Archive for June, 2008

Take Up Your Cross and Follow Jesus!

Sunday, June 29th, 2008

Seventh Sunday in Pentecost, June 29, 2008
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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“And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” [Matthew 10:38]

INTRODUCTION: The prophet Jeremiah was a man familiar with sorrows and woes.  In fact, he is often called the “weeping” prophet, because so many of the messages that the Lord gave him to declare caused him to weep for his fellow Jews.  Because most of his messages from God were unpopular, he was not well liked by his own people.  In fact, on several occasions he was thrown into prison and threatened with death if he returned.  What was the message that Jeremiah brought from the Lord?  Repent!  Turn away from a worldly way of thinking and trust in the Lord.  Turn away from a mindset that says happiness can be found in the comfort of wealth and the security of earthly friends, and instead trust in the Lord’s plan.  What was God’s plan?  Simply this: Don’t resist the invasion of your enemies from Babylon; in fact open the city gates of Jerusalem wide, and let them come in and conquer you.  But fear not, the Lord will go with you into captivity and you will be saved, just trust in God that all things will work out for you good.  Oh this did not sound good to the leaders, prophets and priests of Judah; this wasn’t what they wanted to hear.  They wanted to Jeremiah to sit down and shut up!  So Jeremiah spent most of his time away from his people, and he only returned when he had another message from God.  We might say that Jeremiah would be completely at home singing that old African American spiritual, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long, long ways from home.”  What Jeremiah discovered is what we will learn this morning, we all must…

I. Take up our cross and follow Jesus.  In our Old Testament reading, we join Jeremiah who was told to go back into Jerusalem once again and declare the Lord’s will that Jerusalem would be conquered and if they resisted, they it would only make things worse.  But this time, God was sending him to the leaders of Judah as a living sermon.  God told Jeremiah to build a yoke (a harness for oxen), made out of wood and leather and walk into the city wearing it.  He was to go to the leaders and declare, “If any nation will not serve this Nebuchadnezzar and put his neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, I will punish that nation with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence, declares the Lord”. [Jer. 27:8]  The people of Judah must have roared in disbelief, “What kind of a message is this?  All of the other prophets are declaring victory over Babylon.  In fact, they say that our land will not only be free of the oppressor, but we will even be prosperous beyond our dreams!”  Jeremiah’s message was so opposite of all of the false prophets, that one of them named Hananiah ran up to Jeremiah, snatched the yoke off of his neck and broke it into pieces and declared the words they all wanted to hear: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon.”  And to this, Jeremiah, the true prophet of God responded, “Amen!  May the Lord do so.”  Once again, Jeremiah was run out of town, rejected by his own people; scorned for being faithful to God’s will; hated by the very people God sent him to save.  Now at this point, we might think that old Jeremiah would have learn the lesson of the world, “If through persistence you still fail and everyone else disagrees with you, you must be wrong!”  But, Jeremiah wasn’t like everyone else.  Jeremiah had faith in God’s Word, so he wouldn’t back down.  Sometime later, the Lord sent Jeremiah back to Jerusalem with another message: “You have broken the wooden (yoke), but you have made in (it’s) place (a yoke) of iron.  Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have (now) put upon the neck of all these nations in an iron yoke to serve Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon.”

Dear friends, for Jeremiah, the cross that he was to take up was simply to declare God’s Word and place all of his faith in that Word, and that is the cross that we must take up as well.  Like Jeremiah, we too live in dangerous times.  There is terror all around.  In a time of extreme tolerance, where all life styles and philosophies are said to be equal, we Christians are the only ones being told to sit down and shut up!  But like Jeremiah, God says we can’t do that!  “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”  No dear friends, you cannot ignore God’s Word!  He makes it clear, that there is no other way to please God accept through Christ Jesus!  There is a way that seems right to a society but in the end it only leads to death.  Thus says the Lord, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” [John 14:6]  “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”” [Matt. 10:37] 

Dear friends, in a society that continuously teaches personal gain and material riches, we are to proclaim another message, “Jesus is the only way.  He is the only truth…He is true life!”  In a society that advances the message, “If it makes you feel good, just do it!” we proclaim instead, “Seek the Lord while He may be found!”  Even in many churches today, this message of extreme tolerance and acceptance like in the day of Jeremiah has replaced the Law and Gospel message of God.  Itchy ears long to hear that their walk with God will be an easy and happy road; they don’t want to hear about sacrifice and pain.  When things go wrong they blame God, and then quickly begin shopping for a new message that will satisfy their greedy hearts.  All around us, there is a limitless supply of glory preachers that will tell them just what they want to hear.  “God wants to bless you with riches”, they say!  “God wants you to be victorious in all your dealings in this world” they say.  “If you’re not happy then follow these Biblical steps and God will bless you with good health and wealth!”  But to this our Lord warns that the broad and easy way is a lie and it will not lead to the blessings you are seeking, but instead it leads to an iron yoke of pain and disappointment.  Jesus said, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!'”

The narrow door that our Savior speaks of is the cross.  It is the way of faith; the kind of faith that clings to God’s Word and trust is his loving kindness, even if the circumstances in our lives are telling us to do the opposite.  The cross has always been an offense to men and women of this world, because it minimizes our own personal achievement and places faith in God’s grace through Jesus Christ above all other things.  Sadly, even some of our own family members and closest friends may be numbered among those who are seeking the broad and easy way of the world. Do you have a loved one who has left the faith of their youth?  Maybe you’ve tried everything you can think of to persuade them to return to the Lord?  Perhaps you’ve given up on them; when before you were always speaking about Jesus and His love, and now you don’t even bring it up because it only causes hurt feelings or even an argument.  Maybe they’ve even told you that if you don’t quit talking about the Church and Jesus they will no longer be a part of your life?  And so…you’ve quit.  Instead, you quietly listen to their get rich quick schemes, their plans of glory and pleasure and you just sort of nod.  And to this, Jesus quietly speaks to us this morning and says, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”  These are hard Words.  For some they may strike like a sword, swift and deep into your very heart.  And to this we may respond, “But Lord, I only want peace in my family.  Peace with my friends.”

II. What is peace?  What kind of peace are we seeking?  Are we seeking worldly peace or heavenly peace?  Concerning peace here, Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.  And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” [Matt. 10:34-36]  “But Lord” we respond, “you are the prince of peace.  You promised your perfect peace that surpasses all understanding!”  And to this Jesus responds, yes but I also taught you to live by faith, and to trust in me.  Haven’t I taught you to pray to the Father like this, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  And “when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”  For “which one of you, if (your child) asks for bread, will give a stone (instead)? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”  Dear children, even “if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” 

Dear friends, these Words are Words of peace.  Jesus gives them to us so that we will have peace, but to hear them we must receive them by faith.  We must believe that every one of God’s promises are true and sure, even when it seems the very opposite is true.  In regards to our children, we must learn to rest our hope and faith in the work God did for them in their baptism.  When worry and fear creeps in, we must surrender these things to our loving father who promises that “He who began the good work” (in our children) “will complete it in the day of Jesus Christ.” [Philipp. 1:6]  God desires that you go back to the confidence, which you once had many years ago, when you obediently by faith brought your child to the font to receive God’s gift of salvation through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.  Cling to the promises that he made through the Water and the Word.  Don’t be afraid to remind your children, no matter how old they are, that each and every promise God has given them is still true!  Lay your fears there at the font and don’t be afraid to tell your children that you are still praying for them to come back to Jesus. 

Friends, Jesus does still give peace, but the peace He gives is always centered in His faithfulness, therefore it is a spiritual peace.  The peace He gives is completely opposite of the kind of peace the world wants from Him and you.  Listen to His voice speaking to your heart: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

CONCLUSION:  Friends let’s not walk in worry and fear.  Let’s not worry about lost relationships if we don’t endorse someone’s behavior.  Let’s not worry about carrying our cross and following Jesus.  Instead let’s simply   follow our Lord wherever He leads.  Sometimes the road will be easy and sometimes it will be hard, but always Jesus will be walking right beside us.  Instead, let’s learn to be a living version of the song, “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen”: “Sometimes I’m up.  Sometimes I’m down.  Sometimes I’m level to the ground, but still I say glory hallelujah!” 

And now, may that true peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, and may His peace enable you to bear the cross joyfully, following Him where ever He leads you… In Jesus name… AMEN!

Let’s Trust In The Invisible Things of God!

Friday, June 27th, 2008

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”  (Romans 1:20-21)

This verse is often used to describe the “Hidden God”.  What is meant by the hidden God can be described in a question: “Why is God letting this happen to me?  Where is God in my suffering?”  These are fair questions and they can be answered in two different ways; one is the correct way and the other is, well…wrong!  One is scriptural and the other is not.  One answer comes from God and the other comes from man.

The wrong, unscriptural, human centered answer says that God does not want you to suffer, but because you have not followed His will, you are suffering.  God does not want you to be poor or sick, but because you lack faith and wisdom He cannot bless you.  God does not want you to have family problems, but because you have not allowed His Word to lead you, you are reaping what you have sowed.  You see, the wrong, unscriptural, human centered mind always starts with what is seen and looks to discover the unseen.  It starts from what is on earth and then looks to heaven.  It looks at the here and now and sees a future.  It is a cause and effect way of looking at life.  But the correct, scriptural, God centered answer always starts with the hidden God and it gives all questions over to Him.  Notice I did not say the unknown God.  While God may be hidden he is very much known, and we know Him through His Word, and His Word tells us these three things of particular interest:

1.  Through faith we know that God is blessing us through Christ Jesus even if we can’t see how: “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” [Jn. 14:2]  “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. [Jer. 29:11]  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. [Prov. 3:5]  “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe. [Prov. 29:25]

2.  Through Christ’s suffering we have been shown God’s love for us: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” [Jn. 3:16]  “And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” [Matt. 8:20]  “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” [Matt. 20:28]  “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” [Luke 9:22]

3.  Through our own suffering we move closer to God and begin to see his love for us clearer: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” [Jn. 16:33] “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” [Re. 2:10] ” For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  [2 Cor. 12:10]

Friends, the correct scriptural answer to our “whys” must always starts at the cross; it always trusts in God’s love for us because of Christ’s suffering and death for us at the cross.  The cross tests everything!  And the way of the cross is love, not power; suffering, not achievement; humility, not glory; shame, not honor; foolishness and not wisdom.  Nothing is “worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed.” [Rom. 8:18]  For we know, that “we are God’s children now; it does not appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see his as he is.” [1 Jn. 3:2]  The best we can hope for in the here in now is the presence and comfort of Jesus, our dear Savior, who suffered, was crucified, died, and was buried for us!  He reveals to us the Father and His love, not great wealth and health, prosperous times and happy days.  No friends, the glory that we seek in the here in now is the faith that trusts in God’s glory, which will be made known to us in the future when we will see him “as he is.”  This glory will not be revealed through cause and effect but it will be revealed when the hidden God becomes the visible God.  But until that day, God is revealing Himself to us in the here and now through His living Word and Sacraments, and yes, even within our own suffering and weakness, because His cross assures us that we are fully understood and loved. 

Where is God in our suffering?  He is right at our side leading and guiding us through our darkest times so that we might testify to our neighbors, along with St. Paul, that even then in that darkest hour, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.” [Rom. 8:26]  And because of this truth, we know that we have a Savior who says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” [Heb. 13:5]

In Jesus name…AMEN!

Pastor Brian

Look Who’s Coming To Dinner!

Sunday, June 8th, 2008

June 8, 2008
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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“Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” [Mat. 9:13]

In our text this morning we receive the very Words of our Lord.  They were the words He first spoke through the Prophet Hosea in our Old Testament lesson; they were the words He spoke to tax collectors, Pharisees and various other sinners in our gospel reading, and they are the words He speaks to us this morning.  These words bring life and they bring death.  They are the door of Law and Gospel that when it swings, it smashes sin in one direction and when it swings the other, it brings faith.  All of our readings this morning are hinged on these very Words; how our hearts receive these Words will determine the work of the Words.  If these words are heard with Jesus as the focus, as the subject, then these words will bring to you the forgiveness of sins, by grace through the gift of faith that only He can give.

I. Walk with me now in your mind’s eye down a street in Galilee. We are standing outside of a home and looking through an open door.  It is the home of a notorious sinner named Matthew, a greedy and sinful tax collector who has been away for several months but now he has returned.  The word on the street is that this notorious sinner has hooked up with Jesus of Nazareth, and He has become a completely different man.  He’s changed!  He now is reportedly a loving and compassionate man!  The common consensus to this rumor is “Yeah right!”  You see, his reputation for being a notorious, self serving sinner was well known.  He would sit in the customs booth with others in his trade demanding more than what the law demanded as a tax on any business transaction done within the market place.  Matthew was a Jew by birth, yet he lived his life and conducted his business as if he never knew the Lord; so when he disappeared, his absence was noticed, even celebrated, but a void creates a vacuum, and soon another low life sinner quickly took his place.   

Now let’s move a little closer to get a better look-there we are standing right next to some Pharisees.  Let’s listen in on their conversation: “Sure enough, there’s that low life Matthew eating and drinking, laughing and celebrating with His friends.  What a sordid bunch of losers this is!  There’s the chief tax collector and all of his cronies sitting there as if life was just one big party!  And can you believe that those young street punks that roam our streets are in there too?!  Doesn’t it make your blood boil seeing them there laughing it up and having a good old time, without a care in the world?  When was the last time any of them contributed to temple worship?  Why they’ve even rejected our Jewish faith and culture, and shamed their parents by living like a Roman.  And there’s the person responsible for all of this…there’s that supposed prophet, Jesus of Nazareth.  What kind of teacher would endorse sinners like this?  Oh I know what everyone is saying, “He doesn’t endorse their life-style just their life.  And they say that Matthew has really changed; they say that he’s trying to make amends for his past sins.  Is this how he makes amends, having a gluttonous banquet with an itinerant preacher as the guest of honor?  And don’t tell me how these other sinners are here to find out more about how and why Matthew changed, because I don’t want to hear it!  A leopard can’t change its spots, scorpions were born to sting, snakes were born to bite, and these men were born to sin.  It’s in their nature.  They don’t need a party, they need public punishment, and then maybe the rest will have a little bit more fear and respect for God and His laws.”

So goes the mind of the Pharisee and perhaps that is the condition of our hearts as well.  We see in our own time very similar conditions.  Corruption in public office makes the news almost every week.  Banks and financial institutions collapse because of greed.  In Mexico, there is a slang word for this type of public corruption, which sums up the action and the result quite well, “la Mordida” which means, “the bite”.  Public corruption does indeed take a bite out of society and we see these bites being taken from the lowest levels of our government all the way to the very highest, and it is God fearing folk like you and me that pay for it.  Our style of living is impacted because the rich keep getting richer and well you know the rest.  But the bite isn’t just felt in our pocket books; it impacts our faith as well.  It can be hard to come to terms with corruption in government, especially when God’s Word in the book of Romans tells us that the government is put in place by God Himself for our protection and good.  Wouldn’t it be a relief to us if God just intervened right now and punished every one of them?  And we even have our own version of those seemingly godless sinners running around our streets too.  They seem to be everywhere painting their marks all over our streets with their pants down to their knees, listening to that thumping and bumping on their stereos, living large as if God didn’t matter!  Well He does matter, and soon enough they’ll learn …but if they don’t wise up, before they know it, it will be too late for them!  Yes sir, somebody had better do something while there’s still time!  Well we’ll pray for them, after all that’s what we Christians do.  It’s not like we want them to go to hell, but if it happens, well then they only have themselves to blame.  If they would just come back to church like they were taught when they were little, then they would see their need to change and follow the straight and narrow. 

Friends, when we think and speak like this, we too are living as if God does not see, but He does see and He is acting!

What the Pharisees could not know about Matthew is that God had done a mighty work in the heart of Matthew, and he was beginning that same work with His friends at a simple dinner banquet with Jesus as the host.  Matthew for years did indeed live as if God were blind to his sinfulness.  And because of this, God allowed Matthew to leave His love and mercy.  In Hosea we read God’s own words confirming this truth: “I will return again to my place, until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face, and in their distress earnestly seek me.”  Did Matthew notice that he was separated from God because of his sins?  Did he even care that he was living outside of God’s love and mercy?  Yes he did, and the proof is found in this…

II. In verse 9 of our gospel lesson we read: “As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.”  Dear friends, Jesus saw Matthew and said this simple word to him, “Follow me” and he responded immediately.  St. Luke in his telling on the same incident says that he got right up and left everything to follow Jesus.  What’s more amazing is that his leaving everything and following Jesus wasn’t just a temporary whim of the heart, but it was a permanent change in his being.  The question some might ask is, “How much contact did he have with Jesus or the other apostles before he himself became a disciple?”  The truth is we don’t know, God’s Word does not say, but what we do know is that when Jesus issued the call Matthew responded.  Jesus was found by a worthless sinner who everyone would have agreed wasn’t even looking for God.  Friends, Christ is always found after He speaks.  It is through His Word that He is found.  It is He Who takes the initiative.  We haven’t chosen Him, but rather he has chosen us!  He said follow me, and the same divine, almighty power that gave faith to Abraham, converted Matthew and all of the saints converted us.  Salvation is always brought to a sinner when Christ as the Author and perfecter of our faith grants us salvation through His means, which is His Word.  His gospel is the “power of God unto salvation. [Rom. 1:16]  Jesus’ call to Matthew was effective because God’s grace through Christ Jesus always provides faith to believe in the One who calls.

Friends, we like Matthew must understand how radically sinful we are.  We must confess how sin affects every part of who we are.  We must see and confess that we are completely unable to live up to God’s standards no matter who we are.  Each one of us must confess that we are lost in our own sinfulness and that before God that we are in need of a radical righteousness that must come from God alone, and that this righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ equally to all who believe. [Rom 3:33] It comes to the Pharisee and the Tax collector, and it comes to you and the street thug all in the same way. And after we confess this sinfulness, we like Matthew come to understand that it is only through faith in Christ as our Savior that we will find forgiveness for our many sins and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of our own that comes from following the law, but a righteousness of faith that comes through Christ alone. [Philip. 3:9]  When we understand this truth, then we can say, “He saved us, not because of the righteous things we have done, but because of His mercy.” [Titus 3:5a]  Matthew understood this well and that is why he came back to his old friends and associates so that they too could hear the words of the living God.  Like Abraham, Matthew learned by personal experience that the God of heaven and earth is a God “who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.”

III. Matthew proclaimed to his fellow sinners in his own words the same message of Hosea: “Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.” [Hosea 6:1-3] 

Dear friends, we have been given an even stronger hope for forgiveness than Abraham, Hosea, or Matthew because what they hoped in faith would come we have been assured has already happened, and that is the final work through the death and resurrection of God the Son Jesus Christ. 

In raising Christ from the dead, God has vindicated and forgiven sinners, even the chief of sinners…you and me!  Through Jesus’ resurrection we have been set free from the condemnation of the law for our many sins; in your baptism Jesus has called you out of a body of sin and He has given you new life just as He called Matthew.  And now because of your baptism, God’s Word has authorized me to declare to you that you are forgiven, you are forgiven indeed!  Isn’t that good news?  Then please hear what comes next; that authorization to announce the forgiveness of sins…to proclaim the GOOD NEWS has been passed on to you! 

Let me illustrate this final point with this: The story is told about a rich bank executive who lost everything as a result of the tragic savings and loan debacle.  He lost his home and his family left him.  The only things he had left were 2 $800 business suits and a 5 year old Mercedes Bendz.  Every day he dressed up in his business suit and applied for job after job, but no one would hire someone so overly qualified.  In the evening, he would park his car near a local homeless shelter and food kitchen and walk to dinner.  One day, as he was walking to the shelter he passed a homeless, dirty, drunk half asleep in a doorway.  He stopped and said to him, “Come on brother.  Their serving dinner in 15 minutes at the shelter and you look like you could use some comfort and nourishment.”  Well they sat down and ate their dinner together silently, when the homeless drunk looked up at the unemployed homeless banker and asked, “Do they feed everyone?”  Yes answered the banker.  “Every day?”  He asked.  “Yes every day.”  “And no one has to pay?” he asked.  “Well someone has to pay, but it isn’t you and me thank God!”  “You mean you aren’t in charge here?” the bum asked.  “No friend.  I’m just one homeless bum telling another where the best soup kitchen is at!”

Friends, we deserve nothing from God and yet He loves us eternally.  Like the homeless drunk in the story, we know that someone has to pay for our sinfulness, and thank God it wasn’t you or me; it was God the Son who paid our debt for us.  Even though our love for him has been fickle like a morning mist or like the dew that goes away early, his forgiving love still comes to us a spring rain refreshing our spirits.  Whether we identify with the tax collectors and gross sinners or the self righteous Pharisee, we all have the same need.  We are sick with sin and the only cure comes from the great physician Jesus Christ.  Through Christ’s work alone we have been given the free gift of forgiveness for all of our sins.  Let us rest in that gift and cling to His Word alone which changes a sinful heart into the only heart that can demonstrate true steadfast love for God and our fellow sinful neighbor.  And now together as the body of Christ we continue to grow in the knowledge of God’s love and forgiveness.  And together, this growing knowledge sends us out into our community to invite other sinners to his banquet table of grace with these words: “Come let us return to the Lord that He may heal us!”

In Jesus name… AMEN!