Archive for April, 2013

It Was Love… A New Kind of Love!

Sunday, April 28th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Easter 5C, April 27th, 2013

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A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. [John 13:34, 35]

What was it that moved Christ to go from the upper room, to the garden, and then to His suffering and death upon the cross?  It was love; a new kind of love; a type of love that before was impossible for human flesh, sinful human flesh to express!  But Jesus is God—what does that have to do with us?  Simply this, Jesus said we must now have and express this kind of love.  “A new commandment I give to you that you love one another, as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

This means, we are to express a type of love that costs, even hurts at times.  We are to love each other with a sacrificial kind of love.

A grumpy old man called a church one-day and explained to the pastor that he was looking for a new church, as his old church no longer met his needs.  He said that he wanted to join a church that didn’t press him to get involved, a place where only the old hymns are sung, a church that didn’t keep calling him at home checking to see if he was alright, simply because he missed a few Sundays.  He wanted to be a member of a church that didn’t issue offering envelopes or keep track of his giving.  He then asked the pastor if his church fit the bill, and if not, could he recommend one.  The pastor was silent for a moment and then responded: “Well yes, I think I know just the place for you.  Do you have a pen and paper?”  The man said yes, and then wrote down the exact address of a local church that the pastor gave him.  The man got in his car and went out immediately, only to find a church that was boarded up, closed down and for sale.

That story is simply an illustration that points out the problem with each of us, if left on our own; we want life and all of it’s circumstances to meet our needs; we want everything to be done in a way that makes us happy.  It’s as if we are saying, “OK, I’ve been baptized and I have Jesus, now leave me alone and let me rest in His glory until He calls me to my mansion.”  Let’s call this way of thinking and living a theology of glory.  But that is not the love, the life that Christ calls us to live out.  He said, “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

This morning in our gospel lesson (John 13:31-35), Jesus teaches us a new theology; a theology of the cross.  His love took Him to the cross; the emblem of suffering and shame; a place where all mankind’s glory is destroyed and made empty and meaningless.  In the cross, God calls a thing what it is; He says that our sin, even our sinful flesh is vile and rotten and it must be destroyed.  But here is the amazing part; He doesn’t want to destroy our sinful flesh, but instead He destroyed the perfect flesh of His only begotten Son.  And even more amazing, the Son agrees that only this self-sacrificing love will save sinners like you and me.  And now from the cross, Christ calls out to each of us… follow Me!

Does this kind of love make you nervous or afraid?  If so, good; you should know what you are getting into.  Or, you should know what you’ve already signed up for.  This is love, not that we love God, but that He first loved us, and proved it upon the cross.

In our first lesson (Acts 11:118), some of the “holiness” brothers that were of the circumcision party, heard that Peter was hanging out with dirty gentiles, and even calling them brothers.  So they conveyed a board of inquiry to get to the bottom of this scandal.  But when Peter spoke of how even the gentiles were repenting and turning to Christ alone for salvation, they were quieted and then let go of their own agenda, and glorified God.

How were these Godless gentiles able to receive the Holy Spirit, the very Spirit of Jesus and be saved?  Well the same way every one does; through the Gospel message that Peter shared with them.  When they heard about their sins, and the penalty of death God imposes because of those sins, they were at first terrified.  But when they heard about the Son of God, Jesus Christ willingly taking upon their sins upon Himself, and suffering and dying for them, they were grieved, but then… once they realized that this meant peace with God, they were over joyed that God truly loved even them so much, that He gave His One and only Son, that if they believed and received Jesus’ gift of the cross, they would be forgiven.  And they were; and there after they too were baptized and renewed by the love of Christ.  They were remade to love as Christ loves.

How did all of this happen?  Through the gift of repentance and the gift of love.  Repentance is simply agreeing with God that He is right and we are wrong.  It is simply turning to the only means that God has made to save us from our own sins and the sins of others.  Contrition and faith, or Law and Gospel, which come through the Word of God, are the only means God chooses to turn our hearts from love of sin (love of self) and then turn them to the cross of Christ where we are all equally given full pardon and love for God and each other.  Where ever, when ever, and to whom ever God’s means speak to the heart of a sinner, new life is given.

Now what we must remember is that while this new life is invisible, because it exists in our soul, it is always expressed in how we live out our physical lives.  For those of us sinners who know how much we have been forgiven, we will certainly be able to demonstrate a love for Jesus that is empowered by this new kind of love.  And that new love will express itself first in our confession of faith, then our consistent worship of Him, next in our prayer life, and finally in our service to His church and each other.

But what about the good life; what about the glory of walking and talking in blessings with Jesus?  Now in that question is exactly where and how the enemy the devil tries to deceive us.  Nowhere did Jesus say that the life of faith is one without suffering and pain.  Nowhere does He say that once you’ve been baptized life will be easy; in fact He said the opposite.  Jesus said that, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” [John 16:33]  But Jesus does promise that there will come a day, perhaps sooner than we know when all of our suffering and pain will cease and then we will forever rest in glory.

Listen to this hope expressed in our Epistle reading (Revelation 21:1-7): “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Sounds good doesn’t it?  That is your promised inheritance, but for now, we must wait for that glorious day; but we aren’t waiting like a bunch of lost lambs bleating for their shepherd.  No, Jesus has sent us the Helper, the Holy Spirit who since the day of our baptism, continues to dwell richly within each of us.  Through this indwelling of the Spirit, we also have Jesus real presence, and together with the Father, Jesus truly has made all things new, even you.  It is a done deal; complete and finished, lacking nothing but the fulfillment of time.

To the thirsty, those who thirst for true love, Jesus as the Good Shepherd, calls us to drink in His Word and dine at His Holy Table.  We may fill ourselves with as much as we can hold, without cost, because Jesus has paid for it all with His very lifeblood.  And you will need every bit of this spiritual nourishment, because it alone gives you the strength to hold onto Jesus until the last day.

If you will remain in Him, through these God appointed means of grace, Jesus promises not just complete forgiveness, but also the ability to love others as He loves them; a love for even the unlovable; the kind of love that is willing to take risks and even receive injury.  On your own, you could never truly have or demonstrate that kind of love, but with God living and working within you, you will be able to watch in amazement how unexplainably it flows out of you.

How did the church go from a bunch of self-serving cowards to powerful and unafraid conquerors of sin, death, and the devil?  It was love!  It was the radical movement of love envisioned and empowered by our Lord, and today and everyday, it begins with us.  This morning, behind the closed doors of this church, God continues His campaign to save the world with His love through forgiven sinners like us.

Filled with the Holy Spirit of God, our relationship with one another becomes a strong witness to the world of just what true love is.  We are not just to open the church doors and shout out what love is, but we are also to open the doors and let the world look in and see what love is; let them see true love at work in us; changing and rearranging us.  We aren’t just to preach love, but we have been empowered to practice it, and not as the world knows love to be, but a new kind of love born out of Heaven that experiences being loved by the Lord of love.

Dear friends, we can testify about love until we’re hoarse, but until the world can see that love alive and lived out among us, and personally experience that love through us, all of our witnessing about love will be in vain.  As followers of Jesus, we live behind glass doors.  The world constantly looks into see what we are like.  If we show a new kind of love, the world will know it and investigate it.

Isn’t that an exciting challenge the Lord has left us?  Can we actually do it?  Yes, if we continue to follow Jesus and remember that it is He who works within us, forgiving, loving and teaching us how to do the very same thing.

Now, you who have been forgiven so much and loved so greatly go out and allow the Holy Spirit to do the same through you.  And if you should fall short this week, come back next Sunday to be forgiven and renewed for love!  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

You Can Hear Him!

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Easter 4C, April 20th, 2013

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My Sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. [John 10:27]

As our nation gathers together to morn and sort out the events surrounding the terrorist attack against those gathered at the Boston Marathon, as our fellow country men, there and across this  great  nation gather for moments of silence and combined “all-faith” worship services, you have instead come here; to God’s house.  For most of you, this is not unusual, because you do the very  same thing most every Sunday.  For some who are visitors this morning at Trinity, or visitors to my website, you may be listening to or reading this sermon with the intent of trying to find some  comfort or perhaps find a higher purpose to all of the fear and suffering, let me repeat the Words of Jesus again: “My Sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”

Can you hear Jesus speaking to you in those Words?  If so, good!  Continue hearing; listen to His Words and you will find strength and comfort.  To those of you who may answer, “No” or  “I’m  not sure,” that is alright; you should continue to listen as well, because you see, it is only by listening to the Word of God that you will find faith and be able to hear the voice of Jesus’ speaking to  you.

A truth that is even sadder than the Boston carnage is the fact that there are many people in this world who will not not hear Jesus speaking to them.  They demand new proofs and evidence all  while dismissing the great proofs that have already been recorded for them.  It is as if they are calling out with unbelievers in our gospel lesson (John 10:22-30): “If you are the Christ, tell us  plainly.”  And as Jesus answered the unbelievers then, so He answers them today: “I (have) told you, and you do not believe.  The works I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep.” [John 10:25, 26]

Why don’t they believe?  Because they are not among Jesus sheep, so they don’t hear His voice.  But their lack of hearing; their lack of believing isn’t Jesus’ fault, it is their own.  Jesus speaks to them; He desires them to hear, but they will not.  They choose instead to hear many other voices that call out to us through out the world.  For instance…

They will hear the voice of Hedonism.  A voice that discourages higher learning and critical thinking, and instead encourages a generation of Reality T.V. to “Party on… eat, drink, and be merry!”  Or…

Then there is the voice of Materialism, which constantly pressures us to buy things.  “Buy, buy, buy” it says, “until you find contentment.  You deserve to be happy and experience the good life.”  And as we follow that voice, we become so caught up in acquiring more possessions, that those left in need, suffering in poverty go without, and finally die because we would not help.  And …

Then there is the voice of Narcissism—Self-centeredness that constantly encourages us to join in singing the hymn of all fallen and sinful creation: “It’s all about me; it’s all about I; it’s all about me oh my, oh my!”  Within this voice, are the various word of faith leaders and “possibility thinking” hucksters and philosophers who want us to “Tap into the great potential that is you!”  This voice really makes the voice of Christ unneeded, because if you believe their message, you can be your own savior!

And finally, there are the voices of the religious fanatics.  Their voice is perhaps the most dangerous, as they teach that change, their kind of change, must come from outside of a society, and it must come by force, fear, intimidation, and death if necessary.

So what voice are you really hearing?  Which voice has won your attention; has peeked your interest?  If it isn’t Jesus’ voice, then again I repeat, it is not Jesus’ fault.  He has spoken to you repeatedly, but you will not hear; you will not believe.  His works, His suffering and death upon the cross and His resurrection from the dead verify that He is the very Son of God.  The lives of Christians living in peace and seeking peace from others, with no fear of death is also proof that this Jesus is the risen Son of God.  He truly is the Good Shepherd who can provide mysterious gifts of comfort and security in times of turmoil.  The lives of Jesus’ little lambs proves that He really does care for His sheep.  All of this proves that…

His sheep really do hear His voice.  Jesus tells you this morning that: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” [Vs. 27]  Jesus sheep always hear Him speak.  While it is true that they don’t always listen, or follow, they do always hear.  And when they wander, for we sheep of Jesus are prone to wander, He leaves the secure and safe 99 sheep to bring His lost little lamb back into the fold, which is His church.  He brings us back in the same means that He first saved us, with His voice.  And within that voice, we sheep hear the content of that voice, we hear the gospel Word, you are forgiven; come home.

To those this morning, who are not His sheep, either because they never have been or have chosen to wander away, Jesus speaks the gospel call this morning to become one of His little lambs.  This morning Jesus tells them who and what they really are without Him, “You are not my sheep.  You have not been saved from the coming judgment.”  But He also tells them who they will become if they listen; if they allow the Words and the voice to give them faith.  To those sheep who are caught up in the sound of another voice, Jesus promises that if they will hear Him speak forgiveness of sins and new life, “I (will) give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.  My Father who has given them to me, is greater than all (other teachings and voices), and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” [Vs. 28, 29]

“But how can this be true,” some may ask?  And to this Jesus speaks Words of mystery, but Word’s that also give faith: “I and the Father are one.” [Vs. 30]

Do you hear the mystery that is God?  God exist as One, yet in a very intimate and close relationship of persons—Father, Jesus the Son of God, and Spirit, and you have been or are invited to be brought into that relationship through baptism.  If you have wandered away, you are invited back into the church.

Through Jesus Christ, the Son of God you are guaranteed that not only does God the Father know you but He loves you; He becomes your Father.  You are recognized and you will always recognize Him because you will know the voice of your Good shepherd when He calls.  You need never be alone or afraid in this world, because God is with you.  And with the rod and staff of His Word, He leads and protects you.  With that same Word He gives you cool drink and green secure pasture.

In His Word He invites you to His banquet table, where you feast on His very body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine, where he satisfies a hunger and thirst that can only be satiated at His table; it is a feast of complete forgiveness and strong faith in your God Who alone is your Good Shepherd.

Imagine that you are walking on a street within our community and there in the driveway of a home are three little children getting ready to climb inside the family’s mini-van.  The van is packed with luggage and coolers.  The father is just about to close the rear door for departure and the mother is locking the front door of the home.  Obviously, they are going on a trip.

You walk up to the little children and you ask: “Where are you going?”  Wide eyed they stare back at you, silent.  They don’t know.  “What highway will you take?”  Again, no answer.  Where are you going to have dinner tonight?”  No response.  Then you ask what in their minds is the only question that matters: “Who are you going with?”  Now there eyes light up, their faces break into smiles.  “With Mommy and Daddy!” they exclaim.

Dear friends, your life lies ahead of you.  There are many unknowns, even many dangers that are ahead of you.  For many of the questions you have in life, like the whys and how comes, you for now, will get no answers.  But you do have “The Answer” with you always.  Jesus is with you and He has already called out to you with the Words “Follow Me!”  He has promised to be by your side every step of the way.  And because of this truth, for you His little lambs, eternal life isn’t something you enter when you die; no, you are in it right now!  And His means of grace, His Word and Sacraments are what sustain you every day in this world of uncertainty.

The sign of the cross at the beginning of our service helped us recall our baptism, which is a “spring of living water” for us.  Therefore we “hunger and thirst no more.” [Revelation 7:16]  And at His Holy Supper you again will receive life giving food, which for us, is a foretaste of the feast to come.  Therefore, we join in with all of the company in heaven robed in white praising our God around His throne.

You are forgiven.  God has raised Jesus from the dead and your redemption is assured.  Now Christ calls you—His sheep and His witnesses—to follow Him.  You do hear Him!  Now, what shall you do?  AMEN!

How Should We Worship the Lamb Who Sits Upon the Throne?

Sunday, April 14th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Easter 3C, April 13, 2013

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In our Gospel reading (John 21:1-19), we meet Jesus and some of His closest disciples after a long night of fishing.  Jesus appears out of no where and says in essence, “Have you boys caught  anything to eat yet?”  To which, they reply “No!” “Well” He says, “cast your net on the right side of the boat and you will get some whoppers!”  And they did!

So what does all of this mean?  Well St. John, the disciple that Jesus loved knew the answer: “It’s the Lord!” And how does a person respond when they realize that the Lord is with them?  Plunk,  into the water; that’s how spontaneous St. Peter responded.  Impetuous Peter; if ever there was a disciple who needed to experience the love of Jesus it was Peter; he wanted so badly to be loved by  God and to love him in return, but it seems that he just kept messing things up.  Well, Jesus was about to change all of that for Peter.  He was about to change Peter’s heart so that he could both  experience God’s love and love God in return.  Peter, like every disciple before and after Him needed to learn to see God perfectly in Jesus; to see Jesus as the glorified Son of God, the very Lamb of  God who now forever sits upon the throne of God, and to worship Him.  How do we worship Him?

Well, this morning we will explore this life of worship in three things, three gifts given from God, which are common to all baptized Christians, both the oldest of us and the youngest.  They are,  faith, obedience, and success or living out our Christian vocation.

In regards to faith, I am sometimes grieved over how difficult some people make our understanding of faith to be.  So many bad explanations of what it is have completely taken away the beauty of what God says that it is.  Faith is nothing more than a gift from God.  It is a gift that He keeps on giving and we are simply asked to keep on receiving it.  It isn’t hard to receive, because it comes simply by gathering around and receiving His Word.  We do this very thing every Sunday here at Trinity.   You are receiving the Word right now in this message, but before I stepped into this pulpit, before we declared God’s Word in the words of the Introit, we received the gift of faith in the words of absolution, which came after our public confession of sins.  And then we along with baby Sarai received God’s gift of faith as we witnessed and participated in her Holy Baptism.  There at the font, God not only called her by name and washed her clean, he recreated her into a new sanctified person of faith, who must be continually nourished and strengthened every day with the same Word of God.  In other words God’s Word must constantly feed her so that the gift of faith will continue to save her.  As she grows, her parents, God-parents, and all of us here at Trinity must speak the Word of God to her, teach her, and encourage her to grow in her faith, and one day she will be confirmed “ready” to receive the very body and blood of the Lamb of God, who continually takes away the sin of the world.

This is the rhythm of life for a Christian; God speaks and we respond; we grow and we experience more of Him.  For some of you, this rhythm has led you consistently; you never really over thought it, you just lived it out.  While it’s true, you have experienced good days and bad days, you never really dwelled on either; you simply lived out a life of faith.  You are much like John, with your spirit declaring, “It’s the Lord!”

For others, their journey of faith started at an older age, and perhaps after living a rough life.  For them, maybe they can relate more closely to St. Paul, who was blinded by the Lord on the road to Damascus as he heard, “Why are you persecuting me?”

Yes it is true that some of us lived lives that were not only faithless, but also extremely opposed to Jesus and His invitation of faith.  But, here you are too, by the grace of God, being fed faith by the same means of grace.

So we have established that faith is the mark of one who worships the Lamb of God who sits upon the throne.  But how is that gift of faith expressed in the life of a Christian who worships the Lamb?

Simply put, it is expressed in obedience.  In our first lesson (Acts 9:1-22) we see obedience played out in two different people, in two very different ways.  With Saul, who would become St. Paul, it was very dramatic and physical.  Not many saints have ever been confronted with a light straight out of  heaven, and not many have heard the very voice of Jesus say, “(Hey you), why are you persecuting me?”  Not many of us have been blinded as a way to get our attention, so that we could hear God speak faith into us, but Saul was.  Why?  So that He would hear what was spoken next: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.  But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”  Did you hear it?  Jesus gave a command, but it wasn’t an order that is given just so one person can bully another.  No, Jesus is no bully; that was Saul’s identity; Saul was the one that practically begged for the authority to hunt down and persecute Jesus’ little lambs, the Christians.  Our Lord Jesus, was simply giving a command of love that would allow Saul to see that He was his Lord too; He wanted Saul to become Paul, who would be one of Jesus little lambs.

But there is still another example of obedience in our first reading that must be brought out into the light for us, and it is with a simple man named Ananias.  The Lord said to him in a vision, ““Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.””

For both Saul and Ananias Jesus told them what they must do.  For Saul, it was go and be baptized into the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  To Ananias it was to baptize all people who the Lord brought to him, even evil Saul, all so sinners can be filled with faith, saved, recreated, and given a new life of obedience.  Obedience to become all that the Lord Jesus has declared them to be; in Saul’s case, he was to become Paul, an apostle of the very Lord He was persecuting.

So far, we have talked about God’s gift of faith and His gift of obedience.  Now let’s add the third heavenly gift common to all baptized Christians… success.

What is success? Well simply put, it is the realization of an objective, or a goal.  In the life of a Christian there are two goals that we wait to realize: personal salvation and the spread of the gospel.  The good news is, that in both, Jesus promises to do all of the work.  He doesn’t need us for either, but instead invites us to participate and follow Him; He asks us to trust in His will and rest in the promises of His Word; promises like “He who began the good work in us and within this sinful world will complete it.” [Philippians 1:6]

Now, this is where the other two gifts from God become a big help.  It is the Lord who gives us the ability to trust Him, it is the Lord who gives us a new spirit of obedience to learn and grow in our faith, and it is the Lord who promises that because we trust in these other two gifts the third gift of success is guaranteed.  You will be saved from your sins and the gospel will advance, and the church will grow one forgiven sinner at a time!

Because Ananias was obedient, Saul was saved. Because Saul was obedient, he became Paul, followed the call of Jesus into the gospel ministry, and wrote the saving Words of a good portion of our New Testament, all so that faith would continue to be planted in the hearts of sinners and countless people be saved.

What is success?  It is following the call of the gospel and repenting from a life apart from God, and then receiving a new command to live a life following Jesus under the cross and inviting others to do the same.

Towards the end of our gospel lesson, we see this all come out in a way that was both painful and beneficial to Peter.  “(Peter, you who once said that even if all of my other disciples were to abandon me, you would never leave.  You who thought you loved me more than all of the others, but abandoned me, left me alone on the cross to die) do you love me more than these?”

Now this is a portion of scripture that we need to bring a little meaning to.  This is where our English language falls short.  So bear with me, just a few more minutes, and let me clear something important up so that God’s marvelous love is not lost to you.

When Jesus asked Peter if He loved Him more than the others loved Him, He is speaking directly to Peter’s guilt over His sin of denying Jesus on three separate occasions.  Jesus asks this same question three different times in slightly different ways, so that Peter will understand that not only is He forgiven fore each time He denied His Lord, but He can also, through this complete forgiveness finally receive the ability to love God as He has always desired.

The first two times when Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him, He used the Greek Word agape, which is a higher form of love; it is the love of intellect, reason, and understanding; it is a love that has a higher purpose or goal as it’s source of being.  In other words, it is a love that can only be given to us from God.  Did Peter love Jesus with this God-given love?  Obviously, Peter couldn’t say yes; he had abandoned Jesus!  So, Peter answers Jesus with another Greek word for love which means “affection”.  “Yes Lord; you know that I have great affection for you.”  Now Peter is being honest; he understands that he does not love Jesus, His Lord and God as he should.  He finally sees that the kind of love that one should have for God, is completely outside of him.  Now, here is the most beautiful part of this teaching:  Jesus did not disqualify Peter from His church for his lack of agape love.  Rather than send Peter away broken and sinful, He shows Peter what real forgiveness is by inviting him deeper into ministry; “Go and feed My little lambs” He says.  He tells him to use His means of grace to strengthen his own faith and then in that grace, go and build Christ church my speaking the same forgiveness to Jesus’ other lambs.  In this way, Jesus is empowering Peter and the rest of the church with God’s gifts that will provide faith, obedience, and success.

This morning, Jesus speaks to us, His church and He says, “Baptize and reach, nourish and teach them with my Word and water, and with my very body and blood; be and become like Peter, men and women of faith; filled with love and wisdom as you teach others to do the same.

Did Peter understand?  Yes, Jesus made sure he would, so that he would receive not only forgiveness of sins, but the ability to love with the agape love that led Christ to die upon the cross for all of the worlds sins.  You see, the third and final time Jesus asked the same question to Peter, He did it with a little twist; instead of asking Peter if he (agape) loved Him, He asked, “Peter, do you have affection for me?”  Peter finally gave in, he let go of his pride and his guilt and he simply answered, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I (have affection) for you.” Now that Peter has confessed his sins, Jesus gives him the absolution again… “Feed my sheep and follow me.”

Peter needed to hear those comforting words of forgiveness; he needed to know that Jesus still wanted him as part of the church.  He needed to experience complete forgiveness so that he could receive and give complete agape, self-sacrificing love.  Peter would discover what many of us have also discovered, that loving God and following God is never easy and sometimes painful; following God means being committed to His church where Christ freely gives His gifts to all who come.

Here at Trinity, as one of our Lord’s faithful churches, we are called to receive Christ’s gifts and we are called to invite others to receive them also.  That means, that we must learn to love people who are sometimes unlovable, just as we once were and sometimes still are.  Following Jesus means that we must let go of the old sinful ways and learn a new way to be happy; we must learn the way of the cross.

Like Saul, Ananias, Simon Peter, and all of the other saints, every day as we gather around the throne of grace, which belongs to the Lamb of God, we see behind it His cross.  Everyday that cross reminds us of God’s love for us, and we receive faith.  And along with faith, we also experience sacrifice and suffering, but right along with those things, we also receive obedience, and promised success.  All of these wonderful gifts come from the very same source, the Word of God.  Do you want to experience God’s agape love, and do you want to be able to love Him back with that same love?  Then hear the very Words that provide those wonderful gifts… you are forgiven… HE IS RISEN… indeed!  AMEN.