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      This sermon was given by Pastor Jody Beth Melton at Swift Presbyterian Church on May 1.

      Knowing About God
      Luke 24:13–35
      May 1, 2016

      Today’s scripture readings are from Luke 24, page 749 in pew Bibles, read in three sections. We will begin with Luke 24:13–27, and a sermon titled “Knowing About God.” And as a bonus, there will be two more readings, and two more sermons today! The readings are adapted from the NIV version of the Bible to be read by a narrator, Jesus, Cleopas and Cleopas’ companion.

      ♦ ♦ ♦

      THE SETTING is a Sunday, and it is late afternoon. As recorded in Luke 24:10, earlier that day, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and others with them had told the 11 disciples and others that they had gone to Jesus’ tomb and found it to be empty. The women said that two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood by them and said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here: he has risen.”

      The people gathered did not believe the women’s story. Maybe because it sounded ludicrous that the body of a man who had been crucified and buried on Friday was missing at all, let alone the story that he had risen, or maybe because it was women who gave the report(!).

      ♦ ♦ ♦

      [First of three scripture readings: Knowing About Jesus]

      [Here begins our first reading, Luke 24:13–27. (Scripture is read)]

      ♦ ♦ ♦

      Cleopas and his companion were walking away from Jerusalem, where Jews from all over had come to celebrate the Passover, and, not believing what they had heard about Jesus that morning, they are headed back to the village of Emmaus. Headed back to life as they knew it. 

      Jesus told them (about): During Jesus’ ministry here in human form, he had repeatedly told his followers about everything that was going to happen that weekend. “We’re going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be handed over the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him, and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.” (Luke 18:31–34). He told them this during his ministry while they heard him teaching about sin and forgiveness and telling parables, and healing many, many people.

      The women told them (about): Cleopas witnessed Jesus being mocked, insulted, spit on, flogged, and killed. Just as Jesus had said. And then Sunday morning, three days later, they are told (by the women) that has risen. The tomb was empty. And yet that he could not believe it. As they walk and talk and later when they respond to the stranger on the road, it seems as though they would really like to believe it could be true. 

      Want to want to?
      I listened to a pastor preach one morning about her time in seminary. She was part of a small study group, and it was time for the group to prepare for a big exam. She told her roommate that she simply did not want to join the group that night, but her roommate knew her enough to know that this time of fellowship and study were important to her. “Sharon,” her roommate said, “I know you want to study, don’t you?” | “No, I don’t want to.” | “Well, I know you want to want to, right?” | “No, I don’t even want to want to go tonight!” And on it went, until her roommate went without her that night. And Pastor Sharon reported in her sermon that she didn’t do so well on that exam!

      This doesn’t seem to be the case with Cleopas and his companion. It seems that they really “want to want to want to” believe that Jesus had risen from the dead, just as he said he would. Jesus had told them this would happen. The women had told them that they believed it had happened. But when we meet them in the Bible, they can’t. “They are kept from recognizing him.”

      The stranger tells them (about): Now as they walk along with a stranger, he tells them everything that was said in the Old Testament, “beginning with Moses, and then the prophets, this stranger told them all that was said about Jesus,” and they still don’t understand. 

      Three times
      This reminds me of the story of the man was stranded in his home by flood waters, and each time rescuers came for him, he told them that he believed in God and that God told him he would save him. Three times rescuers came for him, and each time he said the same thing. The man dies in the flood waters, and when he gets to Heaven he asks God why he didn’t save him. And God replied, I did try to save you. I sent the boat for you three times.

      Plenty more than three times Jesus has reached out to Cleopas, and Cleopas doesn’t see that Jesus is his savior. He and his companion know a lot about Jesus, but they don’t yet know Jesus.

      Knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus
      There is a difference between knowing about Jesus, and knowing Jesus. Cleopas knew about Jesus, but he didn’t yet know Jesus. To know Jesus is to know that he is our savior, sent by God for the forgiveness of our sins. To know that Jesus is God. To know Jesus is to invite him into our heart. To have a personal relationship with him. ►Spoiler alert: When we continue with the Luke scripture later in today’s service, we will find out that he does come to know Jesus.

      Gathered today, we may have some who know about Jesus, some who know Jesus, and some who are praying for someone in particular to not only know about Jesus, but to know Jesus.

      Have you heard of the Barna Group? The Barna Group conducts and analyzes data to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. “What do Americans believe about Jesus?” was the focus of a recent study, and I’m going to share a few of their findings with you. (Website: https://www.barna.org/barna-update/culture/714-what-do-americans-believe-about-jesus-5-popular-beliefs#.VyVb5cvmqP8)

      ►1. The vast majority of Americans believe Jesus was a real person — According to their research, the vast majority of Americans still maintain that Jesus was a historical figure. More than nine out of 10 adults, or 92%, say Jesus Christ was a real person who actually lived.

      Interestingly, though not surprisingly, the percentages dip slightly among younger generations — only 87 percent of Millennials agree Jesus actually lived, whereas 96% of the “elder” population interviewed believe he was a real person. Americans are still very likely to believe the man, Jesus Christ, once walked the earth. (Barna: Millennials are the generation born between 1984 and 2002; Gen-Xers, between 1965 and 1983; Boomers, between 1946 and 1964; and Elders, in 1945 or before.)

      ►2. Believing Jesus was God — The Barna study goes on to report that “most adults believe Jesus was God,” but the figure they give is 56%. The others say he was only a religious or spiritual leader like Mohammed or the Buddha, or, that they aren’t sure whether Jesus was divine (18%).

      Here again, the numbers decrease among the youngest interviewed. Elders, 62%, Millennials 48%. Some say that the older we get, the closer to checking out, the more likely we are to believe in Jesus. This may be. 

      But whether we are looking at Cleopas or the Millennials or our loved one who only “knows about Jesus,” today’s scripture readings (Remember, there are two more to come!) speak to us.

      Cleopas and his companion, and the disciples, and many of Jesus’ followers who actually physically knew Jesus came to know Jesus in God’s time. Before Jesus was even born, the Jewish people studied the Old Testament prophesies that told of the coming Messiah. While Jesus was with them, he told them who he was and what would happen. The day of his resurrection he appeared to them walking down the road, as they were on their way to Emmaus. They didn’t even know who he was, not because they didn’t “get it.” This is important. Let me read verses 15 and 16 to you again: Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him. It wasn’t them. It was God’s plan for them.

      Jesus didn’t jump out from a side road, join Cleopas and his companion, and say, as Pastor Keith said in a sermon several weeks back, “tah-dah!” Surprise! Here I am! I’m alive!

      Instead, Jesus joined them on their journey. Not only on their physical journey, but on their faith journey. He asked them a simple question, “what are you discussing as you walk along,” and he listened to them. He heard the sadness in their voices and stories, he saw their downcast faces. And he continued to walk with them. He spoke of Moses and the prophets, stories that would be familiar to them. He explained the scriptures. And they walked together, and they journeyed together. And as they did, they came to know not only know about him, but to begin to know him. To be led gently to the Truth.

      God created each of us, exactly as we are. And he knows us. And he meets us where we are on our journey. Think of your own faith journey, and how looking back you can see how God has always been there with you. In some of our most difficult times, and our most joyful times, we don’t always “see” that God is with us. God knows when we are ready to know him, and when we are not at all receptive! Faith is accepting God’s love, God’s grace, the gift of forgiveness through God’s son, Jesus. And faith itself is a gift from God.

      In 12-step meetings I’ve heard it said that “we come, we come to, and we come to believe.” My sister has often said about many things, “it’s a process.”

      And so is today’s sermon — a process! As part of our celebration of the Lord’s Supper today, we will hear another portion of scripture read, with a mini-“sermonette” titled “Knowing Jesus.” (End of main portion of sermon)

      ♦ ♦ ♦

      [Hymn, “He Lives” (I serve a risen savior)]

      [Second of 3 Scripture Readings: Knowing Jesus]

      [We continue in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 24, verses 22-32. (Scripture is read.)]

      ♦ ♦ ♦

      As Cleopas and his companion and Jesus continue their journey, and they are nearing the village, Jesus acts as if he is going to continue on, but both Cleopas and his companion invite him to stay. This is an important moment in the text; and a significant moment in their journey. In that one day, they have left Jerusalem downtrodden, been joined by a stranger, and are about to retire for the day, and have had Jesus revealed to them for who his is. Their eyes are opened. Now that their eyes are open, it is no longer necessary for Jesus to stay with them in his human form. They now believe.

      Like Cleopas, we are all on a journey, and Jesus desires to walk with us, too. As we break this bread this morning, in remembrance of the Last Supper that Jesus shared with his disciples, may our eyes be opened. (End of this portion of the sermon)

      ♦ ♦ ♦

      [The Lord’s Supper]

      [Hymn, “Jesus Loves Me” (This I Know)]

      [Third of 3 Scripture Readings: On The Way]

      [Our final scripture from Luke today is 24:33-35. (Scripture is read.)]

      ♦ ♦ ♦

      It had been a long day for Cleopas. It must have been late by the time he and his companion arrived in the village and broke bread with Jesus. Yet they hurried back to Jerusalem, to be with the others, and to share their story — what happened to them as they journeyed with Jesus that day.

      Now, as we conclude our worship service, it is time for us to go and share what is happening to us as we are journeying with Jesus. If the Barna study is correct, some 44% of the people we meet on our journeys know about Jesus, but don’t yet know the joy of knowing Jesus! Amen. (End of all two parts of sermon)

      ♦ ♦ ♦

      [Sung Benediction, “God Be With You (till we meet again).”]

      Comments on sermons are welcomed and appreciated. 
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      Foley, AL 36535
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