One Tongue, Many Languages 6-4-17

I love this day. I love the celebration of languages and Spirit and community. I love the Pentecost carnation, Sweet William. Listen for the Word of God which started it all.

Acts 2:1-21

June 4, 2017

One Tongue, Many Languages

Eleven years ago or so I went with my family around this time of year to Nigeria. With the support of this congregation, we took our nine year old son intending to stay 3 months. It didn’t work out that way. And it wasn’t the greatest idea to take my son at that age to a place that scared him pretty good, but I had an amazing time there. I learned a lot – and some of what I learned was about Pentecost.

The folks we visited with in the city of Jos immediately asked me to serve as an assistant pastor at their church, giving me gifts that they couldn’t afford and I didn’t deserve before I did anything. Elijah, my son, was in fourth grade at the time and since we took him out of school, we tried to keep up with his schooling.

Ironically, the fourth grade curriculum focuses on US history, so we were reading about the founding of the US while we were over there, reading specifically about the Native American Indian tribes in this country, while we were learning about the amazing diversity of tribes in Nigeria right where we were staying.

I was asked to do a Bible study in the local church about Pentecost and I was glad to oblige, of course, since I love Pentecost so much. About 12 to 15 people came to the Bible study and we read Acts 2 together in English, since that’s the only language I understand. And I asked each of them around the circle, in honor of the holiday to introduce themselves and say a phrase, like the prayer we prayed in this service in their tribal language.

There were more languages spoken in that circle than there were people. Each person spoke English, Hausa, the regional language, and one to three tribal language. There are 350 local languages in Nigeria, a country about the size of California or Venezuela. 350 languages – and since there are so many, they usually speak in their common language of Hausa or English. Everyone knows 4 or 5 languages. And when we went around the circle speaking all the different languages, most of the languages sounded really different from each other, and they seemed almost as amazed as I was about the beautiful sounds and the diversity within their church.

And it struck me as I studied about the Native tribes of the United States that there were many more languages in this country when it was founded. There was just as much diversity here as there is now in Nigeria. Last week, when our confirmation class visited Ellis Island, we learned about the amazing diversity of people who passed through that New York port to come into this country. We saw examples of different kinds of dress, and language, and religious customs and cultures.

I have mixed feelings about these two realizations – sorrow at the loss of the cultures that were here before Europeans came to this land, and pride in the welcome and the diversity that is a strong tradition and heritage in our country. A friend posted on Facebook this week, “If the only times your church or ministry mentions the poor or oppressed is when they are recipient objects of your church or ministry’s actions or statements, then your church or ministry are agents of colonialism, not liberation.” It’s complicated.


Pentecost was a major feast day in the early church, modeled on the Festival of Weeks in the Jewish faith which is also being celebrated this weekend in synagogues, seven weeks after Passover, which happened this year at the same time as Easter. It is the early spring harvest festival, and a big celebration, comparable to Easter or Christmas at one time on the Christian calendar.

I love that we at St. Luke are recovering the richness and beauty of this holiday, remembering the power the entrance of the Holy Spirit into the 300 followers of Jesus gathered in Jerusalem for Shavuot, the festival of Weeks. This group of disciples must have felt whipsawed with emotion, first at the death of Jesus, then with the joy of the resurrection. Only 6 weeks later the tradition says that Jesus ascended, and they lost him again, though he had promised that the Holy Spirit would come to be with them always as a comfort and as a constant guide.

When that Spirit came into their midst, the church was born in a moment of ecstatic mystery and joy that they described as a whooshing of wind, fire alighting on each head, and a powerful way that they all of a sudden could understand each other, even though they were all speaking different languages. The Spirit had removed all barriers between and among them and created a new community of understanding and caring.

The early church was guided by the Spirit of understanding and caring for a long time. They seem to have been remarkably flexible in their willingness as a community to respond to pressure by listening for God’s voice, respond to adversity by sharing what they had, and respond to difference by offering a welcome.

At some point adversity overwhelmed their ability to live so flexibly by the will of the Spirit. They created rules and institutions that were a little more clumsy, but that made the way a little clearer when it was hard to hear each other. The same thing happened in our country when early settlers took land that belonged to people who were already there. There were times when they listened to the Indians and then times when they just couldn’t understand why these people who had welcomed them were so upset, starting to fight and threaten their peace.

The same thing happens today too when we feel threatened and under siege. Those are the hardest times to listen to the Spirit, to hear past the differences in language and realize we all have one tongue that all of humanity uses – one tongue which God creates in every human, one tongue which is guided by the power of the Spirit, reminding us always of our commonality in the community of the world, in our vulnerable humanity.

I know I sound naive and over-idealistic when I hold out the possibility that even in our divided and broken world that the Spirit could guide us to hear each other, even when we have harmed each other and rushed to our corners to build walls of protection and barriers of fear. But that’s what that whooshing wind does for us – it knocks down those walls, and challenges our fears and allows us to hear each other, to create a new kind of community that includes all of our children.

That’s why we share a meal today after church with people who are serving children all around this region. That’s  why we share a meal Tuesday with the Muslim community in the middle of Ramadan.

That’s why we share a meal next Sunday evening with people in the middle of Philadelphia at Arch St’s Grace Cafe. That’s why we share this meal which Jesus gave us, which is always and forever a vehicle for the Spirit – to ease our fears and reconnect us as God’s beloved community.

The Way and the Life of Hope 5-21-17

In our first reading from Acts that Sherry read this morning, Paul introduces the Athenians to God. In our second reading, Peter welcomes disciples to the Way and Life, in a manner that they might not have been expecting. This morning, I would like to welcome our 7 new members to St. Luke by inviting you on our continuing hope – to know the Living God and to live into this Way and this Life. Listen to the word of God for you this day.

1 Peter 3:13-22  If with heart and soul you’re doing good, do you think you can be stopped? Even if you suffer for it, you’re still better off. Don’t give the opposition a second thought. Through thick and thin, keep your hearts at attention, in adoration before Christ, your Master. Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you’re living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy. Keep a clear conscience before God so that when people throw mud at you, none of it will stick. They’ll end up realizing that they’re the ones who need a bath. It’s better to suffer for doing good, if that’s what God wants, than to be punished for doing bad. That’s what Christ did definitively: suffered because of others’ sins, the Righteous One for the unrighteous ones. He went through it all—was put to death and then made alive—to bring us to God. He went and proclaimed God’s salvation to earlier generations who ended up in the prison of judgment because they wouldn’t listen. You know, even though God waited patiently all the days that Noah built his ship, only a few were saved then, eight to be exact—saved from the water by the water. The waters of baptism do that for you, not by washing away dirt from your skin but by presenting you through Jesus’ resurrection before God with a clear conscience. 22 Jesus has the last word on everything and everyone, from angels to armies. He’s standing right alongside God, and what he says goes. 

May 21, 2017

The Way and the Life of Hope

So let me talk to our new members today. I’m so pleased that we have welcomed you as part our community, and that you have welcomed us into your lives. Some of you have been coming here for years, some for just a few months, but already you are part of us, and we are part of you. In our little community, there’s really no hiding. We are part of each other, and every part really counts, so we thank you for your commitment and your willingness to live the Way and the Life of Living Hope.

I have some good news and some bad news about living as part of the Way in and through this congregation. Do you want the good news or bad news first? I think I’ll go with the bad news first, if you don’t mind. We always look for good news in scripture, but we can’t ignore the hard parts – that may feel like bad news to us at first.

The bad news in our scripture this morning is that the TV evangelists and prosperity oriented Christians who have enormous congregations are not always telling the whole truth – at least not according to Peter. Those prosperity pastors like to tell people that when they join the church and say the right words they will be blessed with riches and territory and health and everything will go right for you. There are passages in the Bible that would support that kind of thinking and preaching.

I Peter is not one of them, and that happens to be our assigned reading for today. I wish I could tell you that Peter is not correct – that by joining the church today, you can receive assurance that everything is going to go right for you from now on – that all your prayers will receive an immediate answer and everything in your life will be hunky-dory forevermore like everybody else in this congregation. I wish I could show you that following the Way of Christ will mean that there will never be suffering or difficulty in our lives.

That’s not exactly how it works. According to Peter in fact, we are called as Christians to realize we sometimes end up suffering even for doing good. He tells the receivers of this letter not to repay evil for evil, but to know that following the Way of Christ may at times lead to unmerited opposition and suffering. We don’t know exactly what was happening with these early followers, and whether the community Peter was addressing had already been persecuted or was going through hard times right then, but he clearly warns them that doing all the right things may actually lead to struggle and even other people challenging you or oppressing you.

So here’s the good news. Being rich or poor, living in Bryn Mawr or North Philadelphia, being healthy or sick, being tall or short, skinny or fat, married or single, none of these things are any indications at all about how much God loves you or approves of you. Paul in Acts and Peter in this letter invite us to connect with the Creator of all that is, to have a relationship with the God of all of Life, the One whose love is bigger than anything we can fathom, to follow the Way and the Life.

You all have renewed that relationship today in this congregation by publicly answering a few questions. That may seem like an insignificant thing, but this public declaration of faith and connection with our little merry band of followers of the Way is not an insignificant thing. When you promise today to combat evil and injustice, to resist oppression in whatever form it presents itself, and to accept the grace of the Living Christ, you are renewing a promise to live in the Way, the Truth and the Life.

While that doesn’t come with a promise that everything will always break your way, it comes with the good news that God will be with you every step of the way, and that you can always count on that presence. It comes with the promise that even in your brokenness, God will renew and love you into a life of meaning and purpose. It comes with the assurance that this motley crew of other broken human beings will walk with you on that journey, as we help each other on the way.

This may not sound as sparkly and wonderful as those mega-televangelists of the prosperity gospel and it may be why you’re not joining a congregation of thousands of people, but it is really good news because it is true, because it is absolutely true that this Living Presence will sustain you through everything you have to face in your life.

Peter says always be prepared to account for the hope that is in you. “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you.” 1 Peter 3:15 Every month we include that in our newsletter and I make it a discipline of my ministry to name hope in my life and in our community and corporate life. I try to stay in touch with that hope through every month. Every week we start our service by reminding each other of the hope and the good news in our lives, and we hold each other in prayer in the struggles we are facing.

It makes a difference when we commit ourselves to each other and to God. It makes a difference when we say it publicly. That difference is not in how rich we get or in how rich the church gets. It makes a difference because of the hope that we give each other in all the situations of our lives.

Let me just get really specific about this for a minute. Pat Graham came into the church 5 months ago or so, and got excited about coming to this church and being part of this community. Soon after that, she got a diagnosis of cancer that has led to some difficult decisions and difficult treatments. It’s been a rough time and a bit heart breaking to see you struggle and I wish so much that being part of our community could just make that struggle cease – that you’d be done with it today.

I can’t promise you that, but I’m so glad you are here. It has been such a blessing for me to have you and Bill and Charlene become part of our community of resistance and caring. Pat kept saying, “I didn’t come here to be sick. I wanted to be part of POWER and to work with this congregation on everything it does.” It does warm my heart to hear that, I admit, but this journey is bigger than that, actually.

The promise is that we are all on this journey together, broken hearts and lives and all, wherever it leads. We are called to reject the evil powers of the world, repent of our sin and resist oppression. Those are all heavy duty callings. And the really good news is that God, the Creator all all that is, lives in and among us. God’s grace and presence renews and guides us every step of the way, in our families, in our work, in our relationships, in our heartbreak and our joy, in our health and in our sickness, in the births and deaths among us, in our accomplishments and in our simple, everyday prayer life and quiet.

Thank you, each one, for joining us on this powerful journey.

This is God’s for real good news.

The Way and the Life: Mothers’ Day 5-14-17

Our assigned reading this morning is from the Gospel of John, part of a long speech by Jesus called, the Farewell discourse. In this speech, Jesus is preparing the disciples for his departure, for his death. The pericope is often used in funerals, but the disciples must not have been reassured by the words. They were hoping that Jesus would be their Messiah, turning over the world order. Not only is Jesus saying farewell, but his death will mean the death of that expectation and hope. It will take a long time for the truth of Jesus’ message to be resurrected in a movement that proclaims in a new way that death will not have the last word, and that they will find a new home in the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

 John 14:    “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith in me as well. In God’s house there are many dwelling places; otherwise, how could I have told you that I was going to prepare a place for you? I am indeed going to prepare a place for you, and then I will come back to take you with me, that where I am there you may be as well. You know the way that leads to where I am going.” Thomas replied, “But we don’t know where you’re going. How can we know the way?” Jesus told him, “I myself am the Way— I am Truth, and I am Life. No one comes to Abba God but through me. If you really knew me,  you would know Abba God also. From this point on, you know Abba God and you have seen God.” “Rabbi,” Philip said, “show us Abba God, and that will be enough for us.” Jesus replied, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and still you don’t know me? Whoever has seen me has seen Abba God. How can you say, Show us your Abba’? Don’t you believe that I am in Abba God and God is in me? The words I speak are not spoken of myself; it is Abba God, living in me, who is accomplishing the works of God. Believe me that I am in God and God is in me, or else believe because of the works I do. The truth of the matter is, anyone who has faith in me will do the works I do—and greater works besides. Why? Because I go to Abba God, and whatever you ask in my name I will do, so that God may be glorified in me. Anything you ask in my name I will do.

May 14, 1017

The Way and the Life 

All of us need a place that we call ours, a place where we can be dry, comfortable, safe – not too hot, not too cold – a home. In my home I used to have a home office where I would write my sermons. Last year, we transformed that room to a bedroom (still lined by my books) a bedroom where we could welcome guests from Hosts for Hospitals.

Hosts for Hospitals, as you may know, connects people from out of town with housing when they are caring for a loved one in the hospital. Our first guest was a woman from Guatemala whose husband was very sick. She put her bag in the room and then we hardly saw her for a month. She spent every night and most of the day in the hospital with her husband. But she would come to our house in the middle of the day for a shower every now and then, bless her heart. I know she appreciated the space.

All of us need a place we can hang our hat, store our suitcase, leave our toothbrush, change our underwear, recover our balance. Back in the mid 1980’s when I was doing community organizing, I worked for a group called Kensington Joint Action Council (KJAC). Kensington was, and still is, a very poor community, with lots of abandoned houses, and lots of people who have inadequate housing.  As we looked around our neighborhood, it seemed obvious that the large number of abandoned houses could be put in the service of people who needed housing.

Wilson Goode was the Managing Director of the city at that time. We proposed that the city start a “Gift Property” program, in which they would acquire abandoned houses through eminent domain and sell them to individuals who would put sweat equity into the houses.  It was also called the “Emergency Nuisance Abatement program. They agreed to the program, then kept delaying its implementation until we finally did civil disobedience to push it into place.

We were finally successful in getting people houses, but during that time, the stress would really get to me, and I would burn out and get sick. Every now and then I would go back to Cincinnati, and my mother would welcome me with open arms and nurse me back to health. I had not lived in Cincinnati for over a decade at that time, but when I really needed nurture and support, that’s where I went. * Home is the place where they will always take you in. We revere mothers on Mothers’ Day because they so often are the ones who make those homes for us – life long homes we turn to in our hearts, even after our mothers are gone.

Our scripture reading this morning, as I say, is from a long speech Jesus gives at the end of the gospel of John called the Farewell Discourse. In it Jesus reassures his disciples that even though he is going to be crucified, even though the work they started is going to feel like it has died and even though their hearts are troubled because they think they have no home in the world any more, no place to hang their hat, they will always have a home in the heart of the risen Christ.

Martin Luther, the revolutionary priest who began the Protestant movement, was asked what it means to have a God and he answered that God is what you hang your heart upon. The heart that is troubled is a heart not hung upon God but hung rather on al the things the world peddles to soothe a troubled heart. Jesus tells his disciples as he prepares to leave them, as he prepares for his death, to hang their hearts on God; hang your hearts on me!

Jesus says, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to God except through me.” This statement has been used by some as an exclusionary statement – to say that no religion is valid but the one that worships Jesus. That’s a shame though, to limit Christ’s impact, by acting as though only one religion owns him. As Dr. Ahmed told us at our dinner, the Koran has more references to Jesus than to Mohammed. The Way of Jesus is the way of the heart, the way of the truth, the way of life and life abundantly. We hang our hearts on God in Christ no matter what any particular organization or religion says.

That Way of the Heart is not a path of judgment. We are not called to decide who is in and who is out, who deserves God’s love and who does not. That Way of Jesus is a declaration of God’s love for all creation. This is a love that surpasses every trial, every bit of trouble.

I’m sure there are some who come here today with troubled hearts in this troubled world, some who are stressed and need a place of reassurance and healing, some who need a place to hang your heart.  When Jesus says, “I am the Way and the Life,” I am confident that he is inviting every creature in all creation to find a home in the Living God, to know that you can find healing, rest, shelter, beyond even death itself, beyond the death of your mother or father, beyond sickness or pain or struggle, God’s promise is to make room for us,  a place for us to be safe & loved. So none of our hearts need to be troubled.

Responsive hymn: 2046 Womb of life

Gate to the Way and the Life 5-7-17

During the Easter season, we are concentrating on the teachings of the Gospel of John in which Jesus proclaims, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” There are a series of statements like this where Jesus says, “I AM the gate.” “I AM the vine,” “I AM the bread” and so one. I Am statements are inherently statements about the nature of God, since when Moses asks God who he should tell people spoke to him, God says, “Tell them I AM WHO I AM – YAHWEH, sends you. Listen in this passage for Jesus’ I AM statements.

John 10:1-10 “The truth of the matter is, whoever doesn’t enter the sheep fold through the gate but climbs in some other way is a thief and a robber. The one who enters through he gate is the shepherd of the sheep, the one for whom the keeper opens the gate.  The sheep know the shepherd’s voice; the shepherd calls them by name and leads them out. Having led them all out of the fold, the shepherd walks in front of them and they follow because they recognize he shepherd’s voice. They simply won’t follow strangers—They’ll flee from them because they don’t recognize the voice if strangers.” Even though Jesus used this metaphor with them, they didn’t grasp what he was trying to tell them. He therefore said to them again:  “The truth of the matter is, I am the sheep gate. All who came before me were thieves and marauders whom the sheep didn’t heed. I am the gate.  Whoever enters through me will be safe—you’ll go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal, slaughter and destroy I came that you might have life and have it to the full.

Let’s take just a moment of silence and gratitude to reflect on how our lives have been full and abundant this past week. (silence)

May 7, 2017

Gate to the Way and the Life

“Who’s there?” I called into the darkness. “Who’s there?” I called down the steps. “Did you hear something? Who’s there?” Did you ever think you heard someone come into your house and get the willies because you weren’t expecting anybody? because something was just not right about the sound of somebody entering your house at that time of night?

We lock doors for a reason. I follow the example of my father in my house. Most nights before going to bed, I check the front door and the back door and the windows to make sure they are locked for the night. We want to keep our family safe.

Did you notice the two ‘I AM” statements in the passage? Jesus says in this passage, “I AM the gate, the sheep gate.” some translations say the door. Right after this passage, Jesus says the more familiar saying – so familiar that we hear it even when Jesus calls himself a gate:  “I AM the shepherd.” The shepherd and the gate are two very different entities, but they have in common that they keep the sheep safe. They are images of security. If we think of ourselves as the sheep, the image of God or Jesus watching over us as a shepherd, can be a comforting image – (as long as we don’t think about how the sheep get fleeced and eaten in the end.) The analogy of the gate has a further implication of being an entrance, a way in or a way out of the sheep pen or the dwelling.

This image of Jesus being the shepherd who will lay down his life for the sheep if necessary is one we celebrate every year on this fourth weekend of Easter. As we begin our sermon series on the Way and the Life, I’ve been thinking about the image of Jesus as the gate to abundant life, as showing us the way to the fullest life possible.

Anybody who has taken an Intro to Psychology class knows about the Maslow hierarchy of needs chart. Maslow was a psychologist who made this chart to show that people have basic needs that need to be met before higher needs can even be considered. Hunger or thirst take priority as a bottom line need. If our physiological needs are met, human beings can focus on security and safety. Once we feel safe, we can focus on our needs for companions, for love and family. And only after we have that kind of community are we really able to work on self-esteem and regard for others. Finally, we reach a point where we can work on what Maslow calls self-actualization which includes spirituality, and truly ethical living.

People actively trying to work on a level of ethical living or mutual regard can easily come into conflict with folks who are simply worried about their own security or basic needs and having trouble thinking about anything more than that. Those basic needs must be satisfied somehow to be able to think about those other things that Jesus was so passionate about — so sometimes it’s hard for people to think beyond building a wall or a fence to try to stay safe, even when that is not truly what will make for a better society. Every world religion calls it’s followers to care for the poor, the vulnerable, the stranger. We’re in a difficult time where our leaders are more focused on security and safety than on caring for the vulnerable – for health and education

I went to a wonderful workshop at Bryn Mawr College on Thursday put on by the Social Justice Initiative of the Bryn Mawr School of Social Work. Three speakers spoke. One speaker revealed that when he was young an intruder entered his house and killed his mother. A second speaker talked about losing her son to gun violence. Another spoke about being 12 years old and witnessing his father shoot and kill his mother. You would think that they would have been talking about the need for security, selling locks or doors, the need to make our lives safer. Each one of them was talking, amazingly enough, about the need for forgiveness.

They each have had experiences that can leave one challenged for the rest of their lives, stuck at a place of fear and insecurity – trying to do anything to build a wall against their fears or their grief. Each of these speakers talked about their journey as a journey of forgiveness. The man who lost his mother in a home invasion spoke about forgiveness as the only way he could become healthy, so that he could not satisfy the most basic needs of his life without using grace which we usually think of as a spiritual ability.

The woman who lost her son said that forgiving her son’s killer didn’t mean that what he did was ok, just that she would not allow what that person did control her life. She intends to live to find a way to challenge the death culture around her and to live the life her son has not been allowed to live.

And the man who saw his mother killed when he was 12 years old was the most profound of all. He talked about forgiveness as one of the 7 sacraments of the church, and he said it took him a long time to develop the strength and fortitude to forgive his father. He talked about the time 20 years after the murder of his mother when he decided it was time for him to seek revenge and to kill his father. But when he found himself in the position to kill his father, he recognized his frailty and his age and he found a deeper truth in himself that called him back to life.

He spoke about finally being able to introduce his children to their grandfather a few months before he died, as the way in which he knew he was finally able to forgive him and to live in a deeper kind of peace with himself.

As we come to the communion table, we are called to think about who it is in our lives that we need to forgive, what we need to make right in order to bring our lives into the Way of the Living Christ, into the fullness of abundant living. Jesus invites us to find the security in God as shepherd, in God as the gate to a way of living that allows us to get beyond our most basic fears and insecurity.

Catching a Tailwind Sermon from April 30, ’17

This beautiful passage invites us to the communion meal and to a recognition and acceptance of the Risen Christ into our daily lives. We won’t be sharing communion til next week, but Easter lasts from now til the beginning of June. All this season we will find ways to recognize the risen Christ and be part of the Way and the Life that is what resurrection is all about.

Luke 24:13-35 That same day, two of the disciples were making their way to a village called Emmaus—which was about seven miles from Jerusalem— discussing all that had happened as they went. While they were discussing these things, Jesus approached and began to walk along with them, though they were kept from recognizing Jesus, who asked them, What are you two discussing as you go your way?” They stopped and looked sad. One of them, Cleopas by name, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things that have happened these past few days?” Jesus said to them, ”What things?” They said, “About Jesus of Nazareth, a prophet powerful in word and deed in the eyes of God and all the people— how our chief priests and leaders delivered him up to be condemned to death and crucified him. We were hoping that he was the One who would set Israel free.  Besides all this, today—the third day since these things happened— some women of our group have just brought us some astonishing news.  They were at the tomb before dawn and didn’t find the body; they returned and informed us that they had seen a vision of angels, who declared that Jesus was alive Some of our number went to the tomb and found it to be just as the women said, but didn’t find Jesus. Then Jesus said to them, “What little sense you have!  How slow you are to believe all that the prophets have announced! Didn’t the Messiah have to undergo all this to enter into glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, Jesus interpreted for them every passage of scripture which referred to the Messiah. By now they were near the village they were going to, and Jesus appeared to be going further. But they said eagerly, “Stay with us.  It’s nearly evening—the day is practically over..”  So the savior went in and stayed with them. After sitting down with them to eat, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, then broke the bread and began to distribute to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized Jesus, who immediately vanished from their sight. They said to one another, “Weren’t our hearts burning inside us as this one talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?’ They got up immediately and returned to Jerusalem, where they found the Eleven and the rest of the company assembled.They were greeted  with, “Christ has risen!  It’s true!  Jesus has appeared to Simon!” Then the travelers recounted what had happened on the road, and how they had come to know Jesus in the breaking of the bread.

April 30, 2017

Catching a Tailwind

They had been with Jesus, their beloved teacher and leader, for years. Then, they walk along the road with him and they can’t recognize him. What keeps them from recognizing him? They’re dying inside of grief at his loss, but they can’t see that he is right there.

Of course, they know he is dead. That would be one pretty good reason for not seeing him. They are grief stricken and not paying attention. We don’t have to be too hard on them. It happens to us all the time. We don’t see the one who is right there with us. We don’t recognize. We don’t notice. We can’t acknowledge.


I listened to a podcast by a psychologist named Thomas Gilovich of Cornell University that got me really interested in the last month in what we recognize and what we don’t. As his main analogy, he used the example of what he calls a headwind/tailwind asymmetry, which I reference in the title of my sermon.

He notes that when someone is in a race or a ride on a bicycle heading into the wind, he or she is constantly aware of the wind, looking forward to the ride going the other way with the wind at their back, struggling and cursing until they finally get to go the other way. When they do get to go the other way, they are so pleased and thankful for the tailwind, for a moment or two. Then they forget all about the wind and enjoy the ride. They stop noticing the wind that is helping them, even though they had been constantly aware of the wind going against them.

As I say, Gilovich calls this headwind/tailwind asymmetry and he has studied it in a variety of situations. His team has asked brothers and sisters, “Who had it better, you or your brother? you or your sister?” They found that most of the time both brothers or sisters in a pair think that they had a harder time than their sibling. It’s like the old Smothers Brothers joke, “Mom always loved you best!” Each sibling is aware of the difficulties they faced in their life, the headwinds they were constantly aware of, and has more trouble staying aware of the tailwind, the helps and the advantages they enjoyed.

They studied sports fans as well. Every sports fan in every city thinks that their team has it harder – a harder schedule, a worse draft pick. They studied elections. No matter what party people are in, they feel that the electoral college helps the other side more.

So people are more likely to remember and focus on the headwind experiences in their lives and sometimes have trouble noticing the tailwinds, the advantages and the privileges in our lives. Sometimes in fact, it’s easier for us to see other people’s advantages and privileges than it is to see our own. Sometimes not. All of this gets in the way of us knowing who we are and acknowledging fully the people around us.

This may not be a factor in the passage of scripture we have for today. The passage does not say precisely why the disciples don’t recognize Jesus. I’m using this passage more as a way to think about how we don’t see and fully appreciate each other. But the road to Emmaus was a good long walk – about 7 miles, long enough for discouraged disciples to feel the headwinds of their situation. For us it’s been two weeks since Easter – long enough for us to get discouraged after the nice crowd at a beautiful Easter by the smaller group of post-Easter faithful folks, and by the difficulties of our lives. The disciples are walking toward Emmaus with very little idea of where they are going or why. We sometimes live our lives not sure what we’re doing either.

It’s interesting that a key solution to the headwind/tailwind asymmetry problem and to this aimlessness is illustrated in the passage. What finally helps the disciples get back on track? The appearance of Jesus doesn’t do it because they don’t recognize him! The disciples finally recognize Jesus when they offer him hospitality and he breaks bread with them. When he gives thanks over the bread, they immediately see who he is.

Living in gratitude is a way for us to recognize and acknowledge the tailwinds which are almost always aiding us in our lives, (not just aiding our brothers and sisters.) Living gratitude helps us when he are facing headwinds, as we realize both how we are persevering and Living in gratitude is a way to happiness, since, as David Stendl-Rast teaches, it is not happiness which leads to gratitude but the other way around.

Gratitude is the best way to find happiness. Living in gratitude leads us to hospitality and hospitality leads us to recognition, recognition of the Christ in each other, recognition of the Christ in the breaking of bread.


Responsive Hymn   309 On the Day of Resurrection