(I preached this sermon on Sunday, April 26, 2020. The Gospel reading for the day was Luke 24:13-35 – you can find the full recording of the service on our website – www.ststephenlc.org)
Recently we watched the movie Miracle. It’s the retelling of the 1980 USA Mens Olympic Hockey Team and the game that would come to be called the Miracle on Ice. The Miracle was that they beat the Soviet Olympic Team – a team that hadn’t lost a match in years and won Olympic gold in the four previous Olympics – 1964, 68, 72, and 76. All while the US team had struggled through the opening rounds year after year – only once securing a medal in those four Olympics. The Soviets where the best and everyone knew it.
The US team was a rag tag grouping of amateur hockey players – college players – who were brought together to make a team. The team struggles to come together – often because their loyalty to their college team got in the way of playing together as a team. Their eyes were kept closed to seeing the goal. What’s a coach to do in that situation?
After one friendly match, he makes the team stay on the ice after the game. He makes them line up on the goal line and sprint across the rink to the blue line and back to the goal, then the red line, and back to the goal. Over and over, all the while yelling at them, berating them. Red line, goal, blue line, goal. Yelling. Again. Again. Red line, goal, blue line, goal. Again. Again. The manager of the rink turns the lights out after a while. And the coach keeps pushing them. Again. Again. The Assistant Coach hesitates to blow the whistle. The players are struggling to stand. He blows the whistle. Again. Again.
They are on the verge of breaking down mentally, emotionally, physically. Collapsing from utter exhaustion.
The coach yells again. There is a tense moment of stand-off between coaches. Will the assistant follow the head coach and blow the whistle again? The players wait, blind with exhaustion, standing in a dark ice rink. It seems as though this could go on forever.
It had only been three days, but the emotional toll must have felt like a lifetime – Everything the followers of Jesus had given up, taken on, and done during his ministry had just ended with Jesus’ death just a few days beforehand. We are told that the two disciples walking along the road to Emmaus were kept from recognizing Jesus when he comes upon them – they were kept in the dark.
We can only imagine what is going through their hearts and mind. We don’t know why they are leaving Jerusalem – where they afraid, like the disciples locked away in the upper room? We don’t know. We hear them say – “we had hoped that he was the one who would redeem Israel.” Did you catch that – “had hoped”. It’s past tense. Their hope was gone. Time to go back to their old ways of life, I guess. To change jerseys. They recount with Jesus what happened, but they aren’t really into it. You can almost hear the lack of belief – the doubt. You can hear the mistrust of the woman’s accounts. They aren’t with the other disciples in Jerusalem. It’s almost as if they are a rag tag team of amateurs who their coach brought together wearing the same jersey, but not really committed to the same team yet.
And Jesus lines them up on the goal line. He berates them like a coach who’s upset at the performance of his team – a coach who knows there is far more in his players than they believe is there in themselves. He says “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!” He blows the whistle and sends them through the wringer. Over and over again. Not physically, but rather by laying out the whole of Scripture (the whole thing) from Moses through the Prophets. Over and over. Again. Again. And they stay with him, walking along. Approaching the dark of the evening. When will it end? It could go on forever.
And then the moment of truth. At the end of the day, in the dark, after long conversation when they are tired and exhausted from the journey, from the conversation, from the emotional roller coaster of the events of the last few days – it looks like this stranger would just leave them, as if he didn’t care ultimately.
A post that I saw on social media caught my attention – it read “Sometimes we pray for God to change a situation when God wants the situation to change us.” Boy, how true is that?
Have you ever encountered a situation that you wish you didn’t have to go through? A situation that you know is going to bring you to the breaking point? Maybe that’s right now, in this pandemic. We can complain about it. We can see the terribleness of it and get bogged down in that. We can complain about how it inconveniences us, has impacted our routines. We can get upset and angry over restrictions. We can blame leadership and scapegoat. We can embrace fear over what we have lost. We can resist this moment. We can do lots of things.
Throughout this pandemic I have heard the phrase we are all in this together. And I wonder, are we really? Are we as a society really all in this together beyond just the sentiment and the nice words? Are we backing it up with actions? We are all wearing the same jersey, but are we all really on the same team? Or do we stubbornly hold onto a loyalty to some other team or ideas or beliefs that have been a part of us for a long, long time?
I wonder, have you ever been broken? Broken to the point that you finally let go of everything? Broken to the point that you let go of the sacred cows we all carry with us – the golden calves that we cling to? Broken to the point that we let go of identities and loyalties that do not serve the greater body of the church or society?
Whether we want to admit it or not, this is what discipleship is really about – being broken. This is the difference between church being a social club and making disciples – brokenness. We are broken. That’s what sin does to us – it breaks us and it blinds us. But often we don’t want to admit that – we’d rather stubbornly fight that truth, stubbornly grasp hold of our old ways and old identities and loyalties as if they will save us. They won’t.
Discipleship is about being broken to the point that our eyes are opened for us by Jesus to see what it is that we have been clinging to – broken ideas, beliefs, identities, loyalties and more. The reality is this – All those things are broken. Those things won’t take us across the rink of life and save us. All they do is burden us more and more. They blind us. They slowly kill us.
Having our eyes opened to see this is really nothing more than what the church has been proclaiming for centuries – life, death, and resurrection. Brokenness is nothing more than a form of death – a way to let go of that which doesn’t bring life, so that there is room for resurrection – a new way of seeing our life and the world, a new way of being. It opens our eyes to see differently – to see Jesus.
The Disciples embraced that moment – they asked Jesus to stay with them. And the most amazing thing happened – a miracle. Nothing up to this point opened their eyes to seeing Jesus. It was in the breaking of the bread that their eyes were opened. Not all the knowledge. Not the conversation. None of that opened their eyes. It was in the breaking that they could finally see. And it changes them. And they get up and run back to their friends full of new life. They know what team they are a part of in that moment – what team they play for and dedicate their lives to.
As the mens hockey team stood there in the ice rink during that standoff between the coaches in the dark, it was in that moment of brokenness that the captain of the team Mike Eruzione speaks up. Exhausted, he shouts out this “Mike Eruzione! Winthrop, Massachusetts!” The coach asks the pivotal question – “Who do you play for?” Eruzione responds, “I play for the United States of America!” The coach looks over at him, smiles and tells them they are done and disappears off the ice. It was that moment in the movie where the team came together as a team and realized who they were playing for. It was in their brokenness that their eyes were opened. And it’s that new sight that allows them to do the unimaginable – be part of a miracle. To change the course of history. To give hope to nation that was hopeless at the time and in the dark. To be a part of something greater than oneself.
Jesus encounters us in our brokenness and opens our eyes to see it for what it is. Not to run away from it. But to experience resurrection – new life. To not just wear the jersey of discipleship, but to be embraced by it and to live it. To be dedicated to the team – a team we were chosen for by our coach, Jesus. He’s given us a jersey. And to adapt another line from the coach Herb Brooks in the movie – When you pull on that jersey, you represent yourself and your teammates. And the name on the front of the jersey is a lot more important than the one on the back!
What’s the name on the front of your jersey? What team do you play for?