Sermon: The Power of a Well-Timed Question
Scripture: Luke 24:13-35
Preacher: Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location: First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, FL
Date: April 26, 2020
13Now 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 recognizing 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.
28As 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 recognized 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.
It’s Sunday morning and you leave the church and head north on 15th Avenue until you hit Federal Highway and Sunset. You continue to head north on 1 and make your way to Imperial Point Hospital. The deal is this: You’re not in your car or riding a bike; you’re walking the seven miles towards Pompano. How long would it take you to walk that far in the hot Florida afternoon? Google says about two and half hours although I’m not sure how accurate that is.
This is the scene in today’s text. Cleopas and one other person are making their way home from the religious festivities of Passover. They have a hot dusty walk to a little village called Emmaus which many believe is some 7 miles west of Jerusalem. They have just experienced this incredible week-long festival that packed the city with people from all over the world. There was worship. There were celebrations. There was political intrigue and an arrest in the quiet garden just outside Jerusalem’s walls where this so-called anarchist called, Jesus, was taken by force to the city’s religious and political officials. This Jesus had a kangaroo court of a trial and was publicly executed, buried, and then left for dead. The women disciples of his group, who were really the first apostles, discovered an empty tomb and an angel of Light and even saw Jesus himself! They ran to tell the other disciples what they had experienced and let the others determine what to do with the news for themselves.
It appears that Cleopas and his companion were a part of that group of ‘others’ the women told their story to that day. Now it was time to go home. Easter has come and gone. The Tomb is empty. They haven’t seen Jesus so what else are they going to do about it? They walk home some three hours away.
It’s at this point in the Walk to Emmaus Story Jesus does something that is so simple but very profound in sharing the good news Story. Like we will see Deacon Philip in Acts where he comes alongside a chariot with an Ethiopian eunuch and asks what he was reading, Jesus matches his gait to this duo and says, “Well, hi! What are y’all talking about so passionately?”
For over thirty years of ministry people have told me how hard sharing their faith is and they just can’t be evangelists. Perhaps we members in the Church need to learn from Jesus and that is the art of a well-timed question. Jesus did not approach these two and make a declaration of who he was, what he’s about, and how they should respond to his presence! When people begin a conversation with a declarative statement, they intend for you to pay attention and get the facts right. However, when a conversation begins with a question, the questioner is inviting the other person to enter into a conversation and dialogue. It’s in shared conversation and dialogue that trust is built, clarity and understanding can emerge, and the environment for listening is constructed.
During his ministry, Jesus tended to meet people and lead with questions just like he does in today’s Story. “What are y’all talking about?”
Christ-Followers and Church have been getting this whole evangelism thing wrong for several hundred years. We tell people what to believe, how they should act, and declare the consequences to them if they don’t. Maybe that’s why people of all ages don’t think about Church much these days. Maybe they equate God with the Church in a way we would rather they not, i.e. that God is just grumpy grump abiding someplace “out there” who wants to see and know how we’ll behave. The feeling is expressed by many pre-churched and pre-Christians that all God cares about is how a person acts…can I tick off the right boxes.
I wonder if it might be better to change our methods and follow Jesus’ example of the well-timed question instead. Instead of declaring our righteous agenda to them, maybe we should instead ask them to share what is going on with them in their life instead. When we represent the Christ this way we are indicating that God is not some Grumphead but is a God who totally understands us through Jesus; Jesus asking us the well-timed question is his way of sharing his ultimate joy, wish, and dream to have an intimate relationship with you and me. Questions are all about relationship building. This is Jesus’ method of relationship building.
Sadly, when the church has asked questions of people in the past, the questions come with pre-loaded declarations. You have heard of those, what I call, old Christian pick-up lines haven’t you? Here’s a few of them.
Are you saved?
If you died today, would you go to heaven or hell?
Have you received the gift of the Holy Spirit?
You see, all these pre-loaded questions come with agendas that the person asking the questions wants to be met. “Are you saved?” usually means the person assumes they are not. “If you died today, where would you go?” usually means the person thinks you’re going to turn and burn. “Have you received the gift of the Holy Spirit?” usually means the person thinks that if you are a Christian, you’re lacking in some way. Pre-loaded Christian questions usually have an agenda behind them. I have always believed that if you want to get answers from the questions you’re asking people but aren’t getting the answers you want, then the best thing to do is to change the questions you’re asking them!
Jesus, though, tailored his questions to whomever he was talking with at the time. His desire was to build relationship first and then get the facts right second. Jesus’ use of a well-timed question was the way he intentionally got to meet people where they are. He wants to know the questions of their heart that they are struggling with right at that moment.
Perhaps, Church, we can learn something from this. Perhaps the Church needs to ask those around her different questions in order to get to know others better. The questions we have been asking aren’t working. If we got to know them better and what their needs are, what their dreams are, what their hopes are, and what their fears are, then we will be better to minister to the needs of those around us more strategically. It’s only after Jesus asked a well-timed harmless question was he able to know what these two travelers were struggling with that moment. Once Jesus listened to their Story, he was able to respond to their concerns.
Beloved, what are the conversations you are overhearing on the road while you travel through April with its pandemic and economic stress? What are people around you speaking of in terms of their hopes and fears? Have you listened enough to even know if God or Spirit is in the realm of their thinking? Are we too quick to jump in those conversations with our own agendas, our own answers to their problems, declaring what they should or shouldn’t do, or believe or not to believe?
I think we need to be bold enough to simply ask others, “What are you talking about?” That in turn gives us our Christoformed life a voice as we make our way together with others. Amen.
Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
401 SE 15th Avenue
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
© 2020 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.