Learn, Do, Teach

Journey to Emmaus

Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on Luke 24: 13 – 35.  The Road to Emmaus.  Focus on how God comes to us in our loss and gives us hope.

In 1976 I was finishing my freshman year of college in Missouri and was looking for a summer job, when the Dean of Students approached me and asked if I would be interested in interviewing for a job on Congressman Jerry Litton’s U.S. Senate campaign. Without hesitation I said yes and a week later went for my interview at the Litton campaign headquarters in Kansas City.

There were five of us interviewing for one position. I remember the campaign manager trying to talk me out of the job by saying it didn’t pay that much. To which I responded, “It’s more than I’ve ever made in a week.” For every negative he threw my way I threw back a positive as to why I wanted the job.

After the interview I went back to St. Louis and waited a week for their answer, which was that they had given the job of advance man to an older student a graduating senior. But and this was the best but I ever got in my life they were so impressed by my tenacity that they created a job for me – assistant office manager, which meant I was in charge of keeping the stock room filled with pencils, paper, paper clips and the like.

Well to make a long story short. I outgrew that job within a couple of weeks. And moved from stocking supplies to raising money to finally being Congressman Litton’s traveling aide. We traveled together the last two months of the campaign and got to know each other very well.

One of the most remarkable things about Litton was his unshakeable confidence. He was a self made millionaire, a talk show host, a cattle rancher and a man who had his sights set much higher than the U.S. Senate he was running for. On August 3rd, the night of the election, I was a nervous wreck pacing about his house in Chillicothe, Missouri like a caged animal.

He told me to take the car and drive it back to Kansas City rather than fly with him and his family to the election headquarters later that night. I know that he did this because I was getting on his nerves because of my nerves. So I drove back to Kansas City.

Five minutes before he was scheduled to leave the Chillicothe airport he called the campaign office and I answered the phone. He said to me, “Kid! Tell everyone I’m on my way and we are going to win this thing bigger than anybody ever expected!” Mind you the polls had not yet closed when he told me this, but this was typical Litton – all confidence, which made us confident.

That was the last time anyone spoke with Congressman Litton because 10 minutes later a story came across the AP wire service machine in our office saying that a small plane at the Chillicothe airport had crashed shortly after take off. And with that announcement Congressman Litton, his wife, son, daughter, Paul Rupp his friend and pilot and Paul’s son were no more.

So when I read about these two disciples walking defeated and devastated, confused and angry toward Emmaus I know what they were going through. They were devastated because the man they had pinned their hopes on was dead. The man who was going to take them to the tippy top, their Messiah was dead at 33 not much younger than Litton was when he died. And with his death went all hope of glory.

You see I’ve known for too long a time that everyone has to walk the Emmaus road at some point in there lives. It’s the road of great loss, deep disappointment and the never ending what if he had lived racking your mind.

So here they are heading home. Nothing else to do. We don’t know why they didn’t hang with the rest of the disciples in Kansas City. I mean Jerusalem; we only know that they were going home.

And out of nowhere a stranger meets them on the way. He meets them where they are – on the road, right in the middle of all the pain, frustration, and despondency that threatens to overwhelm them.

Notice, now, what takes place. First, he opens up the Scriptures, but not as some intellectual exercise but as a story that helps to make sense of what has happened by showing how the scriptural story is their story. And then he shares a meal, lifting and blessing bread, breaking it and giving it to them. And amid these simple and symbolic actions they recognize him. The one whose presence calls light out of darkness and gives life to those who feel dead.

And then he is gone. So they get up and they go back that evening over the same road, but this time everything is different because of what they’ve seen, heard, and done.

Can you find yourself in this story? Because this is what we do. We are blessed and we are burdened. We all must make sense of life and find that story that gives our lives meaning and purpose. We all gather and eat every day. And then we all move on to places yet unknown, because that is the nature of life.

Now that Emmaus road can be long or short. Mine was long. I didn’t cry for ten years after Litton died, until the evening of August 3, 1986. Ten years to the day. I was sitting in a room at the Pennington Presbyterian Church being examined for my first call to ministry. And Rev. Susan Reisinger asked me to talk about the hardest thing I had ever had to deal with and without a moments hesitation tears welled up in my eyes and I cried like a baby. I mean I sobbed and realized that it was ten years to the day that Litton had died.

And later that night at my first Presbytery meeting, we shared communion and I will never forget the words that Susan said to me as she handed me the bread and chalice. “This is my body which is broken for you. And this is the cup of new life.” And in that instant I knew what those two disciples knew as they headed back to Jerusalem to tell the others that they had just experienced the risen Christ.

It’s not a bad pattern to emulate, is it? Meet people where they are. Share the hope of our sacred story so that folks can make sense of their lives in light of God’s ultimate promise. Gather with others who are on life’s journey over a meal that is made sacred by our wounds and Christ’s presence. And then send one another on our way back into the world to partner with God in the never-ending process of binding up the broken hearted and sharing the news that death does not have the last word. The resurrection does! Amen

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