Archive for April, 2012

You’re one of Jesus’ little lambs?!

Sunday, April 29th, 2012

Easter Sunday 4B, April 29, 2012 (Good Shepherd Sunday)
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“And I have other sheep that are not of this fold.  I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.  So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” [John 10:16]

So you’re one of Jesus little lambs are you?  You’re a Christian?  Really?  You guys are just as messed up as I am; why would I want to  follow you?  What have you got to offer that’s better than what I already have in this messed up life?

Have you ever had someone say something similar to you, or have you ever been afraid that they would say something like that if you  tried to share Jesus with them or invite them to church?  Did you know that fear of rejection and humiliation are two of the biggest  reasons Christians give for not sharing their faith?  Did you know that not sharing your faith is a lot like being a fruit tree that won’t bear  fruit?  And what should we do with a fruit tree in our yard that takes up space, uses valuable resources like water and fertilizer, but year  after year it refuses to do the very thing we bought it for?  That’s right, we’d  chop it down, dig it out, and plant one that will give us  fruit!

Did you know that every day you give a witness to your neighbors, family, and friends, whether you want to or not?  The real question  is what kind of witness are you giving?

Let’s look at the hypothetical questions that I started our message off with and see if you could give an answer and a witness to our antagonistic neighbor.

“So you’re one of Jesus little lambs are you?”  Yes, I suppose I am a lot like a lamb, or maybe even a goat.  Neither one of them are very smart.  They are dirty and not the brightest animals in the world.  They wonder away from the group and their shepherd whenever something catches their eye or draws their attention.  And that’s not a good thing, because the wolf is just out of their line of vision, waiting to kill them and eat them.  Oh yeah, and like me, sheep don’t see very well either.  But that’s just talking about sheep when they are outside of the sheep pen.  You see, I’m also a lot like a sheep who is supposed to be resting safe and sound within the pen.  Their shepherd is standing at the gate protecting them.  He’s the door and will never let any wolves enter and hurt the sheep while they are in the safety of the pen.  But their pen has little escape areas in it, and a dumb sheep could be tricked by another dumb sheep to think that it would be cool, fun, entertaining, and exciting to sneak out and try something new, without the care of the shepherd!

Yeah that’s me.  I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed.  You see, I keep doing the very things that I know I shouldn’t do, that’s called sin by the way.  And the things that please God, well that’s called keeping His commandments, and they’re the very things I can’t seem to do consistently.  Because of that, I can get into a whole lot of trouble; I can get dirty, sinfully dirty, just like a sheep.  If it wasn’t for my Good Shepherd Jesus Christ, I would wander away from His love and the love of my family at church, and I’d end up just like the sheep who gets eaten by the wolf; I’d be destroyed by the devil who hates Jesus and all of His little sheep.  You see, as I told you I don’t see very well, and what I mean by that is, I can’t see and recognize all of the dangers that are around me because, well they’re spiritual dangers.  There are spiritual threats in this world that can destroy my faith and love for God and my neighbor.  But Jesus sees them, and if I stay close to Him, He’ll protect me from those things I can’t see.  And that brings me to how I follow Jesus and stay close to Him.  You know, just as the sheep hear their shepherd’s voice and follow Him, I also hear Jesus, my Good Shepherd’s voice and I follow Him.  I hear His voice in the Word of God; in my Bible.  Every day I try to find time to read His Word and listen to Him speak.  I hear Him, but thank God, He also hears me, and that’s why I talk to Him every day; we call that prayer.

Now let me tell you a little something about the flock that I’m resting in.  That flock is simply the church, and the fence that protects Jesus little lambs is simply the Word of God that tells me how I should live my life.  Now remember, I told you right up front that like the sheep I just can’t seem to do what’s best for me.  I am prone to wander away from God, so He gives me commandments that guide how I live my life as I am following Jesus my good shepherd.  The only problem is, like I said I am prone to wander off; like those dumb sheep, I am really good at finding holes in the fence and following false teachers, or as Jesus calls them, hired hands.  Those false teachers act like pastors and well, they can really fool you, but when trouble comes, when the devil comes, boy they’ll light out of there real fast, because they are only in it for the money.  Yeah, those kind aren’t real pastors because they don’t hear the Good Shepherds voice, and if they can’t hear it, how are they supposed to lead and teach me?  No thanks, I’ve learned that new and exciting things aren’t always what they seem to be.  I’ve learned to find rest by staying in the flock, where I listen to and follow Jesus voice as He preaches and teaches through my pastor, who is a real under shepherd, loved and led by the same Good Shepherd that I follow, Jesus Christ!

So there you have it, a way to witness without arguing or backing down.  If someone asks you if you’re really a Christian, one of Jesus little lambs, don’t get intimidated by the question, just answer it.  Now I know that many times those questions can be a little more like accusations; like they’re calling you a hypocrite and that very possibly is what they’re saying.  But that’s alright, because you see, they’re right!  We really are hypocrites in the world’s eyes; God calls us saints and yet we still sin.  So if they ridicule your faith, simply agree with them and say you really are a lot like a dumb sheep doing the things and going to places you shouldn’t.  You really do get angry and say hurtful things sometimes; you do think about yourself more than others; even more than God.  Agree with them, but tell them that you still hear your Good Shepherds voice teaching you and changing you.  He speaks through His law and tells you what you did was wrong; that it was sinful.  That voice, that Word from God causes you to confess your sin and ask for His forgiveness.  But then you hear Him speak again, you hear His good news, that says that He still loves you and forgives you.

And then, after you’ve gotten the hypocrite accusation out of the way, it’s time for you to demonstrate that you really are a Christian; ask them to forgive you for anything you’ve done or failed to do that has hurt them.  And if they have hurt you, well then it’s time for you to tell them that you forgive them just as your Good Shepherd has forgiven you.  Now, I know it can seem a little intimidating doing these things, but just keep reminding yourself that it is Jesus speaking and acting through you.  You are simply hearing and following His voice!

So now, the scariest part of witnessing is over.  You’ve identified yourself with sinners, even sinners like the one who is calling you a hypocrite; so now all that is left is to extend the offer to that person to become a saved sinner like you.  How?  Invite them into the safety of the flock!  Invite them to come to church with you.  Explain to them that what you experience every week, they can experience too!  They can know real safety and peace, even joy and fulfillment by getting to know the Good Shepherd’s voice.  Tell them right up front that at church, it is God’s Word, preached and taught, that saves and changes everyone equally; tell them that in that Word they too will hear the Good Shepherd speak. And if you like, you can let them know that God takes that same Word and applies it with water in baptism and he converts sinners into Christians.  Why you could even tell them that God’s care doesn’t stop there; He also feeds and nourishes our spirits with His Holy meal, where He combines simple bread and wine with His Word as He feeds us His very body and blood, all so that we will by faith know that we really are forgiven.

Oh, and don’t forget to tell them that there is safety in numbers!  If they will come into God’s flock, they won’t be alone.  Not only will the Good Shepherd Jesus Christ be with them, but so are all of us!  Make sure they understand that each of us knows that we’re no better or worse than they are.  We’re just lost sheep who’ve been found and are trying ever day to love each other as the Good Shepherd loves us; tell them we are learning to forgive each other too, just as God forgives us.

Now, I suppose you might still be a little nervous about this witnessing thing.  You might be worried that they’ll laugh at you and ask how all of this can be true.  And if they do, then all you need to do is point them to the very thing that saved you… the power of God!  Jesus said, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life (for my little lambs) that I may take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.  I have authority (and power) to lay it down, and I have authority (and power) to take it up again.” [John 10:17,18]

Where do you point them to see the power of God?  To the love of God, Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected for them.  Point them to Jesus who is God in human flesh, come to save us; Jesus who paid for the sins of the world, even their sins, so that they would not have to pay; Jesus, their Savior who like a Shepherd wants to lead them along with us to life everlasting.  Christ is risen; He is risen indeed! AMEN!

Crazy Love!

Sunday, April 22nd, 2012

Easter Sunday 3B, April 22, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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OUR TEXT: 1 John 3:1–7Luke 24:36–49

Just think about this, God loves you so much that He actually became your Father.  “See what kind of love the Father has given to us  that we should be called children of God; and so we are!” [1 John 3:1b]  Paul doesn’t say that God is like a Father to us, He says that He  IS our Father because we ARE His children!  God actually made us His children.  But why?   Because of His love!  Isn’t that something?!    That’s what I call crazy love!

Think about that for a moment.  Even though you sin a lot, every day; even though you don’t love Him like you should, He loves you  more than you can ever imagine.  I mean, just take a look at His love for you: While you were still a sinner, He gave His one and only  Son to die for you, so that you could be His son or daughter.  Jesus Christ paid for your sins with His very life so that you could know  His Father’s love!  But that’s not all, you see God made all things work together perfectly so that you could either come or be brought to  the waters of baptism where He washed you clean and recreated you into the image of His Son; so that you could also be His sons and  daughters.  Now that’s crazy love!

So what should our response be?  We should be willing to give up everything and do anything to show our own love and appreciation to our Heavenly Father!  We should be moved to fall on our knees in worship and adoration to our Savior Jesus who made us right with His Father.  We should be willing to give all that we have to Him who saved us, and shout Alleluia to our King!  And is that what we do?  Is that how we live our lives?  You and I both know we fall far short!  The truth is that most of the time we live our lives in a way that pleases ourselves.  We usually live our lives in such a way that no one would ever know that we are children of the Heavenly Father unless we tell them.  And then, we’re afraid to tell them about God’s love because our walk and our talk don’t match; we’re afraid that we’ll be called a hypocrite.   And because of that fear, we usually avoid giving any kind of public proclamation of faith.  So why is living as a child of God so difficult at times?

Because we haven’t yet become fully, all that God has declared us to be!  We aren’t yet fully like the Son of God, Jesus Christ.  You see, we still live in our sinful bodies in a sinful world that is ruled by the father of sin, the devil.  We still live among our other enemies sin and death; we’re afraid of them, and it’s that fear that can cause us to fight becoming who God says that we are.

A. In our gospel lesson, the disciples were huddled together in fear.  They were hiding behind locked doors because the enemy was out to destroy them.  And as they gathered together in fear, BAM! Jesus appeared in the middle of them and said, “Peace to you” He said.  ‘Don’t be afraid.  Why are you troubled?  Didn’t I tell you that I would always be with you?  Look, here I am.  I’m skin and bones just like you.  Touch me and see.  You can’t touch a ghost, right?  “And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, He said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?”  They gave Him a piece of broiled fish, and He took it and at it before them.”

OK, now that you aren’t afraid any more, will you listen to Jesus?  Why are you finding it so hard to believe that He’s come back from the dead?  Isn’t that the very thing He said He would do?  Doesn’t God’s Word tell you that Jesus had to die and on the third day be raised in order to fulfill all of the promises of scripture?  Maybe if we see how Jesus helped the apostles believe we can be helped in the same way.  So how did Jesus help them and the disciples understand and believe?  He opened their minds.  But how?  Well the same way He does it today, He speaks and we listen! “Then (Jesus) said to them, “These are my Words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses and the prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled,”  Then He opened their minds to understand the scriptures.” (Luke 24:44-45)  It’s through His Word that God opens our minds and gives us the gift of faith.  It’s through the preaching of the gospel that faith and understanding comes.

Did you know that there’s a right way and a wrong way to hear and read the Bible.  The wrong way is thinking that we can make sense of His Word on our own.  The right way to read God’s Word is by faith, knowing that every word is written to show us Jesus; to show us God’s crazy love.  Listen to Jesus explain it:  “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

Now this is huge; its critical and it is unique.  Jesus is telling all of his disciples, He’s telling you and me that the only way to understand the Bible is through His life, death, and resurrection.  He is telling us that the only way to be right with God, to have forgiveness of sins, all sins is in His name.  No other way or method is available to become God’s own child outside of Good Friday and Easter!

Do you want to live a life of meaning and purpose; a life full of God’s love?  Good, then read God’s Word with the expectation of seeing both the cross and the empty tomb of Jesus and you will find both of those things.  Now that doesn’t mean that every Word in the Bible or every page of the Old Testament is about Jesus life and death; clearly that isn’t true.  But what it does mean is that only the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus can bring meaning and purpose to every word that God has preserved in scripture. It means that God has preserved His Word in such a way that when you read it, you can know for sure that not only does He love and forgive you as a Father, but He does it unconditionally!

But why is it so important to know that God loves us as a Father?  So that you will believe and receive His Son, Jesus Christ as your Lord and God.  But why must we believe Jesus is our Lord and God?  Because if you will not receive Him as who His Word says He is, you will never know forgiveness of sins and the love of your Heavenly Father!  Unless Jesus is your Lord and God, you will never know true peace; you will never experience real victory!

Several years ago, a barbers’ supply company held a large convention in a metropolitan city.  To show the world how good their products were they organized a publicity stunt. They went to the worst section of town and brought back the dirtiest and most helpless drunk they could find. They presented him on the stage. Everyone saw how dirty and unkempt his hair and beard were. Then they took him out and cleaned him up. They shaved him. They shampooed and styled his hair. They sprayed him with cologne. They washed him with a new kind of soap they were trying to sell. They bought him a new suit, a new shirt, new tie, and shoes. He looked great. He looked and felt like a new man. They brought him back to the stage to show him off, saying to all the world, “This is what our barber supplies can do for you.” The audience could hardly believe that this was the same man they had seen earlier that day. Looking at the man on stage no one would ever have guessed that he was living in the streets just a few hours before. He was completely changed.

The very next day the organizers of the convention went looking for this man again. Would you like to guess where they found him? That’s right — lying in some gutter, filthy and drunk! They changed him on the outside, but who he was as a person was left unchanged.

Friends that is not how God works.  When God’s Word is received by sinners it doesn’t just clean them up, it converts and changes them.  When God’s Word is active in our lives it reminds us each day that we have His crazy love; a love the world will never understand.  It reminds us that through the cross our sins have actually been paid for.  And in the waters of our baptisms we really have been recreated and each day we are being renewed in that recreation!  When we confess our sins to God each day, His Word reminds us that we are His actual children and that it is His joy to forgive us.  When we come to His table for His Holy Meal, He tells us that the bread and wine are in fact His body and blood, and that when we eat and drink of it, not only are we remembering His sacrifice for us, we are truly eating and drinking God’s crazy love, His forgiveness of all our sins!

This morning, God is declaring to each of us that we are His children.  Through His Son, Jesus Christ we have all of His gifts; gifts that are guaranteed to change us and sustain us through all trials and temptations.  This morning God is assuring us that if we will continue to use His gifts of love, then on the day when Jesus returns, we will all become like Him!  When Jesus calls our name as a true child of His Father, each of us will see God as He actually is!  And it is this promise of God’s forgiving love and grace that sustains and purifies us each day as we wait on our Savior’s call!

Let me close our message this morning with a bit of a challenge.  You know, during each Easter season, we love to say, “He is risen!  He is risen indeed!”  But this year I want to ask you to really  think about what that means.  Does the resurrection make a difference in your life or are you still living in fear?  Are you willing to stand up against the sin that is within you and around you?!  If you do that, God promises you that your unbelieving neighbors, family, and friends will take notice and be forced to give Him glory!

This morning, God’s crazy love is calling us to stand up and fight the enemy within us an around us as long as we still have breath in us. God does not want us to hide behind closed doors while the war against sin, death, and the devil is raging around us.  This morning, God wants you to know that to give in to sin is to turn away from His love, His crazy love for you!  In your baptism, God not only recreated you but He also clothed you with His power from on high, power that enables you to not just fight against sin, but eventually enjoy complete victory over it.   And as you fight the good fight of faith, others will notice and ask you why you do what you do.  And when they ask, you can tell them that it’s all done because of God’s crazy love for you and for them.  What’s His crazy love?  Simply this, while we were still no good sinners, Christ died for us… He saved us, and now invites us into His love. AMEN!

Come to be Faith-filled!

Sunday, April 8th, 2012

Easter Sunday B, April 8, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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Why are you here?  I mean really, what was your reason for coming?  That’s a fair question, and it really doesn’t have a right or wrong answer. For those of you who are here faithfully every week, I know why you have come.  You’ve come to hear God’s Word and experience the forgiving love of your resurrected Lord.  That’s why you come every week.  But others may have come for other reasons; valid and important reasons.  Here are some of those reasons I’ve heard over he years: I’ve come to be with family;  It is our tradition to go to church on the important days like Christmas and Easter; or, I’m here because I was invited to come.

While I don’t know your personal reason for being here, I do know why God wants you here; He wants you here to hear His Word and to receive His gift of faith… He wants you to believe in the Easter miracle.  God wants you to know that “Christ is Risen!”  And once you know this truth, then He wants you to keep coming back to His house of worship often and be filled with faith; in other words, He wants you to be faith-filled!

This morning, Christians around the world gather together to hear about a miracle that has saved the world.  We gather to receive the gift of  Easter hope.  We gather together around the very same proclaimed Word of God and the same Sacraments that the ancient Christian church has received since the very first Easter celebration.  These are Christ’s gifts to His church and to you, gifts which bring you free and complete salvation centered entirely upon Christ’s death and resurrection.

As part of Christ’s church, each of us have one thing in common, we are sinners; sinners gathered around a new covenant; a new promise of forgiveness from God, as were Mary, the apostles and all of the disciples who were there with Jesus that first Easter morning.  Each of them, as us today were confronted with the good news.  The good news of course is that Christ not only suffered and died to pay for the sins of the world, but He also rose from the dead!  Christ is risen!

Let’s look again at the hymn we just sang, “Come, You Faithful, Raise the Strain” (LSB 487).  This hymn is a wonderful example of how our powerful Christian faith has been nourished since that first Easter Sunday.  It’s a Faith that comes to us through God’s Word about the risen Christ.  Let’s hear this good news proclaimed again in the 4th verse: “For today among His own Christ appeared, bestowing His deep peace, which ever-more passes human knowing.  Neither could the gates of death nor the tombs dark portal, nor the watchers, nor the seal hold Him as a mortal.”

This is the message of Easter.  Christ our King, our brother and Savior came to us as our champion and through the cross and the empty tomb defeated sin, your sin.  But that’s not all, He also defeated death, and your greatest enemy of all, the devil.  He set you free from bondage just as He set the Hebrews free from their bondage of slavery in Egypt long ago.

Jesus’ death and resurrection has freed the entire world from sin and death.  Jesus death upon the cross and His resurrection gives hope to people, be they yellow, black, white, rich, poor, straight, gay, single, married, old, and young.  But in order for Jesus’ gift of eternal life to become your gift,  it must become personal; it must become your good news!  And God does this very thing through His Word and the waters of your baptism.

In your baptism, God draws you into the one, holy, Christian, and apostolic faith.  In your baptism, God allows you to glimpse by faith, the deliverance of your soul from bondage to sin and deliverance into a promised land of eternity where all of your sins are forgiven.  If you will simply agree with God that you have sinned against Him, and then turn to Him for forgiveness; if you will confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that Jesus alone is your Lord you will be saved from this bondage.

Through the miracle of God’s mighty Word attached to the water each of us by faith, can see our Old Testament lesson come alive in our own lives.  Through the triumphant victory won by Jesus our Lord we have been delivered from the oppression of our old masters, sin, death, and Satan.  Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our salvation is secure and our future is certain if we will just rest and trust in Jesus alone!

We heard in our Old Testament Reading (Exodus 15:1-11), about the people of Israel being delivered from Pharaoh’s army through the waters of the Red Sea.  God, through His might parted that sea so that His people could pass through the water, from one side of bondage and death , to the other side where freedom and a new life waited for them.  And as God’s children of faith passed through the waters, their enemies pursued them.  But the same mighty power of God that saved with water also destroyed his people’s enemies with water, by allowing it to fall back upon them.  This is like what happened to you in the waters of your own baptism.  God called you through the water by His Word and brought you out of your bondage to sin, death, and the devil, and with that same water, He put to death those enemies, and then brought you into eternal life with Him.

So together with all of God’s saints we can proclaim our faith as individuals and as part of a large whole, the church of Jesus Christ.  Listen to this truth as its proclaimed in the first and second verses of our sermon hymn: “Come, you faithful, raise the strain of triumphant gladness!  God has brought His Israel into joy from sadness.  Loosed from Pharaoh’s bitter yoke Jacob’s sons and daughters; led them with un-moistened foot through the Red Sea waters.  Tis the spring of souls today: Christ has burst His prison and from three days sleep in death as a sun has risen; All the winter of our sins, long and dark, is flying from His light, to whom is given laud and praise undying.” [LSB 487:1-2]

This is the Easter hope, the very truth that God wants you to be filled with not just this Easter day, but every day for the rest of your lives.  He wants you to see that your salvation, your eternal life and happiness is all His work through the life and death of His Son Jesus Christ, and the power of His saving Word.

And yet when we leave this place, we’ll be tempted by a sinful society to see ourselves as more enlightened than those ancient people that made up the first church.  Our society will tell us that their science and technology is far superior to our antiquated Christian faith.  They will tell us that we are not in a position to judge anyone, but instead we must accept and empower all people and celebrate our great differences.

This morning, God wants you to see that there are only two differences that He cares about, and they are life and death!  There are only two kinds of people, forgiven and unforgiven!  In our Epistle reading (1 Corinthians 5:6-8), St. Paul warns us about looking down on God’s Word and truth and approving of what He calls sin.  He says, “Your boasting is not good.  Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?  Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened.  For (Jesus) Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.  Let us therefore celebrate the (Easter) festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”

In your baptism, God separated you from the sin that will condemn the unbelieving world.  This morning He is telling each of us to continue living out that baptismal gift and turn away from that sin.  He is not asking you to judge others; that is His job and not ours.  Instead He is asking you to examine yourself; He’s warning each of us to quit boasting in the philosophy of enlightened minds and trust in His truth for us.

In your baptism you were made clean and sinless, so now he’s telling you to live that kind of life and quit embracing and celebrating sin; your own sin and other people’s sin.  He simply wants you to confess your sin, receive His forgiveness, and then celebrate as one who is truly saved and loved by God!  This is the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth… Christ crucified and risen for you!

In our gospel lesson this morning, we encounter dear and faithful Mary, who physically walked and talked with Jesus on a day to day basis.  She witnessed so many miracles performed by Jesus.  But even her “enlightened” status was not enough for her to see and believe in her risen Lord.  You see, her own sinful nature prevented her from seeing Jesus that morning at the tomb.  It was only when her risen Lord spoke to her and called her by name that her doubts and fears were replaced with faith and joy!

Remember this hymn from your youth?  “I am Jesus little lamb, ever glad at heart I am.  For my Shepherd gently guides me, knows my need and well provides me.  Loves me every day the same, even calls me by my name.” {LSB 740]  Mary’s faith was rekindled when she heard the voice of her Lord.  She became faith-filled and excited about the resurrection of Jesus.  Mary was made alive again by the Word of her Savior God.  You too were made alive in your baptism.  It was there in those waters that Jesus called your name.  You are being made alive also this morning, because your resurrected Lord is calling you by name again; He’s calling you out from a society enlightened by sin and He is asking you to once again take your Christian faith seriously.  He calls you out of a faithless existence and He calls you back into His grace; His forgiving love.

And as His children called by faith, we gather together as one body and partake of the Easter feast of victory in His Holy Supper.  Just as it takes many individual kernels of wheat to be crushed into flour to make one loaf of bread, so we too this morning gather as one loaf in our proclamation of faith and our need of forgiveness.  We need to receive Christ body for the forgiveness of our sins.  And in this eating of His body, He gives us faith to see that He is mysteriously and really present in the bread.  And just as it took many grapes to lose their individual importance and become one drink of wine, so too are we all gathered this morning to receive the precious blood of our Lord and Savior in, with, and under the wine.  “Here (is) the true Paschal Lamb we see, whom God so freely gave us.  He died on the accursed tree—so strong His love—to save us.  See, His blood now marks our door; faith points to it; death passes o’er and Satan cannot harm us.  Alleluia!  Then let us feast this Easter day on Christ, the bread of heaven.  The Word of grace has purged away the old and evil leaven.  Christ alone our souls will feed; He is our meat and drink indeed.  Faith lives upon no other!  Alleluia!” [LSB 487:3,5]

We all know, truthfully how small and insignificant we are without Jesus; without the Easter truth. We know how faithless we can be without God’s work in our lives.  For those of us who are still being moved to walk with and trust in Jesus real presence in our lives, we can truly say that we find our strength and our meaning in Him and His Word.  It’s His Word that’s our shield and our strength.  It’s His Word that gives our lives purpose and meaning.  As we live our lives here among people who we love but who are dying without faith in Jesus, we can only wait and trust that God will do the same work within them that He is doing within us.  And as we wait, we remember that we are the Lord’s little lambs and His servants.  We hear Him call out to us and we follow.  He faithfully leads us and feeds us with His Word as we repeat only what He speaks to us.  We hear His voice and we trust in none other.  And that voice faithfully gathers us to this place so that we can come to be faith-filled.  Thanks be to God!  Christ is risen, He is risen indeed… Alleluia!!

But For the Grace of God…

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

Palm Sunday B, April 1, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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If you were in Jerusalem on the day Jesus made His triumphant entry, would you have been part of the crowd that gathered to greet  Him with loud Hosannas?  Probably so; you see it was the simple everyday people like you and me that were attracted to Him.  They  liked the idea of Jesus being the Messiah, the son of David, because He was a simple man; one of them.  He was the underdog, and you  know how we all like to support our underdogs!  But they also were attracted to the mysterious side of this son of David; they were  attracted to the miracles He performed, and the fact that the Sanhedrin, the ruling religious party couldn’t explain or refute the  miracles.  Yes, I think we would have been there that day.  I believe that God’s Spirit would have drawn each of us out to shout loud  hosannas!

But there was another group that went out to see Jesus.  They weren’t there to cheer for Him and admire Him; no they were there to  plan His death.  You see, they had a man on the inside so to speak; Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve that made up Jesus inner-circle.  He  would be the tool they would use to trap Jesus and arrest Him in the dead of night, when all of these crowds weren’t around.

So that we can understand all that was getting ready to happen in that first holy week, we have to go back a few days in time; back before Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem.

Lazarus has already been raised from the dead in the little town of Bethany, just outside of Jerusalem.  The entire town is alive with the exciting news that Jesus raised one of their favorite son’s from the grave.  So they wanted to have some kind of recognition for this great day; there must be a formal celebration.  A man named Simon, who Jesus cured of leprosy offered his spacious home as party central.  There must have been a lot of people at this party, and while we don’t know everyone who was there, we do know through all of the gospel accounts, especially John chapter 12, who some of them were.  There gathered around the dinner table with Jesus, was of course the host Simon the Leper, Lazarus who was raised from the dead, Martha and Mary his sisters, and of course the twelve apostles, including Judas Iscariot, the mole, the Sanhedrin spy!  I think that we can easily identify with each of these people.  Let’s see if I’m right.

You are like Simon because as He was healed of his physical leprosy, you too have been healed of your spiritual leprosy, your sins.  You are no longer an outcast, separated from God’s love for His people; you are one of His people, one of His children who are invited to the Lord’s Table..  Because of all of this, you gladly open your heart and home to Jesus!

You are like Lazarus, because you too were once dead in your sins; lost forever to the living, but by the grace of God you are now alive and no longer lost but found, and because of that you are eternally grateful!

You are like Martha and Mary too, because you can celebrate new life for someone you love.  We all have someone we love who has been saved in baptism!  Because God is faithful in providing, you too have resolved to be faithful in your service towards Him with your time, talent, and treasure!

And you are also like the apostles.  Sometimes you feel so blessed to be a part of Jesus inner circle.  You see God working so mightily among us and within you that you just want shout glory!  You want to praise Him and get lost in worship.  But other times, in the dark times you can get confused and discouraged.  Like the apostles, when Jesus talks about suffering and death, carrying the cross and humbling yourself as a servant of all, you can begin to feel lost and frustrated; maybe even terrified. And when these moments come, all we can do is gather around God’s gifts, His Word and Sacraments and let go of everything else, all of the distractions, fears, and worries, and just worship Jesus.

Mary, the sister of Lazarus knew how to worship Jesus.  She opened a very expensive bottle of ointment and poured it over Jesus body.  This anointing she performed wasn’t some empty ritual performed to impress  others.  No, it was an act of the heart; an act of worship and adoration.  But Jesus tells us that it was also much more than this; He tells us that it was also an act of prophecy, because Mary was anointing His body for burial.  Mary alone recalled the many times Jesus said He was going to Jerusalem to die; that He was going to be lifted up high on the cross so that by His stripes, by His death we may all be healed.

What a beautiful act of worship; it was an act that was not understood by the others at that party.  And if it were not for the grace of God, Mary would not have understood either, but God made sure that she did; He made sure of this understanding because Jesus proclaimed that from that point on her story would be told wherever the gospel is proclaimed, and so now you too understand the significance of her act of worship!

The others at the party must have been confused  by what Mary did, but because Jesus allowed this act of adoration to proceed they were silent, everyone that is but Judas!

And now I must point out that we are all a little like Judas as well.  I know you would rather see yourself in Mary’s place, because she is the picture of pure worship.  But the truth is we can be a lot more like Judas.

When Leonardo da Vinci was painting his masterpiece The Last Supper, he looked long and hard for someone to model for his Christ. At last he located a man from one of the local churches in Rome who was very handsome, a young man named Pietro Bandinelli.  Well years passed, and the painting sat unfinished. All the disciples had been painted except one—Judas Iscariot. Da Vinci looked many years for a man whose face was hardened and distorted by sin—and at last he found a beggar on the streets of Rome with a face so villainous, da Vinci himself shuddered when he looked at him. He hired the man to sit for him as he painted the face of Judas on his canvas. When he was about to dismiss the man, he said, “Can you tell me your name.” “I am Pietro Bandinelli,” he replied, “I also sat for you as your model of Christ.”

Yes each of us still carries around with us our sinful nature just as Judas did.  We love it when the crowds run to our church on Easter Sunday and pack the pews.  We love to see the potential of a large and successful congregation.  We love to see money coming in during the offerings, because not only will we be able to pay the bills but we can do oh so much for God with it.  We can help Jesus build His church!  But when the crowd is small, or the offerings on Sunday seem insufficient, we can become discouraged.  When the worship time doesn’t meet our expectations, when the experience doesn’t meet our needs we will either run away or manipulate events so that we can make Jesus church serve our needs and desires.  And when we go down this road of self-service, we are doing the very thing Judas did.  We are ignoring the example of our Savior Jesus Christ who being God took on the form of a servant, and humbled Himself by putting others first, even sinners.  And He was obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Mary I think had a glimpse of this, but Judas could not understand because he would not!

Instead, Judas saw this simple act of worship from Mary as a lavish waste; he saw it as an unnecessary ritual.  As the sweet smell of the perfumed ointment filled the room, there was another odor that overwhelmed it; it was the vile odor of Judas’ poison.  “Why was the ointment wasted like that?  For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denari and given to the poor.”  And as Judas’ poison filled the room, the sweet aroma of worship for the great “I AM” was replaced by the stench of “I want!”  One by one, the other apostles began to be overcome by this poison as they agreed with Judas.  The hour of worship was over for them; it was disrupted by the demon of greed!

Then Judas Iscariot got up and went and found the chief priests in order to betray Jesus.  Judas would latter, because of his betrayal take his own life.  He would die in his sins and pay the eternal penalty for them.

Now, if you are feeling guilty at the truthfulness of these words, please take time to thank God right now.  You see, your guilt is the very proof that you are not like Judas at all; you are not a child of sin but a child of grace, forgiven and loved by God because of your faith in Jesus.  Guilt is the one thing that Judas did not feel, because He would not allow God’s Word and the Holy Spirit to bring him new life.  He had no remorse because he had no faith, and because he had no faith, he would never know the forgiving love of God!  And because Judas could not experience God’s forgiving love through Jesus Christ, he would never understand why Mary worshiped Jesus the way she did!

But you know God’s love because like Mary, you can see the need for Jesus to go to the cross for you.  You know that while Jesus was riding into Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt, in His heart He was already experiencing the agony of the cross, and you know that He does it all for you!  You know and have tasted His forgiving grace.  And because of this grace, you know what Good Friday and Easter mean.  They mean that on God Friday when Jesus died, He died for you and your sins.  And on Easter morning, when He rose from the dead, He rose for you… He rose so that you would know that one day you too will rise from the dead.  He rose so that you would know and trust in Him alone.  And that is why you will never be a Judas!

A man once asked a pastor, “Why did Jesus choose Judas Iscariot to be his disciple if He knew he would betray Him?” Rather than explaining all of the theological significance of the act, the pastor simply replied, “I do not know, but I have an even harder question: Why did Jesus choose you and me?”  But for the amazing grace of God, when we see Judas we can say that could have been me!  I could have been the one to betray my savior.  Forbid it Lord and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil… in Jesus name… AMEN!