April 30, 2017
“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?”
Karl Barth, one of the twentieth century's most famous theologians, was on a streetcar one day in Basel, Switzerland, where he lived and lectured. A tourist to the city climbed on the streetcar and sat down next to Barth. The two men started chatting with each other. "Are you new to the city?" Barth inquired.
"Yes," said the tourist.
"Is there anything you would particularly like to see in this city?" asked Barth.
"Yes," he said, "I'd love to meet the famous theologian Karl Barth. Do you know him?"
Barth replied, "Well as a matter of fact, I do. I give him a shave every morning."
The tourist got off the streetcar quite delighted. He went back to his hotel saying to himself, "I met Karl Barth's barber today."
The walk to Emmaus story is one that many of us love. I wonder if has something to do with Jesus showing up in the ordinary – walking, talking, and eating. Throughout the year, we hear many extraordinary things about Jesus – being transfigured on a mountain, bringing Lazarus back to life, rising from the dead – and we may find ourselves distancing a bit from these. It’s difficult to relate to Jesus suddenly shining on the top of a mountain, but taking a walk or eating a meal make sense to us.
It may not occur to us that Jesus can come to us in a plain old ordinary day. We may be looking around for something profound to knock us over. It worked for Paul. He was knocked down in his conversion. Whatever it is, we assume it will be big and bold or it must not have happened yet. If someone asked if we have seen Jesus, we would probably tell them no.
But look at each encounter with Jesus since the resurrection. In Matthew, the women nearly bump into him as they run away from the tomb. He simply appears and greets them. There is no fanfare. In John, he just shows up in a room where the disciples are gathered. In the reading from Luke today, he meets two followers as they walk along. There are no fireworks here. There is no brass band. He quietly encounters people as they try and figure out what to do next. He just shows up and starts walking beside them. And they have no idea it is him.
Doesn’t this story make you wonder how many times have you been walking right beside Jesus and not even known it? Obviously, you can’t count them if you didn’t even know he was there. It’s a little disconcerting to think that you could have been chatting away or completely ignoring Jesus and not even know it.
Watch the progression of this story. The followers are walking lost in their grief when Jesus shows up and walks with them. He wants to know what they are talking about. They wonder what planet he could be from to not know what is going on but they tell him. Then he starts explaining to the scriptures all the way back to Moses. They still have no idea who he is. As evening nears, he starts to walk away, but they ask him to stay for dinner. They sit down at the table. He picks up the bread and gives thanks. A glimmer. He breaks it. A recognition. He gives it to them. They know! It is Jesus! “We thought it was over, but you are here. You are alive! You are feeding us just as you did so many times before. We thought we were going to feed a stranger dinner and here you are feeding us again.”
Meals are important in Luke. Meals are important. Period. When we want to spend quality time with someone, we often do it over a meal. We eat a meal together each month and it is an important part of our life together.
One of the things I have experienced is the power of eating with those who have very little. Many years ago, I traveled to Bolivia with a team of women. Our job there was to support women’s groups as we traveled around the country. Everywhere we went, they wanted to feed us. They lived in such poverty, but they fed us and we connected despite the many barriers that could have separated us.
Last weekend, I traveled to the border with a team sponsored by the New Mexico Faith Coalition for Immigrant Justice. We didn’t walk, but traveled in an old van and we encountered people who have endured very difficult situations. We would get back in the van and meet people who provide refuge and healing for those who are undocumented and those living in terrible poverty. Then we would get into that rickety van and drive to the wall that separates two countries.
I wonder now if Jesus was riding with us in that van as we left Albuquerque to drive to El Paso. I wonder if he was listening as we told one another stories and learned what we share in common. I wonder if he was there as drove down a dusty road to a home where a family lives with no running water. Was he there in the busy streets of El Paso as we drove to a shelter? Perhaps he was in the van as we crossed easily into Juarez and bounced along the terrible roads with big holes in them. I think he was there as we walked into a clinic and a library and heard the stories of the people who are serving others. He must have been there as we got out and stood at this towering wall. He must have been with us as we waited in line to be allowed back into the United States.
Did we know he was there? Were we paying attention? Or were we so absorbed in all that we were seeing and hearing to even notice him? I will let our team members answer that question as they tell you their stories in the coming weeks. But I will tell you this:
On Friday, we drove that old van to the home of Argelia and Rafael. It was down a dusty road in an area of El Paso called the Colonias. They didn’t have running water. Argelia told us their story. Rafael’s mother became very ill in 2011. He went to Mexico to see her and was not allowed back into the United States. They wanted to hire a coyote to bring him back, but they had no money so Argelia decided to learn to make tamales. She tried them on her community and they would give her feedback – need more salt, overcooked, etc. She kept at it until she became good at it and then she sold them to make money to hire a coyote to bring Rafael home. She paid $1500 on two different occasions. Do you have any idea how many tamales that must be? There were several failed attempts to bring him home including one that landed him in jail.
Argelia talked about her faith as she endured this. Her three children were growing up without their father and it was terribly hard on all of them. Throughout the ordeal of several years, Argelia prayed that God would make Rafael invisible so that he could get past the guards and join his family here. Eventually, Rafael crossed with another woman who had some contacts in El Paso. They landed on a pecan farm and didn’t know what to do next, but Rafael remembered the story of Ruth and they pretended to be workers on the farm and picked up branches. Another woman who worked on the farm took care of them. This woman knew Rafael’s family from the village he came from in Mexico. She drove them to Rafael and Argelia’s church. That morning Argelia stood to face the congregation and she saw Rafael walking toward her. Rafael had walked past the guards unrecognized.
After she told us her story, Argelia fed us tamales. They were delicious! Jesus was sitting in that room with us as we listened and then ate together. It is important for us to remember that Jesus is with us in our ordinary lives. When we feel like we might as well give up, he is there. When we are lost and cannot figure out what to do next, he is there. When we are completely overwhelmed, he is there. When we are in the place of despair, the place called Emmaus, he is there. He comes and walks with us. He is there whether we know it or not. He listens to us and at the table he serves us. And as he serves us he teaches us to be bread for one another.