When I was a sophomore in high school I was kicked out of a football game for kicking someone. It was a stupid. I was near the bottom of a pile, and I felt like the guy on the other team that was on top of me was taking his sweet time in getting up. Instead of just waiting for the guy to get off, I got mad, and started kicking. I don’t think I actually kicked anyone. I wasn’t aiming at anyone in particular. I was just mad and reacted. Unfortunately the ref saw me and said “You, 62 – you’re out of here.” I couldn’t believe it. So I stormed off the field in anger and sulked on the sideline for the rest of the game. Strangely, none of the coaches even said anything to me.
After the game, none of the coaches said anything to me. When I was back at school, had changed and was ready to go home, none of the coaches had said anything to me. I was a little perplexed, but also pretty nervous. I knew I wasn’t going to escape punishment. They must be letting me stew. I figured that at the next practice I’d be running laps around the field for the duration. I started to walk home, despondent.
I didn’t get far when Mr. Selke pulled up and asked me, “Do you need a ride?” Mr. Selke was an intimidating guy. With his hair slicked back and suit on, he looked like he could have been cast as an associate of Joe Pesci. He didn’t give sophomore football players rides home. He was not a coach. He was the Athletic Director. I lived about a half mile from school. I didn’t really want a ride. I just wanted to sulk my way home. ”No thanks,” I said. ”No, let me give you a ride,” he said. I realized that this was an offer I couldn’t refuse.
I’d say we had an interesting conversation on the short ride to my house, but that would imply that I said something. He didn’t raise his voice. The power of his words did not need volume. ”You will not do something like that again,” he said simply. ”Your family is too good for that. Your Mom, Dad, brother, and sister have given you a good name. And you will not do anything like that again.”
I didn’t run laps at practice on Monday. None of my coaches ever said anything to me about it. It was like it never happened.
When I think of that interrupted walk home, I am reminded of another interrupted walk of shame. In Luke 24 we find the story known as “The Walk to Emmaus.” The walk to Emmaus was a walk of defeat. It was a walk of devastation, confusion, and anger. Two men were going home – back to Emmaus. They were leaving Jerusalem after a tumultuous week.
They were devastated, because the man that they thought was going to redeem Israel had been crucified. We don’t know how long they had been following Jesus. We don’t know how much they had given up, but we know that as the walked home, they were walking in shame. they were walking in confusion, despair, and anger. Their walk to Emmaus was a walk of shame. And then they were interrupted.
They were interrupted by the living Christ. They were interrupted in their despair, and at first, they were annoyed by this stranger that didn’t understand their pain. ”Haven’t you been paying attention?” they ask him. ”Have you been paying attention?” he responds. He does two things for them after their encounter. He allows them to tell their story, then he tells them his version. Their version went like this:
“Because of [Jesus's] powerful deeds and words, he was recognized by God and all the people as a prophet. But our chief priests and our leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him. We had hoped he was the one who would redeem Israel. All these things happened three days ago. But there’s more: Some women from our group have left us stunned. They went to the tomb early this morning and didn’t find his body. They came to us saying that they had even seen a vision of angels who told them he is alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women said. They didn’t see him.” (Luke 24:19-24, Common English Bible)
It was a story of despair, loss, and confusion. Jesus responds by telling them the story again. This time he starts with Moses. He tells of God saving the people from slavery. He tells of the giving of the Law. He tells them about the Land that God provided the people. He tells them about the Prophets that spoke the truth to power. He reminded them about the God that saves.
Eventually it was time to eat. So they gathered at a table, and Jesus broke the bread. When they saw him break the bread, it all came together. They knew that were in the presence of Jesus. They knew that Jesus had risen. They knew everything had changed.
Suddenly, their story was no longer one of despair and fear. Their walk was no longer a walk of shame. It was a walk of triumph. In the breaking of the bread, this act of friendship, companionship, and relationship, they knew that they were in the presence of the living God. He re-framed the story. He re-presented the bread. He re-newed their hearts.
Like Mr. Selke did for me during my walk of shame, Jesus reminded them of who and whose they were. All of us need that reminder every now and then. All of us take long walks of shame. We take a wrong turn. We veer off the path. We forget who and whose we are, and suddenly we find ourselves someplace we never intended to be. We find ourselves on a path of shame – somewhere God never intended us to be. It is in the midst of such walks that Jesus has a funny way of showing up. We may encounter Jesus on our path when we are least expecting him to show up.
No matter where you may be on your path, no matter how lost, no matter how hurt, no matter how bitter, an unexpected encounter with the Divine can bring you back home. Be open to the Scriptures, and the story of God’s salvation. Be open to breaking bread with those that might surprise you. Be open and know that you never need walk this path alone. You never have to make a walk of shame again.
(If you are interested in a CD that contains the sermon-version of this blog, which was given by Robb McCoy on April 22, 2012 at Riverside United Methodist Church, please leave a comment below, and you’ll be contacted shortly)