Surprised by God in PEOPLE

Surprised by God in PEOPLE


The famous painter Rembrandt painted the Emmaus story seven times in his life. 

1 The first time was in 1629 when he was 22 years old. He portrayed the moment of surprise when Cleopas recognized that it was Jesus at his table. Notice that Jesus is on the right hand of the painting, with little detail about who Jesus was.

2 In 1634, Rembrandt got married! He sketched this scene again with Jesus at the table at the point of recognition, but this time he had a clearer view of who Jesus was. Notice again, Jesus is on the right side of the painting.

3 In 1642, Rembrandt’s wife and 3 of his 4 children died. This tragedy had a traumatic impact on his life.  He put his hand on the canvas again, but this time he depicted the moment where Jesus vanished from their sight.  Jesus is gone … not visible anymore, absent…. Jesus is still placed on the right of the painting.

* From that moment on, two shifts occurred in his depictions of the story:

Firstly: Jesus moves to the center of the painting:

4 In 1648, Jesus moves to the center of the painting. And there are more people present at the table.  Unfortunately, his circumstances changed again…

5 In 1654, he depicted Christ in the middle of the scene. It was a difficult time: he had no job, ran out of money, and married his 3rd wife.  The only work he could find was to work for the child of his first wife. Still, in the challenges, he felt Jesus was present.

6 In 1655 the second change occurred.  He depicted Christ appearing to them on the road to Emmaus! Rembrandt felt that Jesus is still with him on the path of life.

7 The final artwork in 1665 was done 3 years before his death. Jesus walks with the two. Jesus is now more present, and the center of the scene. Jesus is present in their distress, sadness, and shock. Maybe, he felt God was with him in his old age in his fragility on the path of life!

One of the things that struck me in the artwork was how much his relationships with his family impacted his experience of the presence of Jesus. When his wife and children died, he felt that Christ was not present or easily recognizable.

I had numerous conversations with people telling me that they feel God is absent and far.  I usually ask them if they can remember when the onset of that experience of the absence of God was. 

Then I would ask if there were any significant events at that time. Often, there was some kind of relational stress like a divorce, death, sickness in the family, or deep relational pain. 

There is a beautiful movement in the plot of the story: In the first scene of Luke 24, we are introduced to Cleopas (Kli-opus) and his wife; disciples, and family of Jesus. They were sad, discouraged, and disheartened after Jesus died. Their hopes were dashed.

In contrast, the last scene is full of joy, bliss, and hope: “‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’  They did not stroll, as in the beginning, but hurried back to Jerusalem in joy! Fromtears of sadness to tears of joy and hope.

What brought about the change from one scene to the end?

They were surprised by God in a Stranger!

Jesus meets them AS A STRANGER ON THE ROAD in their distress although they did not recognize him. He was present in their blinding grief and in their pain, as a stranger.

He listened attentively to what they said: 6 verses long and then at the table their spiritual eyes opened, the stranger on the road is actually Jesus!

Their hospitality opened the door to meet God Christ in the stranger!

What would have happened if they did not want to talk to the stranger on the road?

What would have happened if they were reluctant to listen to a stranger?

What would have happened if they did not invite him in?

What would have happened if they did not offer him some bread?

What would have happened if they did not time make for the stranger?

The same line of thought is found in Matt 25:38-40

“Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 40 And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

Mother Theresa was asked what the core of her ministry in Kolkata was: “First we meditate on Jesus, and then we go out and look for Him in disguise.”

We are invited to look deeper beyond the surface to see and meet God in other people. If you are present and attentive, looking with faith and discernment, you will be surprised by God’s presence in the people you meet.   

“The Holy moments, moments of miracle, moments of meeting GOD, are often everyday moments. If we do not look with more than our eyes or hear with more than our ears, the person would look like the gardener, a stranger, or a meal like any other.

But when we look with eyes of faith and listen with our whole being, from one miracle in one moment of my life to the next miracle, whom we might just see, is Jesus Himself.” Based on F Buechner

Joan Osborne’s song “One of us?” asks the question:

If God had a name, what would it be

And would you call it to His face


What if God was one of us

Just a slob like one of us

Just a stranger on the bus

Trying to make His way home

If God had a face, what would it look like

And would you want to see

If seeing meant that you would have to believe…

Have you ever felt God’s hug is in the hug of a loved one or someone at the church?

Did you feel God’s care for you in the gift from a friend?

Or, God’s smile in the smile of a stranger?

Even in someone’s advice, a warning, a word of wisdom, as a word from God?

Did you ever realize that God was present in the call or the text on your cellphone?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1954), 66.

Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbor, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also, Christ … is truly hidden.

Look now around you around … This is a sign of God here present!

The Gen 1:v26 Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; …27 So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them…28 God blessed them… 31God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good!  Desmond Tutu said, “We are fundamentally good!  That is our core.”

PS 8: 4  what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? 5 Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honour.

PS 8 assigned an exceptionally high value to humankind: “a little lower than “Elohim” (God)!”

We are invited to look with eyes of faith and discernment… for God’s image to appear in the other person.

The essential work of all religions is to help us recognize and recover the divine image in everything and everyone. We need to mirror who we already are.  And encourage and proclaim the divine image in others.

You maybe reply to me: Pastor you don’t know my Mother-in-law, or my parents, or my co-worker… To see God’s image in them is impossible. 

Yes, it is true the image of God in some people’s lives is deeply buried not easily seen.  But I urge you to look for signs of God’s image and reflect that back to them!

Nadia Bolz-Weber wrote a beautiful, thought-provoking book:  Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People. Wasn’t that precisely what Jesus did? Finding divine potential in people written off by society.

In the movie Lion King, there is a beautiful scene where Rafiki asks Simba to look at his reflection in the water to see the image of his father in himself… He stirs the water and asks him to look. Twice Simba looks, but he doesn’t see anything. Then Rafiki says: Look, Harder!  Look Harder… the Third time image of his Father appears as he looks at his own reflection…

Maybe we should start by asking the question:  When you look at yourself in the mirror do you think God is present in your life? In your inner world, body, thought, feelings, will?  What is visible in you of the image of God?  There is a lot! If we really look with eyes of faith at ourselves and others, glimpses of the image of God will shine through.

Sometimes, what you see is what you get!  When you focus on the image of God in someone’s life, the more you will become aware of the image of God in the other person’s life. I urge you to try it!

It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of being in Christ. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

This idea of our connectedness in Christ is confirmed by Col 3:11 In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!

LOVE is the consciousness of belonging to one another, being part of the whole. On the way to integral wholeness, living with oneness of mind, heart.  

Thomas Merton wrote that while walking in Louisville Kentucky: at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a unique world. . . .

This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. . . . I have the immense pleasure of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now that I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.” Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

Sometimes we feel God is absent or far away. How do we know and experience God’s presence?  God’s gift of presence comes to us when we become aware that God is present in another human being.

Spirituality is like a wagon wheel. If people are the wagon spokes and God the center, the axle, of the wheel, the further we are from each other, the further we experience from GOD.  The closer we come to each other, the closer we experience God. That is why the community of believers offers us the opportunity to experience the presence of God.

We become God’s Presence to others!

2 Cor 3:18 Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of His face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.- THE MESSAGE

God shines from our faces, his glory shines from our faces!  Our lives as Christians must be living proof that Christ is alive and present!  That people can experience the presence of God through our presence.  Many people will never read the Bible, but if you are present with love, you make God visible to them. I SEE THAT IN CCRC!!

Jesus showed us how to be present with other people:

The first invitation is just to be present!   In the Emmaus story, Jesus was just there with them in their anguish.

Jesus did not just start preaching; he asked a question and only listened with full attention!   John Marshall said Listening is just as powerful a means of communication and influence as talking. Presence without judging, criticizing, or blaming.  

By criticizing, judging, and just pointing out others’ failures and weaknesses, we are reinforcing our separateness …. creating distance … further from the hub of the wheel… Further from God! (Matt 7:1, 1Cor 4:4-5 & Rom 14&15) Love your enemies. Call those that betray you “friends” (as Jesus did)

Only then did Jesus share the Good News and the meal, and they saw Jesus!

Beatrice Cleland wrote this beautiful poem: (printed on the front of the bulletin)

Not merely by the words, you say,

Not only in your deeds confessed

But in the most unconscious way

Is Christ expressed?

Is it a beatific smile?

A holy light upon your brow?

Oh, no-I, felt His presence while

You laughed just now!

For me’twas, not the truth you taught,

To you so clear, to me still dim,

But when you came to me, you brought

A sense of Him.

And from your eye, He beckons me.

And from your heart, His love is shed.

Till I lose sight of you and see

The Christ instead!



Invite someone for coffee or a meal.  And hold the intention to really be present to them and to God’s presence in them.

Maybe send a text or call someone after worship … maybe the name of someone comes up in your inner world now… EVEN STRANGERS!!!

Approach your relationships with your friends, parents, and family differently. Being attentive to the signs of God’s image and presence in them.

In an article about the church: “Lonely Crowd: churches dying due to friendlessness”

Mike Frost says “I’ve lost count of the number of Christians who’ve told me they either stopped attending church or left their church to join another one because they couldn’t make any friends there. They report that the church people were friendly enough. They were hospitable and welcoming. As one person told me, “They’re nice to you, but no one becomes your friend.

Superbowl Sunday: Celebrate the beauty of humanity!!!


For many years I yearned to start every day with a Mass/Holy Communion. Till one day when Monika brought me a cup of coffee and a rusk! Suddenly my Emmaus eyes opened, and I wrote this poem:

Early morning ritual mass

For many years my heart longed for

early morning nourishment of my soul…

A daily holy mass serving Him

to me by a priest of presence.

This morning my Emmaus eyes were opened.

The everyday sacrament served on a saucer:

a warm cup of coffee from my priestess of love

for mystical nourishment of my soul.

The Cup and Rusk

is Your presence

served every morning

as a Holy Sacrament!



How deeply, 0 Christ,

do I long for a firsthand touch

from you, my friend and savior,

risen and glorious, victorious over death, radiant with luminous life.

Oh, how easily does my yearning arise

to have been one of those in the upper room when you returned in resurrected form.

I know that my faith would be strong if, like Mary in the garden,

I had reached out to hug your living presence on Easter morning.

I do not doubt the quality of my zeal had I broken bread with you

at the sunset on the Emmaus road.

It’s not easy to be among the living faithful fed by second-hand accounts

of your resurrection visits, even though they have been passed on with loving care for millenniums mouth-to-mouth.

But I take hope today, that I too can taste and feel your fulfilled promise: “I am with you always, even to the end.”

Every time I break bread with friends or strangers

      or encounter kindness on my daily by roads,

       when I am visited by you even though my inner doors are locked in fear, let my heart be as open as the horizon

for the feast of a visit

from you, my Risen Savior.


Free me from the limitations of yesterday.

Today may I be reborn.

May I become more fully a reflection of Your radiance.

Give me strength and compassion, courage and wisdom.

‘Show me the light in myself and others.

May I recognize the good that is available everywhere.

– May I be, this day, an instrument of love and healing. ,

Lead me into gentle pastures.

 Give me deep peace

That I might serve You most deeply.