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03.27.16 Through the Valley Luke 24:13-35 Sermon Summary

by on March 28, 2016

In Jesus’ resurrection, God offers to all people the hope of restoration first promised to ancient Israel. Now people of all nations can endure the valley with the assurance of God’s presence and deliverance.

Summary Points

  • Three evolutions of “the valley”
  • The valley of Cleopas and his companion
  • How we come to be in the valley
  • How Jesus comes to us in the valley, and transforms it

In Psalm 23 the shepherd turned King David wrote that though he were to go, “through the valley of the shadow of death,” he would not fear, but find comfort. Five hundred years later, God’s people weren’t just in the valley of the shadow of death, they were dead, having been deported to Exile in Babylon.

God gave then a new vision through the prophet Ezekiel. God’s Spirit would blow the dry dead bones in the valley together. The Spirit would put sinews and flesh and skin on them, and blow life into them. And the nation would survive.

Five hundred years after that, Jesus would come and offer this hopeful vision to a man named Cleopas and his companion, and indeed to all people.

Cleopas and his companion were in that valley described by Psalm 23, the “valley of the shadow of death.” Their rabbi, hero, inspiration, warrior, redeemer, even Messiah, had been killed. He didn’t die in a “last stand” battle with the cry of “Freedom!” on his lips, or “God bless our nation.” He died on a cross, as a traitor, in the most humiliating way possible. He died totally alone, abandoned by his followers, by his religion, and abandoned even by God.

Cleopas and his companion were in the valley of the shadow of death, of Jesus’ death.

Earlier that morning they entered another valley. With the report of Jesus’ missing body and the angelic message of his resurrection, they moved from the valley of the shadow of death, from the valley of fear, to the valley of confusion and disorientation. In this new valley they suffered a loss of identity. They experienced self-doubt, even religious doubt. It is a deep, dark valley.

When we enter such a valley, nothing makes sense anymore. Scripture no longer speak to us. Prayer seems like a waste of time. Friendships can’t hold us together. And the horizon of hope, if we have any hope, is drawn back to today: “If I can just make it through today.” Or to this hour. Or to our commute back home. That’s where Cleopas and his companion were when Jesus found them.

When Jesus comes to find us it is because we are in the valley. It is because we are lost. We don’t even recognize our lives anymore, so it isn’t surprising that we don’t recognize Jesus. But that’s when he comes, when we are lost in the valley.

We enter the valley when we discover as kids that our parents aren’t perfect. We enter the valley as parents when we realize that our kids have discovered this. We enter the valley when we have to deal with the person we’re married to, and not the image of them we married. We enter the valley when our job is no longer a passion or a calling but is just a job. We enter the valley when we can no longer do, or hope to do, the things we once did. We enter the valley when we experience firsthand that Jesus was serious about his followers having to suffer.

In the valley, Jesus walks with us for a ways. It doesn’t matter that we don’t recognize him, or even acknowledge him. He walks with us. He listens to our discussions. And eventually, when we stop talking, maybe because we have no more to say, he asks a question.

“What are you discussing, as you walk along, in this valley?”

And we have to stop, and we stand still, and go back, once again, to the beginning, and tell our story to a stranger. I think Jesus makes us do this because, when we retell our confusing stories about how we found ourselves in the valley, from the beginning, in the presence of Jesus, we discover that the story changes.

We begin to see our story differently, not just through our own eyes, through the eyes of a sheep lost in the valley. But we begin to see it through the eyes of a shepherd who knows his way through the valley. In Jesus’ presence, we don’t really know why, we find comfort in the valley. The rod and the staff of this shepherd, they comfort us. There may be some meaning to the valley. We may even discover hope. The shepherd shows us green pastures in the valley, and leads us beside still waters. Right there in the valley, the shepherd restores our souls.

In Jesus God prepares a table for us in the valley, just like he did for Cleopas and his companion. And when Jesus takes the bread, and blesses and breaks it, and gives it to us, our eyes are opened. We recognize that God is with us, even when God vanishes from our sight.

Even here in the valley, our hearts burn again within us. Life begins to make sense again, ever so slightly. And we can walk back through the valley to where it all began, and hear from others in the valley that the Lord has risen, indeed, for he has appeared to others in the valley.

Then together, with these others, those who find themselves in the valley, we can rest in the presence of Christ, in the absence of sight, in the breaking of the bread, in the valley of our lives.

It is the experience of all your people, Ancient and Faithful God, that we should walk through the valley. Maybe not today, perhaps by your providence, or perhaps due to the strength of our denial, but some day, we will all find ourselves with Cleopas and his companion walking in the valley of the shadow of death, in the valley of doubt, confusion, despair, anger, or aimlessness. We thank you that there is no valley through which you have not already traversed, that there is no darkness in which you have not already stationed a guiding light, that there is no soul so lost that you cannot send the shepherd Jesus to find it. Send Jesus today, we pray, to find us where we are, even if we are in the darkest valley, that we may recognize him present with us, and continue where our hope had left off, following him into your kingdom. For it is in his name that we pray. Amen.

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