Listening to the story.
Acts 2:14a, 36-41
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.
Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And 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?” 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.” Then he 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.
As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 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. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 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?” 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.
In Elie Wiesel’s book “the Gates of the Forest” he tells this story in the preface.
When the great Rabbi Israel Baal Shem-Tov saw misfortune threatening the Jews, it was his custom to go into a certain part of the forest to meditate. There he would light a fire, say a special prayer, and the miracle would be accomplished and the misfortune averted.
Later, when his disciple, the celebrated Magid of Mezritch, had occasion, for the same reason, to intercede with heaven, he would go to the same place in the forest and say: ‘‘Master of the Universe, listen! I do not know how to light the fire, but I am still able to say the prayer,’’ and again the miracle would be accomplished.
Still later, Rabbi Moshe-Lieb of Sasov, in order to save his people once more, would go into the forest and say: ‘‘I do not know how to light the fire, I do not know the prayer, but I know the place and this must be sufficient.’’ It was sufficient and the miracle was accomplished.
Then it fell to Rabbi Israel of Rizhyn to overcome misfortune. Sitting in his armchair, his head in his hands, he spoke to God: ‘‘I am unable to light the fire and I do not know the prayer; I cannot even find the place in the forest. All I can do is tell the story.” And it was sufficient.
Wiesel ends the preface by saying that God made humans because God loves stories.
Stories are powerful. Stories can change lives. The things you hold most dear, the values you have, the way you think about the world has often been influenced by your story, your history, interacting with your family’s story and with other stories.
And if I asked you about the most important person in your life, you would probably have a story to tell me about that person.
You told your children stories, about your past, your family, your parents, your grandparents.
We tell our children the history of Canada, or of the world, of our culture, of our religion, of our faith.
And everyone has a story to tell, their own story…
The story of their life…
And Jesus walks beside two disciples on the Road to Emmaus and listens to their story.
A story of faith, a story of Jesus, a story of loss… a story of grief….
And it seems to me that when we talk about the good news of Jesus, often we talk about how to tell the story of Jesus.
Different theological positions argue about what is the true story or correct story of Jesus.
You can read books about how to tell the story of Jesus or how to preach the story of Jesus…
But it seems to me one aspect of the good news of Jesus is that Jesus listens…
And that maybe the first thing we as followers of Jesus should or could do is listen…
Deeply listen to the stories of people, of individuals, cultures, indigenous peoples, the poor and dispossessed, to the faith stories people have to share…
and to the stories of ordinary people…
It may be that the first step in telling a story of love is to actually listen deeply to a person and in so doing demonstrate that love.
It may also be that deeply listening to the stories of others opens us up and changes us not only to be more like Christ….
But to new understanding of how Christ actually operates in the lives of people and how God wants us to act and interact with people.
I remember when I was in university over 40 years ago that Alex Haley’s book “Roots” was turned into a mini-series for television and how that story not only captivated and entertained, but opened my eyes and the eyes of many to a part of human history that many of us did not know a whole lot about, that specifically was about the slave trade in North America.
About ten years ago Canadian Lawrence Hill wrote about the slave trade in his novel: “The Book of Negroes” which had a particular Canadian slant.
There was an actual historical “Book of Negroes” which had about 3000 names of African American slaves who had helped the British during the Revolutionary war and consequently were granted passage to Canada, to Nova Scotia settling in the Halifax area.
Later on around 1792 about 1200 from this community in Halifax leave to go back to their roots in Africa to Sierra Leone establishing the Freetown colony which becomes the capital city of the country Sierra Leone.
That is part of our Canadian story and a story I think is important for us to hear.
I remember the Truth and Reconciliation Commission coming to Edmonton a few years ago and how many stories, painful stories have been told in Canada about the Residential School system that was forced on our Aboriginal peoples and how much damage it did.
Deeply listening to others and the pain of others is a huge part of the gospel and what Jesus was about….
And it seems that the world could do a whole lot more listening to one another.
What would it be like if ordinary Canadians could sit down with ordinary North Koreans and talk about life and children and food and things that people like and dislike, and hope and fears and dreams… and understand one another…
That instead of listening to the rhetoric of the leaders we deeply listened to one another.
So much of our history, the stuff we have been told about what happened in the past is not the stories of ordinary people but the rhetoric of the winners.
Even or especially church history. Diana Butler Bass. church historian wrote a book published eight years ago entitled: “A People’s History of Christianity”
In it she contends that most history of Christianity has been written from the perspective of what calls “Big-C Christianity.” There are liberal and conservative versions of this narrative, she says, and in shorthand it runs something like this: “Christ, Constantine, Christendom, Calvin, and Christian America.” In this version, Christianity is “an us-against-them morality tale of a suffering church that is vindicated by God through its global victory over other worldviews, religions, or political systems.” This is a story of “schisms, crusades, inquisitions, and warfare,” and in her mind it has lost its hold on the spiritual imaginations of many contemporary believers.
So she wrote a history book of Christians and Christianity that was about people who truly tried to live the way of Jesus and practice his love, his inclusion, his peace and his justice. There are stories of selfless love and sacrificial faith. Some were persecuted by other Christians for their ways of peace.
She argues that the way of Jesus is a huge part of our history and yet most of Christian history has focused on doctrine, politics, power and conflict and those who won.
Some of the characters are known and many are not known that well.
Many women are highlighted: Julian of Norwich, the first woman to write a book in English, Elizabeth Hooton, the first female Quaker preacher, Maria Stewart a woman who spoke up against slavery in the 19th century, The Beguine nuns who started charity communities.
She talks about early Christianity and how early Christians lived a Christ-centered life and practiced four things 1. hospitality – all comers were welcome; 2. communalism – all property was held in common by the faithful; 3. peace making – early Christians were pacifists by and large; 4. aliens – all humans were “neighbors,” even if they remained outside the church.
The point of this is how important I think it is to listen deeply to the stories of ordinary people and not just of the winners, or the rich and famous.
Because when we listen to another’s story we well might be listening to Jesus.
A stranger comes along two disciples. They do not know who this stranger is. Isn’t that strange.
And this stranger listens to their story and then opens up his own heart to them and tells them his story and his understanding of scripture…
And eventually when they have a meal together they recognize that it is the Christ.
And since Christ lives in us and we in him, we never know that when we listen deeply to anther and share deeply with another that it might not be Christ…
…or maybe it is that every time we listen deeply to another and share deeply we are listening and sharing with Christ…
There is a story I read one time in one of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books, a story that goes back a long time.
Several men were rushing in the train station trying to catch the train on a Friday night of the long weekend. Being in a terrible hurry, they accidentally knocked over a vendor’s cart of apples.
All the men kept going to catch the train except for one. Although he hadn’t been the one to knock over the apples, he came back to help right the cart and put the apples back.
It was then when the man realized that the vendor was actually a blind boy. Even though missing the train, the man was so glad that he had actually stopped and helped this blind boy. After all the apples were put back, he turned to leave.
The blind boy called out. “Hey, are you Jesus.”
Where is your Emmaus? Where is that place where you walk the road of discouragement, sadness, grief, pain or loss?
Who has been Jesus to you? Who has been there when you were in grief, when your world turned upside down, when you didn’t know which way to turn?
Who has deeply listened to your pain, your loss, your heartache?
And in that moment God touched you, comforted you, maybe even healed you?
I don’t know whether it is super significant but maybe it is indicative that there is no known Emmaus in the world. Scholars cannot find a place called Emmaus. Nobody knows where it is.
Maybe that is because Emmaus is less a physical place than an emotional condition…
The condition of needing someone to be Christ to you and listen to you…
You know quite a few years ago I did a couple of weeklong courses with a minister by the name of John Savage.
He did his doctoral work on why people who attend church regularly and give to the church and are quite involved in their congregations drop out of church and do not come back.
And the result of his findings is that most people who drop out of church have a number of painful events in their lives, that people in the church do not know about.
Then something happens in the church which is stressful and it connects with all their pain and they stop coming to church.
They have pain that is not listened to by people in the church.
And John Savage worked on a program for teaching church people to listen. Because if we listen to the pain of those who have pain we can get some of them to come back to church.
In fact those most likely to come to church who haven’t been to church in a long time or those who are maybe trying church for a first time, often are people who have pain in their lives and are looking for a place to connect and share, because the pain is making them open to something new.
You know most people in a conversation myself included don’t listen very well, if hardly at all. It is normal and I am not trying to judge. That is the way it is.
Most of the time when we are in a conversation what we are thinking about is what we are going to say. We hear the other say something and it connects with a story in our heads and we think about what we are going to share with the other.
That is normal conversation.
But if one truly tries to listen and only listen to the other, so that the mind is concentrating solely on the other…one can listen to a number of things:
You can listen to the content of what the other says..
You can listen for the feelings of what the other is feeling.
You can listen to the body language of the other…
You can listen for free information such as when the other says something like:
Yea, there are a couple of things that have really been bothering me…
You said that there are a couple of things that are bothering you. What things?
You can listen to what a person doesn’t say. Someone talks about all their family members except one.
I notice you didn’t say anything about so and so? Is there anything you could say about that?
You can listen to the metaphors in a person’s conversation.
Someone tells a story about being trapped. I get the impression that sometimes there are things in life that make you feel trapped. Is that right?
The more deeply we listen and show that we care, the more chance that the other will actually come out with the real pain of their life, the thing or things that bother them most.
And you know what, the healing starts to happen the second the other can finally start to voice the real pain. Once it is out and open and acknowledged and someone else can listen to it, something starts to happen.
And so it is always a sacred moment when someone shares their cross, their burden, their pain, their story, their Emmaus with you.
Stories are powerful, and to listen to someone’s story, or to share your story with someone who listens to you, is a sacred moment..
For when you share your Emmaus story with another, or when another shares their Emmaus story with you, we believe Christ is there…
And maybe our eyes will be opened and we will recognize the Christ who lives in people. Amen.