President's Opening Reflection at NYALC 2019

President Dr Deidre Palmer opened the 2019 National Young Adult Leaders Conference with a reflection on Jesus' encounter with the disciples' on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24.

LUKE 24:13-35

13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles* from Jerusalem, 14and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16but their eyes were kept from recognising him. 17And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad.* 18Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ 19He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth,* who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.* Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’ 25Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26Was it not necessary that the Messiah* should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ 27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. 30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognised him; and he vanished from their sight. 32They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us* while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ 33That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

I love going on journeys. Some of the journeys are holidays with my family, some of the journeys have involved moving overseas to live. Some of my favourite movies based on famous books, have been about epic journeys, like the Lord of the Rings, or journeys into Narnia through a wardrobe! Many of the journeys I have most treasured are those symbolic journeys, like the journey of faith, of following Jesus, that we will have as a focus here at NYALC.

I invite you to think about the journey you are on as you spend these four days together. This time is an opportunity to personally reflect and it’s an opportunity for us together to reflect on our journey as a Church.

These four days are a gift to all of us and a gift to the Uniting Church. It’s about us personally, and it is about being part of a community of Christians, the Uniting Church, who are our sisters and brothers in Christ.

People all over Australia are praying for us as we enjoy this time together. They are praying for you as young adult leaders, giving thanks for your leadership. And are hopeful about what may emerge.

Because this is not only a once-off event, from this event, we will continue to be followers of Jesus, who are seeking to grow in faith, deepen our relationship with God and through our actions and words, participate in God’s mission of love, justice and hope in the world around us. We will be part of the renewal of our Church.

I am delighted that the Moderators are all here, many of the Assembly Resourcing Unit, leaders from each of our Synods, and 120 young adults from across Australia. I hope we will inspire and encourage one another, as we share our own journeys of life and faith, and as this NYALC becomes part of each of our journeys.

We are here to listen to each other, to listen to God, to pay attention to what we see around us in our world, to reflect on who we are called to be as the Body of Christ, and its expression through the Uniting Church.

I am looking forward to having conversations with you at NYALC and over the coming two and a half years, as I seek to serve Christ and the Uniting Church, as President.

I would love to hear your ideas and passions about who we are called to be as the Body of Christ in our Australian context and our global community, and to then share them with the Church as I travel and visit congregations and communities far and wide.

I am deeply interested in your responses to questions that I believe are important ones for us to be responding to, as disciples of Christ. You might like to keep these questions in mind over the next few days: (I’ve included them in your conference booklet)

• In living out the Gospel of Christ, what are you passionate about?

• What are your hopes and dreams for the Uniting Church in the present and future, as we seek to faithfuly embody the Gospel of Christ? How do you see yourself contributing to these hopes and dreams?

• What do you believe are some of the most important issues we face as a society and as the church today?

• As we participate in God’s mission in the world, in what ways do you think the Church is called to be engaged in the public space/wider society ?

I am going to invite you to think about a journey you have been on, that has been important for you – in your own growth as a Christian, as a person.

And then I invite you to reflect on our journeys in the light of this beautiful account of the first disciples journey with Jesus that we read in Luke’s Gospel.

I don’t know how many times I wrote down a journey I wanted to share with you, as I sat at my computer, looking out into our backyard,

I prayed, what journey should I share – and the reply - the most important journey you have been on – the journey of following Jesus – that has defined and shaped all the other journeys.

It will be 50 years in April, since I walked to the front at a worship service at Mt Barker Easter camp, because I heard the call of God, to give my heart and whole life to following Jesus.

It has been a very messy journey, and not one that turned out exactly as I would have imagined. And if I had known as a 13 year old, some of the things that would challenged me over that journey, I think I may have been tempted to go back and sit down in my chair. On the other hand – to follow Jesus, is the most exhilarating adventure possible!

To know the deep love and forgiveness of God – God’s grace, surrounding you, upholding you, for your lifetime, to see the world through the eyes of God’s reconciling love and hope, – is the best journey of all – and if I had known then, what I know now, my 13 year-old self, would have been running out of that room, down the road, to share the amazing news with friends and family and the whole world.

The Story of the Road to Emmaus is one of the great faith journey stories of the New Testament. This was a journey, that had not turned out, as the disciples planned. There had been many surprising twists and turns to the journey of following Jesus.

We imagine that for the two on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus, their emotions must have been running deep and raw. They were faithful Jews and followers of Jesus. They saw Jesus as a prophet mighty in deed and word before God… They ‘hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” Now Jesus was dead, his followers were scattered. They are very sad (sorrowful) but also bemused/confused – they recall the women’s story of a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. That was a twist, that they had heard about, earlier when Jesus was alive, but something that was hard to believe at the time.

Jesus comes alongside them, listens to their grief, their hopes and dreams, asks questions, invites them into conversation.

While we may share Jesus’ judgement of these two – they are foolish and slow of heart to believe, we may also identify with them.

We may have been there – in times of sadness and confusion on our faith journey. (What can we believe, who can we trust, is God trustworthy, in the middle of all we are experiencing)

The hopes we had may have faded or have been challenged in the face of trauma and difficulties, disappointment.

We may have experienced that feeling of the absence of God.

Jesus reminds these two disciples of who God is and God’s actions throughout history and throws new light on this history, in the light of his own life, death and resurrection.

“Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them things about himself in all the scriptures.”

Jesus brings them to remembrance.

We may be familiar with this journey – this road to Emmaus. In times when we experience sadness and confusion, the risen Christ comes alongside and reminds us of who and whose we are .

Remembering is an integral part of our life as a Christian community.

The Hebrew people remembered and passed on their story of liberation to their children.

Jesus invites us on our journey of faith, to remember, to recall the moments when our hearts burned within us on the road.

As we gather today, we are invited to remember, all that God has done and continues to do, to liberate us, to bring us to fullness of life, in love for God, in love for others and the whole of God’s creation.

The two followers are not immediately clear about who Jesus is. There is much speculation amongst commentators as to why they don’t recognise him, but nevertheless they offer him hospitality – they welcome him into their home.

The story portrays it as if Jesus waits for them to issue the invitation “he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly to stay with them:

They speak words that many Christians have echoed over the centuries: “Stay with us”, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over…

“ We pray this prayer today: “Stay with us” Don’t leave us – come into our lives.

In an act of hospitality on their part – Jesus reveals himself in a familiar action. “he took bread, blessed and broke it and gave it to them.”

“Their eyes were opened and they recognised him.

“They say to each other:

“Were not our hearts burning within us” while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?

As we reflect on our own lives, we may see the movement of the Spirit of Christ at times when we thought that perhaps God was absent, or we could not see where God was in that moment.

As they come to the realisation that the risen Christ has walked with them and been present in their home, they are transformed – they believe – “He is risen”!

Their fear and despair are overcome by courage and joy. And they take immediate action – returning to Jerusalem to share the good news with the others.

"They told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread."

One of the central themes for me in this passage is the transformation that takes place in the two followers of Jesus.

Fear is a significant human emotion – fear can be protective – it can have us on edge or on alert – ready to run, hide or fight…

Fear can have us do things we would not ordinarily do – lash out, demonise another… It can diminish our life – prevent us from taking risks…Fear can paralyse us.

Fear was part of the experience of those early followers of Jesus. All that they had hoped for, seem to be gone – perhaps they had been wrong about him?

Would they meet the same fate as Jesus? Would the authorities be taking them next?

And yet, in an encounter with the risen Christ – in an act of hospitality, Jesus is made known to them and they are so transformed by this experience that they immediately leave to tell their friends and companions .

Their fear and doubt are overcome through the risen Christ.

They have courage – a gift of the Spirit, that it makes it possible for them to take a risk – like running back to Jerusalem in the dark, and going back into a situation, where their lives could be threatened by the same people who had crucified Jesus.

There have been many times in my journey of discipleship, that I have been given the courage to act, to follow Jesus into spaces and places, where my fear or my natural caution could easily have prevailed.

I invite you to reflect on those moments in your life personally when in following Jesus, God has transformed your life in such a way, that you have had courage to act and share God’s hope and love in ways that you had not imagined possible.

Those moments when you and we as Christian communities have lived as an Easter people, transformed by the grace and hope of God in Christ.

As the Uniting Church we are seeking to respond to the call of God on our lives to boldly share the good news of Christ with the community around us – offering our gifts of love, acceptance and hospitality.

We are committed to living justice in the wider global context out of our response to God’s call on our life and God’s vision for the world and the whole creation.

There are many ways in which the Spirit of Christ continues to journey with us, opening our eyes and hearts and transforming our lives and the lives of the people around us.

We will have opportunities to share our hopes and concerns for the world, share our own experiences of God.

We will discuss what we think we should be giving our energy to as a church.

The story of the Road to Emmaus takes place over a short time and space, and yet within it we can see encounters, conversations, challenges and transformation that we may experience over a much longer period – the experiences on the Road to Emmaus and back, may extend over our life times.

As people of the Uniting Church, we experience the Spirit of Christ bringing us together and calling us forward.

We bear witness to one another, of the ways we experience the Holy Spirit moving among us and transforming people’s lives.

God invites us to share our stories, to pour out our experiences of joy and sorrow, confident faith and gnawing doubt.

Jesus comes alongside us and teaches us – reminding us of God’s transforming love and liberation, for us and for the whole world.

Thanks be to God!