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Bishop's Homily for the Third Sunday of Easter

April 23, 2023

[Blessed Sacrament Church, Stowe, Vermont (Celebration of the 180th Anniversary of the Birth of Servant of God Joseph Dutton in Stowe)]

When we think of a journey, we think of the destination; but sometimes the journey home can be just as important.

Today we hear of two disciples of Jesus – people who knew him very well – walking alongside him and conversing with him for the distance of almost seven miles.  They were tired and could not imagine that their new friend was not also ready for a good meal and a good night’s sleep.  But once Jesus opened their eyes to his risen presence in the breaking of bread, fatigue was overcome with such joy that they ran seven miles – in the dark! – back to Jerusalem, to tell their friends that they had really seen the Lamb once slain who lives forever as he broke open the Scriptures for them and broke the bread.  They probably had no plans to return to Jerusalem, since their business there was done, but they made the return journey, I am sure, with fire in their feet.

180 years ago this week, little Ira Dutton began his journey of life here in Stowe, as his parents and relatives rejoiced that this baby boy had come into the world.  No one at that time had the slightest inkling that 180 years later, people from Hawaii and people from Stowe and beyond would be together to give thanks to God for his birth and his presence among us.

We know that Ira’s journey was very much like the journey of our friends in today’s Gospel.  He set out, perhaps scandalized that half his beloved country could think it acceptable to have other human beings as slaves.  He went on the journey of the Civil War to try to right that wrong, yet to hold together the union of pro- and anti-slavery states.  Like our friends on the road to Emmaus, he was disillusioned by the ugliness of war and its absurdity of killing others so that you could ultimately be at peace with them.  Like our friends in the Gospel, Joseph knew Jesus the way so many know him, as someone who lived in the past, whose teachings can give much hope, but who is no longer with us.  This dark journey, of course, led to what he admits was a dissolute life, entering a marriage he was ill-prepared to sustain, drinking and carousing as if there were no tomorrow.

But the same merciful Jesus who had walked from Jerusalem to Emmaus also walked with Joseph Dutton.  Jesus led him to the same table, to the same breaking of bread, and to the same burning joy of knowing Jesus as a real, living person who was with him.  This moved him to go forth from the table on a journey of repentance by which his very life would give witness to Jesus.   That journey took some twists and turns, but it ultimately took him half-way around the world to isolate himself for 44 years with the most destitute and desolate outcasts of the world, those who suffered the scorned disease of leprosy.  His joy of knowing Jesus in the breaking of the bread was so palpable, that he was willing to make a journey back, sometimes in the dark, not always knowing where he would go, but a journey that would help him encounter the risen Jesus in disguises more distressing than bread and wine.  Every day of his life in Kalawao, Molokai, he would encounter Jesus in a real way.  Every day he would give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, and visit the sick and imprisoned.  Most of us choose one or two of these things to do, but he did all of them every day of the last 44 years of his life.  For him it was the road back to Jerusalem, because he anxiously told the world of the beautiful people he was privileged to live with and serve, and that when he served them he served the Lord Jesus himself.  His fame was not for his own sake but for the sake of the One who so often hides himself from us in the most distressing disguises.

All of us have a journey to Emmaus, where we go in sadness and distress because of a disease we bear, a hurt or disappointment we experience, a sin or addiction that makes us slaves.  But as he did for his two disciples in the Gospel, and as he did for his disciple Joseph, Jesus takes the initiative to walk with us.  Sometimes he is disguised as a beggar in need, as a confused young person, as a depressed elder, as someone the world finds distasteful to be with.  But if we come here every Sunday – or more often – for this breaking of bread, we will recognize the risen One, the Lord Jesus, who gives us such joy that we must take the journey back to run and tell others.  His presence alone can turn us from sinners into saints, so we come here to listen to him, and to know him in the breaking of bread, and to serve him in the disguise of those who are most in need.

We pray for Joseph Dutton, this faithful Servant of God, that one day he may be a guide on this holy journey to generations of men and women who will know Jesus by the witness of his life.