United Presbyterian Church of West Orange

“Touched By God”

April 30th, 2023

Rev. Rebecca Migliore


        The glow of Easter is fading.  The flowers are gone.  The excitement of ending Lent is in the rear-view mirror.  We have settled back into our worship lives.  Is anything different?  Is anything different in our world?  Is anything different in us?  I dream so.  I hope so.  I want it to be so.  I know it doesn’t just happen.  I know the story of God and God’s people keeps going.  A story with ups and downs.  A story with detours and dead ends.  A story that leads us ever onward, to the next bend in the road, to the next “over the hill,” to whatever comes next.

        That isn’t to say that we can’t see evidence of people being touched by God.  And it isn’t to say that if we took the time, if we listened to ourselves and others, we also would be able to identify small moments of difference in our own lives, or maybe major swerves in our own life path, or inklings of resurrection peaking though the gloss of everyday life.  Today, I’d like us to spend a little time thinking about what it means to be touched by God.  Who does it happen to?  What does it look like?  Is it scary?  Would I want it to happen to me?

        I want to start with the focus Scripture for today, the one that Dr. Jerry read from the Book of Acts.  Here are the disciples, the followers of Jesus, after Easter, but before Pentecost, before the Spirit descends upon them and sends them out across the world.  Acts is meant as a story of the church, and so we see the early church, in its infancy, when people were still trying to figure out what just happened.  They were hanging out together.  They were gathering and sharing meals.  I’m sure they were worshiping and praying.  They were continuing to share with others their experiences of Jesus, continuing to study their scriptures, continuing to be amazing at the “wonders” being done.


        But there was a difference.  They had been touched by God.  And for “one bright shining moment” (as the musical Camelot calls it) they lived as one.  “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.”  Now, in case you might worry that we might be advocating a commune-type of lifestyle, fear not.  This utopia of existence doesn’t seem to have lasted very long in the church’s history.  And we can debate whether that was good or bad or necessary.  What I’m interested in, is that it is recorded, and not just in this single sentence.  If you want to read more about how strongly the early church advocated for this “all for one and one for all” mentality, read the story of Ananias and Sapphira (found in Acts chapter 5)—spoiler alert, it doesn’t have a very good ending for them.

        What I am pointing to today, is that if you happened upon this group of people who were followers of the way, who talked about this man named Jesus, who they claimed he was the Christ, you would have noticed that it had made a difference in their lives.  It was visible.  And whoever is telling the story wanted us, those far removed from the scene, to know—being touched by God isn’t just something ethereal—it has real life consequences.

        (Let’s just check in with our questions about being touched by God—Who does this happen to?  Well, in this story, it happens to everyone who is in the community.  What does it look like?  It looks like being willing to share extravagantly with others.  Is it scary?  Well, it might have been somewhat scary for those who had much.  I would imagine it would have been an incredible blessing for those who had little.  Each time we make a change in our lives, there is some discomfort, some trepidation, some excitement.  Would I want it to happen to me?  We’ll get back to that.)


         Let’s move onto the second scripture passage read today.  This story, often referred to as the Emmaus Road, is a classic.  It happens on Easter day itself, when two disciples are returned to their home from Jerusalem and all the happenings of Passion Week.  I’m sure that it was not a joyous walk.  It may have been slow, plodding, accompanied by much sighing and maybe a few tears.

        But along the way, they meet a stranger (we are told it is Jesus, but they don’t know this, they don’t recognize him).  And they strike up a conversation about what has been happening in their lives.  And this conversation morphs into a Bible Study lesson, with the stranger talking about the many connections to visions of the Messiah in Scripture.

        They arrive at their exit off the road, and the stranger appears to be traveling on, but they insist that he come and stay with them (as it is getting dark).  And when they sit down to eat, this stranger takes bread, and blesses it, and breaks it, and gives it to them, and their eyes are opened and they recognize him—and he vanishes from their sight.

        And what do they do?  Does being in the presence of the risen Christ mean anything to them?  Do they dance up and down?  Maybe.  Do they wonder if this was just a dream?  Wouldn’t you?  Do they crack open another jar of wine to celebrate?  No.  That very moment, “within the same hour,” even though it is dark, even though they must have been tired—they had already walked from Jerusalem to their home once that day--they put their traveling cloaks back on, and, I imagine run, run back to Jerusalem, back to the gathering of disciples, back to the eleven and their companions, to tell what had happened to them.

        You see, being touched by God, walking the road with Jesus, did something to them.  They even said, “did not our hearts burn while he was talking with us”?  Our bodies knew, even if our minds did not comprehend.  They were energized, they couldn’t wait to be with others.  It was like the words of Isaiah came true in their lives,

        “…But those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,

        They shall mount up with wings like eagles,

        They shall run and not be weary,

        They shall walk and not faint.”  (Isaiah 40:31)

        (And our touched by God questions:  Who does it happen to?  Ordinary people, doing ordinary things.  What does it look like?  It is as simple as talking with a stranger, debating the ideas in Scripture, sharing a meal together.  Is it scary?  It doesn’t seem to have been scary in the moment—when they didn’t realize it was Jesus.  Although I bet it was a little overwhelming after the fact.  Would I want it to happen to me?  We’ll get back to that later.)

        I think we sometimes expect that being touched by God is something spectacular—like coming upon the burning bush, like wrestling with angels during the night, like standing in the midst of storm and wind and earthquake thinking it is God.  And yet, today’s stories suggest that being touched by God can happen in ordinary times, while doing ordinary things—like sharing a meal, like studying the Bible, like offering hospitality, like giving of yourself.

        I think we sometimes imagine that only certain people have those experiences of being touched by God—like the prophets and kings and people we read about—Moses, Jacob, Elijah, Peter, Paul.  And yet, today’s stories suggest that the experience of being touched by God can happen to anyone, in fact, does happen to anyone who has eyes to see, who has ears to hear, who has the desire to follow the way, who has the faith to keep moving, to keep trying, to keep learning, to keep loving God, and neighbor and self.

        And this being touched by God doesn’t seem to necessarily happen on the mountaintop.  It doesn’t need to be surrounded by prayers and incense.  There don’t have to be stained glass windows.  Today’s stories make it all seem, rather ordinary.  As if God could be found in the warp and woof of our lives.  As if God could be found along any highway or byway.  As if God could be found around every table.  As if God could be found, unexpectedly, everywhere.

        It is as if the writers of the stories of Jesus and the church realize that with the Easter story, with the resurrection of Jesus, we have gotten into some pretty heady thoughts.  We have gotten very far away from the beginning—the incarnation, where God comes to be with us, as one of us.  And maybe it is right now, while we are still talking about the extraordinariness of resurrection, that we need to remember that that doesn’t mean God has disappeared from here and now.  Resurrection doesn’t separate us from God.  Resurrection is just the preview of the ending.  It is the teaser to give us strength to do what has to be done to get from where we are now, to where we need to be.

        From the moment I began to formulate this sermon there was a scene from the TV series “The Chosen” that I could not get out of my mind.  In this moving imagining of the stories around the story of the New Testament, we meet Mary Magdalene who is plagued by mental distress (in those days called demons).  She has tried everything to become well, to no avail.  At the end of the first episode, she is flailing about, fleeing from where she is towards God knows what.  And a man calls out her name, “Mary,” “Mary of Magdala.”  And she is touched by God.

        In the next episode we find her in her right mind, back in the world, helping out at a shop, preparing a Sabbath meal.  When asked how this change occurred she says, “I don’t understand it myself—Here is what I can tell you.  I was one way and now I’m completely different.  And the thing that happened in between … was him.”

        Most of us do not have that kind of demarcation in our lives.  It isn’t so obvious that once we were one way and now we are completely different.  Most of us may not even know that we have been touched by God, that we have been called by name, that we have been blessed again and again and again.  Most of us shy away from encounters with God.

      Maybe we don’t think that they happen to people such as us.  Maybe we don’t think that they occur in ordinary settings, in daily life, in our life.  Maybe we are a little (or a lot) scared by the idea of having God so close to us.  Because being near to God seems to invite change, to provoke change, to insist on change.  Maybe we are not so sure that we want that to happen to us. 

        It’s comfortable being the way we are.  It’s work, hard work, to make ourselves, much less the world, new.  And sometimes it seems like just too monumental a task.  There is so much that is wrong.  Better to hide our eyes.  Better to keep our heads down.  Better to stay in our safe environment. 

        I have some bad news.  Trying to hide doesn’t work with God.  Resurrection comes whether we are ready or not.  Resurrection comes whether we want it to or not.  Resurrection has come, and will continue to grace our world.  Because God is.  And God intends to sidle up to us when we’re not looking, God tiptoes into our very hearts, God will reach out and touch, and touch, and touch again, until we notice, until we are ready, until we respond.

        You see, the question really isn’t “Would I want it to happen to me?”  It is more like, “What am I going to do now that I recognize God has touched me?”  Am I going to find a way to share more of myself with others?  Am I going to be more open to seeing grace in everyday life?  Am I going to run into the future?  Am I going to be able to notice the difference being touched by God has made in my life? 

        May we all be haunted by those questions.  May God help us find the answers.  It is what being an Easter people is all about. 

        May it be so.  Alleluia, Amen.