The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

In the name of God, Life-giver, Pain-bearer and Love-maker.   (Fr Jim Cotter

s026g11  Third Sunday of Easter  6/5/2011

‘What things?’  Luke 24.19

Cleopas and his friend were walking away from Jerusalem and the temple, away from the rejection of Jesus by the devout and the orthodox.   Google tells me that the average walking pace for men is 3.5 miles per hour, so they had a good couple of hours to discuss their thoughts.

And walking is an especially good way of processing things.   In times past I have found a walk along the beach at Glenelg (near Adelaide, South Australia) a valuable time to think, to process what was happening to me, and to return refreshed to finish the sermon which I hadn't even thought about during my walk.   Walking is a way of meditation, as the repetitive paces become a mantra for the soul.   And walking with someone else is good too.   Most usually people walk together, side by side.  There is no eye contact, no face to face confrontation.   The walkers are equal.  They travel the same path and have to negotiate the same obstacles.   Companionship on the way is a good thing.

And I reflect how different this companionship is to the sort of conversations we have in church!   In the liturgy the priest / minister is up the front, pontificating to the masses often physically below.   How different this companionship is to the blogosphere as the debates about human sexuality rage across the Anglican Communion.   How different this companionship is to many church synod, council and vestry meetings modelled on the adversarial 'Westminster' system.   Perhaps we ought to call ourselves the Anglican Dysfunctional Sideshow rather than the Anglican Communion!

And the journey of life that the priest or minister is travelling is often so different from the journey in life that the masses are walking.   The priest or minister is busy with his or her prayer life - the parishioner is struggling to know how the bills will be paid, what to have for lunch, how to deal with the rebelling teenager or bullying at school or workplace.

In an interesting article in Eureka Street, Andrew Hamilton discusses the beatifying of Pope John Paul II and says of his legacy: 'Catholics are left to deal with a world they are not encouraged to understand except in polemical terms.' and laments the retreat from 'openness to change implicit in the governance of Popes John XXIII and Paul VI'   For me Pope John the XXIII wanted to walk alongside people as Cleopas and his companion walked alongside one another.

And the thing that most of us Cantabrians have noticed, following the earthquake of February the 22nd, that we need to talk about it.   People need to share their stories with someone else who was there too, someone who knows what happened and someone who probably has the same feelings as we do, feelings of grief, pain of helplessness.   We need fellow travellers.

And along comes Jesus to Cleopas and his friend, and invites them to tell him of their experiences, even though, as the one crucified, he knew the story better than anyone else.   It is only after Cleopas and his friend had exhausted their story that Jesus responds, with the words of reassurance that all that had happened was indeed planned.   It was not the defeat and the disaster they imagined.

We are damaged souls and the last thing we need is someone else to tell us we ought to give to others.

Jesus comes and blesses us when we journey with others.   I expect that Jesus avoids the confrontation of the Westminster adversarial system, the blogosphere, synod, council and vestry.   Jesus is not about who is right and who is wrong.   Jesus is about companionship amongst equals, one might even call it communion.

So the real question this poses for me is how we as the church become fellow travellers with humanity rather than our present dysfunctional rabble that is attractive to no one in their right mind?   For it is only when we do this that we can expect Jesus to join us on that journey and for others to become a part of the conversation.

And essential to becoming fellow travellers is to put aside positions of status, power and authority.  We need to cultivate an empathy with others.   How many good and faithful Anglicans metaphorically cross their fingers behind their backs when they have to join in reciting the creed during worship?   Why don’t we express our doubts publicly?   I am sure that a good many atheists and agnostics would be far more amenable to journeying with us if we were.   How many good and faithful Anglicans happen to be gay or lesbian, or are teenagers struggling with their hormones, women who face abuse at home or whatever and come to church to find solace and support and dismiss the haranguing from the pulpit as irrelevant?   How many good and charitable people would actually join in this sort of communion rather than shunning us?

And for me this shows the necessity of this.   For we are effectively excluding others while we are treating others as less than equals, by refusing to be fellow travellers.   There is no point whatsoever in pretending to be evangelistic and growing the church while we retain our positions of power and authority over others.   We really only want others to bolster our own sense of importance and to immortalise our contribution and ministry, not to lift others to their feet and to make their contribution and ministry, lest it eclipse our own.

Jesus comes to Cleopas and his companion on the road when they least expect it; he comes when they are bereft, helpless and grieving.   And I suspect that it is also true that Jesus comes not when we are strong in the faith, enthusiastically reciting the creed and agreeing with the words of the preacher.   Jesus comes when we least expect it, when our faith is non-existent. 

Jesus comes to Cleopas and his companion on the road, as they are journeying away from Jerusalem and the temple.  We are wont to suggest that Jesus comes to people in the holy place, in the temple, church or meeting place.   This tells us that Jesus is found elsewhere, in real life.   So often the temple, church or meeting place is a place of discrimination rather than acceptance, of meeting others but not on equal terms.   When we are strong in our faith, when we are asserting our superiority over others, we are likely to be crucifying Jesus.

For none of us ‘has’ Jesus to give to another.   Jesus joins us as we journey with another on equal terms.   No church ‘has’ Jesus to give to another.   Jesus joins us as we journey with another church on equal terms.   No faith ‘has’ Jesus to give to another.   Jesus joins us as we journey with others of different faiths and none, on equal terms.

And Jesus comes and asks the disciples what they are discussing.   Jesus is interested in our thoughts, our concerns, our frustrations, our grieving as well as our successes.   Jesus is interested in us as we are, not in how we might contribute to his glorification.

It seems to me also that we interpret Jesus’ words to Cleopas and his friend: ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!’ as a rebuke, when these can as equally be said with a kindly and reassuring smile.   For this is what they are meant to be - kind and reassuring.  

Grief and sadness is only the other side of the love we have for another.   We would be inhuman if we were able to loose someone definitive in our lives with no grief.   For me it would call into question the love we claim we had in the first place.   Jesus comes to reassure Cleopas and his friend that all is well and the love God has for all is not defeated by the religious and the devout.

And the message is the same to us, that the love that God has for all is not defeated and that we share that love as we journey with others in this world on equal terms.  Amen.

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