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2015 07 19

 

“Table of Recognition” or When God shows up at the table 
July 19, 2015
God With Us
copyright Theda Good
First Mennonite Church of Denver

Luke 24:13-32, Emmaus Road

There is troubling news, the tomb is empty! Not what the Jesus followers were expecting. Not only did their leader die three days ago but now is body his missing. Very disturbing news. The tomb is empty!

We entered our Denominational Convention on June 30th with two major national happenings in the recent days leading up to our big Mennonite event. In response to the horror of the race-based murders in South Carolina, our country was debating symbols of hatred and oppression. Then just four days prior to our convention, the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in every state of the union.  For some of us it was a break-through in the fight for equality and a crack in the oppression, hatred and rejection some have felt for so long.

The underlying issue of the deliberations at the Mennonite Convention two weeks ago, were “can we do church together when we don’t agree?” The backdrop of these current events – focused on oppression and inequality, which certainly played into the expectations, hopes, and fears for those in the Mennonite church wanting inclusion.

We all experience troubling moments in our lives. But hatred, racism, and the denial of humanity strike at the core of the depravity of human-kind.

While our text is not about racism, the question still remains, where is God? Where is God when it hurts, when there is violence? Where is God when there is troubling news? How does God’s revelation of goodness, hope, and renewal come to us? Where is God on our road to Emmaus?

Let’s review the characters in our story today. We have two Jesus followers, and only one of them is given a name, Cleopas, which seems to give more validity to the story. I like to think the other person was a woman, because I am constantly looking for the feminine in this ancient mostly patriarchal text. These two travelers are walking home, only a seven mile walk in their day. At a good clip that is just over 2 hours of walking and talking — plenty of time to delve into the mysteries and troubles of life.

The third character in this story is the stranger. A stranger who must have been walking faster since he is the one who caught up with the “two.” Doesn’t it seem rude to you that this stranger would interrupt them? We must remember, this was not the era of driving with your windows up and the air conditioning on. Walking from town to town and meeting people along the way was common practice.

Still, he definitely interrupts them and barges into their conversation. His question could be translated, “What are these words that you have been pitching back and forth to each other?” (NIB, Vol IX, Luke, John, p. 477). The “two” are taken aback that here is someone who doesn’t know what is going on – what had happened just that very day, the discovery of the empty tomb. His battery must have died to his smart phone and he missed the flurry of Facebook posts and the tweets of the missing Jesus. It is an interesting question here, who is the clueless one? Is it the two who think they are “in the know” about all that has happened, or is it this stranger who asked them a simple question, what? What things?

“In classical irony the ignorance of the ‘know it all’ character is exposed by the character who feigns ignorance. The two disciples assume they know much more about what has happened than does the stranger who has joined them” (NIB, Vol IX, Luke, John, p. 477).

Where are you in this story? Do you think you know all that is going on? What does it mean to respect the stranger in our midst? Is it okay for people to come along and interrupt our lives?  Where is God in this story?

This story of the Emmaus Road is one of the most frequently preached texted. A story that follows the women at the empty tomb. A story that continues in the Greco-Roman and Hebrew Scripture genre of accounts of supernatural beings, the “appearances to heroes, angels, or gods, sometimes incognito and sometimes travelers” (NIB, Vol IX, Luke, John, p. 475). Hebrews 13:2 talks about entertaining visitors unaware which is a reference to the experience of Abraham and Sarah, in Genesis 18 who entertained God in the form of 3 travelers.

What captures my attention this week in this story is how easy it is to go about our lives and miss the stranger in our midst, the traveler along the way, the point where God is reaching in and touching our lives. We are in desperate need for our eyes to be open to see beyond the natural, beyond the rational. I’m learning a new, the meaning of communion, coming to the table with our sisters and brothers, not just in this congregation but also in the broader denomination. The table is where our eyes can be opened.

I came home from Convention pretty exhausted and eager for some downtime. I plunged into the week holding the sorrow and troubles of the week along with the rainy cloudy weather.

Then on Thursday morning (July 9th) I received a letter from Isaac Villegas. He is a pastor in Chapel Hill NC and a member of the Executive Board of our Mennonite denomination. He wrote about meeting me at the Communion table during Convention, where I was serving bread. This was the service planned by the Inclusive Pastors Team, Brethren Mennonite Council and Pink Menno. Isaac intends to submit his letter to The Mennonite to be published. Here is a portion of what he wrote:

you recognized me—that I am your brother, that I am in need of Jesus, in need of what you held in your hands: grace and love, Christ for me, communion with God and you. As I stood there, with opened palms, I watched your eyes glance at my name, my title, my position in our [denomination], and I felt my stomach churn with worry, with anxiety, with concern that you might not offer me the bread in your hand, because why would you? I’m part of the [executive board] that has rejected your ministry; how dare I come to you and ask for you to be my priest?
 I don’t know if you noticed, but my hands trembled as I stood there, waiting to find out if you knew who I was and what I was a part of, waiting to see if you would give me bread. When your eyes met mine, you must have noticed that my eyes were swimming in tears, tears dripping down my cheeks, down to my quivering chin. “The body of Christ,” you whispered to me as you placed communion in my cupped hands—“the body of Christ broken for you, Isaac.”

It’s hard to describe what those words meant to me… Here is a portion of my response to Isaac:
Dear Isaac,
 
What a beautiful letter! I am humbled that you would write to me in such a public forum. After my name has been used here and there (dragged through the mud), by many people who do not know me. I feel a bit of healing begin as I read your letter to me and tears come to my eyes. To be honest, I have not cried much over the pain and agony of our denomination. You see, rejection in the Mennonite Church started a long time ago. I was denied applying for employment as Director of the Youth Evangelism Service Center program of Eastern Mennonite Missions because I was a single woman.  Then, I was rejected a ministerial license by Lancaster Conference in the early '90's when Ervin Stutzman was the chief Bishop in that system. Ervin promoted a 5 year moratorium on talking about women in ministerial leadership.
 
Don't get me wrong, the rejection decree from the executive board, hurt. I feel quite numb towards the denomination since then. It's my protective state. With your letter, I feel that numbing begin to melt. I am deeply moved by your willingness to stick your neck out as a leader in the denomination and write to me in such a public way. I was also moved when I realized it was you in my line that evening. You who was willing to acknowledge me as a worthy minister of Christ's love and receive the bread of life from me - someone labeled and targeted by our denomination.
I am convinced that no one and no structure will be able to contain the love of Christ poured out to ALL people - no labels needed here.

Much love to you my brother in Christ,
Theda

In the past few months maybe even years, I have been struggling to find meaning in breaking bread and drinking juice together. I recently met with Susan, our congregational chair, and was telling her about my desire to spend time on the meaning of communion during my upcoming sabbatical. My sabbatical will wait a few months while we as a congregation get to know our Transition Pastor and enter a new flow. When I go on sabbatical, I plan to engage a variety of faith traditions and communion practices.

However, this study and reflection on communion is not waiting for my sabbatical. It has already begun. Being asked to present and serve communion at the Inclusive Worship Service on Tuesday evening and then this exchange with Isaac has already put me on a path for renewed meaning of our Communion Table.

In our text today, the table is the pivotal moment of revelation. “’Aristotle—whose works are the foundation for poetics, rhetoric, and literary theory—wrote that ‘recognition is, as its name indicates, a change from ignorance to knowledge,’ ... Recognition may be based on visible signs, memory, or reasoning, but the best kind is ‘that which arises from the actions alone.’ Aristotle would have been pleased with the recognition scene of the Emmaus story’” (NIB, Vol IX, Luke, John, p. 479). It was in the act of Jesus breaking bread that the two travelers had recognition of the one who had joined them on their journey.

As a delegate at the Convention, I believe communion was happening in that room full of 90 some round tables with 9 people per table. While we did not have bread nor juice, I witnessed deeper, more authentic sharing than at previous Conventions. Spirit showed up as we listened deeply to each other, shared our stories and built respect with others knowing we differed on many topics. The main difference being how we read the scriptures. My hope is that our eyes will continue to be opened from that experience at Convention. Where is God breaking into our denomination? Can we see the work of the Spirit amid our differences?

As I reflect on my exchange with Isaac, it was the recognition of who he was and he knowing who I was in that brief act we exchanged forgiveness.

I find myself on a new journey of discovery. Finding God at the Table when I least expected it – in the midst of the troubling time in our denomination. Finding God in the tears of my fellow brother who found me worthy to serve him at our Remembrance Table or the Table of Recognition. My study of the meaning of Communion is not waiting for my sabbatical. I am in the midst of it, saying yes to the invitation of welcoming the stranger to guide me.

How is God breaking into our lives and into this congregation?
Amen!

 

 

 

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