The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s106g06 St Barnabas Orange East Third Sunday of Easter 30/4/2006
"they thought that they were seeing a ghost .." Luke 24.37
In my job as a chaplain, I am often questioned about the existence of the devil, ghosts, evil and exorcisms, what we might lump together as the "para-normal", and it important to recognise that what some people experience is very real to them. It serves little purpose to try and argue the reality or not of these things. And we might indeed take Jesus' words today to assume that he knew of the existence of ghosts, so much so that he was able to confidently assert that he wasn't one of them.
Quite obviously the perception of these sorts of things is very ancient. The disciples thought that they were seeing a ghost -- though I've often wondered why. I've never seen a ghost, so I suspect that it was the same for them. I wouldn't actually know a ghost if I saw one or if a ghost had flesh and bones or not. Obviously because they knew Jesus had died, the disciples must have thought he was something like this -- there was no other explanation. "Ghost" is just a convenient word to use for any unusual appearance -- a vision of something otherwise inexplicable -- someone who was the same and yet different.
What I say to people is that to debate the existence of the devil is to ascribe to whatever it is -- an arbitrary power over people -- over us. It is a bit like anger. If we dwell on our anger it only makes it worse. There are lots of things that I cannot explain, some good, some bad. One can rejoice with the good things that happen -- and try to "roll with the punches" when these come our way.
When I used to take confirmation classes I always asked the class to name three things they couldn't see but they also couldn't live without. Of course I got lots of answers like love; but there are in fact lots of things -- air, light, warmth, and gravity to name just a few. I suppose if you were a fish, the water would be invisible. One of the interesting ones, for those who have read the book "The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" (by Robert Pirsig) is quality. Each and every one of us instantly knows that something has quality, but it defies definition and measurement. There are many, many things that happen that defy logic.
To focus on the origin of bad or scary things, is to allow that which would seek to diminish our lives to get its way. It becomes a "self-fulfilling prophecy" and it is us who let this happen.
Recently I have had contact with someone who has been wallowing in anger and self-pity for many years, and the person blames someone else for making them that way. This person has effectively given the keys to their own personal happiness to the other, and then wonders why they remain unhappy, wallowing in anger and self pity.
And in relationships, we often see our happiness only in being a couple, and we invest so much of our own happiness in each other. How much more secure a relationship it will be if the partners each find their own happiness for themselves and then try to communicate it to the other?
So I do not debate the existence or otherwise of things I cannot explain, for they are always of the nature that they can neither be proved nor disproved anyway. The important thing for me is that we do not give away power over our own lives to someone else, either good, neutral or evil.
So for me the question "Do I believe in life after death?" is less important than the question: "Do I believe in life before death?" The way to make life before death as good as possible is to not hand over sovereignity over my own happiness and well being, to someone or something else.
I have often had cause to remark that in the scriptures, the divine always lifts people to their feet. Debates about the reality of the paranormal more often than not have the opposite tendency -- to keep people guessing and distracted from the important and life-giving things.
I often have cause to think that when people are not well, it is often our bodies that take the time to heal and we really cannot rush this process. The skill of the surgeons is often to remove the offending body that is causing the problem and the care of the staff serves to facilitate our healing. The medications help to alleviate pain or nullify the infection; but in the end it is our body that has to heal. Young bodies heal that much quicker. There is little point fretting about the progress or lack thereof, for it is us that has to heal and that does take time.
I once knew someone who had the belief that you only went to hospital to die, and guess what, he did! So what we believe is important, and it is important to believe that we are worth the care of God and we are worth the care of others. So my task as a chaplain is to communicate by my friendliness the love of God and the effectiveness of the medical facilities that are around them.
Some people want God to make them better in order to avoid hospitals and medications. This is an attempt to continue to be independent and in charge of our lives -- when God wants us to be interdependent -- one on another. The skill of the surgeons, the care of the nurses and the effectiveness of medications are all God-given, and we do God a disservice (not to mention ourselves) if we seek our healing apart from these others. Only just the other day, at the morning meeting at the admissions ward at Bloomfield, one of the clients who was about to be discharged said during the "appreciations" section how he ascribed much of his return to health to the other clients, and I thought how true this is. The person found healing in his atonement with others in the same boat as himself, and we will likewise find healing in our atonement with others in the same boat as ourselves.
How does all this relate to the resurrection of Jesus that we celebrate at this time? New life can well be ours as we focus away from that which would diminish us and focus towards that which is life giving and affirming. The resurrection of Jesus, the guarantee that the risen Christ continues to associate with all people and not just the "religious", means that (a) we and all people are equally at one with the divine and (b) the people God puts around us are equally instruments of God's healing grace and (c) the risen Christ continues to come to lift us and all people to our feet -- to restore our God given ability to stand before the Almighty rather than grovel, and to use our God given brains.
As we live in the light of these truths, I have no doubt that we can be sure that we are doing all we can to allow God's healing and new life into our lives -- and the God I worship will honour that. I cannot guarantee just how that healing will come, but come it will.
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