Jesus does his best ghost impression, something that his disciples fall for immediately. Luckily for them, he isn't really a ghost.
Even though we're now four Sundays away from Easter, our gospel lesson today brings us back to the evening of the resurrection. The disciples, gathered in the upper room in Jerusalem, had just heard the report of the two men walking to Emmaus who encountered Jesus on the road -- how Jesus explained to them the whole of Scripture and then, when he broke bread, they recognized him.
Then, just as they were still discussing these things, Jesus showed up. They all thought he was a ghost, but he said something like, "No, I'm not a ghost! Look at my hands and feet. Poke me; do ghosts have flesh and blood? Give me something to eat; ghosts don't eat after all." Then, when they finally started to understand, he "opened their minds" to the Scriptures and reminded them of what he had said about his death and resurrection, but also that they would go and preach to all nations, starting at Jerusalem, but not until the Holy Spirit comes.
It's actually a really good idea. The disciples knew they were going to go out and preach, Jesus even sent seventy of them out to do just that earlier in his ministry, but they always had Jesus around when they did it. They had someone they could go to for advice and to keep them on the right track. After the ascension, Jesus wasn't there to help them, so they had to wait until Pentecost for the coming of the Holy Spirit -- the counselor promised in John's gospel and the power promised here.
Now, after Pentecost, the disciples were empowered in the Spirit to go out and do amazing things. Our reading from Acts comes right after Peter and John healed a crippled beggar in front of the Temple courts. After healing the man, Peter started to preach to the onlookers. Now Peter's sermon was rather well-tailored to a bunch of primarily Jewish onlookers, especially since some of them were likely at Jesus' trial, so he preaches something tailored to that audience. As one how preaches on a regular basis, I can attest that the Holy Spirit is quite involved in preaching. Without the Spirit, it's just words, but with the Spirit, it's the power of God to change lives, which is exactly what happened when Peter started preaching to the people.
Now I must apologize to the lot of you. I've spent a lot of time in sermons saying how important it is to share our faith with others, to invite them to things here at the church, and things like that. But I haven't done so well explaining the most important part -- trusting in the Holy Spirit. There's a reason why the greatest commandment is to love God, and then to love one's neighbor, love as Christ loved us, and make disciples as you go. Without first loving and trusting God with everything we are, how can we hope to love our neighbor. Of course by the same token, if we love God with all that we are, we will naturally love our neighbor.
So how then do we love God? It's one of those things that's easier said than done, but the simple version is we love God because God loved us first. In our Lutheran tradition, we understand that without the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we can't follow God. But back to God's love for us, in 1 John 3 we read, "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, the we should be called children of God." Yet sometimes the hardest thing for us to do is allow ourselves to be loved by God. We get distracted by guilt and shame -- tied up in sins we have committed that we can't quite forgive ourselves from. It gets in the way of God's love for us and our love for God. But, as John continues to write, "Now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure... He appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin."
Because of Jesus, all of the things that would keep us from God are taken away, and in Him we are made pure. The sinful things we have done -- all the times when we have chosen not to follow God -- are washed away. We can remember, like the Psalmist in Psalm 4, that "the Lord does wonders for the faithful."
It's only then, secure in the knowledge of God's love for us and seeking to love Him fully, that we can go out and tell others. It's what Jesus told his disciples to do, and still has in store for us. When we seek after God first, the Holy Spirit will lead us in what to say and do when we set out to tell others about God, just as he led Peter and John, and all believers from then to now.