EMMAUS: Welcoming the Stranger, Walking in the New World

EMMAUS: Welcoming the Stranger, Walking in the New World

May 4, 2014
By: 
The Rev. Canon Dr. Winfred B. Vergara
1st Century Israel: It was evening of the day of Jesus’ resurrection. Two disciples of Jesus were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus. One was named Cleopas and the other was not identified. Emmaus was seven miles from Jerusalem so it was quite a long walk. What happened to them on their way would warm their hearts, transform their lives and revolutionize their ministry.
 
What exactly happened on their way to Emmaus? Three things happened: A stranger walked with them; the stranger broke bread; the stranger turned out to be Jesus!
 
21st Century New York: What is the significance of Emmaus to our own lives today? Where is our Emmaus? How do we walk with God in this new world?
 
A stranger walked with them
 We live in a world where we are taught to fear the strangers. We tell our children not to talk to strangers. We are wary of strangers. They may bring us harm. They may bring us disease. They may bring us burdens. They may disturb our peace. They may be a threat to our security.
 
The history of immigration in this country was in some way tainted by this fear of the stranger. “These new immigrants will take away our jobs and will become a burden to our economy.” So we build walls, we barb wire  our fences,  we strengthen our borders. We tighten our immigration policies.
 
Some of our fears of the stranger issued itself in the form of racist laws and discriminatory policies. On May 6, 1882, the U.S. government issued the Chinese Exclusion Act. Signed by then President Chester Arthur, it was one of the most notorious restrictions in United States immigration history. The Act not only prohibited immigration of Chinese laborers but also deported many who were already here. After they helped America to develop their mining industry and built its transcontinental railroads, the Chinese immigrants were branded as “yellow peril” and sent back to China.  The Act was initially intended to last for ten years but continued for many years until repealed in 1943.
 
On February 19, 1942 following the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the outbreak of the War in the Pacific, U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066. It was known as the “the Japanese Internment Act.”  On May 3, 1942, General DeWitt ordered all people of Japanese ancestry to be incarcerated in various Internment Camps in remote areas in the country. Overnight, 110,000 Japanese immigrants--- 62% of them American citizens--- were removed from their homes and herded into concentration camps.
 
America used to be known as a “Christian country” but because of fear, we forget what the Bible says in Exodus 22:21:"Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were also foreigners.” Because of fear, we forget the inscription written on the Statue of Liberty, a poem from Emma Lazarus:
 
 “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shores. Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me,I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
 
2. The Stranger Broke Bread
So it is a credit to the disciples of Jesus that they welcomed the stranger to walk with them. At this point of their lives, they felt they had nothing to lose. Their leader Jesus had died and they were lonely. This man whom they looked as the deliverer was rejected, arrested, crucified, died and was buried. They felt empty, their hearts forlorn and their hopes droop. What they needed most was a companion on the journey. They forgot their fears; they become vulnerable and they opened their lives to the stranger. Not only that they allowed the stranger to walk with them; they sat down at table and shared their food.
 
Asian theologian D. T. Niles wrote, “Evangelism is a beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.” When Jesus saw the crowd, he had compassion for they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36). When Christianity was introduced to India, the first ones who responded were the Dalits or the “untouchables.” They were the oppressed, the massa perditionis, the marginalized, the outcast of society.  It is when you feel vulnerable that you are open to the move of the Spirit. It is when you feel you are a stranger that you are kind to strangers; it is when you are wounded that you care for the wounded. Because you remember that you were a foreigner once, that you are also kind and welcoming to the foreigner.
 
Not only that the disciples listened to his story; they also invited the stranger to dinner.  And the miracle happened! As this stranger broke bread, their eyes were opened and they recognized him as the risen Christ! In the past, their ancestors had welcomed the strangers who turned out to be angels; now, they had welcomed a stranger who turned out to be the Christ!  
 
As the risen Jesus vanished from their sight, they said to themselves, “Did not our hearts burned within us as while he talked with us on the road and opened the scriptures to us?” Unable to contain this joy, they hurried back to Jerusalem and told the other disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead.
 
3. The Stranger turned out to be the risen Christ
The experience of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, the lessons they learned from the stranger and the Holy Communion they partook from the risen Christ, were the rewards they received for being open and welcoming to the stranger. Their ears heard the Good News because they were open; their hearts were warmed because they were not hardened; their eyes recognized Jesus because they were ready to see the miracle.
 
As they shared the Good News, they were willing to enter a new world, a world they have not known before. The Bible would later say that the risen Christ took them as far as Bethany to be a witness to his ascension into heaven. Jesus commissioned them to go and make disciples of all nations and to believe that He will be with them to the ends of the world (Matthew 28:19). Jesus summoned them to live a life without fear, to enter a world where death has no more dominion, a world where all things are possible ----and to a new life can be lived in all its fullness.
 
Conclusion
Let me now stretch your imagination and ask: What is this new world in our context? What is our road to Emmaus? For me it is the world of the internet. It is a world that for a long time, I had ignored. I grew up in the world of manual typewriters and rotary phones; of transistor radios, sewing machines and black and white TV’s.  In my over sixty years of life, I have experienced that has evolved: from an agricultural era, to industrial era and now the computer-internet era.
 
The Emmaus that we are in is changing very rapidly. When I came to New York in 2004, I rode in the subway train and there were still people still looking at me. But now, nobody is looking at each other---because everyone is busy with their iphones or smart phones: talking, texting, twitting or checking their Facebook and other social networking.
 
Steve Jobs, the inventor of Apple’s iPhone is now dead but the revolution he started continues. He had invented the iPhone; IPod; and iPad. And I invented the iSleep; iSnore and iIgnore. But now, I can no longer ignore it.
 
In fact, I am already addicted to this little thing, and so with millions of other people as well. And I am also addicted to Facebook, which is now the second largest population in the world!
 

This little iPhone has now become my constant companion, my significant other. It is with me when I sleep and when I rise. It goes with me when I fly 36,000 feet on the plane; it is with me when I go to the deepest part of the earth, like Death Valley, California; it is with me when I fly to the uttermost part of the sea, which is Sabah, Malaysia. 

 
My wife should get jealous with my iPhone Girlfriend, but she does not mind, because she also has Mr. Smart Phone, the Galaxy 5, Android. The smart phone can do things equally, like the iPhone. It can find us friends via Facebook; it can give us community via Google+; it can excite us with news and trivia via Twitter; it can connect us with family and friends via Skype; it can put us into group discussion and meetings via Zoom or webex.
 
This, now, is the world in which we live. We can hate it or love it; we can curse it or bless it; we can reject is or embrace it; but we can no longer ignore it!
 
So how should we live in this new world? How do we deal with this stranger in our midst? Do we reject it like the Pharisees and call for its crucifixion? Or do we welcome it like what the disciples did on the road to Emmaus?
 
Today, our Senior Warden will show us our new Virtual Classroom (our partnership with the Asiamerica Ministries and the Diocese of Long Island of The Episcopal Church). This classroom is equipped with the latest of technology. Through this classroom, we can reach people not only inside but outside the walls of the church.  We can teach, proclaim and share our faith to people abroad as well as receive teaching from abroad. This is our classroom without borders!
 
It was in 1739 when Anglican clergyman (who founded Methodism) John Wesley uttered this famous phrase, “the world is my parish.” Today, this prophecy has become a reality.  The world parish has no physical boundary. Through the internet revolution, we can be both a local church and a global church; both a real and virtual church; a physical church and a digital church-reaching the uttermost part of the earth.
St. James Multicultural Parish in Elmhurst, New York  stands today as an example of a church for the world. We shall have congregations within and without. We shall have congregations in Queens as well as in cyberspace. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we shall walk with the stranger, offer hospitality to all foreigners, and break bread within and beyond time and space. In this openness and willingness to learn to live in this new world, we will discover new tools that will revolutionize our ministry, revitalize our church and move us forward to the Kingdom of God.
 
Brothers and sisters: Welcome this new world and expect a miracle! Amen.

 

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