“Ghost Stories & Fish Tales”

“Ghost Stories & Fish Tales”

I am a grown human being.
I have traveled abroad.
I have studied and been trained and highly educated.
I know. I KNOW.
There is no such thing as vampires, zombies,
werewolves, or boogey-monsters.
(Alien abductions will be covered in a different sermon.)

Yet, this week, at around 6:30 one morning,
I heard a slight knock at the bedroom door.
Thinking it was one of the kids
I opened my eyes and looked at the door
about to say “come on in sweetheart”
but before I could open my mouth
the door shot open,
as though some large creature had been trying to bust it down.

But I was looking at the door,
and as the door swung open,
there was no one standing there.

In that moment
I thought back to all of the former pastors of this church
who told me stories about their time in the parsonage,
scanning my memory for any mention of ghosts.
And I couldn’t come up with one.
My heart quickened.
My adrenaline began to flow.
And then… then it pounced!

One of our cats apparently wanted to come snuggle.
I am sure she didn’t intend to test this grown human beings
ability to shriek like a small child, but she did.
And I passed by the way.

I am an adult.
A rational, logical, quasi-mentally stable, adult.
Yet for a moment, however brief,
I was certain that some ghost
or other worldly creature was about to devour me whole.

Where I grew up
ghost stories were our stock and trade.
You didn’t sit around a camp fire or a bonfire,
heck you didn’t light up the bar-b-q grill,
without hearing some story
intended to make those listening
have a couple of sleepless nights.

I remember one night, on a camping trip
not five miles away from our house, telling a story,
an absurd story,
that scared one of my friends so badly
my dad had to hike him out of the woods
and drive him home at 10 at night.

In defense of my friend though
I had anchored my absurd story
around the reality that in order to get to our campsite,
we had to walk through an old cemetery.
I am pretty sure that he was freaked out by that
before we even got the tent set up.

For us, today, ghost stories are just that, ghost stories.
Stories we tell to try and get a reaction
or stories that are told because of an experience we had
that we cannot quite explain.
But for the most part, we laugh them off,
because we all know,
say it with me now “there’s no such thing as ghosts!”

Never-the-less we are still fascinated with the idea.
Not too long ago you couldn’t turn on the TV
without seeing an ad
for some type of “Ghost Hunter” show or another.
And did you ever notice how most of those shows
were on the History Channel?

We are fascinated
because the idea of ghosts and spirits and hauntings
center around what happens after we die.

A topic, for which, we have very little factual data.
So we are intrigued.
Intrigued to see if a dearly departed relative
might still be hanging around
or if someone has a message for us from beyond,
and perhaps unconsciously
we hope to hear from them
as confirmation that there is more beyond this life.

Shortly after our son, Carl, died,
a friend of our family went to one of those
big psychic events out west someplace.

It was one of those things
where the psychic stands on stage
looking at the audience and says something like

“I am getting a message from someone in the beyond.
Its a young someone, really, young,
and I am getting the letter ‘C’ is there someone in the audience
who knows a young child with the letter ‘C’ in their name.”

And of course, our family friend,
well acquainted with our story and our grief raised her hand.
And the psychic told her
that Carl wanted to let us know what he was ok
and happy and would be waiting for us.

My entire life I have looked at such things as hokum,
and by and large I still do.
I know how those types of things work.
All clever observation, and psychology, and mentalism.
But I have to tell you, in my grief, and even to this day,
it still gives me a little comfort to think
that somehow Carl was reaching out to us.

In the first century, where our scripture today takes place,
there were far fewer skeptics then there are today.
The realm of spirit and ghosts
and the possibility of seeing or getting a message
from those who have passed
was something understood as a part of their reality.
Like death and taxes,
the dead could and would communicate and interact with the living.

There is a great story in the Old Testament.
It takes place in the book of First Samuel chapter 28.

The prophet Samuel had died.
David had been anointed King of Israel
but Saul still sat on the throne and sought to kill David.

In those days
if the king engaged in battle without consulting God,
it was almost guaranteed that they would lose the fight.
And so Saul, readying to go into battle against the Philistines,
who were accompanied by David and his mighty warriors,
prayed to God, sought counsel from the priests,
offered sacrifices,
did everything he could think of to try and hear from God
as to whether or not he should commit to the battle.

But Saul had long before lost God’s favor.
God didn’t talk to the king anymore
because of the kings sin and disobedience.
So Saul heard nothing.
Even the crickets kept silent.
Saul was becoming desperate
and he remembered that even though God wouldn’t talk to him
God did get messages to him
from through the prophet Samuel when Samuel was still alive.

So Saul, in desperation,
seeks out a medium, a psychic,
one who could call up and communicate with the spirits of the dead and asked her to call up the spirit of Samuel.

And all of a sudden,
Saul finds himself in the middle of a ghost story
that does not have a happy ending for him.

Samuel demands to know why Saul had him called up.
Saul unburdens his heart
about how God will not communicate with him
so he doesn’t know what to do about the Philistines.
And Samuel was not amused. Listen to his response:

“Samuel said,
“Why then do you ask me,
since the Lord has turned from you and become your enemy?
The Lord has done to you just as he spoke by me;
for the Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hand,
and given it to your neighbor, David.
Because you did not obey the voice of the Lord,
and did not carry out his fierce wrath against Amalek,
therefore the Lord has done this thing to you today.
Moreover the Lord will give Israel along with you
into the hands of the Philistines;
and tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me;”

Saul wanted a prophecy of victory,
instead he received a ghost story that ended with him as a ghost.

In the New Testament Peter, James, and John
are on Mt. Tabor with Jesus
when he is transfigured
and is seen to be speaking with Moses and Elijah,
two great prophets who had been dead for a very long time.

So when, on the evening of the resurrection,
the disciples are locked in the upper room, fearful of the Jews, fearful that they would be the next to be put to death
for their association with Jesus,
and in the space of an eye blink Jesus appears in their midst,
it is completely rational for them to think they are seeing a ghost.

And while the first words from Jesus’ mouth
are “peace be with you”
I cannot help but think
that all the disciples heard at that moment was “BOO!”

But Jesus knows their fear and their doubt.
Jesus knows that they think they are seeing the ghost
of their dearly departed teacher, and that perhaps,
like old King Saul,
they were about to hear a prophecy of their impending doom.

That’s not what happens though,
what happens, to me is amazing, and loving,
and altogether the most Jesus-y thing Jesus could have done.

He sets to work laying their fears to rest.
“Look at me,” he says; “touch me,” he says,
“for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”

At that point joy began to fill their hearts,
but they still weren’t convinced,
and so Jesus does the only thing he can to prove that he is alive: he asks for food.
And he took the fish they gave him and ate it.
Something they had doubtlessly seen Jesus do
a thousand times before.

Jesus is alive. Death could not keep him.
The grave could not hold him.
Now the disciples had no doubt about it.
And the world has never been the same.

Last week we read a different version of this story.
In John’s gospel it is Thomas alone
who gets labeled as the doubter.
This week it is all of them.

Last week Jesus left the disciples with a gift, a power,
that they were given the responsibility to use.
And this week, well this week it is very much the same.

In both stories Jesus does what needs to be done
to allay the fears of the disciples.
He comes back to give Thomas the chance
to see him and touch him.
In Luke he allows the disciples to see him and touch him
and watch him eat like a flesh and blood human being.

The gifts Jesus gives those who follow him though are different.
Last week we were told
that we have the power and responsibility to forgive others,
to tell others the good news of God’s forgiveness.

This week we are given a gift and a responsibility
that we need to take just as seriously.

In verse 45 it says
“Then he [Jesus] opened their minds to understand the scriptures.”

Now this is the part where I am supposed to tell you
how vitally important it is to immerse yourselves in bible study.
And it is, for a great many reasons
but today I just want you to understand one of them.

Jesus opened the minds of his followers
to understand the scriptures
because for centuries 
 those who had been reading them and interpreting them
were getting it wrong.

All of the religious scholars
and the priests and pharisees
believed that when the Messiah came
he would be a great military leader who would,
with the power of his military might,
drive whoever the current oppressor might be,
out of Israel and restore the throne of King David in Jerusalem.

The reality of how the Messiah carried out that deliverance
was vastly different.
And so the minds of the disciples were opened
to be able to look at the scriptures
and see what God was doing all along,
even when the people weren’t really paying attention.

Much of the New Testament
is the writings of disciples
expounding on their understanding of the scriptures
in light of who Jesus really was and what he really came to do.

One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit
that is given to us is this ability.
It takes a great deal of commitment and discipline to exercise it
but it is a gift and a responsibility of ours all the same.

And it is for a reason that goes beyond our own spiritual growth.

Starting in verse 46
“Thus it is written,
that the Messiah is to suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins
is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations,
beginning from Jerusalem.
You are witnesses of these things.”

The gift of understanding is given to us
so that we can understand the purpose of the Messiah
and so that we can tell the world
about God’s love and forgiveness
because we are witnesses to these things.

We witness them as we read and understand the scriptures.
We witness them as the Word of God becomes alive in our hearts. We witness them
as we see the deliverance of God in our lives
and how the Messiah still lives and moves and breathes in each of us.
We are the witnesses of God’s love and grace in our time.
We understand it more completely
as we engage with the scriptures
and as we tell our story, the story of Jesus and his love,
of repentance and forgiveness, to the world around us.

And we don’t just witness God’s love and grace – we bear witness to it. We share it. We proclaim it.
We reveal it, as we help those around us
recognize how God is at work still.

So may our eyes be opened to the reality that Jesus is alive,
May we our ears hear the cries of those who need Jesus,
and may we have the courage to believe the truth,
and head out into the world
believing that God is already at work, waiting to meet us there – 
 if only our hearts are open and ready to believe.
Christ is risen indeed; thanks be to God! Amen? Amen.

Luke 24:36-48


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