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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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On the road to Emmaus | Being present

As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’

ACTS 9:3–4

As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognising him…When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognised him, and he disappeared from their sight.

LUKE 24:15–16, 30–31

 


 

Saul’s encounter with Jesus famously knocked him to the ground and left him temporarily blind. Things could not be more different for the Emmaus travellers: Jesus walked alongside them, and they didn’t even know who they were talking to.

The Saul story matches the cold-contact evangelism strategy I learned in campus ministry (in theory – I failed to match what Jesus does). There is a distinct before-and-after. Jesus becomes an undeniable reality and a life trajectory is changed.

Of course, Jesus can and will use whatever approach he pleases. It’s just that, for those of us bedded into long-term relationships with the colleagues, neighbours, teammates and friends on our frontlines, our conversational pace is more Emmaus-like: a patient trudge.

That’s cool with Jesus.

He walks and talks with the Emmaus travellers at the speed they are already going: three miles an hour. A pace not just for feet, but for hearts and minds. Jesus doesn’t hurry them on. He doesn’t interrupt with the point he wants them to hear. He listens attentively, as they share their confusion and disappointment.

In the end, it’s the effect of Jesus’ presence as he breaks bread with them – not principally his words – that will ignite their cognition.

In one sense, we are already present on our frontlines. God has put us in the places he would have us for now, and we want to be a part of his eternal purposes in our specific place and time. But what would it look like for our presence to have a Jesus-like effect?

If the opposite of presence is absence, we do well to rid ourselves of everything that calls our attention to be anywhere other than with the person in front of us. Social scientist Sherry Turkle writes that ‘relationships deepen not because we necessarily say anything in particular but because we are invested enough to show up for another conversation… [and] it’s hard to sustain those relationships if you are on your phone.’

So, with phones – or whatever pulls us away from being fully present right now – firmly out of sight and reach, we show up in the sacred arena that is the life of another. We give the gift of our attention. We listen, to synchronise our pace, so we can feel and think with them, not for them.

If conversations on our frontlines look less Road to Damascus and more Road to Emmaus, then let’s model the presence of Jesus as we trudge patiently on.

Tim Yearsley
Head of Innovation, LICC

Which conversation today can you bring Jesus-like presence into? Join the conversation below.

Comments

  1. Not only was Jesus willing to go at the pace of the Emmaus 2, he begins by asking questions not giving answers, and when he does speak he answers those questions and doubts (‘we had thought Jesus was the Messiah but…)
    Also, Jesus was willing to go with them, even though they were going in the wrong direction,
    .. and never does he tell them to ‘repent’ (ie, go in a different direction). They do that themselves when the have their close encounter..

    By Gordon McGuinness  -  17 Jul 2023
  2. Numbers, Chapter 23

    18. Then he uttered his oracle: “Arise, Balak, and listen; hear me, son of Zippor.

    19. God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?

    By C.gopal  -  17 Jul 2023
  3. This article makes a great point that I have previously missed.

    I have often discussed with others that the biblical model for evangelism is shown by Paul. Time after time, except for Athens, a special case, Paul goes into a city and “reasons” with the Jews in the synagogue. When they throw him out he takes however many new converts down the street to a house and builds a new church.

    Too many traveling-road-show evangelists try to recreate Pentecost, but that was a one time deal.
    Now you remind me of this walk-along-side teaching model shown by Jesus. Perhaps these men were already believers, or perhaps they uncommitted followers. Either way they needed the patient explanation of Scripture to increase their understanding and open their minds, so to speak.

    I have often dreamed of being part of that conversation, to hear Jesus Himself expound the Scriptures. We do have the Holy Spirit to illumine the Scriptures for us, so I guess we must be satisfied with that.

    Let’s also remember that the “Scriptures” they had were all Old Testament. The Apostles had yet to write the New Testament. We tend to forget that.

    Thanks for posting this.

    P.S. You guys do a great job. Thanks for your diligence as you minister.

    By Frederic A Parker  -  17 Jul 2023
  4. Thank you for allowing me to slow my pace down and see the importance of turning up and being present where I am now.

    I’ve come from a busy front line in Early Years education, as a manager; negotiating it throughout covid ; working with vulnerable staff, children and families; followed by a bold relocation and change of job. To now finding myself unemployed, living with and caring for my mother and navigating, transitioning adult children and an empty nest.

    It’s ok to be in this slower environment and be present with everyone’s transitions. Thank you for the insight about not having to be the one with answers. The Holy Spirit is that, I can trust in His faithfulness for myself and my family, and, when it opens up again, my wider community.

    By Karen Keene  -  24 Jul 2023

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