Sermon: “The Heart of Fire,” April 19th, Hilton Head Campus

Download and Listen to Sermon “The Heart of Fire” Sermon

Hilton Head Campus, Saint Andrew By-The-Sea UMC

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On Sunday April 19th, I had the opportunity to preach at Saint Andrew By-The-Sea UMC’s Hilton Head Campus on the Gospel of Luke chapter 24:13-35, also known as “The Walk to Emmaus.”  As I studied the text, and experienced how Jesus revealed himself in this very unique story of two men who were “discussing” fervently the loss of hope and possibility, I felt myself in the text and realized that we all have worries and doubts about the future.  As we experience the season of Easter, The risen Christ meets us on the road, and the Holy Spirit blows oxygen onto the spark igniting the fuel, Christ’s presence, that unleashes the Kingdom of God among us now, in anticipation of the fullness of it, when Christ returns.

(Here is the Original Transcript of “Heart of Fire”)

Sermon: The Heart of Fire

Daniel Griswold

Main Idea: “Life is like fire, we need fuel, which is the presence of Jesus Christ.”

Scripture: Luke 24:13-35 (NRSV)

The Walk to Emmaus

13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad.  18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.  Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on.29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

(The Word of God for the People of God – Thanks Be to God)

Prayer: (Let us Pray) “Open our ears, O Lord, to hear your word and know your voice. Speak to our hearts and strengthen our wills, that we may serve you today, now, and always. Amen.”

Illustration: Have you ever just stared into a campfire? I have. I’ve noticed at camping trips that when the sticks are gathered, a small teepee with kindling is set, and the flicker of smoke wisps upward, people begin to gather. A glow begins to catch and the fire maker puffs a bit to allow oxygen to fuel the flame, and that’s when the big logs of wood are brought out. That’s when people get really serious, and if everyone isn’t there yet, they are when the flames begin to stretch upward and the sound of popping and cracking begins. Twilight descends into darkness, and there is only one light illuminating the faces of those who have circled around the warmth of this burning wonder. Across all cultures, a good flame brings warmth and light to those who gather. Stories are told, songs are sung, friendships are bonded, and the spirit of God often inspires like the people of Israel below the flames of Mount Sainai; but at the center of the campfires are simple things: paper, sticks, logs, (maybe lighter fluid – if you’re a bit crazy) and oxygen; in other words – A good fire needs fuel; And so do we!

On the Text: In the gospel of Luke, we heard the story of two men, disciples of Jesus who had just been crucified, who were now walking on the road from Jerusalem to a village called Emmaus. We’re not quite sure of the exact location of Emmaus, but we know it was seven miles outside of the city, which is a good long walk; and these two men had plenty to talk about. It seems from the language of the text, that they weren’t just having an ordinary conversation, but there may have been a bit of a frenzy to it – a frustration. They were not just talking, they were “Talking AND Discussing,” which may be a way of saying they were deeply invested in what had happened in Jerusalem.

Jesus, the one they’d hoped would save them from Roman rule and a corrupt religious system, who had been talked of as a prophet and a king and perhaps their Savior/Messiah – well, he had just been crucified.   They couldn’t believe what had happened, they didn’t know what to think, their hearts were heavy and full of doubts about the future; and in that they were just like us.

Over the last six years, as I’ve prayed and cared for all our families here at Saint Andrew, I’ve noticed that there is something that all of us have in common, and it is that we all worry about something, Often we are anxious and believe the fear that everything is going downhill, because we don’t know the future. Our hearts are heavy when the world turns in the opposite way we’d hoped for – everything seems lost and we don’t understand – how could this have happened to me? To us? To us all? If Jesus were to come next to us to speak new life into our souls, would we be able to recognize it? (PAUSE)

The two on the road to Emmaus didn’t recognize it at first, when Jesus Christ, newly risen from the dead, came alongside them on the road. I suppose they weren’t expecting him, which is a problem. But Jesus tries to get a pulse on their situation,  saying something so ordinarily wonderful – “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” Their response? “They stood still, looking sad.”

Like a little league baseball team that just lost the match 20 to nothing, they stood there as if they’d about lost it all. Maybe we just ought to fall into the dust and die. The pit of the stomach aches, and we all know that very soon the coach has to tell a really inspiring speech in a really soothing tone to get everyone to rise again for the next game, and the team chaplain’s got a big prayer ahead. Somehow they’ll need to rise from the ashes.

“They stood still and looked sad.” Jesus asked them, what’s wrong? And one of the two, named Cleopas, snapped:

Are you the only one who doesn’t know what happened in Jerusalem? Jesus of Nazareth did miraculous things, and they killed him! We thought he was going to redeem Israel. But he’s been dead three days, and now women have gone nuts telling us he’s not in the tomb, but guess what – it’s true – one of our guys went and his body isn’t there. The whole world is upside down and we don’t know what to make of it.”

That’s my paraphrase, but you can tell, these guys were in the train wreck of their lives and they’d. Just. Stopped.

I’d like to say that Jesus was kind and gentle with these two in their darkest moment, but something else happened. – Jesus called them out. How foolish and slow of heart, don’t you understand what the prophets had spoken? Hmmm. Fair enough. They’d definitely lost the plot. BUT thankfully the story doesn’t end there. After a good slap to the senses, Jesus began to explain the scriptures to them starting with Moses and pointing them towards a renewed hope that the Savoir had to suffer, that he would rise, and salvation was at hand.

So slowly they began walking again, and before they knew it they were in Emmaus inviting this teacher (remember that they didn’t yet know it was Jesus), to stay the night and to eat and drink with them. And as they started the meal, Jesus broke the bread and their eyes were opened – Jesus was with them all along.  And as quickly as he came, he was gone from their site. When they realized that they were with the Lord, their Savior, who had been the subject of all their hopes and fears, and then hopes again, they exclaimed:

“Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 

Their hearts were pumping again – they were not still – his presence fueled the rejuvenation of their breath and passion so much so that they ran that day all the way back to Jerusalem (7 MILES!!) to tell the other disciples, and in doing so were some of the first witnesses to the risen and living Lord, Jesus Christ. Their hearts burned with a living fire This new beginning is something amazing, and there’s something here for each of us seeking the same kind of renewal. We need fuel for the fire – but where is that fuel?

Illustration: Saint Andrew By-The-Sea UMC is a church in the Methodist tradition of being disciples of Jesus Christ. John Wesley, the founder of the movement, once had a crisis of faith much like the two we’ve already met on the road. John, however, had just experienced a failure all his own after a brief few years as the minister and missionary to the natives for Governor Oglethorp. As a minister he would have too heavy a hand with the parishioners who were not ready for his intense methodical religion. It was after a relationship with a woman he loved deeply had ended and she married another, he eventually denied her communion. Her father, the magistrate of Savannah stirred up charges against Wesley, who was forced to leave covertly or else be arrested. Having been run out of Savannah; Wesley returned to England feeling the weight of his failure, but also feeling spiritually dead and he said in his journal at this time “This, then, have I learned in the ends of the earth, that I ‘ am fallen short of the glory of God ;’ that my whole heart is ‘altogether corrupt and abominable;’ . . . that my own works, my own sufferings, my own righteousness, are so far from reconciling me to an offended God, that the most specious of them need an atonement themselves; . . . that, ‘having the sentence of death’ in my heart, . : I have no hope . . . but that if I seek, I shall find Christ, and ‘be found in him, not having my own righteousness, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.'”

Despite his depression, he was still seeking the assurance that he was truly saved. Like the two travelers, he looked sad, he was still, and the weight of his sin and the world’s guilt pushed his hope into the ground. But that would not last, because Christ comes near in many ways. On May 24th, 1738 Wesley wrote, “In the evening I went very unwilling to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”  

Application: What had happened to him? John Wesley encountered the presence of Christ in that room, and he felt the fire of God’s spirit revive him. And those words, “I felt my heart strangely warmed,” have inspired millions to seek that same presence, the same presence that those travelers on the road to Emmaus experienced as they exclaimed, “Were our hearts not burning!” Their hearts ignited and the scriptures were opened up in new and exciting ways. We too can be people who experience the real presence of Christ – in fact He is with us here. We can ask Him to open up understanding and wisdom as we study and pray. As we come together as the community of faith – as His very body, we are His members and He is here.

We all want to hear good news, and there is no better news than to see what was once dead come back to life. Jesus Christ died, defeated death, and rose again so that through Him we could become the people of new life. His presence is the fuel like a mighty campfire that never goes out. He is with us, and always will be, and he lifts our eyes to the heavens. Let us experence that walk not as a text of two legendary figures, but let us walk with Jesus ourselves, and in His power, we become conduits of life and grace to a world in desperate need of warmth. “He is alive, He is my fire, and I want to be with Him forever.” Amen.

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