Visits from Strangers

Date: Apr 07, 2024
Speaker: Rev. Sarah Reed Jay

    Visits from Strangers
    Rev. Sarah Reed Jay
    Luke 24:31-35

    Have you ever had to depend upon the kindness of strangers? There are three stories in our scriptures where a stranger – an unknown traveler – is
    invited in for a meal – and turns out to be divine and to have an important message – in one case the stranger is God, in another, the angel of the LORD, and in today's story, the risen Jesus. The three stories have a lot in common. The first is the story of Abraham and Sarah. The LORD had appeared many times to Abraham over the years, promising a child, but now, Sarah had finally quit hoping. This was just the way it was going to be. Then one day, in the hottest part of the Arabian afternoon, Abraham was sitting in the shade of their tent, under the door flap. Sarah was inside working on something or other. And three men walked up. Abraham, seeing them, ran to them, and begged them to stay and rest and wash, sit in the shade and eat. For tent-dwellers in the Sinai peninsula, there weren't many people who happened to walk past. When a stranger came by, it was a rare chance to connect to the world beyond. The three men agreed to stay. So Abraham told Sarah to make some bread, and he went out and had a calf killed. When it was all ready – it must have taken a couple of hours at least! – Abraham stood by while they ate. Then one of the men shared God’s news, "I will come back and Sarah will have a son." Well, Sarah had her ear to the tent wall, and when she heard that, she snorted to herself – a secret, cynical chuckle – Fat chance of that happening! At this moment the scripture changes from calling the visitors "the men" to "the LORD."
    The LORD knew she laughed even though she thought she was being discreet, and said, "Why did Sarah laugh? Is anything too wonderful for the LORD?"

    Roughly 700 years later, something not so different happened to a man named Gideon. Gideon eventually became one of the judges of Israel, like Samson and Deborah, but at this moment, he was just a regular guy – a farmer. Gideon’s people were under siege, and for safety, they had started living in caves in the mountains. They couldn't plant or harvest because if they did, their enemies would see it and find them. It had been this way for seven years. Gideon had found a way to secretly grow some wheat, and on this day he was hiding down below the surface of the ground in a winepress, beating his wheat, so that he wouldn't be caught.

    The angel of the LORD appeared to him, down in that winepress, but Gideon didn't know it was an angel. He brought Gideon a message: "You are a mighty warrior!" …an ironic message for a man hiding down in a pit to hear. "Go in your might … and deliver your people. I will be with you." Gideon demanded a sign – because he still didn't believe it was really an angel. They had been living in fear for a long time and that makes it hard to believe good news.

    He probably felt a little like I did one day when our eldest son, looking out the front window said, "Hey Mom, come here! It's a moose!"
    "A what?" I said.
    "A moose!"
    "A moose?"
    So I said, "I'm coming to look, but I don't believe you."

    And, of course, there was no moose…did you think there would be? Gideon thought the same thing: I’m coming to look, but I don’t believe you!

    "Stay here," Gideon said to the mysterious man, "while I bring you dinner." Gideon, like Abraham, made meat and bread and served it to him. The angel took a staff and burned the food
    in a burst of fire and vanished. At that moment, when he vanished, Gideon “perceived” that it was indeed the angel of the LORD. Sounds like Luke’s gospel, doesn’t it?

    Now, skip over 1200 more years to the story we heard today about the Road to Emmaus. Cleopas and his friend were going back home, done. They had followed Jesus to Jerusalem to
    watch him redeem Israel, but whatever they'd been doing with him was over, now that he was dead. They were heartbroken and stung and the only thing that could make it better was to move on with their lives.

    At some time or other in our lives, we've all walked down that dejected "maybe I should have never even tried" Road to Emmaus. And then this stranger joined them on the road…and
    started asking questions. They told him everything that had happened as they walked, and he shed a new light on their teacher's death.

    I wonder, what did Jesus look like when their eyes couldn't see who he was? Luke says their eyes were kept from recognizing him. The Greek word is "grasped,” and their eyes were
    “grasped.” What had hold of their eyes?

    Yet, despite their slow belief and their slow seeing they wanted to spend more time with this man, and so they begged him to stay – it's getting late, they said. – Just as Abraham begged
    the three men, and Gideon begged the angel to stay and eat. At dinner, when the stranger took the bread and blessed it, suddenly they could see – Luke says their eyes were "all the way
    opened," as though they'd only been half looking the whole time.

    Once they recognized him, he vanished. And, just as the angel had burned Gideon's food as a sign, they realized they'd had a sign, too: their hearts had been burning all along. They went all the way back to Jerusalem – in the dark! – now it wasn’t getting late, now it was too soon to give up and go home.

    In all three stories, someone was discouraged, someone thought a promise had died without ever having been born, and someone was unable to believe. We see three different ways of
    giving up. Cynicism, fear, and resignation. The cynicism of Sarah, the fear of Gideon, the resignation of the two men.

    Sarah was in the tent, scoffing. Within herself, alone behind the flap of the tent, she had gotten a little bit bitter. Gideon was in the winepress, down in the pit, hiding. He had decided
    God had left them because things were beyond terrifying. Cleopas and his friend were on the Road to Emmaus, heading home after a failed endeavor, tails tucked between their legs. And to each one, God came as a traveler, a stranger, who stayed or went with them, who brought a message to restore their hope.

    Why not just come in a burning bush, or as a moose? Some of us listen better to the ordinary. Some of us need the truth to slip in, unawares, so it can get past our defenses.

    Sarah heard, Don’t give up hope yet.
    Gideon heard I will be with you!
    Cleopas and his friend heard It's not over!

    It almost makes you want to find a stranger and invite them over to dinner and see whether you might hear from God! It is my prayer for you today that –
    when you are in the tent with Sarah – when you are doubtful that God's promise can ever be
    or when you are in the winepress with Gideon – hiding from what you have to face
    or when you are walking the Road to Emmaus – calling it quits and going back home
    – that God, in whatever form it takes so that you can hear, will come and walk with you on that road, sit and eat with you, and tell you again the very thing you need to hear.


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