Riding Off Into the Sunrise

This sermon (or a reasonable facsimile) was preached on the Sunday after Easter, April 8, 2018, at Kingsway Baptist Church.  The texts are 1 John 1:1 – 2:2 and Luke 24:13-35. (One is from the Revised Common Lectionary, because Baptists are part of the larger Church; the other is not, because Baptists are free to do their own thing.)


And so we come to the Sunday after:

After the processionals, the baptisms, and the choir anthems are all complete.

After all the Easter dinners have been eaten, all the Easter dresses packed away, all the Easter Eggs found (except for that one you’ll find with the lawnmower in a month or so).

After the pastor has finally consumed enough coffee to start to feel human again. (I think that happened sometime yesterday morning).  Many pastors aren’t even preaching today. In some circles, the Sunday after Easter is only half-jokingly referred to as “National Associate Pastor Sunday.”

But not me. For better or worse, not me.

I like preaching the Sunday after Easter, even if I am stumbling through a post-Easter haze.  In part, I like it because it always strikes me that today is actually closer in mood and expectation to that first Easter. We’re not grieving and trying to piece together the shards of our dashed hopes, as the first disciples were, but nonetheless today is a letdown. We do up Easter  like the original Palm Sunday – and well we should, because Easter is the real triumph.  Still, I find it the discrepancy intriguing if not ironic.

But mainly I like preaching on the Sunday after Easter because a seminal and pressing question hangs over this day: “Now what?”

Truth be told, it’s simply back to business as usual for most of us, most of the time. Except it can’t be. Not really.

Not if we’ve really heard the testimony of the women. Not if we’ve really been to the Tomb and seen for ourselves. Not if we’ve really looked into the gaping mouth of that grave and felt the warmth of life tickling our cheek where there should have been only the chill of death. Not if we’ve really glimpsed the light that shines in the darkness that the darkness does not overcome.

The scenery might all look the same: our neighbours and neighbourhoods; our offices and co-workers. The faces and places of life may not have changed. The roads of our lives may lead to the same places and may be as jammed with traffic as ever. But underneath, all of it is different – fundamentally different – because in all those neighbourhoods, along all those streets, in corporate high-rises, behind humble storefronts – everywhere in this world – the Risen Christ is roaming free.  And this Risen Christ beckons us to do more than see the light of the Empty Tomb; do more than celebrate the mystery and the miracle of what has occurred by God’s grace.

The Risen Christ bids us to respond to the light, to step into the light, to embrace the light.

Seeing the light and responding to the light are two very different things. Seeing the light without responding is like looking out the window at the dawning of a warm, sparkling, beautiful new day at the beach – but choosing to stay in your hotel room, to keep walls and windows between you and the breeze, the sky, the sun. (And as we’ll see next week, the Risen Christ has no respect for walls.)

Jesus calls us to step out into this new dawn, to experience what the light of Easter fosters and reveals, to bathe in this light, to become bearers of this light, agents of this light.

This is the point that the First Epistle of John seeks to drive home: we’re called to walk in the light, not simply to admire it. Yes, it is important to recognize that God is light and in God there is no darkness at all. But once we recognize that reality, once we profess that reality, we are called to reflect that reality in the living of our own lives. Because, First John declares, we cannot with any integrity claim to have fellowship with this God who is light and continue to walk in darkness.

If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true…. (1 John 1:6).

This Easter light must come to dwell in us, to shine through us.

These are the stakes of the Christian pilgrimage. This is the mission of the church: to bear witness to the light and reality of Easter, of the God who is light, and do so with integrity: as witnesses who can and will be believed when we offer our testimony.

So, as a church, as an extension of THE Church, we don’t get to celebrate Christ’s resurrection and then ride off into the sunset because our work here is done – no matter how glorious, intentional, meaningful, well-planned, well-coordinated, and well-executed our celebration of Easter may have been. (And I must say, I’ve celebrated Easter with a lot of churches for a lot of years, and last Sunday here at Kingsway was pretty special.) Even still, that’s just the beginning!

We don’t get to ride off into the sunset. We get to ride into the sunrise – to bathe in the light of this glorious new dawn, to absorb it; to begin a new journey that we didn’t even know was possible prior to Easter morning: the journey from the cross; from the cross into new frontiers of love, grace, and life now that Christ is risen and victorious.

And like any journey, this one unfolds over time: step by step, day by day.

But the good news (always!) isn’t just that the Risen Christ roams free, through the streets, on the expressways, in the alleyways of this world. The good news is that wherever the people whom God loves – loves enough to give God’s only Son – wherever the people whom God loves are, the Risen Christ is to be found. This journey into the light, this process of becoming light, is never a journey we undertake alone or exclusively under our own strength.

This reassuring truth is the beauty that lies at the heart of the story we refer to as “The Road to Emmaus” – the post-Resurrection experience of Cleopas and another, unnamed disciple.

We meet these two companions on a road leading away from Jerusalem after Passover, after Easter – perhaps, for them, one of those ol’ familiar roads. A stranger joins them – and they tell him all about what has taken place, about what happened to Jesus of Nazareth. They even tell him what the women have reported: that Jesus’ tomb is empty.

They’ve heard the news, but they haven’t seen the light much less embraced it. “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21).

So they’re going back to whatever it was they knew before. Except they can’t – because Jesus won’t let them. Because Jesus is roaming free, right there on that very road, right there with them, even though they don’t recognize Him in their midst.

And what does Jesus do? He walks them through it: literally and figuratively. He walks with them as they travel, wrestling with their disappointment and disillusionment. He also walks them through the Scriptures. He lays it out: explains everything they’ve seen, heard, read. He shines new, Easter light on all of it. He helps them start to understand.

Then He breaks bread with them – and that is when their eyes are opened: while they are reunited with Him around the table, in the context of sharing hospitality with Him, a man they thought was a stranger – and an off-putting one at that. A stranger who had rebuked their conclusions. “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!” (Luke 24:25).

Still they invited Him in, because it was getting late. We have to wonder: if Cleopas and the unnamed disciples had let Jesus go on, would He have? Would they have missed the revelation they received?

Ultimately, we can only speculate. What we can be certain about is that this willingness to linger, to see the humanity in this stranger, to think after his safety and well-being supplied the setting for Christ to reveal Himself in their midst; created an opportunity for them to see by the light of Easter.

So, now what?  It’s not that we shouldn’t return to business as usual; shouldn’t return to our old, familiar neighbourhoods and offices; our old, familiar routines. We should.  The difference is that we should walk them with the golden light of this new Easter dawn illuminating our steps, and illuminating  the faces of the people we meet along the way.

So, now what?  We must allow Easter to impact how we see and receive the unreasonable client…. The woman with the walker ahead of us in line who is moving so, so slowly …. The man sleeping on the grate in the dead of winter…. The person talking out loud to themselves on the subway…. The neighbour whose political views we simply cannot fathom…. The friends we know and love already…. The strangers we’d prefer not to have to get to know, much less love.  Because the free-roaming, Risen Christ is there with them, with us; in them, in us – if we’re willing to look, and give ourselves time and opportunity to see.

It’s a process, and one that will unfold one step and one day at a time; but it starts with the willingness to step out into the warmth of life that now flows from the Empty Tomb.  To come out from behind our walls.  To absorb as well as see the light of Easter. To carry it with us wherever we go.  To allow the Risen Christ to walk us through: to open our minds and open our eyes.

Today is not the day we ride off into the sunset, and neither is tomorrow. Each new day now becomes a day to ride off into the dawn. Because Easter is a morning, not an evening. Easter is a beginning, not an ending.  The journey is really just getting started.

Thanks be to God. Amen.


Go and Do Likewise

A version of this sermon was preached on Sunday, July 10, 2016, at Kingsway Baptist Church in Toronto.  I am posting a text version here because the audio recording failed, and several members of the Kingsway family have expressed interest in it.  Perhaps others will be interested as well.  Even though two weeks have passed, it is still applicable to the social and political challenges we face.  The Scripture readings are Amos 7.7-13 and Luke 10.25-37

Audio recordings of other, recent sermons can be found online through the website of Kingsway Baptist Church.


Last week, we considered the story at the beginning of Luke chapter 10 about Jesus sending a contingent of 70 unarmed disciples out into a world that He knows to be threatening and unwelcoming. Jesus sends them out without so much as a purse, a bag, or even sandals, saying, “Behold, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves” (Luke 10.3).

I submitted to you that the implication of this text is that answering Jesus’ call to be disciples on mission requires us to be exceedingly brave and profoundly vulnerable: to make ourselves utterly dependent on Christ by not carrying our own supplies, because when we do the packing, we invariably bring our own agendas, presumptions, and expectations along on the journey. Which means we tend to make things far too complicated. We tend to magnify lesser concerns into primary concerns, and predispose ourselves to missing what God is up to, because we wind up holding God to our standards rather than holding ourselves to God’s.

What Jesus asks of us is quite simple – not necessarily easy, but quite simple: love God with our whole selves and love our neighbors as ourselves. But to do that, we have to strip everything else away and leave everything else behind.

Several of you thanked me for the sermon as you departed, but also confronted me with variations of a particular question. “That was well said, but I am not sure what I’m supposed to do.”

“What do I do?”

It’s an honest and heartfelt question, a question asked urgently by those wanting and willing to serve Christ. For that reason, it’s a question I’m always happy to hear, and happy to engage. But it’s also a revealing question, and one that we need to be wary of. It’s a question that reveals our discomfort with what Jesus asks of us: not knowing, not fully understanding, not feeling fully prepared but going anyway. That’s a big part of what it means to be brave and vulnerable.

And this discomfort, born of our desire (our need, even) to fully understand and know for sure, should make us wary, because this discomfort can easily set us on the path toward legalism – the path paved with specific lists of clearly defined “dos and don’ts” of the faith, the path of the Pharisees that can be oh so attractive when we are uncertain. It’s a well-kept and well-intentioned path, this path of legalism – but it’s not the way of Jesus.

Not knowing exactly what to do all the time is part of the point. That’s where faith and courage and vulnerability come in. And while that may aggravate us, we shouldn’t view it as a bad thing. It’s Jesus’ way of inviting us in, not leaving us hanging. In actuality, Jesus has told us what to do. What He hasn’t and doesn’t tell us is how to do it.

Love God with your whole self and love your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10.27).

Speak peace to whatever house you find yourself in, and proclaim that the Kingdom of Heaven has come near (Luke 10.5-6).

After issuing these and other instructions, Jesus doesn’t paint for us a crystal clear picture of what this love looks like, or lay out step 1, step 2, and step 3 for speaking peace – and that’s what we’re really after when we ask, “What do I do?”

But Jesus won’t fill that in for us, because the how is ours to discover, to work out in fear and trembling, through the work of the Holy Spirit moving in us and through us. The how is where we get to contribute to God’s mission of redemption in our particular place in our particular time, to participate in the ministry of reconciliation as God’s partners in the world. And that is a gift. That is Jesus trusting us, for all of our bumbling and fumbling, as fellow heirs to His Father’s kingdom. Isn’t that a beautiful and blessed thing? Yes, it is! But it results in a two-fold challenge for us:

The first is to put our full faith in Jesus – so much so that we’re willing to travel alongside Him without our own luggage.

The second is to embrace Jesus’ full faith in us.

The intersection of this two-fold challenge is where we find ourselves this morning, in the second half of Luke chapter 10. The “Parable of the Good Samaritan” builds upon and reinforces the themes of the story of Jesus sending out the 70. And I believe this parable exists, in large part, to help us resist the path of legalism and to encourage us to remain brave and vulnerable when we ask, “What do I do?” Because the path of legalism is exactly where a lawyer (a scribe, and expert in the law of Moses) tries to steer Jesus as Jesus is rejoicing in what the 70 accomplished on their mission.

In the midst of this celebration, this lawyer stands up and asks his version of the question: “So, what must I do?” Specifically, he wants to know, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” – a question he asks despite the fact that Jesus has just commended the 70, those who were brave and vulnerable enough to venture out without wallet, bag, or shoes; brave and vulnerable enough to speak peace to both friend and foe; brave and vulnerable enough to testify through their living, as much as their speaking, that the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.

Jesus has just commended them and urged them to rejoice that their names are written in heaven, when this guy pops up and asks, “So, what do I do?” He wants something more specific, more detailed, more clearly defined. Or perhaps he just wants something different, because he’s not thrilled with the prospect of being sent out, vulnerable, into the world. “That may be fine for them, Jesus – but what about me?”

But Jesus won’t be forced onto that road. Jesus responds to the lawyer’s question with another question. He gets the lawyer to come back to the simple, primary, but not so easy commandment God issues to God’s people: love God with your whole self and love your neighbor as yourself. Then, when the lawyer presses his case and wants to know specifically who his neighbor is, Jesus steers the lawyer onto a different road, a road that winds its way down from Jericho to Jerusalem:

A road that is dangerous and messy, as the roads of this earthly life so often are – the very type of road the 70 would have just returned from, and the very type of road this lawyer isn’t interested in.

A road that challenges those who travel it to be brave and vulnerable – and that refuses to let anyone take cover behind title, privilege, or any other pretense of the status quo.

What matters on this road is that grave injustice has occurred and the true neighbor is the one willing wade into it rather than skirt around it.

In this inquisitive lawyer’s world, people didn’t get more respectable than priests and Levites. These were the experts in knowing what faithful people should and shouldn’t do, people set apart as special (holy), people to whom deference was due. Likewise, few people were less respectable than Samaritans. They were considered heretical, unclean half-breeds who didn’t worship God in the right place or the right way, people whom the respectable should avoid.

Yet, in Jesus’ parable, on this real life road, none of those things matter. What matters is who lives, who acts like a good neighbor to the man whom this very real life has left lying in that very real ditch – not the one who feels sorry or says a prayer in passing, but the one who stops, gets down in the ditch with the man, lifts him up out of it, and carries him to a place where he can be cared for, and who promises to return to ensure that he is healing and recuperating long-term.

The Samaritan is the one who lives such a life – and he is the one the lawyer begrudgingly must admit is the true neighbor. And so the answer Jesus gives to the lawyer’s question, “What should I do?” is, “Go and do likewise.”

“Go and do likewise”: a decisive answer, but hardly a comprehensive one. There is still a lot for us to work out in fear and trembling, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. For starters, we have to ask ourselves, “Where are the ditches along this stretch of the road of life we happen to be on – and who’s lying in them?” It’s not always obvious.

As an American, it’s pretty easy for me to see where the ditches lie and who lies in them this week. There’s a mass grave of black men killed senselessly and unnecessarily by police on one side of the road, and a smaller but no less deplorable mass grave of assassinated police officers on the other.

As an American living in Toronto, however, it’s not always so obvious to me. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ditches here. There most certainly are ditches here, because there’s a status quo here – in this country, in this city, in this church. Who would the characters of this parable be if Jesus told it in 21st century Canada? In 21st century Toronto? After all, there’s a pocket a predominantly white affluence that exists here in this neighborhood in the midst of the most diverse city in the world.

Why is that?

Why does that question make you shift uncomfortably in your seat?

Why does it make me squirm in the pulpit?

And what go-to explanations do we have that basically involve labeling others (i.e., those who don’t live here) as unclean, uncouth Samaritans?

But even when we see where the ditches are and see clearly who is in them, we have to ask ourselves why we, like the priest and the Levite, are hesitant to venture over there, even though we know this parable so very well. The priest and Levite no doubt had their reasons – reasons that they most likely could have articulated and argued convincingly, even theologically, based on their status and position. But those reasons don’t pass muster with Jesus. And if their reasons didn’t pass muster, why would we assume ours would fair any better in Jesus’ eyes?

“Well, Jesus, I’m just so busy. I have so much to do, and this important meeting to attend, and this important deadline to meet, and this important responsibility to take care of….”

Somehow I can hear Jesus saying:

“And why is that? Why are you so busy? What are you trying to achieve, and for what reasons? And what do those reasons have to do with my Kingdom, which you’re supposed to be seeking first?

Our calendars may be the single most effective weapon that the darkness around us has to employ against the light within us. And it’s been that way for millennia.

Centuries before Jesus told the Parable of the Good Samaritan, we see this dynamic at work in ancient Israel when the prophet Amos comes prophesying to King Jeroboam. They didn’t have calendars as we know them, but they certainly had ways to categorize and compartmentalize life – which is what calendars do, and what we use them for. We also use them to categorize and compartmentalize people (such as Samaritans): those whom we pencil into and those whom we scratch out of our lives, if we have even bothered to include them in our calendars at all.

When Amos comes prophesying to King Jeroboam, the king’s priest (Amaziah) basically tells him, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Don’t bring that word from the Lord in here. This is the king’s sanctuary. This is where business and politics occur. There’s no place for prophesying here. Take that back to Judah. Take that back to your church, back to your small group. Go share it in some place ‘spiritual.’ Save it for Sunday. This is Tuesday. There’s no time or room for wrestling with God on Tuesday.”

But Amos’ vision of the plumb line isn’t for the “spiritual side” of life. It is for life in all of its length, breadth, and depth – Sunday through Saturday. Amos is announcing that God is going to measure the entirety of our lives with heaven’s plumb line, according to the specs of God’s Kingdom – for that is what it means for us to be God’s people.

And that’s what the Samaritan understood. He didn’t let his calendar or his position get in the way of being a good neighbor, of living love, of doing what he knew was right.

So, in the spirit of Jesus’ decisive but inconclusive answer to the question, “What should I do?” I want to leave you with a series of questions to ponder today – and in the days ahead.

If you woke up in the morning and prayed, “Lord, how can I be like the Good Samaritan today?” – how would that affect how you plan and prepare for the day?

How would that impact how you scheduled meetings and other work responsibilities?

How would it affect what time you left to head into the office?

What you carried in your car or in your brief case?

What and who you blocked out time for in your calendar?

How you view the people you encounter during the day – either in the ditch or on the road?

May the Lord grant us the courage and the vulnerability to allow the Holy Spirit to measure the length, breadth, and depth of our lives according to the specs of heaven – and to venture into the ditches of this life, that we might embrace our full faith in Jesus, and Jesus’ full faith in us.

Let us go, and do likewise.


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