Archive for April, 2008

Repent and Rejoice!

Saturday, April 26th, 2008

 Repentance; Salvation; Witnessing; Acts 17:16-32; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21; Easter 6A
 
 Sixth Sunday in Easter, April 27, 2008
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click her for audio of this message.

Perhaps the most important question someone will ever ask and have answered is, “How can we get to heaven?”  When you ask people this question as often as I do, you will be surprised by the many different answers you receive; most of them have nothing to do with how God has determined is the only way to come to Him.A little boy named Billy was caught being bad, something easily done for little boys who venture outside of the watchful eye of their parents.  His mother, who had become frustrated, asked him, “How do you expect to get into heaven acting like that?”  Billy thought for a moment and then said, “Well, I’ll just keep running in and out and keep slamming the door until they say, ‘For heaven’s sake Billy, either come in or stay out.’  Then I’ll go in!”  And that is the same foolish idea that many today have about pleasing God and entering into an eternity of peace.This morning I have a message to communicate to you that is so simple that it can be summed up in just one word, yet because of its simplicity many find it difficult to receive, so I will preface that simple Word with this story.
There was a couple many years ago that went through the long process of adopting a child.  Those of you who have been through the process can attest to how grueling and frustrating adoption can be.  When this young couple was finally approved as adoptive parents they were called down to the agency to meet and take home their new baby boy.

They arrived at the agency several minutes early and they were escorted to a waiting room upstairs.  After a few minutes they heard someone else come through the front door, and slowly walk up the same stairs.  Then they heard muffled voices and a door to a room next to them open and close.  Again they heard muffled voices but this time the voices were accompanied by uncontrollable sobbing, deep with anguish the sobs continued for several minutes.  Then suddenly, all was silent and they heard once again the same footsteps going down the steps, the same door closing.  After a few minutes, the case worker entered their waiting room and asked the couple to follow her into another room.  As they entered, they immediately saw a crib, and within the crib was a beautiful baby boy!  On a chair next to the crib was a brown paper bag that contained a change of clothes and two sealed letters from the birth mother, the woman they heard sobbing.  One of the letters was addressed to the adoptive parents; it thanked them for providing a loving home for her baby and accepted that under the terms of the adoption she was to have no contact with the child.  At the end of this letter the young mother added one request—Would they allow her little son to read the other letter on his 18th birthday?  She assured them that she hadn’t included any information about her identity, but rather simply wanted to communicate one thing in life that she had learned was more important than anything else.

The story never told what was in the letter; it’s point was to illustrate the enduring love of a mother for her child, a child that she could no longer care for.  But I can’t help but wonder what she wrote.  If you had to condense all that you feel about life and love into a few precious words, what would you write?  You wouldn’t have time for trivial things; you’d have to get right to the point.  Friends, this morning I find myself in a similar position along with the Apostle in this morning’s lesson from the book of Acts.  I must start and end this message with one thought, indeed with one word.  I pray that you will hear and understand this message clearly.  Please don’t listen to my accent; don’t worry about my hair or tone of voice; don’t think about my race or my education.  See past me and hear the word of God, “REPENT!”

This morning we find St. Paul delivering a message of repentance and salvation to the people of Athens.  Turn with me now in your Bibles to Acts 17:16-31. Starting in vs. 16 we read: 16Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. 17So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.
 19And they took hold of him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” 21Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.

We’ve caught up with Paul waiting in Athens for his partners in ministry to join him there.  While he’s waiting he begins to observe things that really bother him in his spirit.  All around him are idols and evidence of false worship.  As Paul is trouble in his spirit, he felt compelled to address the cause of that trouble.  So Paul began to engage the citizens of Athens in discussion and debate about the One true God.  As he did this, it became apparent that there were two groups of thinkers that seemed to control all of the discussion about religion and faith; they were the Epicureans and the Stoics. 

The Epicureans believed that true religion was discovered in the pursuit of enjoyment.  If life was difficult for a person then that meant that, that person was searching for happiness in the wrong place.  If you were living a comfortable life then that was considered evidence that you were on the right path.  We could say that their motto was “Eat, drink, and be merry!”  The Stoics on the other hand believed that all of life was nothing more than a collection of atomic particles whose existence and order were predetermined by an unseen and unknowable force.  If one wanted to find happiness in life, then it was necessary to discover this force’s movement and follow it.  We might say that the Stoics motto was “Go along to get along” or “Go with the flow!”  Does any of this sound familiar?  We live in a consumer based society.  Every day we see people living their lives in the pursuit of things.  Young people, your parents and grandparents had a saying for this style of living—it was called “Keeping up with the Jones’”.  “My neighbor or friend has this gadget or that thing and they seem happy, so I need to somehow get it too!”  The problem with this style of living is that no matter how many things we collect, it’s never enough, we always want the next big thing!  But, we also can find another type of person whose philosophy is “It doesn’t matter.  The rich keep getting richer, and the poor just keep getting poorer.  What’s the use? I’ll never have a comfortable life style, so why bother!  I just won’t work for anything.  I’ll just settle for whatever the government and charities give me.  I just have to accept that as my lot in life!”

St. Paul tried to reason with both of these groups, by assuring them of something greater than themselves; he tried to tell them of a God who saw them as more than the things they had collected in life or failed to collect.  What was his reward?  They ridiculed him and called him a babbler, a speaker of nonsense, yet they could not reject the logic in his belief.  Now intrigued by his logic they say, “We wish to know more about what you are saying.”  And to this, Paul undoubtedly asked and answered the same question Martin Luther asks us in His Large Catechism concerning the First Commandment, “What does it mean to have the true God?” A God is the term we use to describe the one greatest thing or things we turn to, to find happiness; the things we find refuge in during times of need.  Therefore, to have a god is nothing else than the very thing that we trust and believe in with our whole heart.  So you see, it is trust and faith that makes both a God and a false god.  If our faith and trust are right, then our God is the true one, but where our trust and faith are falsely placed then we don’t have the true God but instead we are worshiping an idol.  Anything dear friends that our hearts rely on or desire, anything we depend on, that is our God.

What do we depend on?  I mean what is it that we really think will make our lives better?  For some it may be a certain life style.  For others maybe it’s a certain political party, or government program.  Maybe it’s a certain drug or substance that alters your mood.  And for others it might be a system of belief that says all religions lead to heaven and all worship is sacred to God the creator.  But all of these things if allowed to replace the one true God and His Word are simply false gods and idols.  This was the truth that Paul taught and it no doubt caused quite the commotion within the halls of academia, in the city of Athens.  And yet they wanted to hear more!

 [Vs. 22] 22So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious.   23For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 
   26And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28for
    “‘In him we live and move and have our being’;
 as even some of your own poets have said,
    “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’
   29Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Dear friends, what St. Paul was saying to the people of Athens, he is speaking to us as well.  He is saying that the incarnation of God in Jesus means that even as we live our lives continually searching for meaning and knowing the true God, “Indeed he is not far from each one of us.”  If you have never truly known the love, mercy, and kindness of God, and you hunger to know the truth, HE IS NOT FAR FROM YOU!  Maybe you knew the sweetness of His presence once, but now because of circumstance either directly resulting from your actions or circumstances beyond your control you feel as though God has abandoned you.  Please hear this word, HE IS NOT FAR FROM YOU!  Perhaps you truly know God’s presence and enjoy a relationship of trust with Him, but something in this message has touched your heart, and you feel the need to confess your sin and be forgiven once again, then be of good cheer, HE IS NOT FAR FROM YOU!  Friends, the truth is, we can’t make God come any closer to us than He already is.  In Jesus, God lives in the flesh and He is redeeming our sinful lives every moment of every day!   I know, for some this undeserved gift of love from God in spite of our rotten, sinful living just seems too good to be true.  Of course it’s too good—that’s what makes every bit of it so wonderful!  IT—IS—TRUE!

The truth is we don’t have to live as if God is angry with us, because the God in whom “we live and move and have our being” doesn’t need a single thing from us, instead we need to receive from Him.  In our baptism we received all that was needed to approach Him with or aching and lonely hearts.  And when we look back at our baptism we are reminded that he has incorporated us into His continuous and mighty act of salvation, as a gift of love from Him to us!

Now, because of this gift, we belong to a God “who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth”.  We are not judged by a god who is separated from us.  For in Christ, the world is judged in righteousness, not in anger.  We are judged not by the virtue of any sacrifice we can make, but by the virtue of Christ’s glorious sacrifice for us—“By His wounds (we) have been healed.”  By his agonizing death for you, the death you should have died, you have been saved. 

Dear friends, St. Paul says that we can be sure of this promise because Jesus has risen from the dead, He is risen indeed!  So repent!  Turn away from your sins and turn to Jesus for forgiveness and life.  Repent and believe that God is for you, and then let His love transform you forever!  I pray that you will do this now, tomorrow, and every day in Jesus name…. AMEN!

The Joy of Fellowship!

Saturday, April 12th, 2008

Fellowship; Joy; Witnessing; Acts 2:42-47; Easter 3A

Good Shepherd Sunday
Fourth Sunday in Easter, April 13, 2008
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click Here For Audio of  this message.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you dear friends from God our Father and our Savior Jesus Christ!  Our message this morning comes to us from our reading in Acts (2:42-47).  I have asked our Organist Dale to softly play a series of notes for a few minutes to illustrate something that is expressed many times in our lesson this morning (In the background the organist begins to play a series of dissident notes).  There is a word in Greek, just one word that communicates a series of wonderful word pictures; it is Homothumadon. What you hear being played would represent the opposite of homothumadon.  Listen…it is unsettling, even uncomfortable to listen to isn’t it?  Hear how those musical notes seem to be working against each other?  These notes are called dissident notes.  Each pitch is fighting the other; each vying for supremacy.  But when we adjust the notes so that they compliment each other, they become pleasing to the ear, pleasing to the soul—they become homothumadon. Do you hear how the notes are moving together with one mind, with one accord, and with one passion?  It is a fellowship of sounds, each complimenting the other.  They are homothumadon, or a joyful fellowship of sounds.  As the notes of the organ harmonize in pitch and tone as Dale determines, we see an illustration of how God desires to work within His Church using us as His great symphony that declares His majesty and glory among His people and to those separated from Him by sin within the world.  The church, our church becomes God’s symphony of homothumadon when it adherers to 4 things: doctrine; fellowship; worship; and witness.

I. When we adhere to the Words of Jesus as taught by the apostles we are said to be following sound doctrine.  The disciples in our lesson this morning adhered to the teaching of the apostles as they recalled all that Jesus taught.  We can adhere to good doctrine as well because we have all that they taught recorded for us in our Bibles.  Everything that God wants us to know about Him and His will for us is recorded there.  If we study His word and live out His will, we will experience homothumadon.  But the devil’s desire is for you to be dissident to this will.  The devil desires friction and turmoil; he always has!  So the devil attacks the spread of Jesus Words and will.  That is the bad news, but the good news is, no matter how hard Satan and his devils try to prevent us from adhering to good Biblical doctrine, God—will—intervene!  When the devil tried to scatter the disciples in fear on Good Friday, God’s angel gathered them with the proclamation, “Jesus is risen, He is risen indeed!”  When the Jewish leaders led by the devils tried to force them behind locked doors, Jesus miraculously appeared and gave them the peace of His eternal presence through the gift of the Holy Spirit, which in turn empowered them with courage to go out and be His witnesses to the entire world until His return. As these witnesses spread throughout the world proclaiming the gospel, Satan tried to stop their witness once again by putting many of them in prison and eventually to death, but God again intervened by converting the tormentors.  He even converted Constantine, the Emperor of Rome into the fellowship of believers. 

So God’s people flourished and grew.  But Satan couldn’t stand to see them adhering to the true doctrine, so he used their ease to once again interrupt their fellowship with dissident doctrine—unbiblical teachings.  Satan began to attack God’s fellowship of believers from the inside—from the top down.  But God began to raise-up faithful stewards of His Word from within the church.  So began the seeds of the reformation.  Many brave reformers were imprisoned and even put to death for their insistence on Biblical doctrine, but one voice could not be silenced.  Martin Luther, by God’s grace rose up and boldly declared God’s message that has always been the source of our doctrine—we stand in the presence of a loving God by His grace, through faith in what our Bibles teach about Jesus Christ.  We stand by these things alone, and in this God is helping us and ensuring that this fellowship will not fail!  This is the doctrine that we still follow and insist on adhering to.  This is your inheritance indeed it is your legacy to live out and pass on to the next generation!  We find strength to live out this truth when we…

II. Adhere to Christian fellowship.  This Christian fellowship is first a fellowship of all believers—the universal church of true Christians unseen by all except God alone.  But the Christian fellowship is also a physical church, our church, and many other churches, and together we are all Christ’s church.  We are a fellowship because we adhere to one faith in Christ and one teaching, scripture alone.  We are a fellowship because it is only by God’s grace that we have been called out of the darkness of sin and into the light of eternal life and Christ’s body, the church.  This gives us great joy, because Christ first loved us while we were still sinners! 

Because of this truth, we along with the disciples of old, find it easy to support the fellowship, and to give to each other and to the ministry of this fellowship generously as the need arises.  We give out of our bounty because we know that if we are ever in need God will ensure that we are cared for as well.  This type of generous giving was never forced on the early church and it is not forced upon us.  We give because the Holy Spirit has recreated our sinful hearts and minds into something wonderfully new!   

Before the coming of our Savior, the people of faith, the Jews lived under the Mosaic Law, which was very specific about the care for the needy and downtrodden present within their fellowship of faith.  Under this law, God was teaching His people that it was His will that none of His children of faith should go hungry or be in need.  But if we read our Bibles, we will see that it is replete with example after example of the homeless, beggars, and helpless widows and orphans in need of but seldom receiving care.  These helpless ones were all people of faith.  The fact that they were not taken care of is proof that the Law of God cannot change a sinful heart!  No, rather it is only through God’s recreation, through the gift of new life that this type of giving and care can be assured.  So God changed the hearts of the early Christians and because of this change they gave not because they had to, but because their Lord asked them to.  They gave out of their love for Jesus because Jesus first loved them.  And friends, Jesus first loved us as well.  While we were still sinners He loved us, and He loves us still, so we give.  We bring our offerings as God leads our hearts so that each may be blessed by the ministry of this fellowship.  And when we feel our hearts growing cold and hard as they tend to do so easily in this sinful world, we pray.  And when we pray, we wait to be answered by God; we seek to be filled with His gifts.  But in order for this to happen, we know that we must…

III. Adhere to the fellowship of worship.  It is during worship that God will continue his work of ensuring that our old hearts that are hard and cold are destroyed and our new hearts are continually strengthened by His real presence and warmed with the gentle touch of His gospel.  We come just as the disciples of old came—hungry for the gifts of God—salvation through the forgiveness sin!

Our new heart hungers for and receives God’s Word as often as possible, even as the disciples of old gladly received His Word daily.  We hunger for and receive His Holy Supper, just as the disciples of old did, and through this breaking of bread and this drinking of the cup of the new covenant, our new hearts feast upon His very body and blood, making them joyful and our fellowship meaningful.

Now, with God working within us, we begin to hunger for a deeper fellowship with each other.  We long to celebrate another type of breaking of the bread…the fellowship of community meals.  Whether its coffee and donuts, church potluck or picnic, we long to gather together.  Not because we must, but because we desire the company of each other.  We have discovered as did the disciples of old that we need each other.  We need each other’s prayers and love.  We need each other’s support and care.  We need each other because we need Jesus, and we know that Jesus lives and works within each of us.  So we gather in our fellowship out of love and out of need.  But we are not yet complete, because we find God’s Spirit compelling us to…

IV. Adhere to the fellowship of proclaiming the gospel. It is only through the proclamation of the gospel, our witness to Jesus presence in this sinful world that the family of God will grow.  This morning Jesus says: “Even though you meet day by day, and you continue steadfast with one accord attending worship regularly together and breaking bread and receive your food together with glad hearts; even though you praise God for all of this, are you allowing me to add to your fellowship more and more people saved by grace and faith through scripture alone?  Do you want me to add to your number?  Do you want your fellowship to grow?”  And to this we say…Yes Lord!  Please teach us how.

Hopefully this illustration will do just that.  When I was a boy growing up in Wisconsin, there was a lot of water around.  I had wonderful adventures around lakes, ponds, and streams.  In our village park there were three bodies of water very close to each other, a pond, a river, and a spring fed stream.  The pond was fed every spring by the overflowing river.  When the winter snows melted, the pond teamed with life…I loved to play there and catch frogs.  The spring fed stream on the other hand was not as interesting to me.  It wasn’t nearly as spacious and inviting as the pond.  The spring bubbled water up, only to gush it down the banks of the little steam.  Everything there seemed so urgent. 

The pond on the other hand seemed to have everything I needed.  I could walk its edge at my leisure and let my mind wonder off on great “What If” adventures.  But every summer, something dreadful happened to that little pond—it died!  No longer was there the presence of life teaming around this water, instead there was brackish water and the stench of death and decay was everywhere.  Yet to my surprise I discovered that just a few hundred yards away, the stream was still teaming with life.  The water was still bubbling up and sending itself quickly downstream; but to where?  I followed the stream for almost a half mile and found that it met up with the Fox River.  And there within the river was all of the wildlife I came to love within the pond!  While the pond became a place of death, the stream kept bubbling life.  The stream continued to draw from the underground springs at its source and it gave life freely as it went along. 

Friends, it is God’s will that we travel out from this place as bubbling life.  He wants us to bring life to people and places where the decay and stench of death now exist.  What must we do?  Simply allow Jesus presence within us to lead and guide us.  Others will sense His presence and they will be drawn to you, because they are drawn to Him.  Within God’s Word, Jesus gives us this teaching when He says: “Give, and it will be given to you,” (Luke 6), and “Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matt. 10).  Jesus also taught His disciples of old and He teaches us today, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…for where your treasure is there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6)  You see, we gain by giving and lose by keeping.  But we can’t grow by keeping to ourselves.  We must go out and intentionally share God’s love with others, then they will see Jesus within us and hear our witness.

Before His death upon the cross, Jesus shared the key to living in an empowering fellowship with Him and others in our fellowship.  He told the disciples of old and He tells us today, “Love one another as I have loved you.  All men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)  Friends, God’s plan for all believers includes the demonstration of His righteousness in and through a loving community.  Jesus’ church is to demonstrate to the world that righteousness, homothumadon, when correctly understood means love and joy!  And this love and joy can only be demonstrated in His fellowship; His fellowship within us, around us, and through us.  When this transformation takes place, we are nourished in our growth towards becoming like Jesus through the ministry of each other.  In the acceptance and love of each other, we also begin to not just more deeply sense God’s love for us, but we also begin to reflect that love towards a dying world in great need of homothumadon…fellowship with God!  May God ensure that this is so within each of us…in Jesus name…AMEN!

Moving From Cowering to Courage!

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008

First Sunday in Easter, March 30, 2008–Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message.

Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Because the Savior has risen from the dead, frightened and fearful humanity has Divinely-given hope. We no longer need to cower behind closed doors afraid of the unknown because we are no longer held captive in sin, or enslaved by the devil. Jesus Christ has conquered all of these things, and with His wonderful victory on Easter Sunday, He has assured us that we can believe without a doubt that no one can snatch believers from His loving hands. 
At the top of the one thousand foot mountainous peaks of Meteora, Greece, monasteries have been built.  Their inaccessible location gave the monks an opportunity to remove themselves from the cares and concerns of the world. These monasteries became places of solitude, safety and security. Up until the last century, goods and visitors had to be winched up to the monasteries in a basket that was hand-powered by the monks. Those who made the ascent found the ride a terrifying experience because of the basket’s swaying and swinging. One tourist recorded his adventure and admitted to getting very nervous about halfway up the cliff. That’s when he noticed the rope seemed to be very old and frayed. Thinking that he might relieve his fear, at least somewhat, he asked one of the monks who was riding with him, “How often do you people change the rope?” Without a moment’s hesitation, the reply came back, “Whenever it breaks!” That kind of response doesn’t give a person a feeling of absolute security, does it? In our Gospel reading this morning, we find Christ’s disciples fearfully cowering behind locked doors.  They were afraid because the word was out that if any of the ruling Jews of Jerusalem found any of Christ’s disciples their intention was to beat them, drive them forever out of temple worship, and quite possibly put them to death. Now you and I will probably never travel to Greece and visit the monasteries high upon the mountain peeks, and we will probably never be beaten and ordered by our government to stop speaking the name of Jesus, but we all have things that make us afraid; things that cause us to worry.  It’s these things that can make us do the unthinkable; forsake our Savior who has set us free from sin. 
Think about it this way, this morning we can say Christ has risen, He has risen indeed, and then when we go back to our homes, neighborhoods, schools and places of employment and we can very easily become silent and live a life that doesn’t demonstrate the truth that Christ has risen for us, indeed!  That is the reality that we find the disciples in our Gospel reading [John 20:19-31].I. [John 20:19-20] It is Sunday, Easter Evening.  The Lord has risen.  The women saw Him and reported this fact to the disciples.  Peter and John were told this very thing by an angel.  This is great news!  And yet we find the disciples cowering behind two sets of locked doors.  It is precisely in this condition that Jesus miraculously appears to them.  And to this sorry bunch of losers, this sordid bunch of sinners, Jesus begins to give them the scolding of their lives, right?  Wrong…rather Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”Jesus did not scold this fearful group of sinners; instead He forgave and encouraged them with His Word of peace, “shalom”.  This was the same shalom, which he had promised them on numerous occasions was and would be theirs because they believed in Him. And now, there He stands, truly giving that peace to them.  He gives them His peace through His forgiveness of their many sins.  “What sins” we may ask?  Well think about it, when He was being tried and crucified, all of them abandoned Him.  Peter denied Him three times; he even cursed with His last denial.  And now here they all are, except Thomas, knowing that Jesus had risen from the dead just as He promised, yet their fear prevents them from rejoicing, instead they’re hiding away behind locked doors.  But Jesus, their loving Savior calmed their fear and feelings of despair with this absolution, “Peace be with you.  Shalom”We’re not so different from them are we?  We too are often afraid of what can’t see or understand, and when we’re afraid, our fear leads to doubt, which breeds even more-fear. Because our minds are so puny we find it impossible to take in the infinitely great things of God, so like the disciples, we too may resort to a denial of what faith demands; we must believe what lies just beyond reason’s grasp,  and that is hope and a peace with God!  To these doubts and fears, Jesus also says to us, “Peace to you!!” “My peace that I give is like no one else can give.”  There is a saying that has been around for awhile, and it goes like this: “As the person so his word.” In this day and age when a man or woman’s word means very little, Jesus Word is more cherished than solid gold.  Friends, what the disciples found out that Easter evening is what we must discover as well, when Jesus says peace he actually gives what the word says.
 I remember one day after church, an incident occurred that involved the decorative and empty Christmas presents that were placed under the church Advent tree.  One day after advent dinner and before the service began, the parents of a small boy lost track of where their son was, so they set out to find him.  Very soon they found him inside the sanctuary under the tree opening all of the decorative presents.  The parents screamed his name in shocked horror and told him to stop at once.  The boy looked up with a irritated look on his face and replied, “Oh, it doesn’t matter anyhow, whatever kid’s going to get these presents sure has cheap parents…THERE’S NOTHING IN THEM!”  Friends, Jesus word of peace is not an empty package, but one that is filled with a heavenly reality far more beautiful  and active than any thoughts we can  conjure up to understand it.  It is only after we begin to experience the gift that we will truly understand the beauty and grandeur of true Shalom-Forgiveness of all our sins! 
With such a wonderful gift comes an awesome responsibility.  “Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.  As the  Father  has sent  me, even  so I am  sending  you.””[vs. 21]  With these words, the disciples are now given two gifts in one: The peace of God and the invitation to be God’s messengers.  With this gift, they were told to quit cowering behind locked doors and go back out into their communities with the power of God and the message of God: “And  when he  had said  this, he breathed on them and said to them,   “Receive  the Holy  Spirit. If you  forgive  the sins of  anyone,  they are  forgiven;  if you  withhold  forgiveness from  anyone, it  is  withheld.”[vs. 22-23]Dear friends, this mission was not just the mission of the apostles but it is the mission of all of the disciples of Jesus.  This mission is still our mission, because there is still so much sin and suffering in this world.  This mission is not just the mission of pastors, but it is the mission of the entire church.  It is your mission. As Jesus told the disciples then, He also tells us today that just as the Father sent Him to seek and save the lost sinners of the world, He too is sending us on this very same mission; our mission is to proclaim the forgiveness of sins; we are to be God’s ambassadors and proclaim to all who will hear, “God loves you and wants you to come back to Him.  God forgives you through Jesus Chirst.”

Now with a mission so great and a message so wonderful, the disciples immediately rose to their feet and left that place of security and began to proclaim the good news, right?!  Well…no.  Verse 26 says, “Eight  days later,  his  disciples  were  inside  again, and  Thomas  was with  them.  Although  the doors  were  locked,  Jesus  came and  stood  among  them and  said,  “Peace be  with  you””.  There they go again, cowering behind those same locked doors for fear of the Jews.  And there Jesus is once again offering forgiveness and peace, and they need it too!  They are still captured by their own fears and concerns.  I can hear them now, “We tried to go out Lord, we really did.  We even tried to convince Thomas, you know the one who was missing the first time you popped in for a visit?  He wouldn’t believe.  Said he couldn’t believe unless he could touch you.”   Here we go again as well.  I can hear our excuses even now: “Lord, you don’t want to use me to invite people to church, why I can’t even get my own children and grandchildren to attend with me.”  To the disciples then and to us now, Jesus continues to say, “Peace be with you.”  You are forgiven.  Once again, Jesus announces the very essence of our mission.  Isn’t it wonderful that our God isn’t an angry task master, demanding that we produce results.  No, instead, we have a loving God who is willing to repeatedly demonstrate His principle of forgiveness within us, around us and through us. 
So there stand Jesus, smiling at all of His disciples.  I imagine that he may have said still smiling, “Now where is that doubter?  Thomas, front and center; you have been avoiding me far too long.”  God’s law now begins to confront Thomas and it calls him to task.  Now, Jesus looks directly into Thomas’s eyes, He speaks directly to His heart and says, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side.  Do not disbelieve, but believe.” [vs. 27-28] These aren’t angry words, but words of love.  This dear friends is the sweet word of peace.  It is the Gospel.  Jesus came back for Thomas just as the shepherd in His parable left the 99 secure sheep to find the one lost sheep.  Friends, Jesus is teaching us that He is willing to go to any lengths to save a sinner; even a doubting and self absorbed sinner like Thomas–even a sinner like you.  He will not quit until he has found you or your lost loved one.  Will you help him?  Will you confess your own sinfulness to Him and then joyfully receive His peace that comes with your forgiveness?  Will you help Him find the other lost sheep that are in your community?  He doesn’t need your help, He wants it.  He hasn’t demanded that you help Him, He’s asking.  Will you help?
 Some of you may say, “Oh if only I could have an experience like Thomas, then I would really be on fire for the Lord.  What a blessing Thomas received.”  And to this, Jesus says, “(No, rather) Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  But how can we believe without seeing some may ask?  And to this question, our gospel reading answers, “(Well) Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not (even) written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe (so that you might have faith in the fact) that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” [vs. 30-31]  St. Peter also tells us in our Epistle lesson that “God, according to his great mercy, has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  And that by God’s power, He is keeping an inheritance for us that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.  This work of God’s power is your gift of faith which comes through the hearing, reading and proclaiming of God’s Word, and your inheritance is your eternal life with Jesus! [1 Peter 1:3-5]  If by faith you are willing to live out your life in this peace that Jesus gives, it will change you completely.  Allow me to close with a story that illustrates this point nicely.
There once was a lady who had a small house on the seashore of Ireland at the turn of the century.  She was quite wealthy but also quite frugal.  The people were surprised, then, when she decided to be among the first to have electricity in her home.            Several weeks after the installation, a meter reader appeared at her door.  He asked if her electricity was working, and she assured him it was.  “I’m wondering if you can explain something to me,” he said.  “Your meter shows scarcely any usage.  Are you using your power?” “Certainly,” she answered.  “Each evening when the sun sets, I turn on my lights just long enough to light my candles; then I turn them off.”
Friends, perhaps we are like that old lady.  Maybe we too have tapped into the power but we aren’t using it.  Maybe like the old lady’s electricity, our souls are saved but our hearts are unchanged.  Maybe we are trusting Christ for our salvation but resisting His transformation.  Oh, each Sunday we flip the switch, but when we go home, perhaps we’ve settle for shadows. What would happen if we left God’s light on?  What would happen if we not only flipped the switch but lived in the light?  That is precisely what Jesus is asking each of us to do this morning.  He wants us to trust in His presence and power and to walk with Him. 
Dear friends, since we truly believe that Christ died and rose for us, so that our many sins might be forgiven, then we as Thomas have only one response to this truth: “My Lord and my God.”  Lead on and we will follow.   Since we agree with St. Peter, that “though we have not seen him, we love him (and) though we do not now see him, we believe in him and rejoice with joy, then we are truly filled with God’s power.  And it is that power, which will prevent us from cowering along with our faith behind closed doors and lead us out from this place to walk with and serve Jesus with courage.   May God continue to do this good work within us so that we may always joyfully proclaim, “Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!”  In Jesus name…AMEN!