Monday, May 1, 2017

Sunday's Sermon - Glimpses of Glory

Below is a copy of the sermon I preached on Sunday, April 30, in Two Ridges Presbyterian Church, Wintersville, Ohio and Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. You can hear a podcast of the sermon on the Cove Presbyterian Podbean page. You might also want to visit the congregational website ( for more church information.

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This morning, as we move from Easter to Pentecost, we’re going to talk about something I call “glimpses of glory.” And since I may be the only one to use it, let me explain what that means, at least, what that means to me. You see, for me, a glimpse of glory happens when, for some reason, I just feel especially close God or maybe all of a sudden I have this insight that I didn’t have before. And since it really wasn’t something I set out to get, it’s sort of like a gift given to me by God. In other words, for some reason, at one particular moment God showed me something that I may have never see before or God enabled me to feel something that I may have never felt in quite the same way. And when it happens, well, that’s what I call a glimpse of glory.

But I’ll tell you, I never considered this kind of thing until I got to seminary. I mean, even though I believe they’d probably happened in the past, I never really thought about them before I went to Union Theological Seminary, located in the center of the universe, and I’m talking about Richmond, Virginia. But you know, it’s really kind of interesting; for me, these experiences didn’t happen in class, although I was learning an incredible amount of stuff about God and the Bible. And they didn’t happen when I went to church on Sunday morning, although I intentionally went to different kinds of services so that I could experience worship from a bunch of different angles. And they didn’t even happen when I was praying or having my personal devotions.

No, every time I experienced these glimpses of glory, I was working out in a weight room in the basement of Richmond Hall with my very best seminary friend, Steve Goyer. Now, you’ve got to understand, this work-out basement, man, it was a pretty grimy place, and it was always empty, because exercising wasn’t a high priority for most seminary students in the ‘80s. And although I called it a weight room, it actually only had an old universal machine, about a dozen dumbbells, a bar for chin-ups, and this dusty, canvas punching bag. But I’ll tell you, that was good enough for me and Steve, and so most afternoons we’d go down these metal stairs and exercise. And since we were taking the same classes, for the most part, we’d talk about some of the stuff we’d covered that day you know, during Dr. Leith’s class on the theology of John Calvin or with Dr. Kingbury in New Testament Exegesis or in Dr. Towner’s course on Hebrew Wisdom Literature, you know, fun stuff like that.

And so as we worked out, Steve and I would talk, and we’d kind of take some of the ideas we were discussing in class and push them a little further than we’d done a few hours before. And I’ll tell you, every now-a-then, we’d get these, well, these glimpses of glory, when all-of-sudden a whole bunch of stuff I was going to memorize anyway, man, it just made sense. But more than that, it felt as though, for some reason, God had opened our eyes and allowed us to see something we’d never seen before. I’ll tell you, it was weird but really nice. And even though this spark of insight only lasted a little while and no matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t bring it back when it was gone, I still remember how it felt, this lifting of the curtain, this unexpected closeness with God, this sudden glimpse of glory.

And you know, I mention this, because I think we have the same thing going on in the passage we’re considering this morning, and I’m talking about the appearance of Jesus on the Emmaus road. Now this is something that I believe we’re going to see as we go through the story. But having said that, I’ll tell you, how Luke starts this, man, it’s pretty matter-of-fact, isn’t it? I mean, he wrote, “Now that same day [,in other words, on the same day as the resurrection,] two of them [,probably two disciples] were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.” Now I don’t know about y’all, but I don’t find anything particularly special or exciting here.  I mean, they were doing the same kind of thing Steve and I use to do when we were exercising in the basement of Richmond Hall. They were also talking about stuff they’d experienced.

But right here the story takes an unexpected turn. “While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” In other words, for some reason, God was preventing them from recognizing someone whom they knew. And so, as far as they were concerned, just another guy had joined them as they were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus. “And,” according to Luke, “he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. Then 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 there in these days?’ [If Luke was writing this today, he’d probably have said, “Da.”] He 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, 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. They 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.’” Now that’s what Cleopas and his buddy told this guy who’d somehow missed everything that had happened over the last a couple of days.

And after they’d given this explanation of what happened, an account that’s alright but that pretty much stays on the surface, you know, lacking anything close to depth, you see, after they said this stuff to the one they didn’t know as Jesus, again according to Luke, “then he, [meaning, Jesus] said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.” And so, right here, we’ve got Jesus teaching these two disciples who evidentially didn’t understand the meaning and the significance of what happened in Jerusalem. Right here, on that road, he was their teacher, their seminary professor; but their class was about to end, because, according to Luke, “as they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on.”

And I’ll tell you, right here the story could have ended: with those two disciples getting a great lecture on theology and the Bible, but that’s about all, right? Their eyes were still closed. They still didn’t recognize the one walking with them. They still hadn’t experienced any kind of real closeness with the risen savior. They still hadn’t receive anything like a glimpse of glory. But you know, in the story, that changed, and it changed by a decision that they made and some action that they took. I mean, if they’d kept quiet and allowed Jesus to just keep going down that road, they may have grown in their knowledge but they would have missed out on something deeper.

But of course, that’s not what they did. According to Luke, “But 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. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.” Now that’s what they said and that’s what Jesus did. And right here they got a glimpse of glory, didn’t they? “Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.” You see, for some reason, as Jesus was doing for them the same thing he’d done for his apostles, and I’m talking about breaking the bread, boom, God opened their eyes. And suddenly they could see and understand something they didn’t before. They had glimpsed the glory of God. And they were changed, and that’s why, according to the passage, “they 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?’”

But you know, they did more than just talk about it among themselves. As Luke continued: “That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” You see, they took what they’d gone through and shared it with others. In other words, they’d passed on to others the glory he’d experienced. And I’ll tell you, I think the same thing applies to us. Of course, if you have no interest in experiencing this kind of thing happening to you, then you probably don’t care about what I’m about to say, and that’s O.K. I mean, if you really don’t care about feeling really close God or receiving a sudden insight that you may not have had before, that’s your business not mine.

But I’ll tell you, if you do, if you do want to feel an incredible closeness to the creator of the universe and if you do want to receive this flash of insight into who Christ was and is and if you do want to experience the touch of the Holy Spirit, suddenly opening your eyes and minds and hearts, I mean, if you do want this kind of glimpse into God’s glory, I think this passage can teach us a lot about how it might be received and how we might respond. You see, even though I believe that God is in control; therefore, he’s the one who has the power and the authority to open our eyes, I think there are some places where this happens more often than others. I mean, for those two disciples, it was when Jesus was with them at that table and when we broke with them the bread. It was at that place and at that time when their eyes were open. And for me and Steve, it was when we were exercising in the basement of Richmond Hall after our classes were over for the day.

And for you, well, I don’t know that special place and time when you may be most likely to have this type of experience. I mean, it may be during a Bible study, when you’re thinking about and discussing God’s word. I’ll be honest with y’all; personally, that’s when I feel closest to God. Or it may be when you’re praying, and you’re relaxing and opening yourself to the Holy Spirit so that he can take your happiness and joy, your hopes and dreams, your fears and frustrations into God, because that’s really what prayer is all about. Or it may be during worship, maybe when we gather around the table and break the bread and drink from the cup. Or it may be when you’re active and involved, you know, doing some kind of work for God or for a neighbor. Man, I know folks who feel closest to God when their driving a nail or teaching a class or mowing a lawn. You see, where people experience God isn’t one size fits all. Different people may have different places and may be doing different things. And it’s important for each of us to find where that place is for us, you know, that place where we’re most open to God, and then to go there. You see, if we want to receive these glimpses of glory, just like those disciples discovered, we really need to be where those experiences are most likely to occur.

And then, just like them, on those special times when it happens, I think it’s important for us to respond, you know, to respond to that sudden insight, to respond to that unexpected presence. And I’ll tell you, what those two believers did in this story from Luke, what they did seems pretty good to me. I mean, the first thing they did was to reflect on what had happened. And I’ll tell you, we can do the same thing ourselves. When we get that special insight and feel that special presence, I think it’s probably a pretty good idea to think about it a little bit. And we can consider what it might mean. And we can study on what it might teach us about ourselves and about our God and about how we might respond to him. Now that’s one thing we can do.

And then we can share what we’ve experienced with others. And you know, when you think about it, why wouldn’t we want to do that? I mean, if I’ve experienced something wonderful, why wouldn’t I want to share some of that wonder with my Christian brothers and sisters? Who knows, maybe through my experience, God may open the eyes of someone else. You see, in response to these glimpses of glory, we can both consider what they mean and share them with others.

Now, back when I was in seminary, I knew that for some reason, I was most likely to receive a sudden insight and feel a special presence when I was discussing God’s word with my friend Steve. And since then, I’ve found some other places and some other people that God seems to use to open my eyes. And in that, I really feel blessed, you know, like those two disciples must have felt when they suddenly realized that they’d been with the risen Christ. But I’ve got to admit, although I’ve received some wonderful experiences, my response, well, I don’t think it’s been quite as good as it could have been. I guess that’s something on which I still need to work. And for us here, as we open ourselves to God, let’s find those places we’re most likely to receive these special experiences. And then, let’s be willing to take the time and make the effort to respond to these glimpses of glory.

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