Steve Lindsley

Luke 24: 36-48

Our scripture today from the gospel of Luke begins rather awkwardly: While they were talking about this….  While they were talking about this.

And you know what this reminds me of?  This reminds me of folks you and I both know – God bless them – who begin a conversation in such a way that you feel as if you’re being dropped in the middle of a conversation that is already happening.  I have a good friend who does this all the time.  He calls me on the phone: Hey, Steve! So listen – I spoke with that guy I was telling you about, and he likes the first idea a lot better than the second one, but not unless it can happen on a different night at the previous location.  What do you think?  You have people who do this to you as well?

It’s like getting a text from a number you don’t recognize: Happy Birthday!  Maybe it’s spam, or maybe it’s someone you actually know.  The question is whether you send that dreaded three-word response?  Who is this?

 The 36th verse of Luke’s 24th chapter gives off a similar vibe: While they were talking about this….  Like being plopped in the middle of a conversation with no point of reference or getting a text from a number you don’t recognize.

So we have to do what our high school English teacher always told us to do, which is to read back a little and look for the context.   Because scripture, like so much in life, does not happen in a vacuum.  It’s always coming out of something that came before.  And as we read back a little into the chapter, we learn that it is the disciples who are being talked about here.   The women and men who followed Jesus for nearly three years of their lives.  That’s the “they.”

And what were “they” talking about?  Turns out it was Jesus they were talking about – specifically, the news making the rounds that Jesus, presumably three days dead at this point in time, might not be dead any longer.  Something about a moved stone and an empty tomb – details were sketchy, but it appeared that Jesus was somehow, miraculously, alive again.

So our story today begins this way: a group of folks who’d walked and talked and lived with Jesus are now talking about him.  While they were talking about this….

And that’s when it happened: While they were talking about this, while these followers of Jesus were talking about Jesus, all of the sudden Jesus himself stands among them.  As if he just appears out of thin air.  Jesus appears to them and greets them with “Peace be with you.”  I’d like to think that in 2024 this would be the equivalent of a hearty, “What’s up!”

And if this were anyone else besides Jesus, those disciples would’ve surely responded in kind.  But this wasn’t just “anyone else,” which is certainly the reason that the disciples react the way they do.  They are terrified – absolutely terrified.  Because it’s one thing to talk about Jesus being alive again; toss it around in your head a little bit.  It’s another thing entirely to be confronted by the risen Jesus, right there in the room with you.  And so they are terrified.  They are scared to death.  In fact, they actually think for a second that they are seeing a ghost.  Have you ever had an experience where you thought you saw a ghost?  Maybe not in a “haunted house at Halloween” kind of way, but some “presence” that you weren’t expecting and couldn’t explain?  You remember that surge of adrenaline, that kick to your heart rate, that quickness of breath that shot through your body?

That’s what those disciples were experiencing here: While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said, “What’s up!”  And they were terrified and thought they were seeing a ghost.

And I think my favorite part of this entire passage is what Jesus says next: Why are you frightened?  Why all the doubts?  Look at my hands; look at my feet – it’s me!  Touch me. Look me over from head to toe. It’s really me!

Jesus walks into the room and the place goes crazy.  And what is Jesus’ response to them?  It is the colloquial equivalent of Stop freaking out!  He shows off his limbs to prove he’s not some figment of their imagination.  Stop freaking out!  He even eats a piece of fish to prove it’s him, in the flesh.  Stop freaking out!

Which, can we all agree, is easier said than done.  We’ve lived long enough to know how life and death works in the world and the harsh reality that is as iron-clad as any: that dead people do not come back to life.  And so the whole idea that that is happening here understandably freaks them out.

But we would be wise to ask ourselves – is that all that is going on here?  Is it just the table-turning of death that is the reason the disciples are so freaked out?    I’m not so sure it is.  Because truth be told, there is something else that accompanies Jesus when he appears in that room that day; another iron-clad certainty turned on its heels.  And it is this: it is that hopes and dreams are called hopes and dreams for a reason – because more often than not, that is all they ever will be.  Just hopes and just dreams.

And for those disciples, Jesus had been the very embodiment of their hopes and dreams – for a people suffering under the oppressive weight of Roman rule, a people waiting for a promised savior for centuries.  They thought they had finally found that in Jesus, and that Jesus would lead them to a new world.  A world where wrongs would be made right, where love would reign supreme, where pain and suffering would be no more.  They thought they had found that all in Jesus and they gave up everything to follow him.  And when Jesus died, it was the death of a friend, yes; but it was so much more than that.  It was the death of their hopes and dreams too.

And so now, in this moment, when Jesus enters the room, it’s not just new life that knocks them for a loop.  It is the sudden return of all of those hopes and dreams with him, bowling over them like a tidal wave.

I wonder which freaked them out more.  Was it that a dead man was dead no more?  I mean, that’s certainly worthy of freaking out. Was it that, or was it that the sliver of hope they had in that possibility, daring to even dream of such a preposterous thing, had actually come true?

Sometimes, beloved, it is not our worst nightmares that really scare us, but the fulfillment of our hopes and dreams that terrify us the most.In the 2000 movie The Replacements, when the regular players went on strike earlier in the year, teams turned to replacement players to fill out their rosters – those who weren’t good enough to make the roster the first time around but were now being given a second chance. People who’d been stocking groceries the week before; driving cabs, cleaning warehouses.  Now they had another opportunity, perhaps their last, to fulfill their life-long dream.

And it terrified them.   Because there was so much they stood to lose.

The head coach, played by Gene Hackman, could sense their underlying angst.  Through all the locker room bravado, through all the chest-puffing and big talk, he could sense how scared they were.

So one day he calls a team meeting after practice and writes five words on the chalkboard: What are you afraid of?  A 300-pound sumo wrestler named Franklin replies, “Spiders, coach! I’m scared to death of spiders.”  There are a few nods of agreement around the locker room.  Someone else offers up that they’re afraid of roaches.  Another cannot stand poison ivy.  The kicker who has only played soccer all his life says he’s been terrified of roller coasters since he was a kid.

Coach thanks them all and says, “Gentlemen, I appreciate all of that, I do; but what I’m really talking about here is this.”  He motions to all of them, this locker room, this game of football and the second chance they’d been given.  “What are you afraid of with this?”

And now there is only silence that fills the room, because everyone knows this isn’t about piddly stuff anymore.  This is about hopes and dreams.

It’s Falco who finally breaks the silence.  Falco, the all-star college quarterback who got injured at the end of his senior year and never fulfilled the hype.  Falco raises his hand and says, “Quicksand, coach. I’m afraid of quicksand.”  Coach invites him to say more.  “See, you’re playing football, coach.  You’ve won awards, they say you’re gonna go high in the draft, make a lot of money.  They tell you you’re all set.  And then you get injured.  And you try to work your way back, but one thing goes wrong… and then another… and another.  And the harder you fight and the more you hope, the deeper you sink.  Until you can’t move, you can’t breathe, because you’re in over your head.  Quicksand.”

And now every guy in that locker room is nodding their heads in agreement because this is a fear that they all share.  The fear of hopes and dreams unrealized.  The fear that everything will change and nothing will change.

You know, sometimes I wonder if the lives of those disciples would’ve been easier had Jesus never appeared to them that day.  If things would’ve been simpler had Jesus just stayed in the tomb, the stone sealed shut forever.  Because that’s what they were expecting.  That’s what we expect.  Death still stings; of that there is no doubt.  But the wound heals in its time.  And we move on.  We move on with the lives that await us.  And even when it’s hard, it’s something we can manage.  Because it is what we expect.   That hopes and dreams stay just hopes and dreams.

Thanks be to God that Jesus did not make it easy on them or on us!  Thanks be to God that Jesus appeared to them that day and nearly scared them to death; this man who had defied death, this man who said “What’s up!”  This man who told them to stop freaking out, even though they had every right to.  This man who had the audacity to tell them that they did not need to be afraid anymore.

Fifty-eight times, the Bible tells us “Do Not Fear.”  Did you know that?  58 times.  More than the number of times it says “Jesus is Lord” or “Love one another” or “You are forgiven.”  More than anything about who is in and who is out, who is right and who is wrong.  More than anything about forcing our faith on others, or our faith putting us in a position of entitlement, or grace being something that’s only for a select few (those are all in there zero times, by the way).

Fifty-eight times, God implores the faithful not to be imprisoned by their anxieties, not to be afraid of the amazing and wonderful things God can do in their life, in this world.  Fifty-eight times, God dares us to dream – I know that sounds horribly cliché, but it’s true.  It’s true because dreaming and hoping are the very heartbeat of non-fearful living.  Fifty-eight times, God proposes a radical alternative – to replace fear with hope, hate with love, prejudice with acceptance, indifference with compassion, judgment with forgiveness.

All of that filled the space when Jesus entered the room and shocked everyone to their core.  Not because life had defeated death.  But because hopes and dreams had done away with fear.

This past week I had a number of you tell me that the phrase from last week’s sermon – not a period but a comma – stuck with you and got you thinking and brought you to new realizations and insights.  That’s called “taking the sermon with you,” and Rebecca and I love it when that happens, because it means the sermon is no longer ours but yours.

I want to invite you to do the same this coming week with this question: what are you afraid of?  Not spiders or roaches or roller coasters – what are you really afraid of.  What are those things that keep you up at night; but even more, what are the things that keep you from latching on to the reality of the living Jesus who is sitting there with you, right now; who walks with you every step of the way?  What is it that causes you to live fearfully and keeps those hopes and dreams at bay?

And then I want you to think about what it might look like to lean even more into the hope and promise of the living Jesus, who is always surprising us with his presence, who walks into the room and scares us silly?  What might you do not to make yourself fear-proof, but better equipped to handle your fears in such a way that you might more readily embrace all of your hopes, all of your dreams?

So yes, freak out over the risen Jesus, if you must.  Freak out over the promise he brings.  But know that you will not stay freaked out forever. Because the day is coming when Jesus’ presence and God’s hopes and dreams for us and for the world will not be something out of the ordinary.  It will just be the way things are.

In fact, people of God, that day is already here.

In the name of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, thanks be to God – and may all of God’s people say, AMEN!



* Because sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation, the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.