I don't know what to tell this person we’ve just met on the road Emmaus. There was this amazing moment a few towns back, at the tomb, where Christ was raised from the dead. You can’t make this stuff up! We rolled the stone away, and saw for ourselves- there was no body just grave clothes! All his teachings were right, he is indeed the son of God! My gosh, my heart is burning with the passion of a thousand fires to share my experiences with this person, but I don't know how to even start! This story about us, from the Gospel of Luke is probably one of my all time favorite sections of scripture. We read it on the evening of Easter Sunday, as all the pomp and majesty of Resurrection Day calms down, and the sheer force of what happened starts to settle in. We gather around the tomb, and head for the streets back to our homes, wondering what to make of what we’ve just seen and how on earth we can ever tell anyone that Jesus was raised from the dead, without them thinking we are crazy. This is, of course, neither our scripture for today nor the beginning of our story- it is the ending to our story. We start at the end, because we can’t know where we are going until we know where we have come from, and this morning we witness Christ’s ministry finding its voice, planted squarely in the ending- his death and resurrection, which births us to continue his work in our world today of inviting people to “come and see”.
Emmaus is my favorite story because of its deeply human temperament, it's full of doubt and worry about getting things right, being perfect in how we communicate what it is we have seen and known for ourselves. The unity we find between Luke’s Emmaus story, and John's baptism of Christ, is the witness we are to share with the world, because of what we have personally seen and known in our own lives of faith. John the Baptist, in John's account of the baptism, continues to remind us of his purpose in this story- he is not the vehicle of salvation, he is the herald, the person called to clear the way for the salvation of God’s people, found in the Messiah- Jesus Christ. Something that really catches my attention in this passage is John's reminder to us that “he did not know him” and that God told him he would know who Jesus was because of the descent of the Holy Spirit which would hover over Jesus at baptism- at the inauguration of his ministry. This is important because we are being told to see God working among us. But what does seeing God working among us mean and how do we share that?
John’s account of the baptism of Christ, the inauguration of Christ’s ministry, is deeply woven with connections to the crucifixion. We are able, from our vantage point, to know how the story ends, however the details matter. Jesus is the son of God, the Lamb of God, who will be given over to be slain for us, to bring us back into closer relationship with God. So does that mean we are meant to go to our friends and family and say “Jesus, the lamb of God was slain for you- just so you know!” well, no. Frankly, what we are talking about here is evangelism, that often dirty word that makes us reach for our car keys and look for the exits. It's often thought of as dirty because of how it's been used on others, for others, and with ourselves. Forcibly praying over others, making them listen to incoherent messages of eternal salvation, damnation, and fear, condemning people because of our beliefs in God's righteousness- all of which is about the speaker, and not God or God's message. The list goes on. In one of my favorite evangelical scenes from a 2004 movie about a Christian high school shot here in Vancouver called “Saved” Mandy Moore's character Hillary- God’s self declared salvation and righteousness police, demands that Jena Malone's character Mary- a teenager who’s life gets messy with a surprise pregnancy, submit to her intervention in her life by proclaiming judgments on her life and being patronizing worried about Mary’s soul. To try and overcome Mary’s objections and questioning Hilary’s real motivations, Hillary throws a bible at Mary and says “I am so filled with Christ’s love,” to which Mary picks up the bible giving it back to Hillary saying- “this is not a weapon, you idiot.” This is not a weapon indeed, God’s love is never a weapon. And while this is a more extreme case of what evangelism can look like, what this intervention represented was a lack of grounding in one’s own voice of witness. What Hillary did to Mary, was the exact opposite of John, she didn't see God already at work in Mary, she assumed God was absent and needed to testify to that absence. We are called to testify to the presence.
Talking about our faith is about as popular as a corked glass of wine, curdled milk in our coffee, or flat soda. It makes us uncomfortable, and indeed as a young adult when I was told to share my faith, I often saw examples of evangelism in the media or from my friends and pray to God that I was never like them, because it wasn't who I am - it wasn't my style. And that’s exactly the point. Their experience of God can never be mine, or vice versa, which is why each of our individual voices is so important to the building of God’s kingdom, because we all have different experiences, or views of what it can look like. The way in which we start to find our voice is through prayer, by seeing and knowing deeply within us the places in which God is moving and touching our lives. In prayer, the intimacy of sitting with God, as God has sat with us everyday of our lives, we start to find the language within us to connect the dots in our lives between what previously felt like disconnected experiences, and to see God’s active spirit hovering above it all. From our choices to accept a new job, start a new relationship, have another child, finish our degree, retire, or even prepare for our death, in prayer, God's presence becomes known to us. But how do we know God’s there? Well for me, its often that feeling of complete shock or awe at doing something I never thought I was able to do, or accomplishing something, and even in failing sometimes. When I fail, which to the world is a sign of weakness, what I see instead is a strength, because I am able to recognize that I was working against God’s will in my life. I know this because I have personally felt God's presence in my life, throughout the moments that have come to define me- leading, pulling, asking me to go deeper, which continues to form who and what I am becoming as a human. This is God’s greatest desire for us, that we go deeper with him in our lives to see him in everything we are and are becoming. And we do that in prayer.
Jesus names his disciples, at the start of their ministries this morning, just as you and I were named in our baptism as Jesus’ disciples, to go out and share with those they meet what they have seen. For us, we are to follow the same route, and we continue today with the second of seven prayer practices for our tool kit which we got in our leaflets as we came in today. The whole point of prayer is presence, presence in and of God throughout our lives, to help us see and know where God is moving in order to form the language we need to share with others what we have received in Christ. I know in my own life, I have received love beyond my wildest imagination, the gifts of a wild creativity, a passion for friends and community, and the forgiveness that removes the shame I feel in my life for not following Christ with the assurance I ought to. With this, I am able to share the love of God, the forgiveness of God, the presence of God, with all I meet using the voice I have found through my own experience and life in Christ. In prayer, I find my voice to speak God’s truth among us here in this parish. It all starts with prayer.
So church, as we move into this season of presence we call Epiphany, where we celebrate God’s presence among us in the inaugurated ministry of Christ to go and make disciples of all people, we are called to prayer for ourselves, for others, and for the world, in order to see and hear how God is changing the world within us, and through us. Today we are called to find our voice, to invite others- like the disciples- to come and see what Christ is doing among us, to grow God’s kingdom of justice, joy, and belonging. And it all starts with prayer. So church, what is your voice? The world wants to hear it.