最熟悉的陌生人

          We have just heard the amazing scripture readings. The first reading, the Old Testament reading is from Nehemiah 8:1-12 which itself is a narrative how the people of God gathered together in a holy day, after listening and responding to the written and proclaimed/interpreted Word of God, had the holy and happy feast, which means holy communion in our context. Don’t you think it is amazing that what happened in Nehemiah 8:1-12 corresponded to today’s gospel reading in which the disciples, when they met Jesus the risen Lord, heard and understood the Scripture and its interpretation, and have a supper with the Lord, which means a Lord’s Supper. And don’t you think it is God’s amazing grace that what happened in these two readings is exactly what is happening here and now? Because we are here hearing the scriptures and a teacher’s interpretation and then we are going to have the Holy Communion. Then we come to the New Testament reading and we find the teachings like teach and admonish each other, give thanks and sing praise to God with psalms, hymns, spiritual songs, and let the peace of the Lord rule in our hearts and among us who have been called in the one body and are called the body of Christ. You see: the apostolic teachings arise out of and bear witness to the narratives of the other two readings in such a natural and coherent way. Amazing Grace, Amen!

            But we still have another amazing thing in today’s gospel reading. That is the paradox of assumed absence against Real Presence[ This is also the term Calvin used to express his theological view on the Eucharist compared with the Lutheran Consubstantiation and Catholic Transubstantiation.] of the Lord. The disciples fled the Jerusalem because of the horrible events that had been fulfilled among them who from the beginning were eyewitnesses of it. Jesus their rabbi, prophet and Messiah the Lord was betrayed, condemned and crucified and buried. What a great fear, despair and shame among them! Their hopes vanished, and all their past works and dreams were in vain. “Jesus died and we failed and that’s the brutal reality! But the real reality is God vindicated Jesus and had Him resurrected from the dead by the power of Holy Spirit. And Jesus came among the two disciples who were walking in the valley of shadow of death and darkness. So they thought Jesus died, left them and thus they left alone, without Him. But the truth is Jesus was alive, approached them and thus they were truly truly with Him but they didn’t perceive it though they saw him for they were not blind. Jesus our Lord is truly truly with them. Just like the hymn we just sung, All The Way My Savior Leads Me and you and them even we don’t recognize him for some time. That’s what I mean “by assumed absence against real presence of the Lord.
            
           Another aspect of this cryptic amazement is presented in my sermon title The Most Familiar Stranger. We should not be surprised that Jesus, who for three years powerfully teaches and leads his disciples in all kinds of words and deeds with and for a great and glorious vision, must be very familiar to the disciples. But now he was regarded a stranger and not recognized, thus the most familiar stranger. If we go on this way of scriptural reasoning, we can find and appreciate the literary and theological/spiritual richness in this story, so full of contrast, irony and amazement. For instance, the two disciples left Jerusalem with fear, sorrow and shame, but finally they returned to Jerusalem with peace, joy, hope. They, in their tone and attitude of answering the Stranger’s question “what are you discussing and “what things, assumed they knew all things and the Stranger knew little but actually they were rebuked for their foolishness and slowness in believing and understanding the scriptures. They said the women testified that they saw angels who reported Jesus was alive but the disciples didn’t see him at the empty tomb. But now they saw him but they didn’t recognize him. And when they did recognize him, they couldn’t see him for Jesus vanished. They, as hosts, invited Jesus the assumed stranger to stay for supper. But Jesus, as a guest, led the meal and turned to be the host.

           And there are also many other contrasts and ironies that this story contained. If every one of them were spoken out, I suppose that my sermon itself could not be finished today. But these are spoken out so that you may appreciate the amazing Emmaus encounter story more and more. Today let’s just focus on two details in this story. When Jesus was with them, he mainly did two things. The first is to read and interpret the scriptures to the disciples. The second is to accept their invitation and eat a meal with them. I think these two points can help us review and renew our liturgical and practical life.

           It is true that the two disciples began understanding the scriptures and their fulfillment in the life and ministry, words and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth as Jesus taught them on the road. They themselves said “were not our hearts burning with us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us? But they still couldn’t recognize Jesus to whom the scriptures bore witness. They knew the Bible’s meaning but they couldn’t feel the presence of the Lord? What an unbelievable thing to us! Isn’t the Bible the word of God? How can it be that the Bible fails to help us feel the God-be-with-us? In this story, we find only when Jesus had meal with them and broke the bread, can they recognize the presence of the Lord. Many Christians think preaching is the most important part of the worship service. When they are late for the service but find the sermon is yet to come, they will say “thanks be to God that I don’t miss the preaching. Well, we should have sermon and we should study the Bible for our spiritual life and growth, but it is insufficient. The greater grace and blessing comes upon you and me from eating this bread and drinking this cup WITH your brothers and sisters Together as Jesus is present among us in a mysterious and SPIRITUAL (let the hearer understand this word as “of, by and through the Holy Spirit) way. for through this mystery we demonstrate and experience the author of life and eternal Christ’s presence。Just as it was sung in the anthem offered by our choir,and presented in the distinctive and imaginative Chinese style picture in the worship bulletin,we come as guests invited to Jesus’ table. If you understand the whole Bible but don’t experience and enjoy Lord’s presence, what benefit is it?

            就在前几天,有一位弟兄得知是我这个主日是我证道,他非常兴奋,说他非常期待我讲道。作为以教导圣经、宣讲福音为天职的传道人,我当然希望也喜欢弟兄姊妹们爱听我分享神的话语并且照着去行,不过就像圣经教导以及教会传统一直所强调的,我们无非是执事(mere servants),切不可引人归己,而是引人归主。上个主日袁老师一起和我们劝勉,说明了撒旦和他的差役毁坏一个教会所耍的主要诡计之一就是制造明星传道人,让弟兄姊妹的眼目从神转向人。所以当我听到他如此说的时候,我心里是有些自责的,于是对照着经课以及自己所预备的这一点点,我说“其实你更应该期待的是圣餐,这次是圣餐礼拜。我们很多的时候有这样一种误区,就是做礼拜就是来听讲道,或者起码最重要的是听讲道。现在看来也要更正。做礼拜的真意,就像上次顾牧师《崇拜的真意》证道所强调的是我们来与神见面。透过进堂、肃静、问安、宣召、唱诗、证道、宣信、圣餐、祝福等各项崇拜要素来表现和感受神与我们同在,我们与神互动。证道只不过是其中的一环,并不是全部。而且照着今天我们所聆听的经训和故事,我们知道圣餐才是关键性的。很感恩的是,当那位弟兄听到我说“要更期待圣餐的时候,他非常可爱却也是凭心灵和诚实回答了一句“我当初想快点受洗就是为了能够领圣餐。愿我们每个人都能做这样有福的人。

           从今天开始,为要在圣诞节期受洗的弟兄姊妹要开始慕道班的学习了,他们现在却不能领圣餐,但是等领受三一上主所赐的洗礼之后,他们就要完全的归入神的家,他们要与圣徒同得基业,他们就要在这永生的一饼一杯上有份,他们将要参与并享受这世界上最奥秘最神圣最喜乐的盛宴。圣餐让我们不仅纪念主耶稣在过去死里复活的救赎性事件,也让我们在当下体验主的同在的时候,能憧憬在将来新天新地,死里复活,万物复兴的日子里参与羔羊的婚宴和神无穷无尽的同在。同时圣餐也让世界看到这称为基督名下的我们之间的和谐与合一。今天我们中间有来自美国的弟兄姊妹,他们要与我们一起共赴恩宴。今天还是万圣节主日,传统上我们是要纪念从古至今殉道的和一切已经安息主怀的圣徒,在这样的日子里领受圣餐实在是神的恩典。所以在座的弟兄姊妹,若你已经信主,就当受洗,不要迟延,不要推脱,不要借口,因为洗礼完完全全、彻彻底底是神的权柄和恩典,不靠我们自身,不受凡人限制,因为神的主权和恩典无法阻挡,不可抗拒。

               而在我们的现实生活中,基督徒是不是太缺乏想象力和活力,只会展现“好人这样的美德基督徒形象,或者过分依赖命题式的言语表达来理解和实践福音信仰特别是传福音呢?我们能否发挥神所赐的天资聪明,恰如其分的应用象征物事物和行动,比如故事、游戏、音乐、舞蹈等艺术等去启发人惊喜的发现我们对主有何等的忠诚和渴慕,我们在主里有何等的喜乐和盼望,让他们也能看到这陌生人对他们而言原来也是如此的熟悉、亲切,因为从一本造出万有,厚赐生命气息的他超乎众人之上,贯乎众人之中,也住在众人之内,要叫他们寻求神,或者可以揣摩而得,离我们个人不远。
              
               We all still remember the past musical gospel meeting because our gracious God kept us and blessed the whole meeting in which about 70 people responded to the altar call and came to believe Jesus as their Lord. But in our statistics, we found many of them said they were touched by the music and our worship rather than the preaching. I was the preacher, you know that. So do not be superstitious in propositional arguments and persuasion. Imagination and beauty is also the way to God and maybe more closer to Him. And we can have another look at the bookmark in hand. We find there is a cross image below. But it contains rich meanings. Dove and fire symbolizes the Holy Spirit, opened Bible placed on the pulpit which itself can also be seen as a baptism place, thus word and sacrament. This finding takes us again to the classical Christian tradition just as Calvin said a true church has two signs: word of God rightly proclaimed, and sacraments appropriately practiced. Word and Sacrament are faithfully performed because both of them are the work of Holy Spirit of God himself, not the human imagination or works. All these things come together to form a cross which symbolizes Jesus Christ. Thus it is Christ-centered. You may say “well, the first person of trinity is absent in the logo. Actually, no one has ever seen God and it is only His Son who has made him known. And the son is the image of the invisible God. Therefore, the paradoxical hiddenness and revelation of God is doctrinally and artistically demonstrated.

               So………Finally comes my brief conclusion of my homily and an invitation to partake the Holy Communion.

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