A few years ago, I was with a group doing a sleepout-under-the-stars on top of the highest peak of a mountain. There was a big flat open space up there where wind and glaciers had carved the rock smooth, so it was perfect for folks to throw down a bunch of sleeping bags and make an evening of it. The stars were incredible, and while the moon was out it was surprisingly bright. It wasn’t quite full though, so it wasn’t like you could read a book by it or anything, but it was enough to see the hand in front of your face.

Well, in the middle of the night I felt the old call of nature, so I had to get my boots back on and head into the woods to water the plants. The moon was still out, so it was bright enough for me to go a pretty good distance before the tree cover got dense enough to block out the moonlight. I was, as you might imagine, in something in a rush, so I figured I would just start walking and wrestle the flashlight out as I went. I could at least get started on my journey before I needed a light to show me the way.

I was nearly far enough away from the group by the time I actually managed to get the flashlight out, and it wasn’t a switch or a click-on, but one of those where you have to twist the top until finally…

I was mid-stride, my right foot in the air, when the light came on. Psheww! And a good thing it did. I froze, right leg in the air… over a four- or five-foot drop. The stretch of rock I was on abruptly ended just past where my left foot was the only thing supporting my whole body weight. You know that weird feeling you get when for some reason you think there’s one more step on the stairs and you put your foot down in complete confidence and there isn’t a step and it, like, throws your entire worldview into question? If I had continued my stride, and in the darkness blindly put my foot down—on nothing—I would have toppled forward completely confused as to what happened to the ground before—if not cracking my skull on another rock—I would at least have done some lasting and everlasting damage to my right leg.

Instead, at the moment I didn’t even know I needed it most, light burst into existence before me (with the flashlight mercifully pointing downward and not into my eyes) and I was able to stop my headlong descent into darkness.

Needless to say, I did a little bit of praying after I had safely put my foot down. I had a bit to be grateful for just then. And sorry to disappoint the sadists in the congregation, but this story doesn’t end with the shock of near-disaster scaring the “call of nature” out of me. Dry pants were another thing for me to be thankful for.

No, that was a story about someone on a walk seeing the light a little bit later than he might have preferred… but not too late.

Which brings us to our story from the Gospel of Luke today. And it makes a good story, so let’s walk through it. It begins with two of Jesus’ followers walking on the road between Jerusalem and a village called Emmaus, which was about seven miles away. This is still Easter, by the way; the same day that Jesus was resurrected. By this point, not everyone knows that Jesus has risen. All these two knew was that a handful of Jesus’ female followers had found the tomb empty that morning. These two on the road to Emmaus weren’t any of the twelve big-shot disciples, and they hadn’t yet seen the risen Jesus. Actually by this point in Luke’s account, no one had.

Imagine the desperation they must have felt. Jesus, the Messiah, that some said was the very Son of God, this great teacher, this inspiration they had been following for so long and who was to bring about the Kingdom of God on earth… had been killed less than three days ago. In a very gruesome, humiliating manner… that was as far from painless as you could get. And now the authorities were on the hunt for any of the disgraced radical’s followers.

So as these two desperate people walked into the sunset, a stranger came up alongside them. They didn’t know who this guy was, they didn’t recognize him. Maybe it was magic, maybe it was the sun in their eyes, maybe Jesus just had one of those faces, or the resurrection had shaved off his beard and he just looked way different without it, you know how that goes?

Maybe in the state they were in, they just couldn’t see Jesus. Their Messiah was dead. They couldn’t see anything else.

It’s interesting, though, that hunted or not these two didn’t hesitate to tell the stranger that approached them on the road exactly what was tearing them apart. It might have been that they were generally trusting people, or maybe they felt that it didn’t matter anymore; what did they have to lose even if this was a Roman agent?

So they told him what had happened to the great Jesus. Handed over by their own priests and leaders, crucified by the very Roman overlords he was supposed to overthrow. “To top it all off, we’ve got these women telling us now the body’s missing, and they spun some story about angels saying he’s alive. We checked, and the body wasn’t there, but neither were any angels. Somebody must have desecrated the tomb and stolen Jesus’ corpse! God knows what they’re doing to it now. Insult to injury.”

But the stranger listening to their story was the risen Jesus, and he knew better than anyone what had happened. So he fell back on what he had been doing for so long—a well-trained Rabbi, he spent the rest of their journey to Emmaus interpreting Scripture. He reminded them what the prophets had promised to Israel, and he showed them anew God’s love-letters to humanity. These broken men felt a fire kindle in their hearts… somehow, all wasn’t quite lost. God was still with them, they could feel it.

Jesus was happy to head off into the sunset right then and there as they reached their destination, leaving them none the wiser as he walked on with a knowing smile on his lips. But these were followers of Jesus. It was almost night, and they couldn’t very well leave a stranger out in the cold with an empty belly. It makes me think of Matthew 25: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me… ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these… you did it to me.’”

So they invited this stranger in for dinner, and when he blessed the bread, broke it, and gave it to them, suddenly, then they recognized him. They were blind but now they could see. They had been walking with the risen Jesus all along! That was him right there among them!

And just like that, he vanished. Because if Jesus knew anything, it was how to make a dramatic exit.

So, Luke tells us, that same hour the two travelers hurried the seven miles back to Jerusalem in the dark of night—without a flashlight, I might add—to tell the disciples that the women were right all along. As it turns out, the disciples had figured that out already (apparently Jesus had had a busy day) but it didn’t make their story any less miraculous to those that heard it.

What is faith? And did these two followers have it? When did they have it? People have used the term “faith” in a lot of ways over the years, and I don’t think it’s so simple as just another word for belief. I think there’s something more active about the word faith. It involves trust, it involves commitment; it involves interaction. Nothing so passive as simple “belief.”

This story of two people on the road to Emmaus actually demonstrates different ways that we humans in our lives come to faith. And I’m not talking about being “born again” or that moment of going from “disbelief” to “belief.” If we’re doing it right, each one of us, you and me, have the opportunity to come to faith anew each day. At the very least one day a week, right?

For some of us we come to faith through Scripture. We see and hear words that make sense of the mysterious universe we live in. We see a better way of living—a holy way of living. We see examples to live up to, and we hear the case for God. We find Jesus in Scripture, and in Jesus we see what God and humanity could be together.

For some of us we come to faith through sacrament. Through the rituals that call God into our lives. When we take communion, in the breaking of bread we take the presence and the power of God into ourselves and feel connected with people of faith from across time and space. When we see a baby baptized into a loving community, or when we hear a haunting solo or a powerful anthem of praise, or we raise our voices together in perfect harmony… we come into relationship with God. When we come together as a congregation in prayer and lift up a name, we trust that God hears that name and will hold that soul in God’s loving arms. …When we celebrate a life well lived and a stirring eulogy brings us to tears.

And some of us come to faith through the Spirit. As Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant Reformation, said, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” We feel the Spirit of God blow through us like a wind, breathing on the embers of our hearts and filling us with light and love. We might discover the Spirit in a beautiful sunset, or the smile of a stranger, or an unexpected moment of grace when suddenly we know everything will be all right. We come to realize that the presence of God was with us all along to protect us from pain and suffering, if we would just turn the flashlight on already and look around!

For the two people on the road to Emmaus this morning, they encountered several different opportunities to come to faith—to realize that Jesus was with them all along, and to come to trust that something as mortal as crucifixion and death wasn’t enough to stop God’s relationship with humanity. To trust that the Kingdom of God is still within our grasp, and to begin building it together.

They encountered evidence with their eyes—but the resurrected being standing before them didn’t bring them into faith. They encountered hope through the Scripture as interpreted by a holy man—but while it kindled their passions it wasn’t quite what they needed. And they encountered the blessings of God in a communal breaking of bread that had already become the foundation of worship for the early church—and it was through that they came to faith anew. That was how those particular individuals on the road to Emmaus that day were able to trust in God, to participate with God… to see God.

Perhaps you would have recognized Jesus right away on the road. You had eyes to see and a heart that was willing to believe the unbelievable.

And perhaps you would have been able to hear the promises of the Scripture, that death is just part of the journey of salvation, and that the Messiah is truly risen among us. Perhaps faith alone in that message would have been enough to open your eyes.

And perhaps you wouldn’t have been able to come to faith at all until you had gone the seven miles back to Jerusalem and you were in community with others who had encountered the presence of God, and it was the spirits of your brothers and sisters in Christ that brought your heart around. There’s something beautiful about that.

Or perhaps, like doubting Thomas, you would have had to put your fingers in the risen Christ’s own wounds yourself in order to come to faith. And you know? That’s okay too.

There are many different ways that we can come to faith each day in our lives, and some ways work better for us than others. And, the ways that you come to faith could be completely different than the ways your neighbor might come to faith. One size doesn’t fit all. That’s something for us as a church to remember as we go forward with a powerful new vision and mission. Many of us here at First Parish come to faith in these specific Sunday services every week, and they are just right for us. But that doesn’t mean that’s the only way to come to faith, or the be-all end-all of our church’s ministry. There are plenty of folks in this community and in this world who come to faith in different ways. It’s important for us to be mindful of that, and—as we are in the business of bringing God into people’s lives—it is up to all of us to provide opportunities for people to come to faith in the ways that touch them. We don’t have to change what feeds us, absolutely not, I would never advocate that… but we must remember that not everyone can be fed the same way we are. And that’s okay. And who knows, if we take a risk even we might discover God in new and powerful ways. You can never have enough God.

We are all of us on the road to Emmaus. Every human on this earth walks with the presence of God right under our noses. What is it that will set my heart alight, or your heart alight, or their heart alight? What is it that makes people open their eyes to the love of God? I’m not talking about just belief, I’m talking about faith. Faith is passion, faith is relationship, faith is trust.

Faith is walking in the dark.

Who’s got a flashlight?