First Lesson: Acts 2: 14, 36-41
Responsive Reading: Psalm 116: 1-4, 12-19
Second Lesson: 1 Peter 1: 17-23
Gospel Lesson: Luke 24: 13-35
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I want to begin this morning with a story. There once was a man who was bald. This man was known for his patience, mercy, and kindness. One day this man was out taking a walk, when he encounters a large number of youth that begin to taunt him. They made fun made fun of his “baldness” and wished for his death. The bald man was both hurt by their insults, but frightened for his safety. The man then issues a curse against those who were taunting him. Right when it looked like the Bald Man’s life could be taken, out of the nearby woods come a couple of female bears, the bears then mauled to death forty-two youth.
With the exception of Gunnar and Nick along with the rest of the confirmation students, I’m not sure if anyone here really knows this story. It’s the story of Elisha and the she-bears that comes from the Book of 2 Kings 2.
This is a strange story that seems devoid of any real religious meaning. Yet it comes from the pages of our holiest of books. What should we think about the bald-man and the she bears? We’ll get back to that in a little bit.
Recently the American Bible Society and Barna Research released their 2014 State of the Bible survey which contained some interesting findings regarding people’s attitudes towards the scriptures.
Here are some of the more interesting findings from within this survey. For those of you who don’t care for numbers, I promise this breakdown will be brief.
-79% of Americans believe that the Bible is a sacred book. This number is somewhat noteworthy since it’s down from 86% in 2011. The Bible receives it’s most positive scores for being seen as encouraging forgiveness, patience, and generosity. 88% percent of American households report reading the Bible once a week or more.
-56% of Americans believe that the Bible is the divinely inspired word of God with little in the way of errors. 37% of Americans read the Bible once a week or more.
-Perhaps the most interesting finding of this survey was that the number of people who are considered Bible skeptics defined as those who believe the Bible to be nothing more than mere words of men now sits at 19% of the U.S. population, this number is roughly equal to those who are Biblically engaged defined as those who read the Bible at least four times per week.
These surveys always find interesting things about American attitudes towards the Bible. It’s not uncommon for these surveys to discover that a majority of Americans believe that the Bible contains everything that one needs to live a meaningful life, where as a majority will also fail to open the Bible less than 5 times a year.
I think what these surveys reveal more than anything is that Americans have a fascination with the Bible. In 2014 alone, Son of God about the Life of Jesus and Noah has already been released.
In December a big budget production of the story of Moses and the Exodus is coming to the big screen. I think what all this shows is America wants to know the Biblical story, yet at times often can’t make sense of it.
I’ll always be surprised when I encounter people who never attend church, yet frequently partake in religious specials on TV. We deal with an interesting tension regarding the scriptures and these issues.
So this raises the questions of “How do we make sense of the Bible?” and “What role should this book play in our daily lives?”
This brings us to our lesson for this morning from Luke the 24th Chapter. The story begins with two men who were followers of Jesus (but not disciples), leaving Jerusalem on the third day after his death. These men then begin a seven mile walk to their home in the village of Emmaus. They then encounter a man on the Road to Emmaus who they are unable to recognize.
They describe what happened during the last week as an event that brought forth great disappointment “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”
As someone that has gone to a lot of sporting events, I know the worst feeling in the world is watching the other team celebrate. Seeing other fans have enjoyment that you yourself wished you had. You hope more than anything that someday all your emotional investment pays off, and the thought that it might not payoff, makes you question why even care?
I have a friend who is a Pastor in Pennsylvania, she used to dread more than anything in her job having to perform wedding ceremonies, and this task was a constant reminder of all that she didn’t have in life.
This was the type of feeling that these men had as they mourned Jesus’ death. They knew Roman power, they had been crushed by Roman power, these men were returning home with what seemed like the crushing realization that nothing was going to be different from them the next time around.
Yet as these men were expressing their disappointment in the outcome of holy week, this man who they still didn’t recognize began to point out a few things to them.
How these men were just reinforcing something that had been difficult for centuries in how hard it is for us to believe. How the scriptures declared that the Messiah (the holy one of Israel), the one that they had been waiting had to suffer and die to reconcile God to humanity. This man then took these two disciples aside and began to explain the scriptures to them starting with the Law and the Prophets-Luke 24:27. Jesus began to tie the scriptures together for these two disciples.
So how does one tie the Bible altogether? Joe Burgess is the most brilliant mind that I have ever come across. Joe is considered the foremost Lutheran expert in the Office of the Pope in the world. A generation ago, Joe was part of the International Lutheran-Catholic Dialogues because of it. Joe’s got a PHD in New Testament, and keeps so many books in his house that even his oven is full of books.
Joe wrote an article on how the scriptures all tie together as Jesus explained to the men on the Road to Emmaus in this unrecorded conversation.
I share for you Joe’s thoughts on this day.
1. The New Testament interprets the Old Testament. Earlier I was telling the story about Elisha and the she bears. Many of you probably didn’t know what to make of this story, and that’s intentional. Perhaps a few more details will help bring about understanding. Elisha was being mocked for his religion, by a large number of youth during a great time of religious conflict within the nation of Israel’s history. The group that Elisha had encountered on that day was marching towards the spiritual center of the country the city of Bethel, perhaps to inflict even more damage upon the faith communities. Perhaps God’s action with the she bears was to prevent a far greater spiritual calamity. God’s involvement did not work. Elisha’s people were eventually brutally conquered. Yet God did not stop seeking to bring about reconciliation between him and his people. The thing about so many stories within the Bible is they often don’t make a lot of sense unto themselves; they only begin to make sense in the context of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The New Testament interprets the Old Testament because the New Testament is what brings forth cross and resurrection. Our faith is not based on a series of events a complicated puzzle that must be interpreted, our faith is based on one event.
2. The clear interprets the unclear. A while back the Jehovah Witnesses stopped by my house; I tend to engage Bob and Peggy whenever I see them. They start quoting scriptures at me. Yet what I noticed about every scripture verse that they quoted at me was that it was either from the Book of Revelation or the Book of Daniel. I was chuckling under my breath as I watched them seemingly play a game of ping pong between these two books. While these are useful books, they are ultimately not the books which shape our belief system. Due to the fact that oftentimes the world’s brightest Bible scholars can’t agree on their meaning. We must always let the clear promises of scripture; influence how we interpret stuff that is difficult to figure out. “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” We must never loss sight that the scriptures can only be seen through the lens of the human predicament of sin and how God acted in response.
3. Scripture interprets itself, we have no higher authority. What the scriptures ultimately do in our lives is it reminds us that we do not stand in judgment over them; rather the Bible stands in judgment over us. Scripture points to Christ and Christ gives the scriptures their authority. So how we understand the scriptures. Martin Luther describe the scriptures “the cradle which holds the baby Jesus.” The Bible itself is not our hope; the Bible is rather from where we draw our hope. The Bible is where we hear the great word of God’s love for sinners, where we encounter promise, forgiveness, and salvation.
4. We always need to ask when looking at the scriptures. What drives Christ? Or what promotes Christ? Let me quote a Bible verse for you. 1 Timothy 5:23- The Apostle Paul instructs the Apostle Timothy to “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.) Is this wine-drinking advice useful? Perhaps, yet it’s really not that important to our Sunday mornings. Let me now quote another Bible verse Ephesians 2:8-9 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” Are these verses equally important? No. One verse offers debatable advice, where as the other verse issues the promises of heaven. Which of these two verses should have more authority for your life? The verse that speaks to the Bible’s mission and purpose.
5. Scripture can only be interpreted within the Church. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this story from our Gospel lesson is that these men receive the greatest Bible lesson they could ever hope to receive, yet they still don’t recognize Jesus. It is only when they share a meal together later that their eyes were opened. It was only then when they came to realize that there hearts were burning as Christ spoke to them on the Road to Emmaus. Scripture can only really be interpreted inside the Church, because interpreting scripture is not about the brains in your head, it’s rather about the faith that has been created within your heart. Since the scriptures are the vessel by which the Holy Spirit creates faith.
David Zahl who is a blogger for Mockingbird describes having a youth pastor friend who fears giving access to the Bible to his students. This youth pastor fears how too many people approach the Bible. How they see it as nothing more than a set of rules and requirements that they need to abide by, to get in on the right side of heaven.
The Bible breaks down our whole world view that our notions of success and reward aren’t quite right. The scriptures don’t feed us as payment for a hard day's work; rather the scriptures nourish us when we’re famished. The scriptures give us relief, when the world seems to be crashing around us no different then these men on the Road to Emmaus. What’s the scriptures remind us is that our salvation is not an accident.
Around the turn of the 19th Century, there was a German philosopher with perhaps the greatest German name ever in Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe. I leave you with Von Goethe’s words this morning “The Bible grows more beautiful, as we grow in our understanding of it.”
The Bible, death, resurrection, forgiveness, and new life for this is the beauty of what Jesus gave these two disciples on the Road to Emmaus. Amen
 2 Kings 2:23-24
 American Bible Society and Barna Research Group. “American Bible Society’s State of the Bible 2014”.www.americanbible.org. Web. Apr.29.2014
 Hagen, Kenneth. “The Bible in Churches: How Various Churches intrepret the Scriptures. “ Burgess’s article appears on pages 101-126. The five principals of Lutheran scriptural interpretation occur on pages 115-117. Milwaukee: Marquette University Press. 1994. Print
 John 11:25
 Zahl, David. “Bible Bible on the Wall, Who’s the Fairest of Them All?” Mockingbird. Christ Episcopal Church. Charlottesville, VA. 28.Apr.2011. Web. Apr.30.2014