Stephen King is Wrong
Most people think Stephen King writes horror novels only. They're wrong; one such example is his novella "The Breathing Method." It's about a club made up of men who gather to tell eerie stories to each other. The motto on the fireplace mantel is "It's the tale, not he who tells it." People are wrong about King being only a horror write, but the motto Stephen King has above the mantle is also wrong.
Modern technology has made us hearers of a 10,000 x 10,000 tales. In The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains the author says the internet has restored man to his aboriginal state. Primitive man lived in the jungle without a moment's peace. Every noise, sound, crack of limb, or murmur of wind had to be paid attention to. It had to be interpreted. It could be danger or it could be opportunity but it had to be attended to (Chronicles, Nov. 2010, 30).
Make no mistakes. Even if you have no computer, have no smart phone, know no more about texting that you do tweeting, you too are being called to listen 24 hours a day 7 days a week. You must watch that nightly news. You must read that daily paper. You must hear that radio newscast on the hour that claims to give you the world's news in 2 minutes. It may be news about terrorism, the stock market, or the latest health report. No matter. You've got to pay attention to every tweet, text, and news report, and when there's an interruption for a special news report, then you've got to find out even more, hear even more, decipher even more. You're very life depends on the tale being told in 10,000 x 10,000 different formats.
And this brings us to the unhappy couple on the road to Emmaus. We know one of them is named Cleopas. We know they invite Jesus into their home. Though we paint them as two men, I like thinking of them as husband and wife. In any event, they have many tales swirling about their heads. It says when Jesus came upon them He asks them what things they have been literally casting back and forth. Can't you hear them? The chief priests said Jesus was a charlatan and the Pharisees that He was possessed. The Roman governor kept saying Jesus was innocent but sentenced Him to crucifixion anyways. And what about that sign on His cross? This is Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews.
For three days this couple had been paying attention to the tales told. That's nothing; some of you young people have been paying attention to all the tales told from the moment you could hear. NBC brought the Vietnam War into my living room once a night. CNN brought the first Gulf War minute by minute into my young family's home, and now the World Wide Web brings the world into your home instantly. And like the Emmaus disciples all your paying attention to the tales doesn't bring peace but distraction even discombobulation.
Modern technology has increased the number, speed, and intensity of the tales demanding your attention now and every minute thereafter. And modern religious belief tells you that all tales of faith are equally valid and this brings us back not just to primitive man in the forest but to his religion. All the sounds in his forest didn't just mean something for primitive man's body but for his soul. And the power of the witchdoctor or shaman was that he could tell you what they were saying. Otherwise the sounds became a cacophony of whispering and you only got confusing bits and pieces of what might be very, very important for your soul, your spirit, your eternal peace.
O the whisperers and the whispering. They're in our modern life too. It's like in the TV series Lost when something bad or dramatic was about to happen the whispering started. 10,000 tongues were telling 10,000 tales but everyone was a whisper. The people could hear the sounds of voices but not quite make out what was being said. The whispering was somehow about them and somehow seemed against them. That's where modern religious spirituality has left us.
What do the earthquakes around the world mean? What about the tornadoes that ravaged the U.S.? What about the sickness that ravages my body not to mention the swirling thoughts in my soul? What is God trying to tell me? Is God trying to tell me anything? All I get is whisper, whisper, whisper. But there are people in the field of religion, psychology, and science who claim to tell you what God is and isn't saying with these 10,000 whispering tongues, and that gives them the power of the witchdoctor or shaman of old.
Let's not forget our travelling couple. They had heard whispers of angels, of empty tombs, of Jesus being alive. Whisper, whisper, whisper but none of these tales helped their dashed hope. They began their conversation with Jesus saying, "But we had hoped that He was going to redeem Israel." And what does the myriad of whispering voices that you desperately try to snatch meaning, substance, truth out of do to your hope? Those in the know, those who claim that they know what the multitude of whispered tales actually mean, they seem so hopeful, don't they? As for us, we're left walking away from the church, just like the Emmaus couple did, hoping that away from the church maybe the whispering will die down.
Back to the tale and the one who tells it. Jesus doesn't deal with the tales of the chief priests or Romans. He doesn't deal with the whispers of angels, of an empty tomb, or a risen Lord. Jesus deals with the one thing you have the least to do with. Every night like robots we turn on the news to hear the tales told there. Everyday like cyber machines you check your email to hear the whispering going on there. Every hour your phone goes off and you check that text for the whisper found there. But Scripture? But Holy Scripture? The Words of eternal life? That's not for me.
I know it's not for you by the handful in Bible class and by the fact that virtually everyone of you knows right now more about a royal wedding or the death of bin Laden than you do about the Person and Work of Christ. And the absolute worst among you are the ones who think you do know enough about such things and feel immune or inoculated against the tales told and whispered. You are the witchdoctors and the shamans. O not to others but to yourself.
Jesus goes where you don't go. He goes to Scripture not the tales, not the whispers. He goes back to Moses and all the prophets not to events. He doesn't do what I think makes the most sense to do. He doesn't say, "Hey guys it's me." Remember the Easter text; apart from the Word, apart from hearing the Word, believing the Word, studying the Word a risen Jesus is not believed, hoped in, or trusted for salvation.
From the get-go it was predicted, prophesied that the Messiah, the Christ, would suffer. The Devil would bruise His heel. The Shepherd would be struck. He would be numbered with transgressors. From the beginning it was written that He would be betrayed. His old familiar friend would lift up his hand against Him. From the beginning it was recorded that He would be rejected. He would be a sign spoken against. And from the beginning two other things were logged in God's Holy Word for the studying of a hundred generations of believers: The Messiah would be innocent and His Father would be pleased to punish Him.
"How foolish you are and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!" That's what Jesus said to the Emmaus couple, but you can't be foolish or slow of heart to believe what you don't even know, can you? Paul says that whatsoever things were written in the past, the Old Testament, were written for us that through the Holy Scriptures we might have hope.
It's with the sharp, double-edged sword of Holy Writ that Jesus slices through the myriad of tales and whispers. The part that stunned the Emmaus disciples, the part that dashed their hope of being saved by Jesus was the fact He suffered so. But He had to do that to redeem them, to save you. Jesus could have entered into glory without the suffering but it would have been without you and me. And God's glory is to save sinners, real sinners not pretend ones, not cosmetic ones, not fake ones.
Follow me. There's no glory in giving sight to a person who sees. There's no glory in making a hearing person hear. There's no glory in raising a living person. Likewise, there is no glory in saving the savable, forgiving the forgivable, or giving hope to the hopeful. In order to enter into the glory Jesus wanted, which was saving the unsaveable, forgiving the unforgivable, and giving hope to the hopeless, He had to suffer, sigh, bleed and die an innocent death for your guilty life.
It is the Scripture that tells you this not the news, not the internet, not the tales of thousands, or the whisperings of millions. It is in Scripture that you'll find God for Jesus' sake declaring salvation to the damned Adam and Eve. It is in Scripture that you'll find God for Jesus' sake putting away David's sins of adultery and murder so He could forgive Him. It's in Scripture that you'll find God for Jesus' sake giving hope in the face of horrible sins, a raging Devil, and smirking Death. What the Scriptures say about your life and death that's what matters, that's what counts, that's what is to be heard and believed. The tales told can be for your amusement like in the Stephen King story, and the whispers can be ignored as no more worthwhile then gossip.
But what about Stephen King being wrong? He was. It's untrue to say: "It's the tale not he who tells it." It's both the tale and the one who tells it. Jesus is the Word of God and the Word made flesh. He is both the tale and the One who tells it. And how you treat the one will be how you end up treating the other. You can't value the Word of God less than you do the Word made flesh without one day undervaluing the latter too. You can't undervalue the Scripture without one day undervaluing Jesus. You can't give heed to the One telling the tale while disregarding the tale He told. It was the opening of the Scriptures that led to the Emmaus' couple's eyes being opened to Who told the tale and the tale He told. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Third Sunday of Easter (20110508); Luke 24: 13-35