Sunday, April 15, 2018

Ghost stories

Acts 3:12-19; Luke 24:36b-48

From ancient times to today, ghost stories have been popular. Sometimes, ghost stories are told around the campfire or during a sleepover. Some people love to watch scary movies about ghosts misbehaving and about getting rid of ghosts who are misbehaving. For myself, I would rather watch a movie or TV show or read a book about friendly ghosts who help solve problems.

What kind of ghost is your favorite? …

We believe that once someone is dead, they are supposed to remain dead and buried, and not return to earth. This was true in ancient times as well as today. We say, “There are only two things that are certain in life: death and taxes.”

Christians know that the resurrected person is alive in another dimension, and is not expected to return to earth in their human form. Those who do return to earth, those we call ghosts, are believed to have some unfinished business. They seek to finish what was left undone, whether it was for good or for evil. …

We’ll get back to the ghosts in a couple of minutes.

… Today is the third Sunday of Easter, and we hear for a third time a story of the disciples encountering the risen Jesus for the first time in the evening of Easter Day. It’s important to remember that the four gospel writers tell the story differently. The main story is the same, but there are significant differences in the details.

Today, we read from Luke. As he tells the story, Mary Magdalene and several other women went to the tomb very early in the morning. Two figures in white told them that he wasn’t there, that he had been raised just as he said. … They ran back to tell the disciples, who said that what they were saying was a bunch of hooey. But Peter ran to the tomb to verify that it was empty. So far in Luke’s story, no one, not even Mary Magdalene, has seen the risen Jesus.

In the afternoon of Easter Day, two disciples, Cleopas and his companion -- whom I like to think is his wife -- are returning to Emmaus from Jerusalem, and a third person joins them. The disciples are dejected. “We had hoped …, but now he is dead. However! We have heard that some women said the tomb is empty.” … As they walked along, the third person connects the dots for them, explaining that the scriptures demonstrate that it was necessary for the messiah to suffer before he was glorified.

When they get home, Cleopas and Mrs Cleopas invite their traveling companion in for some supper. He offers to say the table prayer, and they recognize him as Jesus in the breaking of the bread. Jesus instantly disappears. Mr and Mrs Cleopas immediately head back to Jerusalem. While they walk back to the city, they reflect on the person who turned out to be Jesus. “Weren’t our hearts burning with joy as he talked with us?”

Meanwhile, back in Jerusalem, the other disciples have not yet seen Jesus. Despite his frequent announcements that he would suffer and die and be raised, the disciples had never experienced anyone who had been raised. They had no idea what that would look like. So, when they see Jesus, they are afraid they are seeing a ghost.

That’s why, when Jesus enters the room, he says, “Don’t be afraid. It’s me.” He knows that they suspect he is a ghost. Ghosts are believed to not have bones, so they are not solid, and they have no digestive system, so they can’t eat. That’s why Jesus invites them to do some things to prove he is really there, and not a ghost. “Touch my hands and my feet. Give me something to eat.” Jesus is touchable and hungry!

In last week’s reading, Jesus encouraged Thomas to touch his hands and his side, to determine that Jesus’ wounds were there. It was the wounded Jesus who was among them.

In a contrast, Luke tells the story of Easter stressing that the disciples are witnesses to the resurrection. We read the stories of the disciples being witnesses to the resurrection in the book of Acts every Easter season.  

The first disciples, the eleven who remained, and the thousands who had direct contact with Jesus all had personal stories of Jesus. They had first-hand knowledge, because they were healed or fed or impressed with a story he told. These disciples found it easy to tell Jesus stories.

But after the first and second generations died, there was no one with direct contact. Today, we are dependent on the stories each generation has passed on from then until today. We are dependent on the written scriptures and interpretations of the scriptures.

And we are dependent on the stories handed down by our family members and friends. When we are children it is usually our parents or grandparents who tell us about Jesus. Then, it is pastors and Sunday school teachers who tell us the stories.

Now, we tell each other stories about how we have seen Jesus at work through the Holy Spirit. These stories often begin, “You won’t believe what happened!” And we tell the story of a friend who was miraculously healed. Or of a relative whose spouse or child suddenly got clean and sober. We give Jesus the credit, and give witness to Jesus by telling the story.

We know we should tell others about Jesus. We promised to do so when we were baptized, and over the years when we have affirmed our baptism. But Lutherans are notorious for our reluctance to share our faith with others, mostly because of people like this:

Sharing our faith is not hard, and it should not be scary. It begins with knowing that we all have faith stories. We all have Jesus stories. When we are having a conversation with someone who does not know Jesus loves them, we can tell them one of our stories.

Here are two examples of stories we can tell about how Jesus has been at work in our lives:
1)    About 20 years ago I was in Chicago with a few dozen other women for a training. Several of us went together to an area restaurant for dinner. Most of us left food on our plates, since we didn’t have refrigerators for leftovers. But Mary asked for a to-go box. When we got outside, Mary looked around for a homeless person. It was Chicago and there were plenty of them around. She gave the to-go box to the first hungry person she saw. I saw Jesus feeding the hungry.

2)    When I retired and needed a place to worship, you made sure to welcome me. Many of you greeted me and invited me to have coffee and goodies with you. You have invited me to be on committees with you. Yes, I know, in some cases, this is because I am a warm body, but I have felt the inclusion anyway. I have felt Jesus welcome me here.

The best news is that I am not the only person to have been so warmly welcomed and included. The truly warm welcome of the people of Our Saviour has made sure that this congregation has people of all colors, abilities, sexual preferences, and ages present.

This is a Jesus story we can all tell: that people of all sorts are welcome at Our Saviour Lutheran Church.

The risen Jesus is not a ghost, but the truly resurrected Son of God. As a result of the resurrection, the tomb is empty, and it will stay that way forever. We are all witnesses to this.