3rd Sunday of Easter – B LSB #’s 463, 770, 702 Text – Luke 24:36-38
While they were still talking about this, Jesus Himself stood among them & said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled & frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, & why do doubts rise in your minds?” (NIV)
SEEN ANY GHOSTS LATELY?
To many Lutherans just mentioning the phrase ‘confirmation class’ brings back all kinds of memories. Everyone who’s been through it has something come to mind, & a story or two to share. Sermon notes & memory work, they’re often looked upon unfavorably by students & teachers alike. Many churches have given up requiring them because of it.
To a lot of people in our culture today there’s no point in actually listening to a sermon, & even less point to memorizing Bible verses. They don’t get anything out of it. It’s an exercise in busy work, & those attitudes reveal just how little those people use spiritual faith to deal with the struggles in their lives.
For people of that mindset, religion is sort of like a ghost. It may or may not be there, but in any event there’s no real substance to it. It might be an intriguing subject, if you’re into that sort of thing, but there’s no real purpose for it. Religion is like a figment of the imagination. At best it’s nothing more than a hobby.
Others, they believe in religion, but can’t find the ability to make it a priority in their schedule. They will faithfully go to practices for football or volleyball, they’ll show up for every quilting class, they’ll make each meeting of the county board of commissioners, but when it comes to Bible study it just doesn’t seem as necessary.
Those practice sessions, those classes & those meetings can be just as boring & tedious as memory work or sermon notes, but somehow they rate higher. With so many opportunities crying for our attention these days, a person’s faith increasingly takes a back seat. Faith in Christ has become sort of like a ghost. People aren’t sure anymore if they’ve seen it or not. Have you seen any ghosts lately? Is your faith in Christ something too uncertain to rely upon when troubles arise? PAUSE
If learning a foreign language, we take for granted it will involve a lot of work, time & commitment. When I was learning Greek we had to read out loud in class, & it sounded like kindergarten all over again. Young men & old men were sounding out each word syllable-by-syllable, & stumbling over many of them. It was humorous, & it was humbling.
But for some reason when it comes to learning what God teaches in His Holy Word, we don’t want to, or don’t feel a need to, put in time, effort or commitment. Other things take precedence. Spiritual education & maturity take a back seat. Religion just doesn’t appear substantial enough for our attention. Seen any ghosts lately? PAUSE
Of course suffering, trials & struggles come along as well. We lose our jobs & we feel worthless & depressed, not knowing where to turn. We get injured in an accident or an illness attacks our body & mind. We get angry with God for allowing it to happen, & we don’t know where to turn.
We fail a class or don’t get accepted at the college we want to attend. We feel that life is unfair & we end up not knowing where to turn. The church is something shadowy & uncertain. It’s vague, unfamiliar, & we have no idea how to use our spiritual abilities for coping. Have you seen any ghosts lately? PAUSE
You’ll be tempted an endless number of times in life. Do you know how to use your spiritual blessings to find relief & strength? Do you know how to approach God for peace & renewal? Or, does Jesus Christ appear to have been nothing more than a ghost? The sinful nature does think of Jesus as nothing more than a ghost, something fleeting & unreliable. The devil wants you to look at Jesus as some kind of Easter bunny – cute & cuddly, but not really cut out for the times in life when the going gets tough. And yet, the crucifixion of Christ was anything but cute & cuddly. It was terrifying & excruciating. It hurt like hell, because on the cross Jesus endured hell.
Nevertheless, Jesus is God & can handle any of the problems that come into our lives no matter how they tear us apart. For that reason, Satan tries to deceive us concerning what happened there. We still get tricked into thinking, “I can handle life on my own terms.” Pride causes us to resist seeking help, because we don’t want to reveal our weakness.
Gradually then, Satan fools us into obsessive behaviors in order to deal with our problems. Things like sexual promiscuity, drugs & money become crutches that people lean upon with all their might. But the only begotten Son of God does not have to remain a ghost story in your life. He is real, & He is risen.
The end of confirmation class is actually the beginning of a lifelong process of learning how to lean on Christ for strength, rather than on substitutes like mind altering chemicals. At confirmation you’ve only just begun learning how to shelter yourself in Jesus rather than in anger or defiance.
When others hurt us, anger is the natural reaction but it’s nothing more than a defense mechanism. We use anger to protect ourselves from further hurt & pain, but the anger only spreads the pain & hurt to others. Jesus Christ can remove that anger, that pain & that hurt.
Jesus said to His disciples, “Why are you troubled, & why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands & my feet. It is I myself! Touch me & see; a ghost does not have flesh & bones, as you see I have.” (Luke 24:38-39 NIV) Jesus’ point here is that He’s real, & not a ghost. When you’re troubled & struggling with doubt you can rely on Jesus. He is real. That is difficult to comprehend, but as you grow in your faith, you do become more & more certain of the reality of Jesus Christ, & of what He’s done for you. Our faith grows through the very struggles we endure, as long as we are connected to His Word & to His church.
Certainty of faith comes from exercising one’s faith, from growth in it. Spiritual maturity is a blessing but you don’t attain it by avoiding church or Bible study. If you aren’t connected to God’s Word & His church, it’s like trying to grow muscle without eating. Without food you can exercise all you want, & it’ll do you not one bit of good.
In the sermon text from St. Luke the disciples of Jesus were startled & frightened, thinking they’d seen a ghost. Jesus responds by opening their minds so they would understand Scripture. The understanding of God’s Word is the answer to the fear of the disciples, & it is also the power to change them.
Without God’s Word we are frail & ghostly children of God. Our faith is but an apparition that comes & goes at whim. The Word of God changes us into bold & courageous followers of Jesus. God can transform us from people who dread memorizing His Holy Word, into people who treasure what His Word does for us. Ending the Gospel reading, Jesus said:
“I’m going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you’ve been clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 10:49 NIV) The power He’s talking of is the Holy Spirit, & the disciples received it on Pentecost. You & I received that power at baptism, as the Triune God washed us clean & bestowed the Holy Spirit upon us.
However, the old sinful man lives on inside, & he’s unable to perceive that Jesus is the Christ, or that He has accomplished our salvation. Human eyes are blind to the reality of Jesus’ presence even when He stands directly in our sight. Human ears are deaf to His word when He speaks, unless Jesus Himself heals that spiritual deafness. When our faith is weak, Jesus can appear as nothing more than a ghost. Our eyes & mind must be opened. Faith must be created & sustained by God in order to understand the mystery of the crucified & risen Son. As we grow in our understanding of that mystery, we should keep in mind that the disciples spent 3 years learning from Jesus, & still at this time did not understand.
Our course of study never ends in this life. It ends only with our death, as God retrieves us for life in our eternal home. As long as we don’t reject Him, as long as we don’t live our lives apart from God, He will constantly be working in your heart, drawing you closer to Him, strengthening you, & upholding you through thick & thin, even unto death.
At confirmation, young Christians make what can seem to be a very forbidding promise, that of being faithful unto death. Today, right after the sermon, Sherrie will be making the same promises. Yet, in the words of their response, “I do so intend by the grace of God,” we find almighty strength, power & love.
It’s in that grace, that undeserved love, that resides all the fullness & power of the almighty God. It’s that undeserved & unconditional love which transforms us, releasing us from the fear of being hurt by our failures & sin. Instead of being Christians in theory only, God changes us into Christians with flesh & bones.
That grace of God changes us from ghosts of Christians, into children that live a life of substance & service to our heavenly Father. As He opens your heart & mind to Scripture you increasingly understand the blessing of being able to listen to His Word as it is proclaimed.
Without that understanding, we see only ritual & drudgery. Without that understanding we see only memory work & sermon notes. However, with the eyes of faith created in our baptism, we see the miraculous power of God’s Word at work, transforming our very heart & mind into holy, pure & faithful instruments of God’s will. Those faithful hearts are no ghost & neither are God’s blessings. Your heavenly Father has in store for you a lifetime of blessing here on this earth, & an eternity of blessings in the life hereafter. All of our earthly doubts & fears, pains & struggles will vanish on the day we rest completely in the arms of God. Never again will we be troubled by ghosts & goblins. Amen.
What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins & griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer! Oh, what peace we often forfeit; oh, what needless pain we bear – all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer! Are we weak & heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care? Precious Savior, still our refuge – take it to the Lord in prayer. Do thy friends despise forsake thee? Take it to the Lord in prayer. In His arms He’ll take & shield thee; thou wilt find a solace there. Amen. LSB 770:1 & 3.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet