Sermon – April 15, 2018

Categories: Church,Sermons

Panic and Fright

by Rev. Joe Connolly

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“…Jesus stood among them, stood in their midst and said: ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and terrified, in panic and fright;….” — Luke 24:36b-37a.

On occasion people will accuse me of being a scholar. I am convinced that’s because I sport a well trimmed beard.

A stereotype held onto by our society says if I have a well trimmed beard I look like a professor, a scholar. Therefore, if I have a well trimmed beard I must be a scholar. But there is a difference between looking like a scholar and being a scholar.

I have known real scholars in my time. I am not a scholar. In Seminary my New Testament professor was the late Rev. Dr. Burton Throckmorton, a real scholar.

My proof of that is, when he stood in front of a class reading Scripture, the book from which he read had the text in Greek— ancient Greek at that— the original language in which the New Testament is written. Yet the words Burt uttered in front of that classroom were, word for word, a perfect English translation.

Now, that’s a scholar— someone who can translate from Greek into English on the fly. And what was the book with Greek text from which Bert was reading?

It has a fancy name, a Latin name. The book is called the Textus Receptus. The title means ‘received text.’ And what is in that book?

Well, there are about 5,700 different copies of ancient manuscripts of Scripture which scholars say are authoritative. There are more than that but there are 5,700 which scholars say are authoritative.

That means these manuscripts should be given great credence. However, none of these 5,700 manuscripts contain exactly the same words. [1]

That is where this Textus Receptus, the ‘received text,’ comes in. It contains the what scholars have agreed, after much study, should be the words which get translated. (Slight pause.)

Now, at most services of worship you hear only a small section of Scripture. Therefore, unless you check a Bible right then, when it is read, you do not hear the context of that segment. Today’s reading is the 24th and last Chapter of Luke.

In this chapter we get post-resurrection stories. First, the women go to the tomb and find it empty. They then see the Risen Christ. Next we get the famous Road to Emmaus story, found only in Luke, again a vision of Christ.

The two disciples in that story rush back to the place where other disciples have gathered and are told the Risen Christ has appeared to Simon. At that point the Emmaus travelers tell the disciples the story of their encounter.

That is where today’s reading starts (quote:) “…Jesus stood among them, stood in their midst and said: ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and terrified, in panic and fright;….” (Slight pause.)

For a moment I’d like to draw your attention to the words “startled and terrified, in panic and fright.” You remember that book I just referred to, the Textus Receptus? That is the work which contains what scholars have agreed on should be the words which get translated.

Therefore, scholars agree these words, “startled and terrified, in panic and fright” are what those who recorded Scripture intended to write and should be translated. Scholars are, therefore, telling us Scripture insists the reaction of the disciples to the Risen Christ is to be startled, to be terrified, to be panicked, to be frightened.

In fact, when you look at all the post Resurrection stories this is a common theme. In this last chapter of Luke the women are at the tomb and see two figures dressed in dazzling garments. The women are described as being terrified.

The Emmaus travelers are not described as terrified. On the other hand, the description says even though they did not recognized Jesus, when the Messiah spoke and explained the Scripture, their hearts were burning. Those words certainly tell us something about their reaction.

The Gospel called John famously has Thomas who doubted. Mark describes the women at the tomb as bewildered and trembling.

Equally, just before Jesus ascends the Gospel we know as Matthew says some of the disciples doubted. Please understand this is what Scripture reports: the words say the Risen Jesus is standing there, right in front of the disciples, yet some doubted. (Slight pause.)

There are two other common threads in the post Resurrection stories. Jesus seems to appear and disappear. In today’s reading it even says the disciples think they are seeing a ghost. This frightens everyone.

The other common thread is, when Jesus is in their midst, these are the first words said by the Messiah. “Peace be with you.”

Contrary to populist belief, the words “Peace be with you” are not about the lack of conflict. “Peace be with you” is an invocation that the presence of God is there among them. The words mean that God is present. (Slight pause.)

All that once again brings us back to the Textus Receptus, the received text. Given that scholars say these things are and should be in the post Resurrection stories because these words carry authority, I think we can draw two conclusions.

First, doubt is an important part of faith. After all, those words are right there in the received text.

Again, contrary to populist belief, doubt does not mean a lack of faith. Doubt does mean we need to trust what cannot be explained or understood.

Second, the very thing we need to trust, the thing expressed by the words “Peace be with you,” is that God is with us, God walks with us, God is present to us. And indeed, the proclamation of Easter says Christ is risen, God is in our midst. (Slight pause.)

Yes, the disciples were frightened by the presence of God. Yes, the disciples doubted the presence of the Risen Christ, even though Christ stood in their midst.

However, when they doubted the presence of God and the presence of Christ, it still means they trusted. Why? The reality of the presence of God and the reality of the presence of Christ wound up in the received text, this reality.

I therefore think we, today, are called to the same place. We are called to trust Christ is risen. We are called to trust God is present to us. That is our claim as Christians. Amen.

United Church of Christ, First Congregational, Norwich, NY,
Gathered for Worship at Chenango Valley Home, Norwich, NY

ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Choral Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “In the course of my comments today I mentioned I read from the 24th and last Chapter of Luke. The work known as Acts is actually the second book of Luke. Scholars tell us it was written by the same author at the same time. We break that work down into 28 chapters. I know a church that called its newsletter Chapter 29. Why? Well, we are, after all, called to a continue the work of God, the work of the Messiah that happens next, that happens after the 28th chapter of Acts. We are the 29th chapter.”

BENEDICTION: Let us place our trust in God. Let us go from this place to share the Good News as we are witnesses. And this is, indeed, the Good News: by God we are blessed; in Jesus, the Christ, the beloved of God, we are made whole. Let us depart in confidence and joy that the Spirit of God is with us and let us carry Christ in our hearts. Amen.


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