Pastor Wilbert Miller’s Sermon
“Just Telling Stories and Eating Dinner”
Luke 24: 13-35
April 30, 2017 (Third Sunday of Easter)
Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity-New York City
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Rick Barr was two years ahead of me in seminary. He came back to visit us at the divinity school after serving three months in a little congregation along the coast of Maine. We were delighted to see Rick and thrilled to hear his initial impressions of parish ministry.
“There is no job like it,” he told us. “I go to the Hidden Cove Diner every morning at 7 o’clock. All I do is drink coffee, eat scrambled eggs and hash browns, and chatter with the locals until our heads fall off. Can you believe the church pays me just to hang out and tell stories? What a life!”
Maybe in these days when our Lutheran church is facing a severe clergy shortage, we should create a marketing campaign with Rick in mind: “If you like drinking coffee at Starbucks and telling stories, you will love ministry in the Lutheran church.”
If today’s resurrection story is any indication, that’s pretty much how ministry happened after Jesus rose from the dead. Two men, one whose name was Cleopas, were on their way to Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. Jesus had been dead three days. The two fellows talked and talked. They had placed all their hopes on Jesus, trusting he would change the world and their lives for the better. He was gone now and their hearts were broken.
Out of the blue, a stranger joined them. On and on they gabbed with him, for two and a half hours, all the way to Emmaus.
They spoke of their shattered hopes. They told the stranger how Jesus had been condemned to die by the religious authorities and political leaders and then promptly crucified. They talked about the women who had reported to them that Jesus had risen. The stories went on and on. They told about how some of their associates went to the tomb but did not find the body.
The stranger got in on the conversation, too: “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” They were clueless that this was Jesus talking…and listening. He led them in an old-fashioned Bible study of sorts, beginning with Moses and the prophets; he “interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.”
For some reason, the two forlorn wanderers got it into their heads to invite this story-telling stranger to their house for supper and to ask him to stay for the night. Intended or not, their invitation was a stroke of genius. St. Luke writes: “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him…”
Yes, you noticed: they came to know the Risen Christ in the telling of stories and the breaking of bread.
The story-telling, by the way, didn’t stop in Emmaus. After telling stories and breaking bread, “they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread”—quite similar to what Rick Barr told us about doing ministry at First Church on the Green up in Maine.
It seems so simple, almost too simple: telling stories and breaking bread, exactly what we are doing here, right now. Shouldn’t there be more to it if we are to know our Risen Savior?
When I was ordained forty years ago, one of the gifts my parents gave me, in addition to this beautiful white cope, was a little black box. In it are a tiny silver bread box and a diminutive plate, a teensy cruet for wine and a miniscule silver chalice. Whenever I go to the hospital or visit homebound members, I take this box along with a miniscule Bible our oldest son Sebastian gave me on Christmas when he was one year old (forty years later, I can barely read the fine print). That’s all I need for ministry—actually all I’ve got: a little book of Bible stories and an insignificant box for serving a meal of Christ’s body and blood.
I must confess there have been occasions when I have yearned for far fancier accoutrements than a box and a book. Whenever I visit you in the hospital and see doctors in their freshly laundered lab coats with their names and fancy titles embossed in red, I wish I had some breathtaking trappings, too, like a stethoscope flung around my neck and a crowd of adoring interns and residents nipping at my heels. Shouldn’t we all have more powerful symbols and soaring stuff when speaking of heavenly things?
All I have to accomplish my heavenly craft on earth are a little book and a tiny box…And really, all we have for ministry in this place is the story of a risen carpenter from Nazareth and a little water and bread and wine. That’s it or, as the Lutheran reformers were fond of saying in Latin, satis est (that is enough).
We can get terrible inferiority complexes about this. We want so much more. We often catch ourselves measuring our success by bigger buildings, bigger congregations, bigger endowments. We repeatedly ask one another, “Are we growing? How big is our church now?” In the face of our gigantic dreams, all we have for ministry are a book and bread and wine and water.
The earliest Lutheran reformers realized we would hanker for more impressive things. And so, in our chief confessional document, the “Augsburg Confession” (Confessio Augustana in Latin), the church is defined as “the assembly of saints in which the Gospel is taught purely and the sacraments are administered rightly.” That is it—a book, water, bread and wine. And that is exactly what so excited Rick Barr about ministry: we are at our best whenever we are telling stories and eating.
Yes, indeed, that is more than enough! Because, of course….
Alleluia! Christ is risen!