Strangely Warmed

Scripture:  Luke 24:13-35

I once was at church district meeting.  It was February, and it came up that my birthday was in a few days.  It turned out that someone else in that group also had a birthday coming up, and we in fact shared a birthdate.  This led someone to comment, “what are the odds?”

Perhaps you have had a similar experience in your life to discover you share a birthday with someone, but a question like “what are the odds” are the kinds of questions that really compel me to try and find the answer for, so I tried to look it up.  It turns out the odds were about 50-50.   In a group of 23 people the odds of two people sharing a birthday is right at 50%.  In a group of 75 people it becomes an almost near certainty that at least two people will share a birthday.  It seems kind of odd that in a group of any 23 random people there are even odds that two of them will share a birthday, which is why this is a well-known quirk in math called the “birthday paradox”.  I am not even going to pretend to understand the math behind it, but it is driven by the mathematics of probability.  Twenty three is the magic number of people that creates enough comparisons where it works out there are even odds that we will have a match with someone else.

The “birthday paradox” is a reminder to me that we have much more in common with people than we might at first think.  While in a group of at least 23 people there is a 50% chance that two share a birthday, I would hazard to guess that there is a 100% chance that we have something in common with everyone in the group.   Even though everyone is unique and there are so many people, we likely share a common quirk, liking, or experience with other people.  If we take the time to look, I think the commonality we share with others will pleasantly surprise us.

This is true for scripture as well, even though the bible was written thousands of years ago in languages different than we speak today and in a cultural context that is somewhat alien to us, we often can find the experiences described in the scripture can be similar to our own experiences.   I think that is especially true of this morning’s scripture.  This morning’s scripture ends with the two witnesses asking each other, “were not out hearts burning within us?”  We may not all have walked the literal road to Emmaus, but likely many of us share an experience where we have encountered the living Christ and our hearts were strangely warmed.

Even though we might share a common experience with this scripture, it is unique story in the bible.  The story of the encounter on the road to Emmaus appears only in Luke’s gospel.   This story is also unique because it contains followers of Jesus that were not one of the twelve.  One of the two people on the road is named in this scripture, Cleopas, and the other is not.  Cleopas is only referenced one other time in the bible.  In the gospel of John it is mentioned that while Jesus hung on the cross several women were gathered there along with Jesus’ mother.   One of these women mentioned is her sister, Mary the wife of Clopas.  Church tradition has connected these dots.  Which means that Cleopas, as the husband Of Mary’s sister, would have been an uncle to Jesus.  Nearly everything we can know about Cleopas comes from context clues.   In addition to being a relation to Jesus, we can also gather that he was a fairly close follower of Jesus.  He may not have been one of the twelve, but he referred to the women who found the tomb empty as “some of our women” and he states that he was present with the other disciples when the women came to make that report.

We can also gather a few context clues as to what Cleopas thought of Jesus.  He clearly thought Jesus was worth following, but he describes Jesus as a prophet, he had hoped that Jesus would be the one to redeem Israel.   Cleopas thought Jesus was empowered by God, but his understanding of the messiah was too limited, he only thought that Jesus was to restore the independence, fortunes, and glory of Israel the people and nation.   He had thought Jesus was only capable of being a political savior who would defeat and empire and reconcile the people to prosperity.  He did not realize that Jesus as the messiah is the savior of the whole world, who defeated sin and death, and reconciled all who believe in him to God for all time.

While we can gather some information from context clues, there are other things we just do not know.  For instance, we do not know exactly what Jesus said to the two travelers, but we can guess using the Hebrew Bible he was able to show how their understanding of the messiah had been far too small.   Perhaps the oddest unknown in this story is how Cleopas and his traveling companion did not recognize Jesus.  Verse sixteen cryptically states “they were kept from recognizing him.”   This seems to imply there was some sort of supernatural happenings going on here.  What I find most interesting is that they did not recognize Jesus until after they broke bread.   This was just a few days after Jesus had been with his disciples in the upper room, had similarly broken bread and said do this in remembrance of me.  I have to wonder if Cleopas had heard this story, if when they broke bread here they did so in remembrance of Jesus and that is when they finally recognized the messiah right in front of them.

We may not have a supernatural encounter with Jesus while traveling down a dusty road, but many of us have had an experience similar to that of Cleopas and his companion.  We might have been familiar with Jesus, but we did not yet fully know Jesus, we did not even begin to grasp who he truly is.   Then like Cleopas when we got a glimpse of who Jesus truly is as savior and Lord then we could also say “were not our hearts burning within us.”  Remember Cleopas was already a follower of Jesus, but it was not until his heart was burning did he truly get an idea of what it meant to follow the risen Christ.  I think this is a common experience for a lot of believers.  It is an experience at the very heart of our Methodist tradition.

John Wesley, who eventually be the founder of the Methodist movement, was born the son of an Anglican priest.  He went to Oxford and then taught New Testament at Lincoln College.  While at Oxford he joined his brother Charles Wesley and Charles’ friends in creating the holy club.   These young men met methodically at 5AM sharp to engage in prayer, bible study, and other spiritual disciplines.  Wesley continued on to become a fully ordained priest in the Church of England and he was granted a post as a missionary to the Georgia colony.

John Wesley had an incredible head knowledge of the bible and Christianity.  He had a disciplined regiment that would put just about all of us to shame, but he did not know Jesus.  This was uncomfortably pointed out to him on his journey to America.  The boat got caught in a strong Atlantic storm.   Wesley and several other passengers became panicked.  A   group of Moravians, a Christian group, calmly prayed and sang hymns during the storm.   After making landfall, Wesley sought out the Moravian leader and asked him how he remained so calm during the storm.  The pastor responded to Wesley by asking a question, “Does the Spirit of God bear witness with your spirit that you are a child of God?”  John Wesley struggled to respond to this and the pastor finally followed up by asking “Do you know Jesus Christ?”   Wesley confidently responded, “I know he is the Savior of the world.”    Wesley knew that he gave the theologically correct answer.  However, the pastor replied, “but do you know he has saved you?”    At that time in his life, Wesley could not answer yes to that question.   Wesley had all of the biblical knowledge, but like Cleopas on the road to Emmaus he could not recognize Jesus as a reason to have everlasting hope.

It turned out that Wesley’s trip to Georgia was a disaster.  He returned to England broken, but it was in the midst of his hardship and heartache that God’s grace managed to break through.  Somewhat reluctantly Wesley accepted an invitation to attend a Moravian meeting at Aldersgate Street in London.   Martin Luther’s preface to Romans was being read aloud which speaks of how forgiveness and grace was made available through Jesus.  Just like in this morning’s scripture when Cleopas’ eyes were opened at the breaking of the bread, John Wesley’s eyes were opened and he truly saw Jesus for who he is.   Wesley recorded this incident in his journal:  “while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

John Wesley knew all there was to know about Jesus, but knowing of Jesus is not the same as knowing Jesus.  To know Jesus is to trust in him as the savior.  To know Jesus, is to know that he has taken away sins, even your and saved us completely from the law of sin and death.  To know Jesus is to have our heart strangely warmed and they are burning within us because they have been awakened to the marvelous light of grace.

When was your heart strangely warmed?   Because it is an experience we should all have.  It should be commonality that unites us.  It does not matter how long you have been involved in a church, all who follow Jesus will have that moment when Jesus stops being an idea or a belief and becomes known to us as our savior.  Perhaps your experience was similar to the one in this morning’s scripture or John Wesley’s where your eyes were finally opened to what was in front of you.  Perhaps you have a more dramatic story of how Jesus met you on the mountain top or after you had hit rock bottom.  Or perhaps you cannot point to a specific point, but perhaps your faith experience has been like a pot of water where the temperature kept getting slowly turned up until it reached a rolling boil.  All of our stories are unique to us, but the experience of moving from knowing of Jesus to knowing Jesus is something we all should have in common if we consider ourselves a Christian.

I really appreciate this morning’s scripture because the description of a heart burning within us, mirrors John Wesley’s description of a heart strangely warmed, and I cannot think of a better way to describe how it feels to know Jesus and have the assurance that your sins are forgiven.   If you do not think you have ever experienced that feeling, if you are not sure if you have ever moved from knowing about Jesus to knowing Jesus, and if you do not feel an assurance that your sins are forgiven and that you are saved from sin and death, then let’s talk about that some time because I would love to listen to your experience.

However, if you heart has ever been strangely warmed, even if it was years ago, may you add fuel to that fire.  May you rekindle the flame.  May you know Jesus, may you have an assurance that your sins, yes yours, are forgiven.  May the your heart burn within you as you can declare to the world “It is true! The Lord has risen.”

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