Saturday, April 25, 2009

Not Another Ghost Story

Luke 24:36-48


About a week ago, I decided to stop in at Trempealeau Valley Lutheran Church when I had a little time on my hands just to take a look around and spend a little time quietly meditating in this beautiful country church. As I was about to head downstairs, I thought I heard someone moving around down there. This was odd, because as I pulled into the parking lot of church I noticed that there weren’t any other cars there. Wondering who it could be, I went downstairs to check and see who it could be. I didn’t see anybody down there, but I heard a sound again, this time coming from the furnace room. As it turns out, there seemed to be some kind of animal crawling around the duct work who I disturbed upon my entry. At least that’s the conclusion I came to when I heard more clearly the sounds of scurrying coming from the ducts in the furnace room. I have to admit, though, I let my mind wander into the more imaginative parts of my thinking.

You see, my imagination tends to run wild in those situations, coming up with any number of possibilities not least of which can be “supernatural” in my thoughts. When I was a child, I routinely let myself get caught up in ghost stories that I either heard on television or heard from my friends. They warn of self-disclosure in one’s sermons in seminary, but to tell a little secret, there was a time when my imagination ran so wild that I actually slept with a night light, much to the dismay of my older brother who shared a room with me for many years and liked sleeping in the dark. There was something about those stories that really just captured my imagination where I could turn any number of odd sounds or odd lights into any number of ghosts benevolent or otherwise. I don’t think that I’m alone in this either. We seem to have the ability to forge the odd into the supernatural. I think that most of us have a story like this, but I don’t think they are simply the products of us being gullible (although, gullibility, the ability to be taken in, may play a part in our susceptibility to ghost stories). I think that it really is more of a product of our mind trying to make sense of a situation that doesn’t logically add up. Yet, that even fails as I know of quite a few people who have had very real experiences, especially when it comes to loved ones who have passed away.

As it turns out, the disciples are no different. They too are confronted with a situation that just seems too odd to be natural. They too are trying to make sense of what’s been going on around them. So, when they see Jesus the man, friend and teacher that died standing before them, they immediately start thinking of the supernatural. As the Gospel of Luke says, “They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.” Nothing seems to be making sense to them. First, he died. He was supposed to be the Messiah! He was supposed to be the one who would lead them into a new age. He was the one who had done such amazing things right be fore their eyes, yet he died. To make matters worse, all in the same day, some of the disciples who were women told them that Jesus had risen – story that just seemed to be “an idle tale.” Peter, though, ran to the tomb only to find it empty, was simply “amazed.” Now, they hear this other story from two other disciples who walked with Jesus but didn’t know until they broke bread with him in the town of Emmaus. All of this seems too odd. All of this seems too strange. All of this doesn’t add up in their minds.

No wonder they thought that they were seeing a ghost. What other explanation could there be? People don’t rise from the dead. Usually when someone dies, they stay dead. But the Greeks, they talk of spirits and ghosts of people. Maybe, just maybe that is what they are experiencing. But, even that doesn’t make any sense to them, considering all the tales they’ve been hearing all day long. An empty tomb? The Greek idea of ghost was that it was a manifestation of the soul that separated from the body. Why would a ghost need the tomb opened? And, why is there no longer a body within the tomb? All of this doesn’t add up. Still the best guess that they can come up with is that Jesus standing here before them must be a ghost.

Thanks be to God that Jesus doesn’t leave the disciples in that place, nor does God leave us in that place to fumble around with that very same conclusion. Jesus sees their confusion right away and sees the doubts that are creeping into their minds even as he tells them, “Peace be with you.” They are to look at his hands and his feet and touch him to see that it really is him. Here he is! Not an ethereal ghost but a man of flesh and bone! You see, Jesus, the risen Christ is really risen! This is not simply a spiritual rising. This is not simply a ghost who has come back either to haunt them or even give them just one last piece of advice. This means everything to the disciples, with the help of Jesus opening up the scriptures, because they are finally able to understand, know, and trust who Jesus is. They now are able to understand that Jesus truly is the Messiah, even if he’s not the Messiah they were expecting. They now are able to know who Jesus is, because they finally see what God has come on earth to do. They see that God has come to die for us and our sins so that we may be united with him in a death like his and raised to new life in a resurrection like his. And, they are finally able to trust in God, because they see the depths to which God will go for us. “Everything written about Jesus in the law of Moses, the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled” And, it is only by the power God opening these scriptures that they are able to know what this means for them – God’s abundant love, care, and redemption for all of creation.

Even though we know this to be true, and we hear about it time and time again, I believe that we find ourselves living much like the disciples in those few days of confusion following Jesus’ crucifixion. Confusion, doubt, and uncertainty assail us from all angles of our life. Sin and evil are still present in the world. Atrocities are still being carried out for one reason or another, though it too often seems like there’s no reason at all behind it. Our loved ones still die no matter how much we try to keep them alive. Greed grips our society as the actions of few people affect the lives of so many people who depend on steady work and income. By all our reasoning, it seems as if nothing has changed and the world makes perhaps even less sense than it did even 50 years ago. But this is why it is all the more important that this story of Jesus appearing to the disciples is not just another ghost story. Jesus is not just kind of risen. Jesus is not just part way come back from the dead. Jesus, this person who is fully human and fully God has been fully raised into new life and brings us the hope of our own resurrection. This isn’t something that we know by the power of our own reasoning or the power of our own will. We know this to be true only by the Holy Spirit who shows us the truth, the way, and the life. That is why we come back to this story year after year. That is why we come back to the table that our Lord set for us. This is why we should constantly remind ourselves what God has done for us in the waters of baptism. This is why we come together as a community so that we can see, feel, smell, and hear the love of Christ in the people that we meet – especially the poor, the hungry, the sick, and the oppressed. We do it so we can receive yet again that promise of grace and love that is the presence of Christ in our lives. As much as it is wonderful to live yet again in this Easter time, it can be very hard to live in a world that still has pain. But again, Thanks be to God for not leaving us in that pain and sorrow!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Jesus' death and resurrection: The Good Joke

John 20:19-31


There is much to be sad about in our lives. There is much to be angry about. There is much to be absolutely serious about in our lives. Yet, we don’t spend our whole life crying, screaming in anger, or calmly assessing and analyzing the things that we come across in our lives. There is a huge capacity for us to laugh, to be joyous, and not take everything seriously in our lives. Humor and comedy are definitely good for us and for our world which so often seems mired in the totally serious. Garrison Keillor has once said:

"Jokes are good for your health, they reduce stress, even ancient jokes like "She was only the stablemen's daughter, but all the horsemen knew her," even jokes as old as "Does this bus go to Duluth? No, this bus goes beep beep." Or the blind man who picked up a hammer and saw. They keep on pleasing us, year after year."

Keeping that in mind, here are a few jokes that I have recently heard:

Children Baptizing

After a hardy rainstorm filled all the potholes in the streets and alleys, a young mother watched her two little boys playing in the puddles through her kitchen window. The older of the two, a five year old lad, grabbed his sibling by the back of his head and shoved his face into the water hole.

As the boy recovered and stood laughing and dripping, the mother ran to the yard in a panic. 'Why on earth did you do that to your little brother?!' she asked as she shook the older boy in anger.

'We were just playing 'church' mommy,' he said. 'I was just baptizing the name of the Father, the Son and in...the hole-he-goes.'

Ole and Lena

Ole and Lena were so excited to get a new cellular phone. Ole was to call when he was on his way home from town. Ole called Lena when he entered the freeway.

"Lena put supper on, I'm on my way home."

Lena says, "Be careful because I hear some nut is driving the wrong way on the freeway."

"It's worse than that Lena, where I'm at there are a hundred cars going the wrong way!"

Jesus, Moses and The Old Man

Jesus and Moses and an old man were out playing golf on one beautiful Sunday afternoon. Both were doing pretty well, but were lamenting the water hazard that was coming up, as it was a particularly hard hole to hit par on.

Moses went first on this difficult hole. He set his ball, swung, and sent his little golf ball right into the center of the water hazard. As it was heading to the water, Moses quickly stuck his club in the air, the waters parted, and his balled rolled safely to the other side. Moses then chipped it on the green in two.

Jesus didn't do much better, however, hitting his ball to the water hazard as well. So, Jesus walked across the water to where his ball was and deftly pitched it on the green.

Finally, the old man that had been following them set his golf ball and swung. He absolutely shanked it off to the right. But just as the ball was heading out of bounds, a freak wind picked up and the ball hit a tree and rolled to the edge of the water. A frog that had been sitting on a lilly pad hopped over, and picked up the ball in his mouth. Then an eagle who had been watching the frog for quite some time, thinking Lunch, swooped down and picked up the frog and the golf ball. Momentarily startled, the frog hung onto the ball, but dropped the ball out of its mouth just as the eagle was flying over the green, and it rolled in for a hole in one.

Moses then turned to Jesus and said, "I hate it when your dad plays golf with us."

Seeing the sound of monks

A man is driving down the road and breaks down near a monastery.

He goes to the monastery, knocks on the door, and says, 'My car broke down.
Do you think I could stay the night'?

The monks graciously accept him, feed him dinner, and even fix his car. As
the man tries to fall asleep, he hears a strange sound; a sound like no other that he has ever heard. The next morning, he asks the monks what the
sound was, but they say, 'We can't tell you. You're not a monk'.

The man is disappointed but thanks them anyway and goes about his merry
way. Some years later, the same man breaks down in front of the same

The monks again accept him, feed him, and even fix his car.

That night, he hears the same strange mesmerizing sound that he had heard
years earlier.

The next morning, he asks what the sound was, but the monks reply,

'We can't tell you. You're not a monk'.

The man says, 'All right, all right. I'm dying to know. If the only way I
can find out what that sound was, is to become a monk, how do I become a

The monks reply, 'You must travel the earth and tell us how many blades of
grass there are and the exact number of sand pebbles. When you find these
numbers, you will become a monk'.

The man sets about his task. Some forty-five years later, he returns and
knocks on the door of the monastery. He says, 'I have travelled the earth
and devoted my life to the task demanded and have found what you had asked
for. There are 371,145,236, 284,232 blades of grass and 231,281,219,
999,129,382 sand pebbles on the earth'.

The monks reply, 'Congratulations, you are correct and now you are a monk'.

'We shall now show you the way to the sound'.

The monks lead the man to a wooden door, where the head monk says, the
sound is behind that door.

The man reaches for the knob, but the door is locked. He asks, 'May I have
the key'?

The monks give him the key, and he opens the door.

Behind the wooden door is another door made of stone. The man requests the
key to the stone door.

The monks give him the key, and he opens it, only to find a door made of
ruby. He demands another key from the monks, who provide it. Behind that
door is another door, this one made of sapphire. And so it went until the
man had gone through doors of emerald,......silver, topaz, and amethyst.

Finally, the monks say, 'This is the key to the last door'.

The man is relieved to no end. He unlocks the door, turns the knob, and
behind that door he is astonished to find the source of that strange sound.
It is truly an amazing and unbelievable sight

But I can't tell you what it is because you're not a monk.

We spend so much of our lives trying to “see” what is happening. We tend to trust what we can see, what we can measure, what we can verify with corroborating testimony and evidence. We are a curious people. We are curious to find out what is going on around us.

Thomas, that disciple who has gotten somewhat of a bad reputation over the years as a doubter, searches for his own physical evidence – to “see” what is happening. You see, one can look at his reaction to the other disciples who tell him about Jesus coming to them like the reaction to a bad and cruel joke meant to hurt him and “fool” him into something he knows at the core of his being shouldn’t be true. Not that the other disciples were meaning to play a cruel joke on him, but in everything that Thomas knew to be true, dead stayed dead unless Jesus himself commanded them to arise like he did with his friend Lazarus. But, now this friend and teacher had been executed by the Romans. To think that someone who had been killed could be alive again went against everything that he knew to be possible. It must simply be a joke.

However, that is exactly what Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are – a joke, not a cruel joke, but a joke played on the natural order of things in the world, a joke played on evil, sin, and death in which they are not only fooled but have their power utterly stripped away from them. Laughter can be good medicine, and jokes can be good for your health. There is a comedy and a humor in what Jesus does in dying for us on the cross and raising us to new life. The world is turned on its head by Jesus’ actions, and that is the essence of a good joke.

Friday, April 10, 2009

"Good" Friday, Needed Friday, Beloved Friday

John 18-19

Good Friday 2009

So now we come to it. We come to the day in year in which above all other days we call good. This day, our savior has died for us. This day God has shown us his love for us. This day we know who God is and what God has done. When I come to this day every year, my mind starts whirling around questions that I have to ponder every single year. I come with questions because simple reason seems to fail all too easily when it comes figuring out what Jesus is doing on this “good” day. It can seem silly to think of this day as “good.” What’s good about hearing a story of a man being beaten and executed by an instrument of death that was designed to be cruel and inhumane? What’s good about hearing a story of a man that was abandoned by all his friends and family? What’s good about hearing a story of a man who was betrayed by one of the very people who said he loved him and would follow him? Rather, it seems as if this day is more of a day filled with sorrow, grief, and pain. Surely, a “good” day would not be filled with this sadness.

We spend much of our lives thinking that good days are those days when everything seems to be going your way. In a good day, things have gone our way. Our work went by quickly without thought yet the quality of the results were high. In a good day, we’ve spent wonderful time with family and friends sharing stories and laughing at one another’s jokes. I remember growing up as a kid in elementary school thinking that good days were the days that I had fun and was able to do my school work well. Bad days were the days where it felt like everyone was picking on me and where I kept on getting into trouble with my teachers. However, “good” does not always equal happy or joyous. “Good” sometimes means much more than that to mean what is right or what is needed. But what is right or needed about Good Friday where death and suffering are the order for the day, where, at least for me, all seems darker and quieter? Yet, this day above all the other days and times in the year is alone called “good.”

When we hear this story about Jesus’ betrayal and crucifixion, we are hearing the story of someone who was not just another man being beaten and killed for crimes he may or may not have committed. We hear the story of what God has come to do for us. We see the lengths and the depths to which God will go, because God chooses us and God will not abandon us. Forever, God will be our God, and we will be God’s people. The goodness of this story and the goodness of this day is the clear and shining revelation of what God does for us – the people who forsake God and just as much as the Romans and Jews beat Jesus and nailed him to cross every time we sin trying to build ourselves or other things up as our gods. Jesus’ death on the cross is a death for all sins of all times and places. If we could do better, he would not have to die. Instead, Jesus’ death is the proclamation that God will not abandon us to our sin and death. In this great act of love, Jesus redeems all of creation, turning it into something it could not be by itself.

This redemption is what Christ does on the cross. He turns that which causes death into that which gives us life. This is what makes this a “good” day. Jesus redeems creation and turns it into something new. This is why our glory is in the cross. Before Jesus’ death, it was only an instrument of cruel torture and death, but instead, Jesus’ turns it into an instrument of life, because through the cross we are united with God for all of eternity and raised into new life. Through the cross, Jesus comes to us and seeks us out even as we, like the disciples, flee and desert him leaving him alone to die. Through the cross, this day, which by all reason should simply be called “Bad Friday,” becomes THE good day of the year where Jesus, the Son of Father, who lives and reigns for all eternity as one in the Trinity, does for us what we desperately need and shows the never-ending abundance of God’s mercy and love. This is our glory, because this is what God has done for us – given us new life. This is Good Friday – not a happy day, but the day that is right and needed.