Sermon for May 17, I Timothy 4:16-18 and 2 John 1:4-6
Over the past four days more than 40 men went to a place called Emmaus and along the way they talked with each other about all the things happening in their lives.
At the invitation of a good friend and mentor, I accepted an invitation to participate in the Central Alabama Emmaus Walk at Camp Alamisco in Dadeville, Alabama a 72-hour retreat that began on Wednesday at 7 pm and ended Saturday at 7 pm. Like the other guys, I needed to go and be on a spiritual pilgrimage.
While there has been wonderful change in my life over the past year, much stress has accompanied it. And to be honest, I don’t always deal with it well. I tend to become a bit over-anxious and worked up. I have a hard time letting go of things that upset me. I put too much pressure on myself to always get things right and perfect, and I lack terribly in self-confidence.
I get so stirred up at times by news events where a great injustice is occurring or I stew for days over some ridiculously insensitive comment I either heard on TV or read on the Internet or in an email. And all of the heat I churn up takes its toll on Elizabeth and me. It wears us down to where we both have just barely enough energy and time to devote to Katie.
So here I was on the walk to Emmaus, on this men’s spirituality retreat, pondering many thoughts in my heart and participating in discussions about the love and grace of God that brings healing and wholeness. And while all of us were talking and discussing things, Jesus appeared among us, but my eyes were kept from recognizing him…at first.
I was anxious enough about going on a retreat where I didn’t know a single person. But then my anxiety went up a notch when I realized I was the only Presbyterian on the retreat (the rest of which were United Methodist, Baptist and non-denominational).
And then I became aware about a half day into the Emmaus Walk that I was no longer in the comfort zone of Pleasant Hill or Greater Atlanta Presbytery—otherwise known as Reformed Land. Some of the language that I heard in this particular spot (and which does not represent the theology of most United Methodists and Baptists) from a few of the retreat speakers was jarring to my ears:
“You gotta take control of your house men so your family won’t be running around in hellfire!
“We are an army for Jesus!”
“Have you ever thought about the people that spend an eternity in hell because you didn’t witness to them?!?”
And then there were the love songs to Jesus with lots and lots and lots and lots of hand- raising, as well as a nice big ole helping of guilt theology and quite a creative stretch of scripture interpretation.
Well, as you might imagine, my Reformed-Presbyterian antenna were lit up and going off! (BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP) I was uncomfortable and I wanted to escape… but I didn’t have my car much less a cell phone or computer to communicate with family and friends!
I was stuck! I was on God’s time. Really on God’s time because there were no clocks either and we couldn’t bring watches. So I just kept on walking—trying desperately to keep my anxiety and anger and judgments at bay—when a funny thing happened. I started recognizing Christ in that strange place and among strangers.
- In songs like Amazing Grace and Sanctuary
- In beautiful and inspiring sermons on discipleship and mission work.
- In worship, communion and long hours of silence and solitude.
- In the jokes and laughter that accompanied every meal.
- In encouraging and loving prayer letters from folks as far as Australia and Africa.
- In the six men who were part of my small group—good and caring men who were dealing with a lot of brokenness in their lives.
- In the faces of men who had a deep love for God but whom I disagreed with on some particulars of the faith.
- In my friend Ed Williams, my journalism professor at Auburn and sponsor for the Emmaus Walk. Ed, along with several former Emmaus walkers, prayed for us each man by name, for 72 hours and served every meal we had.
- In numerous “agape” or warm fuzzy gifts left on our beds as well as our meal and small group tables by Christians from across the South.
- In the 100 or so former Emmaus walkers who while holding candles in the darkness of a pavilion serenaded us with hymns and loving, grace-filled smiles. Folks who didn’t even know us. The intensity of love on their faces was amazing!
It was in those moments that God reminded me of how much I am loved and how all of us in this world are connected as children of God, as beloved creations of God. It was in those moments that I heard God saying to me the words the apostle Paul says to a young Timothy who was serving in the church in Ephesus:
Set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity… Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders.
Paul’s advice allowed me to speak my convictions when necessary but more importantly to not allow anxiety, anger, prejudice and hate to spill out and taint the experience. Paul’s words to Timothy allowed me to see the love of Christ was in plain view.
That Paul would inspire folks to see Christ among them should come as no surprise. Read any letter of Paul’s in the New Testament and one will soon discover that “Paul, like Jesus, is a love guy, calling people to follow a love road, to walk a love path, to practice a love way.” 
This is also the message of John’s second letter to a woman elder in another church in the early days of the movement:
I was overjoyed to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we have been commanded by the Father. But now, dear lady, I ask you, not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but one we have had from the beginning, let us love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment just as you have heard it from the beginning—you must walk in it.
I realized the amazing beauty of walking in love when I read more than 30 “agape” letters from family, friends and several members here at Pleasant Hill. 
It’s hard to express in words…I’m sorry; I’m getting a little choked up. As I said earlier, I’ve always struggled with anxiety and low self-confidence. And there have been times where I doubted my own gifts and whether I was loved by others or God.
But how foolish I was to ever think that I wasn’t loved. Those letters reminded me of how much I’ve been loved my entire life. It’s that love that has shaped the person who stands before you today. Words can’t express how grateful I am for that love.
If there’s one thing I can say to the Confirmands who become members of the church today, it’s this: Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something because you are young. You are beloved children of God who have been given unique gifts and who are called to share Christ’s love. Never doubt the love of God and others as you grow in your faith and continue on this journey. Know that the love of every single person in this sanctuary walks with you now and forever.
That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? You take all of the sermons that are preached from this pulpit and they all boil down to one thing—walking in love, hand in hand, as we follow Christ and expand God’s kingdom for all people. It’s all that easy and it’s all that hard. But it’s who the loving God has created and called us to be.
 Finding Our Way Again: The Return to Ancient Practices, Brian McLaren
 I wrote this paragraph about 6 minutes before the 8:30 am worship service. I decided to speak more openly from the heart and became choked up with tears in the process. I shared the same sentiment at the 11 am worship service but added some extemporaneously thoughts for the 8th graders who were confirmed as members following the sermon. I’ve tried to recreate those final sentiments to the best of my recollection.