Easter Leftovers: Clarity
Sunday, April 10, 2016
In 2016, studies say 80% of college students who graduate will do so while no longer pursuing the same major that they were focused on when they began their studies. In fact, according to the same studies, on average, students change majors at least three times from the beginning of college until graduation.
This is particularly bad news for those of us who are parents. After all, this now anticipated changing of majors usually extends a student’s time on campus meaning that it will likely take them more than four years to finish their education. This is a particularly painful revelation in these same days when the average tuition cost is $9,000 for in-state students at a public college and $23,000 for students studying at out-of-state public universities.
While I hate to be the bearer of bad news on this beautiful Sunday morning, the fact that most students stay in college longer than four years while struggling to choose just the right major illustrates something that most all of us are well aware of – many, many people struggle when it comes to figuring out exactly what it is that they want to or feel led to do with their lives.
And, this is not true just of college students. It is equally true of people in their forties and fifties who wake up one day after twenty five years of pursuing the same career only to finally face up to the fact that that they are not content or happy in their work and that they are ready to try something else. Something else that they hope will bring them meaning, purpose and joy.
Further, this sense of searching for meaning and trying to figure out why I am here is also common these days with those who have retired. They were for many years defined by their career, but now in retirement they have lots of time on their hands and while they love golf, traveling, keeping the grandkids and catching up on all of those books they had been meaning to read for the last 30 years, they still, at the same time wonder if they are not meant to pursue some deeper or higher calling that gives their lives – and here is that pesky word again – meaning.
I share all of this because it seems to me that there is a good word in our text for today from Luke 24 for those of us trying to figure our lives and our purpose out. It is a word about a sense of clarity that these two Jesus followers whom we met last week developed in a flash and in light of the resurrection. And, I think it is a sense of clarity that was also arriving for the eleven disciples and for others among Jesus’ earliest followers. After all, if you look at these earliest followers as a group holistically in the immediate days and months following the Easter event, their lives changed dramatically. With Jesus as resurrected Lord they now had a sense of purpose, direction and vision that had not been theirs before.
Think about these two disciples at the center of our text for today. As we discussed last week, we don’t know lots about them. One was named Cleopas and the other’s name is never given leading some to think this may have been simply a traveling companion and friend of Cleopas or either the spouse of Cleopas. We simply don’t know. But, what we do know is that they seem to have been eye witnesses at the crucifixion and as they walk home on Sunday having observed the Sabbath in Jerusalem on Saturday, they do so unaware of the already developing experiences of an empty tomb or encounters with Jesus as being possible alive that other followers had already experienced that day.
Their destination that day was their home in Emmaus which was roughly six miles from Jerusalem. As they traveled, a stranger begins to walk with them. Even though they walk together, talk together and even discuss what has happened to Jesus, it never dawns on either of them that it is actually Jesus who is in their midst. As the day begins to draw to a close and as they stop for the evening meal, they invite the stranger to join them. It is in that moment, in a moment that reminds all of us of the Last Super, that the stranger takes the bread, blesses it, brakes it and gives it to them. As he does, their eyes are opened and their realize that this stranger is actually Jesus himself – alive. In that very moment, as they eyes are opened to who is with them, Jesus vanishes from they eyes leaving them amazed and overwhelmed.
It is what happens next that really intrigues me and yet is often overlooked. So often, we end the story right here with their amazement, but, as Paul Harvey used to say, there is a “rest of the story” that we are prone to miss. In that very moment, according to Luke, they got up and went right back to Jerusalem to share with the disciples and others what they had experienced.
Now, I don’t want to make too much of these details but I also don’t want us to miss them. Think about what we are learning here for a moment in every day language. Again, they had traveled 6 miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Now, if you are exercising and keeping a pretty good pace, you can walk a mile in about 13-15 minutes – that is with your UnderAmour shorts on and a while wearing a pair of Nike tennis shoes.
But, if you are simply walking and talking with a friend and if you are wearing sandals while traveling a rough terrain, I would guess we are talking more like a 20 minutes mile or roughly 3 miles an hour. This means they had walked for somewhere around two hours to get back to Emmaus. But, once they encounter the risen Christ, they turn around. They are so full of joy, excitement and with a new purpose that they do it all over. Again, put this in context, this is like us driving to Charlotte, learning something amazing and ten minutes later driving back to Laurens to spread the news.
Suddenly, their lives had a new vision, purpose, clarity, meaning.
Unfortunately it wasn’t a sense of clarity about careers or what profession they should pursue, but it was a profound sense of clarity about why they were here on earth and where meaning could be found. I think the same exists for us as people who also have the great opportunity to live on this side of Easter as Jesus’ followers.
Let me be clear this morning and say that I know that the search for meaning and purpose in our jobs is real. I don’t want to minimize that quest or to dismiss it in any shape form or fashion. But, I do want to say that while many of us continue to wrestle with the place that we can find meaning in our vocational lives, Jesus invites us to recognize that as his followers we have a purpose, a mission and a chance to make a significant difference in this world even while continuing to sort out our professional futures. Like me, I hope you find this as a good word, because in Jesus we find stability, meaning and clarity while other areas of life remain somewhat unstable.
This past week, I met a Baptist minister from New York City who suffers from a rare disease in which his immune system regularly senses there is a problem with his body and begins to attack the supposed disease or virus. The only problem is that there is not a virus or disease present – his body is actually perfectly healthy. In turn, in a mysterious way, his immune system constantly creates problems where one doesn’t exist.
To a certain degree we have done this same thing to ourselves spiritually. In the midst of lives that are less that perfect, in the midst of families that are less than perfect, in the midst of careers that are less than perfect – we have convinced ourselves that we have no meaning, no purpose, no joy. Like my friend’s rare disease we convince ourselves that everything is wrong when in truth, there is something that is alway right. The chance to share Christ’s story of resurrection, hope, joy and love is always available and always an opportunity no matter what. This sense of purpose always exists for us. This opportunity which always gives us meaning and purpose is always there for us even when chaos abounds in other areas of our lives.
When I think about this, I think of a woman named Svetlana Goman. When we lived in Western Kentucky, shortly after seminary days, Svetlana was a member of our church there. The long and short of her story was that she was in political exile from a section of Russia still in the throws of communism at the time. Through friends in our church in Kentucky who had done missions work in the area of Russia where she was from, she had been invited to come and live in our community. The hope was that her family would soon be able to join her. Truth be told, however, there was much hope and little certainty in the desire for them to join her. In reality, much of her life was spent in waiting and feeling like her future was in complete jeopardy and it was.
But, the inspiring thing about her is that while the rest of her life was chaotic, her faith provide a constant source of clarity, meaning and purpose. She involved herself in several ministries and engaged herself in the work of our church and the kingdom. This work of the church and this work of God was all she had left and all she had to fall back on. Yet, it gave her joy, value and significance. What Svetlana did was she let go of what she could not completely control and she embraced the Gospel opportunities that were ever in front of her.
The resurrection did that for Jesus earliest followers too. They lives, futures, well being were all still completely uncertainly and up in the air. But, this did not diminish the way that Easter had clarified their real work, given them energy to walk all the walk back to Jerusalem on the spur of them moment, provided them a real purpose and gave their lives value. The constant self- worth found in the risen Christ was theirs and it was never going to go away no matter how much remained uncertainly in the rest of their lives.
The same Easter hope is ours too, if we will only reach out and take hold of it. Amen.