Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2010

Sermon Date: 
24 Jan 2010
Bible Base: 
Isaiah 49:1-7; Luke 24:13-35
David Jeans

There is a common theme to these two readings, and to the thoughts behind this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity material.
That theme is this – it doesn’t seem to be working like we thought it would. (Actually that reminds me of how I feel everytime I try to put DIY furniture together, or follow the instructions from the Help section of my computer – or try to fill in a tax return!)
In the Isaiah reading the key verse is verse 4 – the servant (prophet/people of God) is going through a rough time. Supposed to be equipped by God for the task he has been called to, but it doesn’t seem to be working. Hear verse 4 again.
But he moves from despair to hope and trust in God– and what happens? God tells him a new story. God re-commissions him for his task and tells him he has a bigger task – not just to restore the fortunes of the people of God, but to take God’s salvation to the unexpected people, to the ends of the earth.
The life of our churches can feel like that – we think about lower numbers going to church, the increasing age profile of our churches. In the ecumenical movement we seem to have been having weeks of prayer for unity for a long time, and organisationally nothing much seems to have happened (though attitudes have changed hugely).
And what about the disciples on the Emmaus Road? They are struggling to come to terms with the events of the previous 72 hours. Listen to them – this Jesus whom we had followed and had hoped would be the one to redeem Israel, to put things right, to make us free from Roman rule, he had been betrayed and crucified. It is not turning out like we thought it would.
And just as the servant of Isaiah 49 was met with a new story, so these disciples were met with a new story. Only instead of hearing words of God, they were walking with THE Word of God, the Word made flesh, Jesus himself, though they did not recognise him. And Jesus told them a new story – or to be more accurate, he told them what the story had always been, just as the “new story” told to the servant in Isaiah 49 was no new story, but was the story that had been there all along – that all peoples on earth were to be blessed through the witness of the Jewish people to the living God. And Jesus’ new story is about his mission as the Christ not being about defeating the Romans, but rather about defeating sin and death and bringing life where there is death.
I believe that it is significant in this reading that Jesus makes himself known in a variety of ways. He makes himself known by opening up the scriptures; he makes himself known through the breaking of bread, which he takes, blesses, breaks and gives – the fourfold action of the communion service; and he makes himself known through the warming of their hearts. Here we have the evangelical experience of the Word, the catholic experience of the sacrament, and the charismatic experience (and indeed Wesley’s experience) of the heart strangely warmed by the work of the Holy Spirit. God makes contact with people in a variety of ways, and part of our ecumenical agenda is to affirm that that is OK, that all these different ways by which God reveals himself are legitimate.
So in this reading we have disciples in despair thinking that everything has gone wrong – and Jesus meets with them to show them that they have been reading the wrong script of the story; that far from everything going wrong the story is unfolding in line with God’s will.
And chapter 24 ends with the disciples not only being given a new story but with them being entrusted with telling the new story of God’s victory over sin and death. Jesus says to them in verses 47 and 48 that this story is to be proclaimed to all nations and that they are to do it.
So where are we in these stories of the Emmaus Road, and of the servant of God in Isaiah 49? We could find ourselves as discouraged and despairing servants and disciples, wondering what God is doing and why the story of the Christian faith in our community is such a struggle. If that is where we find ourselves, then we need to meet with the risen Jesus ourselves and hear his word to us afresh that his good news is for all nations and to be taken to the ends of the earth. Paraphrasing Isaiah 49, we need to hear God saying to us it is too small a thing for you to restore the fortunes of the church in this valley and to bring about closer working together. That is too small a thing – I call you to be a light to the nations, to take my salvation to the ends of the earth – and in this valley that means those people who do not come anywhere near our church buildings.
How do we do that? One way is by being in a different place on the Emmaus Road. Instead of being discouraged disciples needing to be reassured by Jesus, we need to be taking the role of Jesus, being his witnesses to fellow travellers on our journey through life. Because most people travelling along the journey have got the wrong story. They believe that happiness is to be found in possessions, in entertainment, in enjoying themselves. That’s the wrong story. The right story is that our hearts are restless until they find their rest in a relationship with God, and that relationship is to be found through Jesus Christ. That is the story that we are to be witnesses to – and that is our common task as churches together in this valley.

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