“Calgon-Jesus, Lead Me Through!”
Sermon, Year B, Easter, April 12, 2015
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Eau Claire, WI
© Rev. David J. Huber
Focus Scripture: Luke24:13-48
(lectionary was only 36b-48, but I went back to 13 to get the whole story)
[You may also listen to the sermon]
Come home at the end of a hard day, kick off your shoes, and just say “Calgon, take me away!” Slip into a bubble bath to escape the pain of the day. I remember one version is a frazzled woman in the kitchen trying to get a meal ready, and her children running around, the phone rings and when she grabs it the cord knocks a plant off the counter top and she screams, “Calgon, take me away!” Help me escape the suffering, help me escape the craziness, take me to a nice comfortable safe place for a while so that all can be right in the world – or at least in my world – now that I have a bubble bath.
A nice way to end a cruddy day. Nice relaxing bubble bath. Maybe a nice cup of tea. Put on slippers, if you’re lucky you can be be pampered by someone. Watch some meaningless drivel on TV that doesn’t challenge the mind at all, or grab a trashy novel to escape for a while.
A nice escape from the unwashed massed, the problems, the moron coworkers, the idiots at school, the boss that's riding you too hard, the decisions that are too difficult that loom in your life and you don’t want to have to make, or the issue that’s looming large in your life.
Calgon, take me away! Help me escape. Help me to run away.
But of course, the problems of the world are still there. The problems of your life are still there. Though I will say, it’s a good spiritual discipline to take a break. Don’t be afraid to take a break. We have a commandment from God to take a Sabbath Day. It’s important. It’s good for our spiritual and mental health. And of course it’s helpful in the midst of stress to take a little break. Go for a walk. Take that bubble bath. Go get a massage. Go work out. Go have lunch with a friend. Whatever it is, disengage for a moment and think about it. You might find a solution while you are not thinking. If nothing else, you will have a moment to rest and to contemplate.
But none of those fix the problem. None get you around the roadblock, whatever it is in front of you that is keeping you from living as fully as you should. That’s what we’re talking about this: the roadblocks, the stones in the road on your journey of life.
There is a temptation to run away. To not engage with the roadblocks, and pretend that if we ignore it long enough it will disappear.
There is a difference between taking a break and from running away.
Our escapism can go too far sometimes, yes? Or the way that we escape. Alcohol, take me away! Drugs, take me away! Car, take me away, a literal running away, pack up and leave and go somewhere else. Go join the Foreign Legion or whatever that might be. Hat, hang yourself up, take me away! Imagination, take me away to my safe place of pretend and denial. Which may be comfortable for a while, but doesn’t solve the problem. Running away is not a solution.
We see this in the disciples, that they ran way. Run away to Emmaus, leaving all the pain of Jerusalem behind. All those things that happened in the last few days, they escape from. Watching Jesus suffer, be crucified, die, and put in the tomb. And though they have heard the words that Jesus is risen on this day, they don’t know for sure. They haven’t see him.
A fear response. Perfectly natural, perfectly normal. I imagine we have all tried to run away fom our fears, anxieties, or struggles at some point. It’s a perfectly human thing to do.
Pretending to be sick so you don’t have to take that test at school that day. I did that. But one still has to take the test. Or pretend to be sick so you don’t have to go into work because its going to be a stressful day, or don’t want to face our boss to say that our project is done even though it should be. Or to put off something simply because we fear failure, or the difficulty of going forward. Lying to a friend because you don’t want to tell them a difficult truth.
Avoiding a major issue – not going to the doctor or the dentist because you’re pretty sure you have something awful: you don’t want to hear what it is. You fear hearing the words, “You do have cancer”, “You have Parkinson’s”, “You do need a root canal”, so we live with the pain of the symptoms instead of facing the pain that is the cause. They’ll live with the constant pain because they fear the pain of the dentist, even though once the dentist’s pain is done, all their pain will be gone.
And by not facing it, it gets worse.
We run away to Emmaus.
But Jesus says “Peace be with you!” We read that in last week’s text, and in today’s text. It’s a way of saying “Don’t be afraid.” Jesus also calls you by name. Jesus knows you. Jesus is with you, Jesus loves you. Jesus promised to stand with you and be with you always. That’s the Easter promise of life and hope. Even if you don’t recognize Jesus is there, like these disciples did not recognize him until he broke the bread. Or Mary Magdalene who did not recognize the risen Christ at the tomb, thinking he was the gardener, until he said her name, “Mary.” Then she knows it’s Jesus. Even if you don’t recognize that Jesus is there with you, he is.
We don’t need to run away from the roadblocks of life, and we shouldn’t. We can face them, for Jesus is with us.
These disciples running to Emmaus have left the path that Jesus put in front of them. Going to Emmaus was not in the plan. But notice that even though they strayed from Jesus’ path, he goes to be with them. He follows them. He goes where they are, even though it is not the place he would have wanted them to be. He goes, he finds, and he walks with them for a long time. He doesn’t yell or criticize them, he meets them where they are and walks with them.
It’s the same with us. Just because we may leave the path, does not mean that Jesus leaves us. There is always room for redemption. So when we have something difficult in life, or a big change in life (getting married, going to college, having to tell someone that your relationship is toxic and needs to end, or facing an illness, going on after a death, or in our older age facing the day that we can’t keep a house and need to move to assisted living or a nursing home…or in the church, having to go through this big change that we have to go through to meet the culture of the 21st century while staying true to the Gospel and not fall back to comfortable systems that don’t work any more. WE have been running away from the reality of declining membership and declining relevance for 50 years, and can’t sustain the running any more). When we have these roablocks, these stones placed in front of us, remember that he don’t come from God. They are part and parcel of life. They don’t come from God, but God is there to help us around them. God does not put stuff in front of us just to test our faith, or to make us stronger. But I do think that when the roadblocks happen, God is with us to help us get around them.
To get them out of our way so we may know the joy of living, of Easter life.
I read recently that fear is “Forgetting that Everything is All Right”. Fear is often a big part of our motivation for getting stuck or running away. Forgetting that Everything is All Right is forgetting that God is present and God is sovereign. Not that there isn’t suffering, pain, or evil in the world. But that God holds everything. To think that is to run away, to refuse to see the truth about the world around us. But it means the world is in God’s hands – we are in God’s hands – and in that sense, Everything is All Right.
We don’t need to fear. God has our back. God’s grace, love, and the Holy Spirit can overcome these fears barriers.
We don’t have to run away. Or refuse to see the truth of the world around us.
To go back to the passage we read, there are a few phrases that I resonate with and think are wonderful. When Jesus comes back to the room where the disciples are, the first thing he says is, “Peace be with you.” And then he says this so wonderfully human question, “Do you have anything to eat?” He’s hungry. It’s so human. The human Jesus is here. Peace be with you, and do you have something to eat? It’s so normal. Don’t be afraid, don’t run away, let us go through the normality of the day with a meal, a little break. It’s all going to work out.
And it’s okay.
And I like what the scripture says about the disciples: “While in their joy they were disbelieving and wondering.” Jesus is risen, Jesus is back, but I imagine they were also wondering “Is it true? Can this really be him?”
Maybe that’s the place many of us live in. Joy at Jesus, but maybe not sure if it’s true. Is he really with us? Is it all true? I don’t know, it kind of feels like it! I’ve had these experiences of the divine. At least, I think I have. But it seems to unbelievable. We have the bread and wine. But I wonder… and yet, there he is. And I’m pretty sure I’ve heard him call my name.
Come to me, he says. And if we don’t, he comes to us. That’s a promise.
Don’t run away from your problems. But if you do, Jesus says, “I will follow you. Even if you are running away, I will not leave you alone. I will meet you on whatever road you take, and stay with you until you are ready to come back, and I will stay with you then, too.”
There is no being left alone with Jesus, who follows wherever we go, even as we try to follow him.
And to know that whatever pain there might be, at some point it will be over. That’s a thought that took me through a lot of finals in seminary: The pain will be over. Come hell or highwater, pass or fail, in two hours the test is over and I’ll be done. Or the first time I had a root canal, I was very nervous, so I thought, “Whatever happens, in one hour or so, it’s over. I only have to bear the pain for an hour.” It is not a forever thing, and Jesus is with me.
So I have been giving you things to do the past couple weeks to do during the week that we are apart. Last week we handed out some prayer cards. We talked about self-doubt and gave you a card with a nice prayer to say when you feel doubt.
My assignment to you this week is that when you have a moment of hesitation, a feeling of wanting to run away, whatever it might be. Try to be aware of those moments when you want to avoid action or not do something. Whether it is that you don’t want to respond to an email, or make a phone call, say something to a spouse or a friend or a boss, or whatever. Ask yourself, Why do I fear this? What’s going on? What am I feeling?
When you have those moments, and feeling yourself wanting to avoid something, take a moment to think about it. Say a prayer to God about. Take a Calgon moment: a walk, a cup of tea, a bubble bath, a moment of meditation. Take that moment to refocus your mind, and get a connection to Jesus. Ask Jesus to be with you, as you face whatever it is. Don’t run away, but pray about it and trust that Jesus is with you and see how it goes for you. See if it makes a difference in your life.
Remember that Jesus is with you. He rose from the dead because of his love for you. He doesn’t want you to live in suffering. So face your moment, go through your roadblock, trusting these words of Jesus who says, “Peace be with you.”
Peace be with you. Amen.