Index

Sundays
2nd Quarter
2020

 

J Nichols Adams et al

April 26, 2020, 3rd Sunday of Easter

 

 

LectionAid 2nd Quarter 2020

April 26, 2020, 3rd Sunday of Easter

Facial Recognition and Jesus

Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19, Acts 2:14a, 36-41, 1Peter 1:17-23, Luke 24:13-35

Theme: Resurrection

Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON

Starting Thoughts

The walk to Emmaus is one of the most elaborate and detailed post-resurrection appearance stories. It is the principle post-resurrection appearance in Luke, and the longest of all of them. It has inspired a retreat and renewal movement in the United States and is the subject of paintings and stained glass. Oddly, it has never, to my knowledge, been depicted in film. Most films about Jesus, even Mel Gibson’s controversial Passion of the Christ (2004), only briefly hint at the resurrection. The cinematic challenge of depicting Jesus in his risen glory is more than most filmmakers want to attempt. Since the direction in recent years has been toward simplicity and gritty authenticity, the formerly florid and cloying versions depicting Jesus radiating light or otherwise transformed through special effects no longer satisfy film audiences. And in fact, the description of events in this encounter with Jesus on the road to Emmaus seem to underscore that Jesus in his resurrection body was not immediately recognized. Had he been glowing; he would certainly have attracted attention! So, we need to take another look to discover something different from what art and imagination have depicted.
No matter how he appeared, one of the major themes of this text is “recognition.” How did the pilgrims of Emmaus recognize the Lord? Not as he walked up to them. Not as they heard him citing the scriptures. Not even when they extended hospitality to them. It was not until they saw him break the bread that their “eyes were opened” and they recognized him. It was perhaps the characteristic way he broke the bread that did it for them. But clearly there is also the Eucharistic reference. It is in the breaking of bread that we see Jesus and recognize his blessed presence. Even recounting scripture is not enough. It is the combination of scripture and sacrament that make him really present, make him recognizable to those around him.
The preacher can suggest that congregants turn and look at one another and think about what gives them the ability to recognize one another. Have they ever had the experience of mistaking a stranger for someone they know? Have they ever seen or heard a characteristic walk, or heard a laugh, or a turn of phrase, or felt a touch that triggered a sense of recognition, or reminded them of someone they know or love? Have they ever longed to see a loved one who has died, and conjured up a mental image of the voice, the expression, the style of that one? Have they ever overheard someone in a crowd, and thought the voice was that of a departed loved one? Surely, we have all had these experiences. One may ask, what is the most distinctive trait that unmistakably identifies another. This may differ from person to person. But there is almost always some detail, some distinguishing characteristic that identifies the person beyond question. The same was true of the disciples...they recognized something in the way Jesus broke the bread, or stood among them, or words he said.
When finally they recognized him, and he vanished from their sight, they turned to each other and remarked how their “hearts burned” within them as he spoke to them on the road. Recognition of who it was with whom they were dealing gave added significance to this earlier journey experience. Is it not often the case that new understandings often give meaning to earlier experiences? This is one expression of emotion, or powerful feeling, in connection with an encounter with Jesus. This post-resurrection encounter draws much of its power from this sense of excitement, of the thrill of recognition, of grief turning to hope, and loss to joy. The sense that their hearts burned within them as the one they came to recognize as Jesus unfolded for them the meaning of their cherished scriptures in their contemporary experience lends an immediacy, a “first person account” kind of credibility to this story in Luke. It makes one wonder if the gospel writer did in fact interview these eyewitnesses, as the gospel claims at its beginning (Luke 1:2). There are unmistakable signs, personal details, that lend credibility to this claim, and make these words burn on the page as we read them. Congregants can have a sense of “being there” in this remarkable story.
The psalm for the day breathes the atmosphere of fulfilled promises, congruent with the gospel account. As a psalm of thanksgiving, it celebrates the rescue, the salvation that the psalmist has experienced, indeed, that Israel has known. There is a linkage with the Eucharist, prefigured in the phrase “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord” (116:13). This Paschal reference links Hebrew tradition with New Testament revelation. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful ones”(vs. 15) resonates with the death of Christ, faithful to the end, not refusing the cup he is offered to drink. Even verse sixteen, “O Lord, I am your servant ...the child of your serving girl,” glimmers in congruence with Mary as “the handmaiden of the Lord” (Luke 1:38). Such multitudinous linkages with the Law and the Prophets and the regular worship of Israel in the Temple confirmed the validity of Jesus’s Messiahship in the minds of the first followers of Jesus.
Hearts are moved again in the extract of the Lukan account of the sermon of Peter in Acts 2:14a, 36-41. Peter’s audience is convicted and moved to action when he claims they have unjustly executed none other than the Messiah himself. His listeners were “cut to the heart” (vs. 37), like the strangely warmed hearts of the Emmaus pilgrims. Encounter with Jesus moves people deeply, such that they must respond to him. This crisis of will occurs whenever one is confronted effectually with the impact of Christ. This is of course a preview of coming attractions, since it is an extract from the story of Pentecost.
1 Peter 1:17-23 speaks of the death of Christ as “destined from before the foundation of the world,” citing the plan of God to redeem creation, even before the Fall. Through Christ we gain trust in God, that is, we are reconciled, through the work of Christ. In Peter, theology always has practical implications. Here, our own reconciliation to God leads to love for one another, as instruments of further reconciliation. Here the heart is mentioned again, as the seat of our affections and our will to love each other (vs. 22). In today’s fractured and contentious world, where there is such polarization and strife, people are longing for whatever will break down barriers, and bring them together with their neighbors. Fear must be replaced by faith, and only love can do that. Preachers will want to appeal to the yearning in all our hearts for reconciliation, and brokenness can be illustrated in so many ways: the gulf in the American electorate, the war on terrorism, the fractured and broken American family, the growing gap between rich and poor, the alienation between the rich nations of the north and the disenfranchised and indebted nations of the south.
The high degree of detailed observation in Luke 24 heightens our curiosity about whether Luke may have been, in addition to being a physician, a painter as is conjectured by N.T. Wright (The Resurrection of the Son of God Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003). Luke is the best among the four evangelists at drawing vivid pictures, which stick in our minds and touch us emotionally as well as impressing us intellectually. Preachers can take a page from Luke’s book by using the same story telling skill, especially in this highly visual age.
The metaphor of faith as a journey is also strongly present in this gospel. Here Jesus strides up next to us and speaks to us of our hopes, our griefs, and our aspirations. Then he guides us in the Scriptures to see how his ministry and death and resurrection fulfill the prophetic template. As we arrive at a destination, he appears to be going on ahead of us, with his own plans. We must ask him to stay, invite him in, offer him the hospitality of our hearts and homes. Then, in the breaking of bread, we see him.

Exegetical Comments

If the story of the prodigal son has a claim to be the finest story Jesus ever told, the tale of the two on the road to Emmaus must have an equal claim to be the finest scene Luke ever sketched. It’s a shame to break it in half, as we’ve done (the story continues to verse 35); but it would be even more of a pity to squash it all together into one short comment, when it is as rich in its detail as it is in its outline.
At the level of drama, it has everything. Sorrow, suspense, puzzlement, gradual dawning of light; then, in the second half, unexpected actions, astonished recognition, a flurry of excitement and activity. It is both a wonderful, unique, spellbinding tale, and also a model (and Luke surely knew this) for a great deal of what being a Christian, from that day to this, is all about. The slow, sad dismay at the failure of human hopes; the turning to someone who might or might not help; the discovery that in scripture, all unexpected, there lay keys which might unlock the central mysteries and enable us to find the truth; the sudden realization of Jesus himself, present with us, warming our hearts with his truth, showing us himself as bread is broken. This describes the experience of innumerable Christians, and indeed goes quite a long way to explaining what it is about Christianity that grasps us and holds us in the face of so much that is wrong with the world, with the church, and with ourselves.
The story as a whole is often used, and rightly so, as a focus for meditation, not least when people find themselves in difficulties. Bring your problem, your agony, on the road to Emmaus with Cleopas and his companion; be prepared to share it in prayer with the stranger who approaches; and learn to listen for his voice, explaining, leading forwards, warming your heart by applying scripture to what’s going on. Learn to live inside this story, and you will find it inexhaustible.
Even before we start looking for deeper meanings within the story, the surface meaning itself is powerful enough. Cleopas must have thought at first that the stranger might have been a spy; it must have taken a certain amount of courage—though perhaps by then he was beyond caring—to reveal that the two of them were part of Jesus’ following. In any case, the story he tells is simple, profound and poignant. They had regarded Jesus as a prophet, and more than a prophet. God’s power had been present with him in his miracles and his teaching, and they couldn’t doubt that this was the man of God’s choice. He was the one who would redeem Israel. Clearly, for them, this referred (as Luke has been saying all along) to the new Exodus: just as Israel had been ‘redeemed’ from slavery in Egypt at the first Passover, so they had hoped that now Israel would be ‘redeemed’, that God would purchase her freedom. They hoped that Israel would be liberated once for all from pagan domination, free to serve God in peace and holiness.
That’s why the crucifixion was so devastating. It wasn’t just that Jesus had been the bearer of their hopes and he was now dead and gone. It was sharper than that: if Jesus had been the one to redeem Israel, he should have been defeating the pagans, not dying at their hands! Cleopas’s puzzled statement only needs the slightest twist to turn it into a joyful statement of early Christian faith: ‘They crucified him—but we had hoped he would redeem Israel’ would shortly become, ‘They crucified him—and that was how he did redeem Israel.’ And it was, of course, the resurrection that made the difference.
It wasn’t simply, then, that they couldn’t recognize him. This is a very strange feature of the resurrection stories, in Matthew (28:17) and John (20:14; 21:4, 12) as well as here. There was nothing in the Jewish resurrection hope to indicate that this would happen, but it seems that Jesus’ body, emerging from the tomb, had been transformed. It was the same, yet different—a mystery which we shall perhaps never unravel until we ourselves share the same risen life. But the fact that they couldn’t recognize Jesus at first seems to have gone with the fact that they couldn’t recognize the events that had just happened as the story of God’s redemption. Perhaps Luke is saying that we can only now know Jesus, can only recognize him in any sense, when we learn to see him within the true story of God, Israel and the world.
For that we need to learn how to read the scriptures; and for that we need, as our teacher, the risen Lord himself. This passage forms one of the most powerful encouragements to pray for his presence, and sense of guidance, whenever we study the Bible, individually, in pairs or in larger groups. We need to be prepared for him to rebuke our foolish and faithless readings, and to listen for his fresh interpretation. Only with him at our side will our hearts burn within us (verse 32), and lead us to the point where we see him face to face.(Wright, T. Luke for Everyone [2004, London] pp. 292–295)
Two followers of Jesus are hiking out of Jerusalem on the first Easter morning. They are not among Jesus’ central circle but are just ordinary disciples—this is the only time Cleopas is mentioned in the Bible. The other follower is not named. They have seen Jesus die and be buried, and now that the Sabbath is over, they are journeying to Emmaus, “about seven miles from Jerusalem.” As they walk a fellow traveler whom they do not recognize as Jesus (“their eyes were kept from recognizing him,” v. 16) becomes involved in their discussion. They walk with him not just for company, one presumes, although hospitality in that culture was important, but for the added safety of traveling in numbers to discourage thieves.
The stranger does not seem to know anything about the events in Jerusalem. He simply asks them what they have been discussing, and the two disciples respond as though their topic of conversation should have been obvious, as though there could be none other: “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” (v. 18). They then instruct him about Jesus of Nazareth, who was “a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people.” They focus primarily on Jesus’ death, placing responsibility on “our chief priests and leaders” (v. 20) for handing him over to the Roman authorities to be tried, condemned, and crucified. Their hope is expressed in the past tense—they “had hoped” he was the Messiah (“the one to redeem Israel”)—the implication being that such hopes are abandoned now.
At the beginning of this story the resurrection is a problem for Cleopas and his friend. What is over is over. The alive are alive and the dead are dead. Some things are not possible. A dead person coming to life is one of those things that has the potential of upsetting all one’s norms and expectations. If what the women said was true, that Jesus was alive, it was frightening—that the dead might come back to life. If it was not true, then other followers of Jesus in their grief were losing touch with reality—and that was also frightening. We have the expression that someone is a “doubting Thomas” from John 20:24–29, but we could equally have had the expression “doubting Cleopas” or “doubting whoever that other person was,” putting in our own name. This was a specific event—it was not a general statement about what happens to everyone at death. It was a onetime thing, something that breaks all the rules of nature and does not make sense. If the resurrection ceases to be a problem at least some of the time, then perhaps we have lost sight of the tremendous and awe-inspiring miracle God has accomplished in Christ.
There are other times, however—one hopes they are in the majority—when the resurrection is not a problem but an answer. This happens when the resurrection helps account for what one has experienced. It is a conclusion that one arrives at because it is the only one that makes sense. It is a solution that helps explain what has been heard and seen and felt. What we see in this account from the road to Emmaus is the resurrection becoming an answer for Peter and for the two disciples as the most sensible way to explain events in their own lives. Even today the resurrection becomes an answer for us in the same way, when we meet Christ, or rather when Christ meets us, and God reveals to us who Christ is. The resurrection is not something we choose to believe against all evidence; it is something we conclude because of the evidence.
Jesus Christ continues to make his presence known. First, the resurrected Christ is revealed in and through the church, through disciples today who are “gathered together” in Christ’s name. Second, even as Jesus led the disciples in a Bible study, we meet the resurrected Christ through Scripture in its interpretation and proclamation, as it is illuminated for us by the Holy Spirit. Third, the resurrected Jesus is known in prayer and in the breaking of the bread of the sacrament when we gather around his table. There are four basic actions of communion that Jesus instituted: we take the bread, bless it, break it, and give it in the name of Jesus, who still presides at the table. Fourth, our own witness becomes part of the ongoing witness of the church to the risen Christ, much as the witness of Cleopas and his friend has become part of the ongoing testimony of the church. Finally, the resurrected Jesus may appear to us revealed in strangers, particularly where crucifixion continues today, and in all who are in need and suffering. In short, the resurrection cannot be narrowly confined, for it pronounces through all the heavens one clear and simple message: God wins. The game is now fixed. God wins. (Wilson, P. S. The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis For Sunday’s Texts [2001, Grand Rapids, MI] Vol 3 pp. 462–464)
The Emmaus story is so full of wonderful material for theological reflection, preaching, and discussion that the natural temptation is to try to deal with too much at one time. By a strange axiom of perception, one fresh insight well developed always seems more significant than a list of ten or twelve possible meanings, however perceptive or relevant they may be. The Emmaus story, therefore, is a rich mine to which one should return again and again, bringing out one cartload of ore at a time.
Although this text should not be read only at Easter each year, it is obviously relevant to that season. Each year at Easter we face the same question: how to approach the meaning of the Easter experience. It is at once more than we can comprehend and so familiar that we constantly search for a new angle of vision. We may well find ourselves in the position of the travelers at the opening of the story, discussing these things as we walk, trying to discern the meaning of what has happened in the Gospel story and in our own experience. Is there any persuasive reason to believe that Jesus really was raised from the dead or that God is present in the turbulence of our lives?
The risen Lord meets us on the road to our Emmauses, in the ordinary places and experiences of our lives, and in the places to which we retreat when life is too much for us. The story warns us, however, that the Lord may come to us in unfamiliar guises, when we least expect him.
Cleopas and his companion discovered at the table that their traveling companion was the Lord himself. They had not planned it as a sacred moment, but in the act of sharing their bread with a stranger they recognized the risen Lord in the fellow traveler. In a fascinating way, the Emmaus story is the counterpart to the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. In that parable, the rich man feasts daily but never notices the beggar at his gate or shares his bread with him. From Hades he pleads with Abraham to send Lazarus back to warn his brothers, but Abraham responds, “They have Moses and the prophets,” and when the rich man persists, Abraham’s final word is, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (16:31). Here again is a story that involves Moses and the prophets and resurrection from the dead, and a story that pivots at the table. The difference between them is what happens at the table. Cleopas and his companion share their table with a stranger and discover that they have been in the presence of the Lord. The rich man took no notice of the beggar until he was in torment in Hades. Fantasize for a moment. What might the rich man have discovered if he had shared his bread with Lazarus?
One of the tantalizing elements of the story is the report that as soon as the two disciples recognized the risen Lord he disappeared from their sight. God’s presence is always elusive, fleeting, dancing at the edge of our awareness and perception. If we are honest, we must confess that it is never constant, steady, or predictable. The nuns in The Sound of Music sing, “How can you catch a moonbeam in your hand, how do you hold a wave upon the sand?” The mystery of transcendence is always transitory. God’s faithful perceive God’s presence in fleeting moments, and then the mundane closes in again.
For this reason, we learn to treasure religious experiences in retrospect. The two in Emmaus exclaim, “Did not our hearts burn within us?” Like Moses, we usually see only the back side of God as God passes by us (Exod 33:23). With Job we confess, “Look, he passes by me, and I do not see him;/ he moves on, but I do not perceive him” (Job 9:11 NRSV). One of the secrets of a vigorous spirituality and a confident faith, therefore, is learning to appreciate the importance of meeting God in the past as well as in the present. Luke guides us in this spiritual discipline: “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee.… Then they remembered his words” (24:6, 8).(Culpepper, R. A. The Gospel of Luke. In L. E. Keck (Ed.), New Interpreter’s Bible [1994–2004, Nashville] Vol. 9, pp. 481–483)
Jesus enters their conversation in order to hear from them what they think about his death. But it is precisely these facts that caused the Emmaus disciples to stand there in sorrow, for they were scandalized by the crucifixion, even though Jesus had predicted he would die (AUGUSTINE). The assumption of the early church’s tradition, mentioned by Hegesippus (cited by EUSEBIUS), is that Cleopas is Clopas, brother of Joseph, making Cleopas the uncle of Jesus, and that the unnamed Emmaus disciple is Cleopas’s son Simeon, later the second bishop of Jerusalem, the leader of the Jerusalem church after 70. Tradition reports that Simeon died a martyr’s death (EUSEBIUS). (Just, A. A. (Luke [2005, Downers Grove, IL] p. 377)

Preaching Possibilities

This will be a wonderful opportunity to discuss how hard it can be to really see God. It does bring up the question that even if God did call us on the phone would we recognize his voice. Even better, if God appeared before us would we even know it was God? These days after the resurrection cause us to wonder how often we are able to really see God in our lives. It is a wonderful way to remind ourselves that God is always around waiting to be a part of our lives.

Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON

Different Sermon Illustrations

Facial Recognition software has gotten a bad name lately. It all smacks of “Big Brother” to most of us. A facial recognition system is a technology capable of identifying or verifying a person from a digital image or a video frame from a video source. There are multiple methods in which facial recognition systems work, but in general, they work by comparing selected facial features from given image with faces within a database. It is also described as a Biometric Artificial Intelligence based application that can uniquely identify a person by analyzing patterns based on the person's facial textures and shape.
While initially a form of computer application, it has seen wider uses in recent times on mobile platforms and in other forms of technology, such as robotics. It is typically used as access control in security systems and can be compared to other biometrics such as fingerprint or eye iris recognition systems. Although the accuracy of facial recognition system as a biometric technology is lower than iris recognition and fingerprint recognition, it is widely adopted due to its contactless and non-invasive process. Recently, it has also become popular as a commercial identification and marketing tool. Other applications include advanced human-computer interaction, video surveillance, automatic indexing of images, and video database, among others.
Prosopagnosia (from Greek prósōpon, meaning "face", and agnōsía, meaning "non-knowledge"), also called face blindness, is a cognitive disorder of face perception in which the ability to recognize familiar faces, including one's own face (self-recognition), is impaired, while other aspects of visual processing (e.g., object discrimination) and intellectual functioning (e.g., decision-making) remain intact. The term originally referred to a condition following acute brain damage (acquired prosopagnosia), but a congenital or developmental form of the disorder also exists, with a prevalence rate of 2.5%. The specific brain area usually associated with prosopagnosia is the fusiform gyrus, which activates specifically in response to faces. The functionality of the fusiform gyrus allows most people to recognize faces in more detail than they do similarly complex inanimate objects. For those with prosopagnosia, the new method for recognizing faces depends on the less sensitive object-recognition system. The right hemisphere fusiform gyrus is more often involved in familiar face recognition than the left. It remains unclear whether the fusiform gyrus is only specific for the recognition of human faces or if it is also involved in highly trained visual stimuli.
Acquired prosopagnosia results from occipito-temporal lobe damage and is most often found in adults. This is further subdivided into apperceptive and associative prosopagnosia. In congenital prosopagnosia, the individual never adequately develops the ability to recognize faces.
Voice recognition technology has become almost commonplace. Just a few years ago, the ability of an oscillograph, and then computers, to make a voiceprint of someone’s unique voice pattern, allowed such technology to be used for security and identification purposes. Now voice recognition is used in cell phones and other devices, which are being produced and sold by the millions. Kurzweill’s voice recognition technology allows ordinary authors or disabled persons who cannot use a keyboard to dictate to their computers and have their voices translated to text. Our voices are one of our most distinctive elements of who we are. And though the strength of the lungs may deteriorate with age, so that singers in old age are no longer able to duplicate their younger performances, the timbre and unique nature of each person’s voice changes little, so that you can pick out a familiar voice in a crowd.
Each time you scroll through Facebook, you’re exposed to dozens of faces—some That was the question vexing Le Chang, a neuroscientist at the California Institute of Technology, in 2014. In prior research, his lab director had already identified neurons in the brains of primates that processed and recognized faces. These six areas in the brain's temporal lobe, called "face patches," contain specific neurons that appear to be much more active when a person or monkey is looking at a face than other objects. “But I realized there was a big question missing," Chang says. That is: how the patches recognize faces. "People still [didn't] know the exact code of faces for these neurons."
In search of the method the brain uses to analyze and recognize faces, Chang decided to break down the face mathematically. He created nearly 2,000 artificial human faces and broke down their component parts by categories encompassing 50 characteristics that make faces different, from skin color to amount of space between the eyes. They he implanted electrodes into two rhesus monkeys to record how the neurons in their brain’s face patches fired when they were shown the artificial faces.
By then showing the monkeys thousands of faces, Chang was able to map which neurons fired in relation to which features were on each face, he reports in a study published this month in the journal Cell.
That was the question vexing Le Chang, a neuroscientist at the California Institute of Technology, in 2014. In prior research, his lab director had already identified neurons in the brains of primates that processed and recognized faces. These six areas in the brain's temporal lobe, called "face patches," contain specific neurons that appear to be much more active when a person or monkey is looking at a face than other objects.
"But I realized there was a big question missing," Chang says. That is: how the patches recognize faces. "People still [didn't] know the exact code of faces for these neurons."
In search of the method the brain uses to analyze and recognize faces, Chang decided to break down the face mathematically. He created nearly 2,000 artificial human faces and broke down their component parts by categories encompassing 50 characteristics that make faces different, from skin color to amount of space between the eyes. They he implanted electrodes into two rhesus monkeys to record how the neurons in their brain’s face patches fired when they were shown the artificial faces.
By then showing the monkeys thousands of faces, Chang was able to map which neurons fired in relation to which features were on each face, he reports in a study published this month in the journal Cell.
It turned out that each neuron in the face patches responded in certain proportions to only one feature or "dimension" of what makes faces different. This means that, as far as your neurons are concerned, a face is a sum of separate parts, as opposed to a single structure. Chang notes he was able to create faces that appeared extremely different but produced the same patterns of neural firing because they shared key features.
This method of face recognition stands in contrast to what some neuroscientists previously thought about how humans recognize faces. Previously, there were two opposing theories: “exemplar coding” and “norm coding.” For the exemplar coding theory, neuroscientists proposed that the brain recognized faces by comparing facial features to extreme or distinct examples of them, while the norm coding theory proposed that the brain was analyzing how a face’s features differed from an “average face.”
Understanding this pattern of neural firing allowed Chang to create an algorithm by which he could actually reverse engineer the patterns of just 205 neurons firing as the monkey looked at a face to create what faces the monkey was seeing without even knowing what face the monkey was seeing. Like a police sketch artist working with a person to combine facial features, he was able to take the features suggested by the activity of each individual neuron and combine them into a complete face. In nearly 70 percent of cases, humans drawn from the crowdsourcing website Amazon Turk matched the original face and the recreated face as being the same.
"People always say a picture is worth a thousand words," co-author neuroscientist Doris Tsao said in a press release. "But I like to say that a picture of a face is worth about 200 neurons."
Bevil Conway, a neuroscientist at the National Eye Institute, said the new study impressed him.
"It provides a principled account for how face recognition comes about, using data from real neurons," says Conway, who was not involved in the study. He added that such work can help us develop better facial recognition technologies, which are currently notoriously flawed. Sometimes the result is laughable, but at other times the algorithms these programs rely on have been found to have serious racial biases.
In the future, Chang sees his work as potentially being used in police investigations to profile potential criminals from witnesses who saw them. Ed Connor, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins University, envisions software that could be developed to adjust features based on these 50 characteristics. Such a program, he says, could allow witnesses and police to fine-tune faces based on the characteristics humans use to distinguish them, like a system of 50 dials that witnesses could turn to morph faces into the once they remember most.
"Instead of people describing what others look like," Chang speculates, "we could actually directly decode their thoughts."
“it’s hard to imagine anybody ever doing a better job of understanding how face identity is encoded in the brain,” says Connor of the new study. “It will encourage people to look for sometimes specific and complex neural codes.” He’s already discussed with Tsao the possibility of researching how the brain interprets facial expressions.
“Neuroscience never gets more interesting than when it is showing us what are the physical events in the brain that give rise to specific experiences,” Connor says. “To me, this is the Holy Grail.” (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/how-does-your-brain-recognize-faces-180963583/)

Encountering a fascinating person along the walk of life can change our pace, bring excitement where before there was glumness, even defeat. Energy in life comes from the intricate interplay of relationships. All of us have had the experience on walking aimlessly, in search of something exciting or energizing; then when we encounter an old friend along the way, the aspect of life changes, our step quickens, our affect brightens, and life takes on new meaning and purpose.
Rick Warren’s The Purpose-filled Life (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003) has been on the New York Times best-seller list for more than eighty weeks. What does this tell us about the yearning people have for purpose and direction in their lives?
An alarming percentage of Americans, more than twenty percent of adults and a like number of children and young people are overweight. Yet among Italians, the percentage is more like nine per cent. What’s different? Italians eat long, rich meals, and drink wine often twice a day. But they walk everywhere! In Italian cities and little towns in the country, early almost every afternoon, you can see the Italians on a passagiata, a walk just for the joy of walking. So not only is Italy a pedestrian culture that tolerates the automobile, people walk there for business, to get to work or meetings, but also just for the joy of walking. The relational and physical health benefits are obvious. And ours is a faith born in this Mediterranean world.
Walk to Emmaus is a retreat and renewal movement in the United States, adapted from the Roman Catholic Cursillo movement. You can examine their ministry at http://www.upperroom.org/emmaus/whatis/. Like the Cursillo de Cristianidad movement which originated in Spain in 1949, it attempts to be a “little course in Christianity,” with an emphasis on servanthood.
Abraham Lincoln was walking into Springfield, Illinois, one day, when a man driving a buggy overtook him. Lincoln hailed the man, and asked “Will you have the goodness to take my overcoat to town for me?” “With pleasure,” responded the stranger, “but how will you get it again?” “Oh, very easily; I intend to remain in it.” (Recounted in Bartlett’s Book of Anecdotes, ed. Clifton Fadiman [Boston: Little, Brown; 2000], p. 43)
Browsing in a bookshop one day, composer Aaron Copland noticed a woman buying a copy of his book What to Listen for in Music, together with a paperback edition of a Shakespeare play. As the customer left the shop, Copland stopped her and asked “Would you like me to autograph your book?” Looking blankly into the composer’s beaming face, the woman asked “Which one?” (Bartlett’s Book of Anecdotes, ed. Clifton Fadiman [Boston: Little, Brown; 2000] p. 143)
One evening in the late 1960s, I took my fiancé to see a rare German film at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Looking for a place to sit, I noticed two seats near the front of the theater, next to Ray Bradbury, the science fiction writer. I had met him once before and recognized him immediately because he had a very distinctive look, with large, thick glasses and thick hair. My soon-to-be wife at first didn’t believe it was him. “One way to find out!” I said and led her to the empty seats. We sat down, and I turned to him and said “You’re Ray Bradbury. I’ve admired your work for years!” He was delighted to be recognized; he had brought his granddaughter to see the rare film (actually, he had been dropped off by his wife; Bradbury didn’t drive). We had a delightful conversation and enjoyed the film. Sometimes, it takes guts to break the ice; it’s not hard to meet interesting people, if you’re willing to stick your neck out, politely. .
I have had the privilege of hiking and climbing with numerous experts: National Park Service rangers, technical climbers, naturalists, former Alpini (Italian Army mountain troops). There is a confidence and calm that comes when one is trekking, even in dangerous territory, with an experienced guide.
Who were the pilgrims from Emmaus? Two men? Or could they be a man and his wife? Scholars are divided, and we are not given enough information. But it is striking how many facilely assume two men. Woman theologians have unmasked this tunnel vision, this sexist assumption. When one thinks about it, is there something sexist in the one who speaks in the story surely being identified as a man? Is the “Cleopas” the “Cleophas” mentioned in John 19:24, whose wife Mary stood at the foot of the cross? If that identification is made, this is truly a tantalizing connection. Could the second of these Emmaus pilgrims be one of the Marys who stood at the cross and witnessed the death of Jesus?
I spent a Friday touring Holocaust Memorial Museum, three hours of profound walking to skirt edges of events which would take 6 million lifetimes to comprehend. The Holocaust discloses humanity’s utter capacity for grand scale evil and petty betrayal. The Holocaust also discloses humanity’s resilient ability for persistent faith and unrelenting courage. While the former suggests our profound failure as a people, the latter offers us hope for today, whether facing our own life or responding to events at the edge of our comprehension.
Jesus appears to the disciples at their most discouraged moment, most fearful time, and most anguished days and reveals his true identity. Jesus instructed them with words and sustained them by his presence. This is a pattern that persists to this day if we but have eyes to see and ears to hear.
Jesus is eager to explain himself to these disciples. In spoken word which connects him with great promises inherent in Scripture, Jesus took the time to instruct the initial disciples in the primary mystery of his mission: “Why was it necessary for the Messiah to suffer?” We must remember that the Old Testament remains crucial for understanding the depth of our faith. The Eucharist remains an act of fellowship in which we remember both past and future, the time of our own salvation and the hope of the fulfillment to come.
Jesus urges the disciples to embrace the afflicted. Part of leaving behind ignorance and getting ready for action involves going toward people who are afflicted. This is a pattern we see immediately in Acts and which persists today in direct relief. Moving toward a holy life rather than persisting in patterns of conduct which afflict us or assails those near us with disappointment.
In walking through the Holocaust Memorial Museum, I sought out the eyes, voices and personal artifacts of those who suffered. In the gentle eyes which bore this awful suffering and degradation any of us may perceive the image of Christ, reminding us of all those carried away by a person of justice. Look into the places of current distress, where the helpless are afflicted, and there you will see the eyes of Jesus bearing unjustified evil. Listen deeply to your own broken, fearful heart and you will hear his own tears bearing your anguish. Jesus is present in our suffering to bear our unbearable sorrow and to sustain us through undeserved betrayals. The Messiah is a witness to God’s ultimate deal—bad things happen to good people so that we may discover our need of God’s Messiah.
“As this unfolds you’re going to need all the wisdom you can muster,” he said as I laid out the wound of my heart. Certainly the three years of wading through the grief leading toward divorce tried my soul and drove me to rediscover resources of prayer. Anyone who endures this burning of the heart will find wise counsel in Scrip-ture contained in the words of Jeremiah and Paul. More significantly, they will grow closer to Christ who is the friend of any burning heart.
Jeremiah and Paul, in addition to Jesus, endured burning hearts while standing for inconvenient truth, a truth which ultimately brought them physical hardship, emotional isolation and spiritual struggle. Yet they were sustained by close, genuine friends and the revealed truth of God which brought them comfort. Jeremiah was sustained by Baruch while being jailed by Pashur and opposed by Hananiah Jeremiah spoke ultimately of a covenant "written on the heart’ that replaced the wound on the heart of the people. Paul was sustained by Luke in his final days while at risk of assassination, teachers who opposed his wisdom and apostles who doubted his authority. We have Paul’s words today, the witness of Jeremiah today and the report of Cleopas and his friend today because they found Christ to be trustworthy and truthful companions at the point of their grief and not because of some patriarchal conspiracy.
Jesus is the Redeeming Friend who tells these two wounded disciples the truth about himself. He ties his presence and conduct into the promises of the prophets and the commands of the Father. This is not only whey people with "eyes to see and ears to hear’ still recognize him as Savior and Lord but also why our hearts burn as these two early disciples burned as he opens the scripture in the midst of our distress. The care of the Good Shepherd is more than subjective warmth, he redeems us by nudging us to-ward sanity. In baptism he marks us as his own and in communion he strengthens us to be-come more like him (and thus less like the sinful condition which bound us).
Much of the time God’s first word to us is "do not be afraid.’ This was Jesus’ first word to the earliest disciples and is still his first word to us. His mercy erases our past! His mercy erases our guilt and shame. His faith still builds the church on men and women all too aware of their own sin and discouragement. His love still shelters people caught in the bondage of their failures, who are leaving their own "Jerusalem’ for a safer place. His words still offer the inquisitive a new way of living. His mercy still links forgiving our sins with healing our deepest diseases. His companionship will enrich your present! His companionship will overcome your depression and anxiety. His courage will liberate you from the oppression that overwhelms you. His compassion will heal you of your disease and distress. His instruction gives people back to their families. His will meet you on the road of your sorrow and strengthen you for your jour-ney, just as he did to Cleopas and his friend.
The resurrection appearances demonstrate that even in the face of the darkness of death, Jesus’ light continues to shine. This past September the North Fort Worth Historical Society in Texas sponsored a “birthday party for a light bulb.” The bulb has burned continuously since September 21, 1908. It was first turned on over a stage entrance at a local opera house, and a sign was posted with the instruction that it was never to be turned off. For more than 96 years that sign has been obeyed, and the light has never stopped shining. The 40-watt bulb now has its own independent power supply, so that not even a blackout can cause it to dim. That Texas bulb, however, is not the longest-lasting bulb. That honor, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, goes to a 4-watt bulb that has been burning at a firehouse in Livermore, California, since it was turned on in 1901. (Reuters, 9/21/04)
The assumption in the Gospel story seems to be that since Cleopas and his companion had their hopes dashed in Jerusalem, they were hitting the road in search of something else that could give them the hope they were looking for. That same sort of mindset continues to be very much present even today. When people become disillusioned or dissatisfied in one religious community, they strike out in search of something better. Within Christianity, such people are often referred to as “church shoppers.” Researchers have found that in recent decades, “Americans are much less loyal to denominational labels.” Instead people today quite often search for a church that meets the requirements that they most prize, such as “a strong music program, eloquent preaching, or quality children’s activities.” One downside of the church shopping phenomenon, though, is that pastors end up feeling pitted against one another. Pastors sometimes see themselves in competition for the same potential worshipers. According to the U. S. Congregational Life Survey, nearly 1 in 4 church attendees had switched congregations in the past five years. Of those newcomers, only 7% had no prior involvement with a faith community. Therefore, at least part of what is happening is that disgruntled people are leaving one church in search of another. In the process, they are not being encouraged to seek reconciliation. (“For many Americans, autumn is a time for trying new churches,” The Christian Science Monitor, 9/21/04)
The encounter on the road to Emmaus illustrates that bringing people to faith often takes time. Not only did Jesus spend time with Cleopas and his friend, but he also engaged them in prolonged conversation, taught them, and ate with them. In many respects, that was the same kind of approach that the first Sunday schools used. While Sunday school today often means a one-hour period of learning Bible stories, originally the Sunday school movement sought to offer a much more comprehensive ministry to children. It might come as a surprise to many people to learn that Sunday school is a relatively recent development in the overall history of Christianity. Sunday schools first began in England in the 1780s in response to the fact that many children were being forced to work in the factories six days a week, thus affording them no opportunity to receive an education. Furthermore, on Sunday, their only day off, the young people were often left to roam the streets unsupervised, so that they frequently got themselves into trouble. The Sunday school movement sought to address the overall needs of those young people by providing a safe environment for them to receive some basic education, learn some Bible stories, and also receive care for the other needs they had. By the mid-1800s, however, that evangelistic thrust of Sunday school had begun to wane as churches turned their Sunday schools primarily into ministries to the children of their own members. (Robert L. Browning and Roy A. Reed, Forgiveness, Reconciliation, and Moral Courage: Motives and Designs for Ministry in a Troubled World [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004], p. 166)
The continuing good news of the resurrection is the peace it brings us amid all the turmoil and upheavals of life. Catherine Marshall told about a king who one day offered a prize to the artist who was able to paint the best picture of peace. Countless artists submitted entries, and the king inspected them all. In the end, two stood out from all the rest, and the kind was forced to choose between them. The one picture was of a calm lake. The serene waters were surrounded by majestic mountains, and fluffy clouds floated above. The other painting also had mountains in it. But the sky in that second painting was stormy, with rain and lightning. Down the side of the mountain a raging waterfall crashed and foamed. But as the king looked closely at the painting, he noticed that behind the waterfall, growing out of a crack in the rock, was a tiny bush in which a mother bird had built her nest. There, in the midst of that angry and threatening environment, that bird had built its nest and found peace. The king ended up choosing that second painting as the winner. He explained, “Peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. Peace means to be in the midst of all those things and still be calm in your heart. That is the real meaning of peace.” (Alice Gray, Stories for the Heart [Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah, 1996], p. 239)
Like Cleopas and his fellow traveler, we become so used to hearing the bad news of the world, we often fail even to look for the good news that is there: “The edges of God are tragedy; the depths of God are joy, beauty, resurrection, life. Resurrection answers crucifixion; life answers death.” (Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki) (CEB
The resurrection vividly shows us that despite all the evil in the world today, the final word still belongs to God: “Jesus’ resurrection makes it impossible for man’s story to end in chaos—it has to move inexorably toward light, toward life, toward love.” (Carlo Carretto)
Cleopas and his friend were so caught up in the rumors that were circulating in Jerusalem, it did not apparently occur to them to turn to the Scriptures to understand the events they were debating: “Abandon Scripture, and God abandons us to the lies of men.” (Martin Luther)
Audiences love “road movies,” but no road story is as satisfying as the one in Luke’s Gospel wherein the stranger lifts the spirits of the two downcast disciples of Christ. Despairing over the death of their beloved Master, they find new hope in the way in which the stranger demonstrates that the Scriptures had foreseen the crucifixion—and the resurrection. Their hopes are fulfilled at Emmaus when they recognize during “the breaking of the bread” who the stranger really is. Something similar happens to the members of the Fellowship of the Ring in the film version of J.R.R.Tolkien’s second book Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. In the previous film the hardy band that had set out to return the evil ring to Mount Doom are overtaken by disaster at the subterranean Bridge of Khazad-Dum where the wizard Gandalf the Grey had stayed behind to fight off the fiery Balrog that was pursuing the party. The rest of the Fellowship escaped, but Gandalf, locked in mortal combat with the beast, whose whip lashed around the wizard’s legs, dragged him into the deep chasm of fire and molten rock. Our heroes mourn his loss, but not for long, as they are soon fighting for their lives again. Frodo and Sam, during another attack by the Uruk-hai become separated from the other members of the Fellowship and set off alone for Mt. Doom. Brave Borimir dies while defending the hobbits, and the three remaining adventurers accept Aragorn’s decision to set out to track down the two other hobbits, Merry and Pippin, who are also missing. Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli glumly search through Fangorn Forest for the lost hobbits when they come upon an old man. At first they think he is their enemy Saruman because he is dressed in white. How surprised they are to learn that it is the man whom they thought dead, Gandalph, now with his white robe and hair, Gandalf the White. After a titanic battle in which he had defeated the mighty balrog he has recuperated and returned to the fray, more powerful than ever.

Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)

Call to Worship

Leader: Rejoice in the Lord, for God hears our prayers!
People: God answers our petitions! God acts in our lives!
Leader: Even in our times of deepest distress, God draws near and saves our lives!
People: May God’s name be praised! God’s mercy endures forever!

Prayer of Confession

God of the ages, Your word is faithful and true. Your promises are never broken. Yet instead of focusing on the good news that You have declared to us, we focus on the negative. We dwell on the disappointments we have faced, and we focus on the hardships we have endured. We allow those dark times to eclipse the light of Your gospel. In Your mercy, forgive our lack of faith. Enable us to set aside our doubts, so that we may take hold of the eternal life You set before us. In the name of our risen Lord we pray. Amen.

Prayer of Dedication

Immortal God, in good times and in bad Your faithfulness to us continues without end. As a sign of our thanks, and as a sign of our commitment to You, receive our gifts and use them to proclaim Your gospel in this place and to the ends of the earth. In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

Pastoral Prayer

Eternal Lord, as we read the pages of Scripture, we yearn to experience in our own lives what those believers in previous ages experienced. We ache to believe with the passion that they believed. We thirst for that first-hand encounter with You, which emboldened Your people in times gone past to worship and serve You with a zeal that we do not often see today. So we pray, O Lord, that You would set our hearts on fire. Create in us a holy flame. Kindle our spirits. And ignite in us a renewed faith, so that we might be led into the world to proclaim with confidence Your wondrous love.
We lift our prayers this day for all those who have never believed. By Your tender touch, soften their hearts and enable them to be receptive to the word that You would have them hear. We raise our prayers as well for our church. Forge in our midst a burning desire to be Your people and to seek to do Your will in such a way that our community and our world might be transformed. And we pray at the same time for ourselves. Fan the flames of Your Spirit within us, so that our devotion to You might not be half-hearted, but that we might commit ourselves to You with our whole heart, mind, and soul. We ask all these things in the name of our faithful Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.