April 30, 2017–Kindness of Strangers

Posted on April 25, 2017 by faithlens

Dave Delaney, Salem, VA

 

Warm-up Question

  • We live in a time when chatting with strangers is considered dangerous, especially for young people. What is your reaction to a stranger who tries to talk to you? If you found yourself seated on a plane next to a stranger who seemed interested in talking, what would you say to start a conversation?  Or if someone just walked up to you and said hello?  Or what would you say if that stranger wondered why you looked sad (or happy).  Would you tell him or her your story?
  • Long walks or runs are some people’s very favorite way to clear the mind; everything just calms down and a sense of ease takes over.  For other people, long walks or runs just provide more opportunity for the brain to run wild, either in good ways or bad.  Some people get their best ideas on a long walk, while other people find that the vacuum just allows old painful memories to fill the space.  Which are you?  What happens to your mind when you’re on a long walk?
  • If you have ever experienced an especially painful or discouraging loss – death of a close friend or loved one – what kind of conversations did you have with people right after it happened? Where did you look for comfort?  Were any of those conversations or encounters less than helpful?  What was the most or least helpful thing someone said or did during your time of grief?

Kindness of Strangers

A story about encountering strangers:  A new app called VizEat lets travelers book interesting food experiences in 110 different countries around the world. Two French entrepreneurs developed the program after returning from a series of international vacation trips. They realized that, because they always ate in restaurants while traveling, they weren’t sure that they had experienced the daily authentic cuisine of a country’s people.  VizEat has been called the AirBnB for food because it allows people to visit the homes of strangers who will prepare a meal for them.   Like AirBnB and Uber, the hosts set their own prices or agree on a price and a menu with the guest, and payment is electronic, so that when the guests arrive, the entire group can concentrate just on the meal.  As this story reveals, though, those who have tried this service have found themselves just as interested in the hosts and their homes and stories than in the food.

It is encouraging to realize that there is no shortage of “kindness of strangers” stories, even in unpleasant times.  A recent story concerned a man named Eugene Yoon who, in the words of the story, “felt called to do  … one really big random act of kindness. He didn’t know who he was supposed to help or how, all he knew was that he had to help someone and it had to be life-altering.”

Discussion Questions

  • Everyone has encountered a stranger at some point in their life.  But have you ever had a truly extraordinary encounter with a stranger that you did not expect?  These two stories are interesting in that they involve people who actually set out to have new encounters with strangers and find that the experiences are far beyond what they anticipated.
  • Are you the kind of person who would try any of these things?  What kind of setting or circumstance would inspire you to go seek out a stranger?

Third Sunday of Easter

Acts 2:14a, 36-41

1 Peter 1:17-23

Luke 24:13-35

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

The gospel writers make assumptions about their readers that may not be as true now as they were when they were written.  Luke presumes that his readers are very aware of the geographical settings in which the stories are placed, which would not be as true for us today.  Events from the Old Testament that had previously occurred in the location where the New Testament event is set are often important to the background of a particular story.

In the case of the Emmaus Road story (even though the location of Emmaus in Jesus’ day is disputed), what takes only one verse to tell – “Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures” – actually reflects a walk of perhaps 6-8 hours, in which there is a lot of time to talk about things.  Moreover, the route from Jerusalem to Emmaus cuts east-to-west through a part of Judea that recalls events from nearly every stage of Israel’s long history, starting with Abraham.  As each site was passed on the road, Jesus could simply point to it and invite the disciples to recall Israel’s many attempts to  live out God’s covenant with them – some of them very faithful and others not at all.  In each case, Jesus could point to the hope that Israel had for God to be present among them, guiding and guarding, as they would strive to live out their call to be a blessing to the world.

As they came toward the end of their journey, Luke says that Jesus “appeared to be going further” – on to the world, perhaps?  But the two disciples persuade him to stay for dinner, in which he breaks bread and thus reveals himself to them.  Here we might notice the same pattern of “word and sacrament” that is part of our Sunday worship service.  In the first part of our service, we hear the scriptures opened up as someone interprets for us the things concerning Jesus.  Then in the latter part of our service, the bread is broken and we are reminded that in this meal of the gathered community is where Jesus is most truly revealed to us.  The hope is always that we too will experience our hearts burning within us as we hear God’s word and that Christ will be made known to us in the breaking of the bread.

Discussion Questions

  • The two disciples do not recognize Jesus on their walk, apparently neither his voice nor his appearance.  If they did not recognize him, how much more might we think of Jesus as a stranger.  The long tradition of the Christian faith has taught that Christ comes to us both in ways we can trust and in ways we might not expect.  We believe that Christ is truly present in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, but Matthew 25:31-46 makes it clear that Jesus considers himself to be present also in the lives of those most in need in the world.  How can we, as disciples, grow in the practice of watching for the presence of Jesus in others we meet?  How do we live our lives knowing that we could meet him at any time?
  • When the disciples realize that they have had an encounter with Christ, their first instinct is to hurry back to Jerusalem to the apostles.  If you had an encounter with someone who you were sure was Jesus, what would be your first instinct?  Who would be the first person you would go find and tell?
  • Cleopas had a companion on the walk whose name we don’t know, although many people have tried to identify him or her through the centuries.  Who is your “go-to” person for conversations about faith, troubles, questions, or even joys and new insights about life and faith?

Activity Suggestions

  • Get your group into pairs or threes and send them on a short walk – maybe 10-20 minutes – either around your church building or outside and invite them to share with each other the same kinds of things the two Emmaus Road disciples discussed:  What are their favorite stories of Jesus from the gospels?  What are their hopes for themselves and their church?  How will they begin to look for Jesus in their lives over the next week?
  • If your group would benefit from reviewing the long history of ancient Israel’s life with God before Christ, print out strips of paper or cards with Old Testament events or personalities and invite the group to put them back into chronological order on a table or on the floor.  Then see how they might tell the whole story of God working through the people to bring blessing and good news to the world as things led up to the coming of Christ.
  • “Their eyes were opened” occurs several places in the Bible, not always for good.  In Genesis 3 it happens when the man and woman disobey God and eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge.  In Isaiah 35 and John 9 and some other places, though, it refers to someone who is literally blind being given new sight.  In still other places (such as Ephesians 1) it is refers figuratively to realizing something for the first time.  If you have a group that learns best via craft or other activity, prepare a paper blindfold for each person.  On the outside, have them write things that people in the world believe about God and Jesus that are false, and on the inside have them write things that are true about God and Jesus.  Conclude that activity with a conversation about the best ways to help others see the love of God in Christ.

Closing Prayer

God of life and resurrection, we are thankful that your Son, our Savior Jesus, has been revealed to us in word and sacrament.  Give us burning hearts when he speaks to us and clear eyes when we receive his body and blood, so that we too may hurry to others and share with them the good news that he lives and meets us on whatever road we travel.  In his holy name we pray, Amen.