SHATTERED HOPE AND OPENED EYES
©Wendell Griffen, 2017
May 7, 2017 (Fourth Sunday of Easter)
New Millennium Church, Little Rock, AR
13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles* from Jerusalem, 14and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad.* 18Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place ther777e in these days?’ 19He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth,* who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,20and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.* Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’ 25Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26Was it not necessary that the Messiah* should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ 27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. 30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us* while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ 33That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
We seem to be always living in a time of shattered hope.
In 1960, John F. Kennedy, a United States Senator from Massachusetts, was elected to become the 35th President of the United States. Kennedy was the youngest person to ever be elected to that office. His youthfulness, idealism, handsome appearance, and moving personal and family history caused many people in the United States and around the world to hope for peace and justice. But, those hopes were shattered, on November 22, 1963, when President Kennedy was assassinated while riding in an open motorcade in Dallas, Texas.
In 1964, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., co-pastor with his father of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia and leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was awarded the Nobel Prize in the field of human rights for his leadership in civil rights and social justice when he was only 35 years old. Dr. King’s advocacy for civil rights, social justice, and peace through non-violent change challenged the United States and inspired social justice movements around the world. However, Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968.
In 1976, Jimmy Carter, a former Governor from Georgia, was elected to become the 39th President of the United States. His humility and down-to-earth manners prompted many people to hope that public policy in the United States would be defined by peace and justice. President Carter embraced equality for women and persons of color. He promoted energy conservation and human rights. He convened a historic summit involving President Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel at Camp David that resulted in the first treaty of peace and cooperation between Israel and any of its neighboring Arab nations. But, Carter was defeated in his 1980 bid for re-election by Ronald Reagan, former Governor of California.
In 2006, Barack Obama wrote a book titled The Audacity of Hope. In his 2006 book, Mr. Obama (who was then a United States Senator from Illinois), set out his vision and views on what he termed a new kind of politics based on cooperation, a shared sense of community, and a conviction that we can work together to improve life for all persons. In the fall of 2006, The Audacity of Hope became a best seller – and reached the number one position on both the New York Times and Amazon.com best seller lists – after the book was endorsed by Oprah Winfrey.
Barack Obama later became a candidate for President of the United States in the Democratic Party. He eventually won the Democratic Party nomination. Ultimately, Barack Obama was elected, in November 2008, the 44th President of the United States. His election was viewed in this nation and across the world as a hopeful sign for justice and peace. After leading the nation to enact Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – the most comprehensive health care legislation in its history – President Obama was re-elected, in 2012, to a second four-year term of office. During his second inauguration in January 2013, he took the oath of office while placing his hand on a Bible that had belonged to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In 2016, Hillary Clinton, who served as Secretary of State during the first term of the Obama presidency, United States Senator from New York after leaving the White House as First Lady during the presidency of her husband, President Bill Clinton, and who devoted her life and career to public service and advocacy for equal rights for women around the world, became the first woman in the United States to be nominated as the presidential candidate by either of the two leading U.S. national political parties when she won the Democratic Party nomination. Ms. Clinton’s candidacy seemed likely to succeed because of her record for public service, and because the nominee chosen by the Republican Party, Donald Trump, had never served in public office. Secretary Clinton’s candidacy was buoyed by and personified the hopes of many people – in the U.S. and elsewhere – that a women would finally be chosen to lead our nation. Her candidacy was openly supported by President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.
However, President Obama was not followed by Secretary Clinton. In November 2016, the hopes for a Hillary Clinton presidency that would build on the policies advanced by President Obama were shattered when Donald Trump, a New York real estate developer and television celebrity, was elected the 45th President of the United States. Mr. Trump’s “Make America Great Again” presidential campaign was defined by white nationalism, hostility toward immigrants and Muslims, bigotry against women, persons who are disabled, and other persons who are marginalized.
I recount these aspects of relatively recent political history so we will identify with the two men mentioned in the passage we read from Luke 24 who were walking toward Emmaus from Jerusalem days after Jesus had been crucified by the Roman Empire at the insistence of religious nationalists who opposed his ministry. The two men appear to have been followers of Jesus. But unlike other men who remained in hiding in Jerusalem, these men left Jerusalem. Unlike the women who followed Jesus throughout his ministry, supported his ministry, followed him to the site of his crucifixion, watched him suffer and die, followed him to the place he was buried in a borrowed tomb, and who had resolved to pay homage to him afterwards, these men left Jerusalem.
Luke’s Gospel gives us a clue. After a third person joined them along the walk to Emmaus and asked them what they were discussing with each other as they walked along (Luke 24:17), their reply is found at Luke 24:19-24.
“The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in word and deed before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. There were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see him.”
These men suffered from shattered hope. Those of us who were remember what it was like days after President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 should be able to identify with them. We who remember what it felt like days after Dr. King was assassinated in 1968 should be able to identify with them. We who remember what it felt like days after President Carter was defeated in 1976 should be able to identify with them. And those of us who remember what it felt like when Secretary Clinton was defeated and President Trump was elected should be able to identify with them.
Cleopas and his friend are examples of us! Like them, we have held high and noble hopes. Like them, we have seen our hopes shattered. Like them, many of us appear to have thrown up our hands in disappointment, confusion, and disgust. Cleopas and his friend were not hiding in Jerusalem. They were not hanging out with the women. They were not hanging out with Thomas. They left town! They quit the place. They appear to have decided to throw in the towel.
They had seen Jesus ambushed by their own religious leaders. Their own people had turned on Jesus. Their own people had turned Jesus over to the Roman occupiers of Palestine. Their own people had falsified evidence to accuse Jesus with the crime of insurrection. Their own people, religious leaders, had done all this after bribing Judas, one of the trusted disciples of Jesus.
After seeing so much corruption, Cleopas and his fellow disciple decided “to hell with it!” After they had hoped so much in Jesus and seen him do so much for their people only to be rejected by the very people he had served, these men were done with the religion of Jesus. They were done with hope.
It is tempting to criticize these men for giving up. We who have the advantage of knowing “the rest of the story” might be tempted to look down on them. We might be tempted to think, “Where was their faith? Why did they leave Jerusalem even after hearing the report from the women who said that Jesus was no longer dead?” Do you have those thoughts?
But are we so different from Cleopas and his fellow traveler? Have we, like them, heard about the risen Jesus? Have we, like these men with shattered hope, heard that despite everything the principalities and powers of empire and pride did to Jesus, God raised him up! Have we, like these men with shattered hope, not also been tempted to quit on Jesus nonetheless?
Shattered hope can cause us to quit believing God will make a way. Shattered hope can cause us to quit believing that anything we do for God and with God matters. Shattered hope can make us leave what we believe we were called to do. Shattered hope can make us stop trusting others we have once trusted.
And shattered hope can make us blind! Shattered hope can blind us to realities that contradict and refute our hopelessness. Shattered hope can blind us to the living presence and power of God walking with us, talking us, listening to us, comforting us, and challenging us. Shattered hope can make us blind to the power of God. Shattered hope can make us blind to the truth of God. Shattered hope can make us blind to the presence of God. Shattered hope can make us blind to the peace of God. Shattered hope can make us blind to the unstoppable justice of God.
Well, if you wonder if there is a cure to shattered hope, there is good news. The third man who joined Cleopas and his buddy along the walk to Emmaus joined them in the power of God. God finds us even when have thrown in the towel! God finds us even when we’ve quit the field. God finds us and hears, finds us and consoles us, and finds us and challenges us! God will not abandon us to be people of shattered hope. In the risen Jesus, God finds us.
In the risen Jesus, God helps us understand that some suffering is part of every liberation movement. In the risen Jesus, God shows us that not even God can deliver us without suffering oppression from the principalities and power of empire and pride. In the risen Jesus, God shows us that even when those principalities and powers appear to have done us in, God has us! God has a way planned out of our “no way!” Even when the principalities and powers rise up, rail, and seem to rule over us, God is making a way and God will have the final word.
Because Jesus showed up on the road to Emmaus, shattered hope was eventually replaced by opened eyes. Because Jesus showed up and drew men with shattered hope into a burning heart fellowship, they could not keep leaving Jerusalem. They had to return to Jerusalem. They returned because the power of God revealed by the resurrection of Jesus opened their eyes. They returned because the Jesus of resurrection had become real to them, not merely a rumor.
When Jesus becomes real, we will go back to work for God. When Jesus becomes real, we will not quit when people persecute us. When Jesus becomes real, we will not dismiss reports from others about what God has done, what God is doing, and what God will do. When Jesus becomes real, people of shattered hope will become people of resurrection truth, justice, and hope.
We are called to be those people. We are called, with Cleopas and his companion, to walk with Jesus, learn from Jesus, be challenged by Jesus, have our hearts warmed by Jesus, and then get back to work for God with Jesus! In Jesus, God is calling us back to the work. In Jesus, God is calling us back to Jerusalem. In Jesus, God is calling us to be people of resurrection hope who defy the principalities and powers of empire and pride.
Thanks to the risen Jesus, people with shattered hope can have our eyes opened, our hearts warmed, and our strength renewed. Hallelujah!
 The scripture for this sermon is the Gospel lectionary passage for April 30, 2017 (Third Sunday of Easter), and this sermon was originally intended for that date. However, worship services were canceled at New Millennium Church on April 30 because of severe thunderstorms and flash flooding in central Arkansas on April 29 and 30, 2017. The sermon is delivered on May 7, 2017 (Fourth Sunday of Easter) because it is relevant to what Reverend Harry Emerson Fosdick called “the living of these days.”
 Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, (Crown/Three Rivers Press: 2006).