Sunday, April 30, 2017

April 30th On the Road to Emmaus (Luke24:13-35

Two disciples are heading to Emmaus.  Surely, they are still reeling from the loss of Jesus, but something keeps them moving.  As they walk along Jesus falls into step next to them. “what are you talking about?” he wants to know. They respond: “Haven’t you heard? Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who is unaware of the things that have taken place?” in short “what rock have you been living under?”  (well, …, begins Jesus)[1]

Reverend Glen of Maple Grove Methodist church writes:

The original journey to Emmaus took place on Easter day.  In the wake of Jesus’ death, two of his followers have given up and left town.  While they’re walking and talking, Jesus comes and walks with them.  But, Luke says, "their eyes were kept from recognizing him."  Not "they failed to recognize him," but "their eyes were kept from recognizing him."  In other words, it wasn’t their fault, it wasn’t some problem with their eyes or a lack of faith.  No one’s blaming them.

Maybe grief or disappointment got in their eyes.  After all, their hopes in Jesus have been dashed, their expectations left unmet.  They’d been so excited about Jesus, put so much faith in him, that when he died there didn’t seem to be anything to do but leave, put it all behind them.  Oh sure, there were some people who said Jesus was alive again, but who could believe talk like that?  They hadn’t seen him yet.  So, on they walked, telling this stranger about their problems with Jesus, never suspecting the stranger was Jesus.[2]

It is kind of funny as we watch the two disciples, accompanying each other in their grief walking to Emmaus they encounter a person.  We know it is Jesus but they don’t. In the midst of their grief, in the middle of their heart break, Jesus, as a stranger offers this…tell me your story and I will walk with you  I will companion with you as you move through this moment in your life.

Even though Jesus was there and experienced way more than any of the disciples had, he said nothing.  He allowed them to tell their story, to share their experience from their own place, their own perspective with all the grief, disappointment and feeling of a lost movement.  This is a model of what spiritual Direction is based upon. It allows one to talk through their emotions and life freely without judgement.

The vision of a house of prayer for all people and a table, where all God’s children are welcome, also means we have a space where all God’s children call for some type of pastoral care.  One common area of pastoral care that is seeing a resurgence in the world today is spiritual direction which I prefer to refer to as spiritual companioning. 

Spiritual Companioning calls for passionately and compassionately walking with people on their spiritual journey.  Creating a welcoming and inviting space where the traveler is made to feel comfortable in sharing their path.  The Spiritual Companion, in turn, is a witness to the journey and may help to point out moments of God’s spark that have come along the way.  I intentionally use the language of companion and traveler that is not commonly used.  The relationship between a Spiritual Companion and/or friend and the Spiritual Traveler is rarely one that is truly director and a directee experience.  As a spiritual companion, I do not direct any one and I choose to stay away from those terms.

Margaret Guenther states; “The art of spiritual direction lies in our uncovering the obvious in our lives and in realizing that every day events are the means by which God tries to reach us.”[3] As Companions, we notice things along the path that a Traveler may have missed, overlooked or did not pay close enough attention too. We simply ask the Spiritual Traveler to stop, take moment and perhaps, if they choose to notice and  to explore what God has placed along the path.

A good definition of spiritual companioning is in the book The Art of Spiritual Direction by W. Paul Jones who states;

Providing companionship on someone’s pilgrimage; walking together in the Spirit so as to provide support, discernment, and encounter; integrating spiritually at the intersections of the person’s intellectual, emotional, social, and cultural contexts.[4]

The opportunity to share in such a relationship is one of the greatest and most sacred gifts I can imagine.  I am astounded by the grace that God has found a way to allow me to be such a companion to another and I hold the opportunity as such.  The Companioning relationship is truly a gift of God.

The art of Spiritual Companioning is as old as the earth itself. W. Paul Jones Points out that in the Hebrew Scriptures. . . “The Bible’s first story concerns spiritual direction.  Adam and Eve had regular appointments to walk with God ‘at the time of the evening breeze’ (Gen. 3.8)”[5]   This day and age, we still continue to walk with God it is just that we sometimes need some help in noticing what God has left for us along the path of our journeys.

I am forced to emphasize that Spiritual Companioning is not a clinical act.  It is not a quick fix.  It is a long enduring relationship where two people set out on a journey together intentionally listening for and seeking out the God moments in life.  On the road to Emmaus, the two disciples were joined by another traveler. These travelers ate, drank and discussed many a thing about Jesus and his ministry but it wasn’t until Christ was gone could they open their eyes and look back and see all the signs that God had been with them. “They said to one another were not our hearts burning inside us as this one talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32) There are times when our hearts are burning and we do not know why.  It takes another Companion to look lovingly along the path to help the Traveler see what they have missed.

Again, Spiritual Companioning is a gentle long walk and is not clinical encounter. It is not a medical procedure, nor is it meant to be a fix all session and then we are done. Again, let me use Paul Jones to affirm this.

Spiritual Direction is not psychotherapy nor is it an inexpensive substitute, although the disciplines are compatible and frequently share raw material.  Spiritual direction is not pastoral counseling, nor is it to be confused with the mutuality of deep friendships, for it is unashamedly hierarchical.  Not because the director is somehow ‘better’ or ‘holier’ than the directee, but because, in this covenanted relationship the director has agreed to put himself aside so that his total attention can be focused on the person sitting in the other chair.  What a gift to bring to another, the gift of disinterested, loving attention![6] 

In the midst of the relationship of Companion and Traveler, there may arise a need of that which is more than the Companion can offer.  It is important to know ones limitations and the limitation of the relationship itself. I have no qualms allowing a Traveler to be referred for pastoral counseling or even more medical counseling along with Spiritual Companioning. As a result of co-operating with other professionals the road may become easier for a person to travel.  This does not diminish the Companioning relationship at all in fact this can only enhance the Companion relationship by leaving the psychological distress of everyday life at the counseling office allowing the Traveler to focus on the spiritual.

 It may be required here to actually distinguish between the different opportunities of services available and how one or the other is not Companioning and what is. Therapy is for when mental or emotional pain becomes overwhelming, so overwhelming that one seems unable to cope with the stress of everyday living.  Therapy may take many forms, but it usually is initiated by a crisis, and the relationship works to free a person so that they may cope with daily living.

Counseling is needed to resolve a problem, clarify an issue, or sort out a particular situation, usually for the sake of making a decision.  Whatever methods are used, they usually evoke “now” feelings that clarify the implicit issues.  The working assumption is that by providing firm support, the pros and cons can be identified, and the person is thus able to make a decision and follow through with it.[7]
Spiritual Companioning is the art of entering into a relationship thoughtfully, prayerfully and seeking out the Holy. Jeffery Gaines, the former director of Spiritual Directors International, describes Companioning as “always happening in the context of prayer and spiritual intimacy . . . discernment is based upon the intimate engagement of two people walking into the sanctuary of God.”[8]   Spiritual Companioning is about “the great unfixables in human life.  It’s about the mystery of moving through time.  It’s about morality.  It’s about Love.  It’s about things that can’t be fixed.”[9]  It is a quiet and gentle walk as one holds open the presence of the Spirit so that eyes may observe, hearts may feel, and mystery and awe can be expressed fully with great understanding and compassion.

Jesus ministry here, as the companion, touches on grief.  The grief of these disciples. And Grief when one can name it, talk about it and share it is a great thing.  It is a natural process and often times we do not even realize that we are in the midst of grief.

Grief and grieving are the natural response to a major loss, such as the death of a loved one. Loss can cause feelings of grief, sometimes when you least expect it.

You may find that old feelings of grief from past loss can be triggered by current experiences or anniversaries of that loss. This is normal.

Anticipatory grief is grief that happens in advance of an impending loss. You may feel anticipatory grief because a loved one is sick and dying. Anticipatory grief helps us prepare for loss.[10]

I bring this up because you may or may not realize it but there is grief in losing a pastor, there is grief when rituals changed.  This time in between settled pastors can be unsettling.  The thing is one can be grieving a loss and not even realize it. Especially when that loss is not as concrete and obvious as a death.  When a pastor leaves there is a time of grief and one should be allowed to express it, often times though, until it is mentioned, defined one may not realize this is even happening.

It’s an odd thing because even though the Pastor was gone the church went one.  Services continued. You had guest pastors.  From an outsider view it all appeared like any other church. The shift is subtle.  Now I am here but I am not your settled pastor. I am here to help you make ready for the new pastor. Part of the process is to acknowledge your feelings around your past pastor and her leaving.  To acknowledge your grief, your frustration with change, your need for all this “transition” to be over, or whatever else may be coming up for you.

I know some of you are probably thinking what is he talking about our pastor left and now we move on and yet for others there is pain, sadness, maybe even anger or disappointment.  In the old days which are not that long ago a pastor came and stayed.  There are churches who have only had a handful of pastors over the period of 150 years.  In this day and age things are changing.
First thing we realize all pastors are transitional pastors.  Meaning that most pastors do not stay till retirement but also the nature of congregations and ministry is in and of itself transitional by nature.  The dynamic of the congregation is constantly changing and as is the world in which we seek to serve. 

The person you sit next to in a pew today is not the same person next week, even if they are physically the same person.  The world is changing faster than we can keep up with.  The needs and the wants spiritually and emotionally for this congregation as a community are not the same as they were when Blyhte started here. They will not be the same tomorrow or a year from now.

So in this time of intentional transition and preparation I lift you in prayer.  I acknowledge there are emotions and loss here.  I honor each and every voice and concern raised and I will do my best to address your needs.  We also will do our bests to address the needs of the building.  Part of the process in preparing to call a new “settled Pastor” is putting your best face forward.

In that the kitchen is obvious and we are doing our best to get it finished and resolved. Other things include taking a walk around the building and neighborhood and well what do we see.  I will tell you the first two things that concerned me just coming to the church the first time.  How do people know you are here?  The second is we proclaim to be open and affirming and yet how would someone know that walking in?  IF you are interested UCC resources actually has upcoming webinars on ONA 101 on may 2 ONA and the bible, may 9, and ONA 201 Best Practices for church Growth and there are groups rates available though we would have to move quickly for the May 2nd.

In today’s gospel Jesus walked besides the grieving disciples offering spiritual companionship.  That is what I am called to do as an intentional interim pastor.  I am going to walk beside you offer you spiritual companionship.  On the other hand, I am going to challenge you as a congregation to make yourself ready physically and spiritually to call a new Pastor. This is a gradual process and it will take time but I am here for you through this process.  I promise to make it as peaceful and gentle and fun as possible.

One final thought, as Jesus sat down with the followers for a simple meal.  He took bread, blessed it and broke it and at that moment the follower’s eyes were opened. It is at the table, in the breaking of the bread that Christ is revealed to us.  It is coming together at God’s table where all are welcome that strengthens and helps us grow as a community.  No matter our pain, our grief or our differences, it is in this church that we are called to come together as Christ revealed, the body of Christ to companion each other on our journey, to b spiritual companions to each other.  As we journey, I pray that this road be light, that the wind will be at our backs and that we remember Christ always goes before us.

[1] Scott Hoezee, The Abingdon Preaching Annual 2017 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2016), 65.
[2] Glenn Schwerdtfeger, Journey With Jesus- The Emmaus Road, March, 2013, accessed April 25, 2017,
[3] Margaret Guenther, Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction (Cambridge, Mass: Cowley Publications, 1992).
[4] W. Paul Jones, The Art of Spiritual Direction: Giving and Receiving Spiritual Guidance (Nashville, Tenn: Upper Room Books, 2002).
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] News, Spiritual Direction as Choosing Life.
[9] Guenther, Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction.
[10] webMD, Grief and Grieving,

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