The Road To Emmaus by Daniel Bonnell


That post resurrection walk to Emmaus. Late on that Sunday evening, these two followers of Jesus head for home. They feel that all is lost. Jesus, who they thought was about to overthrow the Empire was crucified. Some say that he has risen again but it is all too much in their traumatic heads. As Dylan would later says, "Something's happening but you don't know what it is..." 

A stranger steps in alongside them. They are flabbergasted when he doesn't seem to know what is going on. Soon however, he shows them that it is they who don't know what is going on.

There are a few questions rising here:

The first one is what are our expectations of Jesus. If we get this wrong then all might be lost. We are asking that question that Jesus asked the disciples - Who do you say that I am? As AW Tozer suggested whatever we make of that question is the most important thing about us.

In today's news we read that bodies have been found in Kenya of those who whose pastor told them to fast to see Jesus. In America we ask if God is Republican or Democrat? In Ireland is God Protestant or Catholic? Expectations!

The second question is where does Jesus appear to us? On this road to Emmaus it is not in the miles of cerebral words. Jesus expounds salvation history. I reckon that is the most clear preach ever given. Yet, they still didn't see. Their eyes were opened after they had invited the stranger to stay and shown hospitality. The Gospel and the Kingdom is not words but the Word made flesh. 

For me my clearest look at Jesus has been in moments where I reached towards the marginal. In the reach out, God reached to me. I met the risen Jesus in that connecting part. 

The third question is about honesty. What is our Jerusalem? Look deep inside and recognise your trauma. What has you downcast? What has you disappointed? Is that to do with expectations? Where could you find a revelation with God?

My sermon on the Emmaus Road Lectionary had me asking questions, rather than handing out solutions. Spiritually deep stuff.



(this is a little Lenten series for those who are interested... #13)


I yearn for my soul’s horizon to be as wide and free and mysterious and potent as the panoramic vastness of the Nevada desert. When I drove through the majestic beauty of that endless horizon I felt all the confines of human construction had given away to endless possibilities. 

It was a place where God was free to be God unfettered. There was no way to catch something this big in the clasp of my clenching fist and no way to capture the infiniteness of God in the pathetic capacity of my finite little human mind. 

Instead of standing looking into it all neatly contained I want to run into it never able to reach it’s distance height or depth or width but as I run as fast and free as my mortal body allows I will be experiencing a brush, a glance, a caress, a touch, a taste of the wondrous grace and love and power of the enormity of God.

Jesus once said, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” Jesus spoke these words in a conversation with a Pharisee called Nicodemus and was attempting to explain that insight into the Kingdom of God was a form of being born again. 

Reconnecting with God was a whole new way of thinking and living and seeing and once a human being became apart of that process we would be unpredictable, full of surprises and no doubt dealing out many shockwaves across our society.

I long to live such a life. I am often intrigued by the trees on the headlands of the north coast of Ireland. I imagine that every exposed place on the planet has them but they particularly provoke me here, particularly in the winter, where they appear like pencil sketches as if God peered down and then bent over to draw them in the cloak of darkness or while we were distracted by another stunning sunset over Murlough Bay. 

They are so skillfully shaped like dancers, so brilliantly and beautifully bent by the long slow consistent blowing across by the off sea breezes. Every time I am captured by them I keep asking if my life is as much of intrigue to those who live around me. Am I being shaped equally artistically by the Holy Spirit? Is it what I want to be?

We are not called to be like the wind or shaped by the wind for our own selfish yearnings. It is all for another equally exciting and adventurous possibility. 

God is at work in the world. 

God has a loving intentional mission towards the world that he created. 

There is a longing in the heart of God to bring all things back to their original intention. 

God sees the emptiness, loneliness, inner pain in human beings and the open wounds and scars of the injustice, poverty and war that has become the signature tune of our television news casts. 

God sees, God weeps and he wants to bring into the midst of it another Kingdom which one day will reach its full potential when the reign of God is restored upon creation. 

In the meantime God is at work and has given the invitation that we as humans might get involved with him. I can think of no greater adrenaline rush than to be about the business of turning the world I live in upside down.  

At the heart of Christian belief and worship is a symbolic act of remembering the death of Jesus. In this sacrament we take bread and wine to remind us of the body and blood of Jesus in which we believe we are ultimately redeemed and made new. 

I often imagine the cup being overturning in order that the power of the intoxicating, germ killing, life giving and world saving wine blood could get to drip through floorboards, grouted walls, slabbed pavements to seep into the heart and soul of the city and make all things new in the revolutionary upside down kingdom Jesus came to teach us about and make a living reality.

This is the adventure that drew me to Jesus and keeps me hanging in when I see too many proofs of Walter Brueggeman’s take that, "the Gospel is a truth widely held but greatly reduced, it is a truth that has been flattened, trivialized and rendered inane". 

As my mate Doug Gay puts it on his When My Ship Comes In from his new record All The Other People: 


Something wild enough to want

Something strong enough to trust

Something deep enough to love

Something free enough to follow after 


Gimme a large dose of that!


Do not conform

(this is a little Lenten series for those who are interested... #12)

This poetic Reflection is based around a Bruce Cockburn’s song called Pacing The Cage:


“I never knew what you all wanted

So I gave you everything

All that I could pillage

All the spells that I could sing

It's as if the thing were written

In the constitution of the age

Sooner or later you'll wind up

Pacing the cage...”


To Cockburn I add Eugene Peterson's paraphrase of Romans 12 v 2 in The Message:


Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you."


To be stumbling after Jesus into an upside down alternative Kingdom is to be constantly reflecting and critiquing the constitution of the age and standing against conformity to it. Here’s to less pacing... and less cages!


Oh how busy the days are

Rushing from one event to another

Our diaries full of appointments

Coffee breaks full of people

Our evening full of distractions

Running, taking short cuts

And missing the whole road

The distractions never stop

No one ever stops

The constitution of the age reads;

“No time to find time

As time just flies on and on.”


How loud and bright the days are

The radio wakens us with ideas and suggestions

Its ideas of fun and happiness

In the recipe of words and melodies

And rhythm and rhyme

The television fills all the loose moments

With philosophies of love and meaning

Acted out in half hour condensed packets of life

The constitution of the age screams

In the message of the medium

At the private altars of our rooms

Where the false prophets speak

And we are unaware how much we are listening.


Money is the reason for the every breath we take

So that we can have what they say we need

For our lives to be fully human

We study to get a job

That will give will give us the money

To buy what will make us more human

More human than we are without the money to buy

We buy our dignity

We buy our identity

We buy our love and meaning

The constitution of the age says

“I shop so I am”

And I am more of am than they are

Because I can buy more.


I need to know an alternative

I need to stand in the face of the constitution

I need to rebel against the age

I need to dare to be different

Not conformed to the constitution of the age

Bringing me down to its level of immaturity and madness

But transformed by the renewing of our my mind

By God who leads me into life and life in all its fullness.


Lineker 2

(this is a little Lenten series for those who are interested... #11)


In Uganda one summer a mother said to my wife that she would happily give her her child. We wondered how a mother could do that. Then we realised that our luxury of wondering was because we live in a comfortable part of a safe city in an economically wealthy part of the world. 

That is the luxury that the parents at the vortex of the refugee crisis, who are risking everything in boats across seas, don’t have. They are not spongers. They are not trying to steal our jobs or health care. They are simply desperate to give their children a better life.

Whatever the detail of Gary Lineker’s BBC contract on what he can and cannot say is, compared to so many other BBC contracts that seem to allow anchors to rant government support at will, the Jesus follower has to be right behind Lineker's argument. A government that wishes to close off the asylum rights of people who arrive in boats is a horrible way to treat fellow humans fleeing terror and danger. 

For the follower of Jesus welcoming the refugee is a no brainer. It is simply what we do. Jesus said that those who would get into heaven were those who fed him, gave him a drink, gave him a room and clothes. When do we do this to him? When we do it to the least of these. So, the call is there to respond to the stranger, the homeless, the fleeing asylum seekers. 

The Old Testament was also commanding a welcoming of the refugee. It is mentioned in Deuteronomy but expanded on in Leviticus. Leviticus chapter 19 verse 34 says, “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” The people of God knew what it was to live in another country and were to treat people well, remembering that they were not treated well. 

If the Old Testament people of God were concerned with the refugee then the New Testament starts with another such story. Jesus himself was a refugee. That Christmas story tells us that when the death squads hit the streets around Bethlehem Joseph and Mary were those parents heading somewhere else for safety. 

It is interesting to then take a wee side-look at why the death squads were sent. Herod was frightened that this baby would take away his place, his power, his comfort. 

Are we in danger of becoming the Herod of the refugee story? When our own comfort eradicates our compassion for those in need we have lost something at the core of our humanity. There is no doubt that welcoming batch after batch of refugees into our country might threaten our wealth and comfort. It might be hard to sustain. 

Well actually it will be hard to sustain at the same standard of living that we are used to. However, for the Jesus follower our wealth at the cost of other people’s misery is something the prophets condemned.

This is where I feel the refugee crisis becomes a Lenten issue. Lent is about sacrifice. It is about aligning with God’s ways. It is about reversing a world where wealth and comfort and power is the goal to a world of compassion, grace and servanthood. In Lent, we are preparing to stand before the Jesus of Good Friday and respond to his whisper to follow him.

Follow him to what? A safe, wealthy, comfortable world of hymn singing and fish in the lapel of our Saville Row suits. No, follow him to “take up our cross daily and follow me.” If that following is anything it is on the side of the refugee. 


Shift Your Focus

(this is a little Lenten series for those who are interested... #9)




From your own efforts to gather more

To the birds who have enough

From your own attempts to look good

To the roses in their springtime magnificence



From the feeble efforts to change who we are

To opening up to what God’s grace longs to make us

From waiting until we are good enough for God

To having his strength made perfect in our weakness



From the selfishness of being stuck in a moment

To the usefulness of living for the eternal

From the slavery of the things that we see

To the freedom of living in the Spirit unseen



From the love we are craving to get

To the mercy we are zealous to give

From a holiness that feeds our self righteousness

To a Godliness that feeds the world



MATTHEW 6: 30-34

 “If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

 “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.



(this is a little Lenten series for those who are interested... #8)


It happens more than you think. You are in the Welcome Area after the service and someone comes up and tells you a story that you just wished you had known before the service began. Of course, the sermon, most likely, made your friend think of the story and they didn’t know your sermon before the service and so couldn’t have told you… but… 

Here is one such story. "Your sermon reminded me of a Spike Milligan story", George Sproule told me. Spike was in one of his depressions and headed off to the middle Ireland for some peace. He got off a train, randomly, in the middle of nowhere and as luck would have it the first man he saw recognised him. On asking what he wanted the man said, “Mr Milligan, follow me and I’ll be right behind you!” 


My sermon was on the recommissioning of Peter. The purity of Peter’s vocational call, way back when he was on the boats in Galilee had been badly tarnished with his denials of Jesus before the crucifixion.

The risen Jesus comes back to the beach in Galilee to restore Peter to that original vocation. Like a football team who find themselves three down in denials, Jesus more or less gives Peter three goals back by asking him three times if he loves him. Jesus equalises Peter’s three own goals. All is put right.

It is then time for Jesus to invite Peter again to this mad roller coaster ride of upside down Kingdom bringing. In John 21 Jesus asks Peter to follow him, In the chapter before Jesus had put it a slightly different way. “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 

It is Spike Milligan’s “Follow me and I’ll be right behind you!”

That is following Jesus. From one perspective, it is an invitation and our initiative. From another angle it is Jesus pushing us on. 

Maybe you are where Peter was on that Galiliean beach. Maybe you are a little down spiritually. Maybe your original vocation call has got distracted or tainted. Maybe if you look up the metaphorical beach you’ll see Jesus barbecuing you some fish, ready to recommission. 

Lean in and hear the words:

“Follow me!”

“As the Father sent me, I am sending you.”

“Follow me and I’ll be right behind you.”



(this is a little Lenten series for those who are interested... #7)


It was a moment that I will never forget. We were in Cape Town. I was finishing a mission trip with students. They were about to go home and I asked what they were not looking forward to. One student simply said, "The relentlessness".  

It is ever etched in my mind. That word - Relentlessness. It is a powerfully prophetic word to our culture.

Years later I preached on Jesus and the Samaritan woman (John 4) and I was drawn back to that word. In Fitzroy we had have been, as a congregation, studying Rowan Williams' book Being Disciples. In the book, under the theme Love and Want, he writes, "We privilege the consumer mentality (I'll have that one) and so we fail to ask the deep questions about the direction of the desire at the root of our being."

Jesus goes right to the root of the Samaritan woman's being and fills that God shaped hole. 

For me Lent has always been a season to clash the relentlessness of a world, awakes demanding from us and a God always inviting us into fulfilment.


19-21 “Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.

22-23 “Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a musty cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have! (Matthew 6:19-23 The Message)


Sadly, so often the relentlessness wins.  



Advertorials of diets and fashions


Cinematic porn of loveless passions


Greed’s multitude of instant gratification


The consistent pounding of temptation

The relentlessness

The relentlessness

The relentlessness.


I see a fracture and drift

From our wealth and my soul

Filling my deluded empty dreams

But not the God shaped hole.



The constant battle of winning and loosing 


The myth of the privilege of choosing


The seduction of all this momentary stuff


The addiction of never ever enough

The relentlessness

The relentlessness

The relentlessness.


I see a fracture and drift

From our wealth and my soul

Filling my deluded empty dreams

But not the God shaped hole.


Operating Theatre

(this is a little Lenten series for those who are interested... #6)


Lent can be like an Operating Theatre.

Operating theatres make me apprehensive. I am sure I not alone. Are you ever as vulnerable as you are on a hospital trolley, at the mercy of strangers, no matter how well they are qualified?! Will it be painful? In my case it might! 

Yet, when you are suffering, you are almost eager to get in there. Do something! Make me well!

As well as apprehension, there is anticipation. You dream of being well again. You imagine being free from pain. Feeling creative again. 

Doctors and consultants are a blessing when they can bring your life back to its full health and strength. 

God is the soul doctor. The soul surgeon.

To bring our lives to the “life in all its fulness” of John 10:10, we need to be prepared to lie down in the operating theatre of the Holy Spirit.

We need to be prepared to be vulnerable before God. We need to be courageous about the pain. Of course we will be apprehensive.

Yet, the anticipation should excited us. To find ourselves living life in its fulness. To reach for the wonder of our fulfilled humanity.

Some of us grew up thinking that God was wanting us in surgery to spoil our fun, the confine our living. Such an impression of God will heighten our apprehension.

A healthy view of a loving God changes this. When we realise that God’s call to denial and cross carrying is actually to lead us to full humanity, not handicap us, then we will be more ready.

It might be forgiveness. Holding bitterness towards someone who has hurt us is a sure way to have our humanity robbed from us. The hurt they caused is added to with those twisted feelings of revenge churning within us. 

We might have a right for justice. Yet, something happening to another is rarely likely to heal the scars within us. God’s gift to such a pain of soul is to forgive. To let go. Then we can start again without that awful feeling deep down within us.

We will be apprehensive to forgive. We will be vulnerable, and it will almost always be a painful act, but God calls us to see the potential of rebirth and anticipate a better life when we come out of God’s theatre of soul surgery.

Lent is for our ultimate good.


Searching Of The HEart

(this is a little Lenten series for those who are interested... #5)


Search me, God, and know my heart;

    test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,

    and lead me in the way everlasting.

These last verses of Psalm 139 are almost the ultimate Lenten words. This is a spiritual season where leading up to Christ’s cross and resurrection we search our souls. The Psalmist asks God to do the searching.

It was rather easy for me to think of these verses when I first heard Leonard Cohen’s song Villanelle For Our Time. The words  are actually from a poem by F.R. Scott a Canadian poet, intellectual and constitutional expert:

“From bitter searching of the heart,
Quickened with passion and with pain
We rise to play a greater part.
This is the faith from which we start:
Men shall know commonwealth again
From bitter searching of the heart.”

While Scott was at Oxford University as a Rhodes scholar he became influenced by the R.H. Tawney a Christian Socialist. That makes a lot of sense as we look at these lyrics. There is a deep sense of personal spirituality and social transformation and where those two things connect. 

Cohen or Scott, or both actually, are saying that the social coming together of people will find its spark in the personal searching of the heart. 

That in itself comes from a personal faith that finds its way into the world in humanity finding their vocational places. We play our part, as one of my many mantras goes, when “our deepest gladness meets the world’s deepest need” (Frederick Buechner). Our work coming out of faith is what will bring Commonwealth or God’s Kingdom or however you want to describe a new world order.

“Social holiness” is a new Wesleyan phrase that I learned recently that rather caught my attention. In evangelical Christianity we have been rather over focused on personal piety and have neglected our social holiness. 

Indeed, John Stott said that our neglect of social justice issues was the great evangelical heresy of the Twentieth Century. So, Cohen and Scott’s poetry is an inspiration to live holy lives in both spheres. Indeed, they go together and should not be separated.

Search me, God, and know my heart;

    test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,

    and lead me in the way everlasting.


Jack white

(this is a little Lenten series for those who are interested... #4)


In an interview with the Observer Music Magazine Jack White from rock band The White Stripes pointed his finger at the spirit of his age. ““It’s pathetic in America. Everyone thinks they can have whatever they want. They’re really spoiled and gluttonous; they always want more and bigger and better and all that jazz, and the fastest and the newest toy – and it’s not necessary. People in America, especially don’t want anyone to tell them that there’s any sort of rules, or limitations. They don’t want, “You can’t do that,” or “You can only have this”. Everyone wants to eat their dessert first.”

In a sermon in Fitzroy, a few years ago, I opened up the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man which basically damned the Rich Man to hell for his conspicuous consumerism and desire for the dessert first. It is a hard word to a congregation full people who fit the character sketch and CV of the rich man and not one that looks or lives anywhere near Lazarus. It is a story that goes with Jesus comments “blessed are the poor” and “woe to you who are rich.”  We could paraphrase “Woe to those who got their dessert first.”

As Christians we need to be alert to the weaknesses of our conditioning. White’s words are an astute analysis of the soul of our times. We are its victims. It is all around us, sucking us in, moulding us and shaping us. Being the victims does not excuse us. We need to bring to bear on our disposition the challenge of the Gospel. It is not just a marked contrast; it is an antithesis of all that the world would sell us.

Jesus birth rings in a new way to live. Here is the King of all Kings on a bed of straw, poor, vulnerable and dependent, soon fleeing like a refugee to escape the political death squads. God has shown us the selfless sacrificial alternative; an opposite way that sees life lived for what is given away not accumulated. It is a life of precarious bravery not comfortable safety, of giving up his rights for the salvation of others, not demanding or even expecting everything to fall into place. This Jesus way is about abundant blessing but not the blessings expected in a world where we want to eat our dessert first. 

And Jesus whispers still; follow me. It is impossible without the daily taking up the cross and heading off no matter what the cost. The cross is not made up off quality silver and bought in the coolest high street jewellers. WWJD is not something to be worn as a fashionable wrist band. What Would Jesus Do is a moment by moment question that inconveniences our lives and leaves us with the nuisance of having to befriend the unlovely, the stigma labelled outsider and the violent enemy.

The revolution that was Jesus birth became his teaching. The Beatitudes are simply ridiculous in the context of the world we live in. In our world the rich are blessed, the promotion is blessed, the expensive car is blessed, the prestigious post code is blessed; they are the way to get voted into eldership certainly!

The kingdom of God is upside down. The poor are blessed, the meek inherit, the peacemakers get the kingdom of God. It is time that we as the Church of Christ heard the words of Jack White and then examined the lifestyles of those of us who claim to follow the humble, impoverished carpenter who was tortured and rejected and ask whether we reflect the world or are the torch bearers of a new way, living out the words of the one we say we are following.