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True Open-Mindedness

Luke 24:36-49; Acts 3:11-21; 1 John 3:1-7

Pastor James F. Wright

3rd S. of Easter
St John Lutheran Church  
Champaign, IL

Play MP3 of this sermon

Sun, Apr 26, 2009
3rd S. of Easter

Standard LSB B Readings:
First: Acts 3:11-21
Epistle: 1 John 3:1-7
Gospel: Luke 24:36-49
Psalm: Psalm 4:1ff 7


Do you believe in ghosts? A poll conducted in 2003 showed that more than half of adults in the United States believe in ghosts and/or demons..To date, there is no solid empirical evidence of the existence of ghosts. Yet, all cultures have some belief in spirits of the dead that visit the living.

In traditional Chinese folk religion, families set up a small altar is used to pay tribute to the family's ancestors during the annual Ghost Festival.

Traditional Japanese honor the yurei, or spirits of the departed, who wait for a proper funeral before joining the ancestors. The spirits travel the earth until the rites are performed or emotional unrest is resolved.

In Aztec mythology, the (Key-wa-te-teo) Cihuateteo were the spirits of human women who died in childbirth. They haunted crossroads at night, stealing children and causing sicknesses and torment.

And in the ancient Middle East people were influenced by the concept of the Greek underworld, where the spirits of the deceased existed as shadows languishing underground.

When Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to the disciples, small wonder even his closest followers were afraid and thought they saw a ghost.

Most people are open minded about the spiritual. Why else would Hollywood make so many movies about ghosts and spirits? From very young age we are frightened of ghosts, and who hasn't walked quickly to their home on a dark night and wondered if there was something supernatural out there watching them?

Even though Jesus came to them that Easter day and said, "Peace to you," They were not open-minded to the idea that what they were seeing was the fulfillment of what he had told them several times, "that the Christ must suffer and be killed, and on the third day rise from the dead." Instead, they resorted to their folk religion, that said he must be a spirit. Luke records that the disciples were startled and frightened

Like those disciples, people today are generally open-minded to the possibility of spirits and ghosts. There is a thriving industry of fortune tellers and conjurers in developed nations. Teen books about vampires are selling by the mega million, and the kids are always talking about what to do in a zombie attack.

When someone dies people say things like "Uncle Charley is still with us. We can feel his presence."

And that's what gets me. We are so open to the possibility of ghosts returning to visit the earth. Why then don't most people think about Jesus rising from the dead as a certain thing, and why doesn't that have a big influence on them?

Luke records that Jesus went to some effort to convince the disciples that he wasn't a ghost. He showed them his hands and feet, bearing the marks of the crucifixion, now healed. He invited them to touch him. He didn't feel like a ghost, but his body was firm and warm like we are now.

And when that wasn't enough, he asked for food, and they gave him some fish. He ate it there before them.Ghosts and spirits have no need of food. They have no human body to sustain as we do. There's also some good news for those of you who love to eat. Jesus still eats. His body is the prefigurement of what a resurrected body looks like, what it does. His body is that glorified human body that he promised to give to us. So there will be eating and drinking in the world that is yet to come!  Isn't that good new?

Jesus said that he had been teaching them about his resurrection long before he was crucified. Not only that, but this was the plan from the foundation of the world. "Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms.This is another name for the entire Old Testament of the Bible.

What are those Old Testament Prophecies? Psalm 16:10 reads, "You will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let you Holy One see decay."  How can this verse be understood apart from Jesus? An Israelite might trust in the Lord to save him from earthly calamity, but what saint was not finally overcome by death and buried in a grave? Their bodies decayed and became dust. The same happened to King David who wrote the Psalm. Either he was mistaken, or he was speaking of someone else.Yet Holy Scripture has no error.

The disciples of Jesus thought this way. A person dies. Their body is buried. If we see them again, they must be a ghost. They couldn't get beyond that, no matter how much they had learned from their teacher up to that point. Their minds were closed to the possibility.

It would take a miracle to convince them. That is what they received. Luke records what happened next. "Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures." Only then could they understand. He explained to them what the Old Testament said about the servant of God who would suffer and die for the sins of the people, and rise again.

The same thing happened to those two disciples who walked along the road with Jesus, but were kept from recognizing him. Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, Jesus explained to them what was said there about him.

Can you imagine the astonishment that came over them? Now they could see! They had the power to understand why God wanted all those animals to be sacrificed. A thousand years of sheep and goats. The blood poured out on the altar. It was an image of Jesus!

The passover meal that they celebrated each spring. It was all about Jesus! How God would pass over sinners because Jesus blood sacrifice had purified them.

The words of Job, in all his misery of disease, poverty, and grief. He looked up and said, "I know that my redeemer lives. In the end I will see him, in this very skin. It will be me. I will live."

Like Job, now their minds were opened to understand.

We need that open-mindedness also. Not as the world understands open-mindedness. That everything is acceptable except too much decency. Don't call immorality wrong. Call it an alternative lifestyle. That's not open-mindedness. That's close-mindedness to the revelation of God.

True open-mindedness comes to us when the Holy Spirit frees us from superstition to understand the truth that we were blind to before.  It changes how we look at things.

A couple of years ago I got to visit the city of Rome, Italy, and see the catacombs, or burial chambers of early Christians, under the city. While Roman law said that all bodies had to be burned to prevent disease, the early Christians buried their dead outside the city gates. Later on, as the city grew, space was limited. So they dug down and buried their loved ones in tombs under the graves above. It didn't take long until there were up to seven levels of graves connected by hallways between them. These are the catacombs.

I noticed that the early Christians carved and painted images of Jesus on the graves. He is depicted often as the Good Shepherd taking care of his flock. He looks you in the eye. He's on your level as the disciples knew him.

Later I went into some of the Medieval churches and noticed the art was higher up on the wall. Then in the cathedrals, where Jesus is far away on the ceiling, he is dressed as a king and you stand far below on the floor and look up at him.

The Holy Spirit is able to open our minds to understand that Jesus is not far away from us. He is very close. He visits us in His Word, when we hear and read it. He is with us when we are baptized. He visits us we accept his invitation to eat and drink his body and blood in the sacrament. It takes an open mind to believe that God does enter our world in these places.

Sin is the result of fear. Fear that we won't get what we want so we have to take it. Fear that we won't be happy with what God provides. Fear that we will miss out on the good things of life if we say no to the enticements that are offered to us. Fear about what will happen after we die.

Jesus takes away our sin. He opens our minds to a life without fear. We can trust God. He has demonstrated we can trust him full, but only him. For only he can raise this body to live forever after we die.

That is why Jesus told his disciples that he would make them witnesses of his resurrection to the world. But he asked them to stay until they received the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost so that their minds would be fully opened.

Are you an open minded person? If you believe that Jesus rose from the dead, and that through the forgiveness of sins God will raise you again after you die, you have an open mind. That open mind casts out fear, for you know that Jesus is with you always.

Jesus is there to forgive you, to restore you, to take away fear, and open your mind to all the possibilities of a life with God.

Copyright 1998-2011 James F. Wright. All rights reserved.

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