“Hope for the Journey” by Rev. Stephanie Cooper

Listen to the sermon from Sunday, April 3, 2016 titled “Hope for the Journey” by Rev. Stephanie Cooper.


God who is beyond our understanding- who comes and dwells among us, speak to us today.  Teach us your way of love, compassion, hope and presence.  Be present with us now and open a new understanding of this old ancient tale to us today. Amen.

In early 2011, after losing someone dear to her, artist Candy Chang began an interactive art project.  There was an old, abandoned house in her neighborhood in New Orleans that was plastered with graffiti.  And looking for an outlet from her grief, she began this art project.  She gained permission from the city and one day began to paint over the house with chalkboard paint.

And in big letters across the top she painted the words, “Before I die…”

And below that, she stenciled that same phrase over and over again and in smaller letters  in addition to that she wrote, “Before I die I want to _________.” She placed a little basket of chalk next to the wall and waited to see what would happen.

She said that she wasn’t sure what to expect… but within 24 hours the wall was filled with dreams and aspirations, fears and vulnerabilities.

Before I die I want to… plant a tree

Before I die I want to… see my daughter graduate

Before I die I want to… abandon all insecurities

Before I die I want to…  hold her one more time

Before I die I want to… be completely myself.

Before I die I want to… live.

And within weeks, news of this project spread and people were contacting Candy asking her if they could erect a wall in their community.  Simply trying to make sense of her own pain and loneliness, Candy’s expression became a catalyst for a way for us to connect to those humans around us.

This project has spread to over 70 countries and has been recreated in over 35 languages.  Maybe you’ve seen the walls that have been erected around Austin or another city.  Maybe you’ve even made your mark on one.

But somewhere, something deep down inside of us connects with these walls.  In each one of us.  It hits a nerve that even the most callused among us have to work hard to avoid.

What is it?

In our gospel lesson today, we hear a story of the risen Christ on this second Sunday in the Easter season.  Immediately following Luke’s account of the women returning from the tomb with stories of visions of angels, missing bodies and stories of resurrection, two of Jesus’ followers are walking to a town about 7 miles from Jerusalem.  A town called Emmaus.  And while they are walking, like any of us after a big event, the two of them were talking about what had happened.  And while they talked, a stranger approaches them and asks them “what are y’all talkin’ about?”

And sort of astonished, they say, “are you the only stranger in Jerusalem that doesn’t know what has happened?”

They begin to tell the story and paint Jesus as this prophet who was great in word and deed and explained how their leaders crucified him.  They explained that they had hoped that this Jesus was the one to redeem all of Israel.  And then they told this stranger of the accounts that the women shared the story of the empty tomb and the angels.

All the while, not recognizing that this stranger among them was in fact, their risen Christ.

And when they got to the town of Emmaus, the stranger walked as if he was going to go ahead to the next town, but in good Jewish fashion, the two disciples invite this stranger into their home.  They offered a meal and seemingly a place to stay for the night.

And over a shared meal together, through the breaking of bread and the sharing of wine, their eyes were opened, and they recognized that this stranger who had been with them all this time was in fact their risen Christ.  And then poof, as soon as they recognize this risen Christ, just like that, he vanishes into thin air.

And the disciples are left astonished by what happened and they exclaim to each other, “were our hearts not burning when we were talking on the road?”

And so they rush back to Jerusalem and tell their story to their friends of how the risen Christ met them and walked with them and was finally revealed to them in the sharing of a meal together.

Is the risen Christ among us here and now?  Or is this a neatly packaged story we can open up in a book and close it and put back on the shelf after we’re done… to return to our comfortable lives with our walls and our locks and our technology glued to our hands and our eyes and our ears?  Or is this a story for today?   A story about today?

Is our Jerusalem the at 15th and Congress and our Emmaus down South Lamar?  Are our roads too crowded to recognize the risen Christ in the car behind us… or on the sidewalk with the bustling Southby’ers—that we don’t recognize the stranger walking beside us?

Is resurrection possible today?

In our gospel story today, we find our disciples, sort of in disbelief about what happened.  They recount the events with each other, making sure they have all the details straight.  They are encompassed by the events of the past week that they would have missed the stranger along the road if the stranger hadn’t imposed himself in the conversation.

It is so easy for us to become trapped by what was that we miss what is.  We can become immobilized and miss what is happening in the here and now.  We can become stuck with fears and questions:

  • What if things change in the future and I don’t like it?
  • What if it is not how we imagined it to be?
  • What if I’m not good enough?
  • What if I fail?

And we, like the disciples, can become trapped in what looks like death.  Trapped in what looks like the end.  Recounting the details of what was when new life and resurrection is staring us in the eye, inviting us to see a new way.

Resurrection happens when we allow ourselves to the vulnerabilities that come with living into this way of love.  Things that were once dead can be brought back to life.  Things that were lost can be found.  And things that were trapped in bondage can be set free.

But that doesn’t just happen.  It takes an encounter in the here and now, and willingness to break bread with a stranger that you met along the way.  It takes time to be present.  It takes vulnerability to let walls down to encounter the other… to hear the stories of other people that allow new life to flourish.

  • It’s the elderly parent willing to trust their child with a new living situation.
  • It is the addict admitting that they can’t do it alone for the first time.
  • It is the mother willing to drive her daughter to the rehab facility.
  • It is in the raw decision of a couple to try to make their relationship work.
  • It’s the conservative parent being fully willing and open to listen and to actually hear their child’s cry for acceptance.
  • It’s that child being vulnerable enough to share their story.
  • It’s families willing to welcome in strangers, from half a world away, who have been displaced by war.

On this road to Emmaus, this journey we call life, the risen Christ is walking with us along the way.  And we can choose to try to immortalize what was, or put our focus on the things that look like death, defeat, destruction…  to be bound by addiction, fear, pain, isolation… or we can look into the eyes of another and live into the vulnerability of relationships and habits that create new life: new hope for the journey ahead.

This is our story.  This is our invitation.  And this is the beauty of scripture that lives and breathes and speaks truth into our lives.  That when we encounter a stranger on the road, we can both be changed by it.

When Candy Chang made the Before I Die wall, the dark clouds of depression hovered around her.  She was looking for an outlet.  Something to shake the feeling of grief.  And so she did what she does.  She made art.  And out of the depths of her pain, she opened up a window for us to see the humanity in one another.  On this road to Emmaus she created a place for us to stop, look into the eyes of another and find commonality.  To see vulnerability.  A place to find new life.  New hope.

Resurrection is happening all around us.  May we have the courage to see it.

May we pray?

God breathe new life into us this day that we have hope for the journey ahead.  That we live into this story of hope that though sometimes things look like death, they, in fact, have to potential for newness to abound.  Give us the strength to see the risen Christ walking with us along the way. Amen.


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