This is my sermon from yesterday and my talk for the Lent Group session 4.
Today we are thinking about how we can help people grow in their faith, how they can grow up to be fully like Christ. In our reading from Luke’s Gospel, Jesus came alongside Cleopas and his companion after the disappointment of the cross and walked with them. As a result these two were among the disciples who then continued Jesus’ work after he had returned to the Father.
We are going to spend a little time focussing on that story of the road to Emmaus and see what it says to us about teaching effectively.
1. willing to learn
Anyone who has ever tried to do any teaching be it formal teaching in a school, college or university or teaching a child to do something like ride a bike knows that it is much easier to teach people of whatever age if they want to learn. Much to Lawrence’s frustration, I am a hopeless student of his favourite computer game, largely because I have very little interest in mastering it.
Cleopas and his companion clearly wanted to understand the dramatic and traumatic things that they had seen and experienced in Jerusalem. They were talking and discussing when Jesus drew alongside them and when they arrived in Emmaus, they asked him to stay with them so that they could learn more from him.
If we are to be effective learners, we need to want to learn more and understand more and grow in our relationship with Jesus. However much we know today, and however good our relationship with Jesus is, there is always more. Likewise, if we are to be effective teachers, we need to discern whether the people we are seeking to teach really want to know Jesus. Sometimes those asking the questions are doing so to have an intellectual discussion or to introduce a time of mockery and derision and have no real interest in Jesus at all. When this is the case, it is sometimes wiser not to take the bait and rather walk away.
2. start where they are at
When Jesus comes alongside the disciples on the road to Emmaus he sees that they are genuinely wanting to understand. Then, before launching in on some pre-prepared lecture or presentation of the Gospel, he asks them what they were talking about. It is important that we take time to really listen to what people are saying and the questions that they are asking if we are to be effective teachers.
Like many of you, I start most mornings with The Today programme and few things are more likely to have me shouting at the radio than people not answering the question they have been asked. Sometimes it is clearly because they don’t know the answer and sometimes it is because they have come onto the programme to tell us about something else but either way it is infuriating and makes me – and Mr Humphries – very cross!
Jesus begins his conversation with the disciples by asking them ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ (24.17) They answer him and Jesus sees that although they know about the empty tomb they are still sad and upset by Jesus’ death and the failure that it apparently represents. Jesus listen to what they say and then explains the deeper things of God to them in a way in which they can understand. He explains that the Messiah came to redeem people from slavery to sin, not to free a nation from Roman tyranny. He explains that the cross was how he did it and that the empty tomb is a symbol of hope.
3. teach from Scriptures with the help of the Holy Spirit
Jesus explains all this to them by using the Scriptures. He continues to hide his identity from them and uses the Scriptures of the Old Testament to explain who he is and what he has done. ‘Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.’ (24.27) Luke writes.
In the Bible we read again and again of the grace and mercy of God as he redeems his people: as he brought them up out of slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land; as he brought them back from exile in Babylon; as he used his prophets to speak of his promise of a Messiah who would redeem the whole world. The Old Testament is full of prophecies about the Messiah which Jesus goes on to fulfil and which teach us about who Jesus is and what he came to do. If we are to be effective teachers, we need to read our Bibles and understand them; we need to ground any answers we give to people’s questions of faith in what the Bible says.
I find it interesting that Cleopas and his friend’s hearts were burning before they knew the identity of their knowledgeable teacher. Their hearts burnt because they were drawing hope and understanding from the Scriptures. We too can draw the same hope and understanding from the Bible. Jesus promised his disciples before he died that ‘the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.’ (John 14.26) This same Holy Spirit lives in us and will teach us if we ask him to.
4. share with others
The two disciples must have been exhausted: physically exhausted at the end of a long day which had included a seven mile walk and came at the end of a very long week; intellectually exhausted at the end of a masterclass in Biblical Studies by Jesus himself; emotionally exhausted after the pain of Good Friday, the despair of Holy Saturday; the confusion of Easter morning and the joy of understanding the hope of the resurrection. Yet when Jesus reveals himself in the breaking of the bread and then vanishes, they quickly gather themselves up and return to Jerusalem. They do not stop to have a night’s rest which would have been entirely understandable and probably wise as travelling in the dark was inadvisable. Instead, that same hour they begin their seven mile walk back to Jerusalem so that they can tell what happened to them on the road to Emmaus and how they knew it was Jesus who taught them.
As all teachers know, one of the best ways of ensuring that your pupils have understood their lesson, is to ask them to teach it to someone else. Cleopas and his companion are so excited by what they have had revealed to them that they cannot wait to share it with those they left behind in Jerusalem. My experience is that often our new found understanding…our new insights into who Jesus is and what he has done for us is what we share most effectively with others. Whilst of course we need wisdom and sensitivity, often our deepening relationship with God and our testimony to how we have drawn nearer to him make us winsome teachers of others.
Jesus calls all of us to be both effective learners and effective teachers. Like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, we are called to have soft hearts that long to know Jesus and understand the Gospel of redemption. Like the disciples, the Holy Spirit will teach us and the Scriptures will help us to know Jesus and how God has saved the world through him. Like the disciples, we are then called to teach others, so that more and more people may recognise Jesus as their Lord and King. Amen.
Revd Rebecca Fardell