing the tomb empty. Astounding but no sense of what to make of that.

Having heard it all, Jesus then responds to their lament, and goodness knows you need a Word from the Lord on this kind of road:

“How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!”

Not what the grief-stricken are looking for.

Just when we are about to put God in a box and how God shows up – God always shows up by way of a question,
or always by way of a compassionate, Samaritan stranger,
or a generous embrace for the prodigal child…

…just when we have God’s response pinned down, we get something like this…

“How foolish you are!”

Of course, the issue here is not Jesus looking to land a condescending insult; its Jesus waking them up to the fundamental thing on which the whole of his teaching and the whole of his life, death, and resurrection hinged on.

Namely – the way unto true glory, true power… the way unto a rising of life stronger than anything else in this world…the way is through the road of suffering.

“Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ 27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.”

“Here, let me show you again, one story at a time in Scripture…how God’s way is never over or under or around this particular road. But through this road. And this Jesus you lament failed you…he went through the depth of this road…and that tomb is empty…what might that mean? Does it mean the story is over or just beginning?”

“Yeah…well, guess what God? The road is long. And we’re tired. And bitter. And broken. And people keep getting shot and war is still happening and people are traveling thousands of miles along roads around this world looking for a new home… So if there’s a new beginning, where?”

Last month we hosted folks from the Dialogue Institute of Austin and they, as Turkish Muslims, taught us about the practice of fasting, the month of Ramadan, and the meaning of the Iftar meal – the meal shared every night during Ramadan. It’s a huge feast shared alongside family and friends, new and old alike. We had around 80 or 90 folks between our two groups, and it was the second time we’d done this.

And something struck me this past gathering.

I sat at a table with someone I had talked with last year, though this time I caught a bit more of his story. His home being in Turkey but he had to flee because of violence and for fear of persecution. And as a few years ago he left all he knew, many he loved, the degree that meant something over there but nothing over here… and he took his family into the unknown. A road filled with all kinds of disappointment and grief and fear and questions about how long…

Eventually, he found a community of fellow Muslims from Turkey in Austin and found a job and house and the kids in school and…a home. Not the only home he could ever call ‘home home’ – the one he can’t go back to.

But also, ‘home,’ and one he and his friends from the Dialogue Institute of Austin generously shared with people like me.

In fact, if anything, it was like this man and his friends there that night showed up and were welcomed by us only to themselves become something of the host.

They provided the food, and over that meal, they and their stories about finding a home after home had a way of welcoming us on our own searching journeys. And then even some of our Muslim friends there invited some of you for another Iftar meal in their literal house later that week.

I left marveling how the guests had become the host and made clear a kind of hope for the impossible road.

The disciples invite this stranger into their home, he becomes the host and its over the meal itself – the taking and breaking and giving of bread – it’s there that they see Jesus. There they see that road unto the cross and through the cross is not the end, but a profound beginning of life they could never have thought to ask or imagine.

Luke has roads all over his Gospel and in the book of Acts. But the other thing Luke has a whole lot of? Meals.

Which is to say:

Roads and meals.
Traveling and resting.
Walking and eating.

Jesus is there.

On the road – maybe not recognized. Not yet. But there…maybe by way of some of the latest questions asked of us? Perhaps one raised by a child?

And Jesus is there at the meals. With one another. With strangers.

These are the space so ordinary, so unspectacled, so un-headline making…but the promise of our passage is that this is precisely where the Risen Jesus seeds the new beginning.

May we have ears to hear, eyes to see, and mouths to taste the grace of the new beginning at hand. Amen.


About Dr. Bobby Hulme-Lippert