Archive for September, 2014

Is Salvation a Work of God Or Not?

Sunday, September 28th, 2014

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (A), September 28, 2014
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org


Click here for audio of this message

“What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?” [Ezekiel 18:2]

Another way of saying that is, “How dare you say that God is not a just God.”  Have you ever found yourself questioning God; accusing Him of allowing things to happen that were not fair towards you or your family?  That was the situation that surrounded Our Old Testament lesson (Ezekiel 18:1–4, 25–32), which is essentially a conversation between God and His children of faith, the nation Judah, through the prophet Ezekiel.  They were the last remnant of Israel, and they were being led out to Babylon and into captivity.  And as they were saying goodbye to their old lives, they were accusing God of punishing them for the sins of their Fathers; the national sins of the past.  In essence, the people were accusing God of being unfair. Behind their complaint was the idea they were not as guilty as their fathers had been and didn’t deserve being exiled into Babylon. By quoting that proverb, they meant to say: “Our fathers sinned and the children have to suffer the consequences.”

So, in the words of Michael Turko (an investigative TV reporter in San Diego, CA), “It ain’t right!”  But God will not let this accusation of being unjust or unfair, go unanswered.  Listen…

“As I live, declares the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.” [Vs. 3,4]

I think we tend to forget that the wages or payment for sin is death.  But we like to measure and quantify sins don’t we?  Don’t we like to think that a little sin is not as bad as a lot of sin?  You know how we think: There’s big sins and then there’s my sins!  Don’t we like to think that our sins aren’t nearly as bad as say the sins of an extremist group like ISIS?  Ok, that’s a little extreme so let me give you a somewhat easier example of how we play with this idea of grading sins, and how we affix blame to other people’s sins.

On December 11, 2008, Bernard Madoff was arrested by FBI agents and charged with one of the most devastating violations of Security Fraud ever committed against numerous financial agencies; it left thousands of investors broke, and it was the beginning of the great recession, which we are still in today.  In a kind of ripple effect, bad mortgage loans have been foreclosed and are still being foreclosed today and home loans are harder to come by, thus restricting access to the American middle class dream of home ownership.  So, in a sense, our teeth are set at edged because of the sins of Bernie Madoff.  We don’t have a problem with Bernie paying for his sin, but it doesn’t seem fair that nearly ten years latter, we are still paying for his and other peoples greed.

Did God allow Bernie Madoff to commit that great crime?  Yes.  Did God cause Bernie Madoff or anyone else who commits a crime, to sin?  No, but God does punish sin.  That punishment will come in eternity and there is no reprieve once it has been instituted.  But while sinners wait for that eternal penalty, or judgment of sin, we all suffer the temporary repercussions of that sin within the world that we live in.  Scripture makes it clear that these temporary discomforts caused by our sin or other peoples sins are nothing in comparison to the eternal punishment that awaits all sinners!

So what is the solution?  Is there a way out of this mess we call sin, or are we bound to it and it’s inevitable conclusion, like the collision of a train plowing through a vehicle stuck on the tracks?  Well, in verses 30 through 32, God gives us not only hope, but a solution to our sin problem.  Listen…

“Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin.  Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel?  For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.” [Vs. 30-32]

Now O Christians you stand before a righteous judge; the Judge who knows your every sin; nothing is hidden from Him.  He has shown you that by your sin, every sin you are guilty of breaking the very first commandment.  You love yourself more than you love God.  You have made your own desires master of your soul.  And our Righteous God, our Creator judges you guilty and worthy of an eternal sentence of suffering and death.  How do you plea?  You must be honest if you hope for any leniency!  If you plead guilty, then listen to your only hope.  “Repent O Christian.  God does not desire the death of anyone, let alone one who has been purchased by the lifeblood of His Only Begotten Son!”

You see friends, Christianity is not a movement, an organization, or an attitude. It is a relationship between God and an individual person, and it’s  based on your faith in God’s only provision of mercy, Jesus Christ the Savior from sin. God is asking each of you to respond to what the Lord has given you in Christ, and then daily ask the Lord to help you live a life that reflects the righteousness that Jesus has given you. And so It becomes true, the righteous man “lives,” that is, he exists and will continue to do so under the blessings of God.

To attempt to base our relationships with God on ourselves without Jesus is to tell God that we think Christ’s work is neither necessary nor beneficial. Such a misguided life can take about any track it wants, but it is always headed away from the Lord and his blessings and waiting for the inevitable collision with eternal judgment. But there is a solution to this sinful life style, and it is one of repentance and baptism.

How you live out this new baptismal life will depend on how you answer this next question.  Is baptism a work of God or man?  Is salvation a gift from God or is it something you earn?

This is in essence the question that was set before the Pharisees in our Gospel lesson (Matthew 21:23-32) and it is the question set before every Christian today.  How you answer this question will not only affect how you live your life today but even how you spend your eternity.  Let me ask that question in another way, “Do you want to risk your eternity on your own efforts, trying to outweigh your sins with your own “good deeds”, like some kind of ponzie scheme, or do you want to take God’s promises by faith and rest in and trust them alone?

You see friends, Baptism isn’t simply a custom of the church, but rather its a divine ordinance, the only way that God has provided so that sinners can be saved from their sins, and it is in force until the Last Day.  It is for all people no matter how early or late in life they embrace this wonderful means of grace. It is equal to the preaching of the Gospel and the teaching of God’s Word. Jesus made them equal in force and power with His command: “Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you, and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world!” [Matt. 28:19–20)

As God’s solution to sin and His means of allowing us to stand before Him and be pardoned and given a new life in Christ, He has protected this holy washing of water and His Word and ensured that Christ’s church would continue this sacrament, which Jesus instituted before He ascended into heaven.  Since the day of Pentecost, we hear of this Holy Sacrament being offered to sinners who desired to be saved from their sins.  Listen to Peter’s proclaimed solution to the people’s sin: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38).

Dear Christian friends, above all else that you hear today, please remember this, Baptism is a means of grace.  It is God’s means of removing your old sinful identity and replacing it with the perfect identity of His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ.  It creates faith in God who comes to you with His solution to your sin, which is the suffering and death of His Son upon the cross for the sins of the world.  In other words, Baptism is God’s means of making you sinless and exempt from the punishment for your many sins.  Or as the Apostle Peter declared “Baptism… now saves you also.” [1 Peter 3:2]

In your baptism, God put your sinful nature to death, by joining it in Baptism to Christ’s death. He buried that old nature in Christ’s tomb, the only place where He no longer looks. And then, miracle of miracles, He raises you up to a new life as his child. Your old self is crucified in Baptism by God’s Word, and in this death that Christ shares with you, you die to sin every day as you continue to hear that same Word, and are set free from the punishment of your many sins. So, through your baptismal death and resurrection, you have been given new life. [Rom. 8:17]

So I ask you, is God fair?  Do you prefer His means of grace, His way of dealing with the sins of the world, even your sins, or do you prefer that He punish all people according to their sins?  If you prefer the way of His grace, then can you see baptism as His means of grace?  Do you see it as a mystery or sacrament of His love for sinners or do you prefer to earn your forgiveness and work for your salvation?  In essence, “Is Baptism a work of God or a work of man?”  May God give you faith to see the answer clearly as you ponder the mystery and work of His Son Jesus Christ within His church and indeed, within your very life… AMEN!

It IS Well With My Soul

Sunday, September 14th, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost 14A, September 14, 2014
Click here for audio of this message

“Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?  As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” [Genesis 50:19, 20]

These words from our Old Testament reading are the words of a Kingdom builder; they’re the Words of Jesus, the Lord of the Kingdom of God, which are simply being spoken by a subject of the King.  They are Words of restoration and peace; they are Words of forgiveness.  They are Words that make all things well with our souls!  With all of this being true, then why do we find it so hard to speak them?  Why is it such a battle to say, “I forgive you”?

Surely we have reasons, good reasons not to trust some people.  I would not put a convicted embezzler in charge of our church bank account, would you?  Would you want a convicted child molester teaching Sunday school?  Of course not, but does that also mean that we should withhold forgiveness, love, and restoration from them?

In our Old Testament lesson (Genesis 50:15-21) we encounter Joseph, a man who had every reason to be bitter, hold a grudge and get revenge.  His own brothers threw him in a well in the middle of the desert and then sold him  to slave dealers.  But Joseph experienced something that changed him forever; he experienced God’s presence and God’s protection.  In the home he was a slave, but he eventually became the head slave and had complete freedom to run the entire home and its business.  But trouble always seems to follow people who know they worship a merciful and loving God and Joseph was no exception.  Very soon he was falsely accused by the wife of the lord of the very home he was serving in.  Bam!  Joseph’s life was turned upside down.  Once again he was falsely imprisoned, but this time it wasn’t in a well but in a real prison!  But Joseph knew that like the well earlier, he wasn’t in that prison alone; he knew that the God of mercy was with Him and where ever God is, all is well with the soul of a child of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Once more God would prove to Joseph that He was a God who makes a way out of no way; He would prove that He was a God who never leaves or forsakes His little ones who serve in His Kingdom; Joseph was given the keys to the prison and allowed to run it!  But that’s not all is it?  No, eventually it became known to Pharro that Joseph was a man of God who could interpret dreams.  So as a result of one meeting with Joseph who spoke the Word of God truthfully, Joseph was made second in command of all of Egypt.

And now before him stands his brothers who did unthinkable evil against him; they were standing before the second most powerful person in the world.  So this was Joseph’s chance to make things right; to right the wrongs that were done to him.  And what does he do?  He makes things right; right in the Kingdom of God!  He offers forgiveness and restoration.  But why… how?  Because that is how the Kingdom of God operates!  You see, the Kingdom of God makes a way out of no way.  In an earthly kingdom where only death and punishment reign supreme, God’s Kingdom brings life and forgiveness. Out of fear and danger God assures His child that all is indeed well with his soul!

Do you think that Joseph had questions about the sincerity of his brother’s confession of sin?  Sure, but having questions, having doubts isn’t what is important here, it’s where you take those questions and doubts.  As a citizen of the Kingdom of God, Joseph immediately gave these things to God and He forgave all of them.  It’s as if he was saying to them, “If God’s forgiven you, who am I to do anything differently?  Don’t you see that what you meant for evil against me, God in His wonderful counsel has turned into something marvelous in our sight.  He’s not only frustrated your evil plan, but He’s used it to bring abundant life and blessing for both me and you!”  And that is always how things work in the Kingdom of God.  You see, as citizens of God’s Kingdom of grace, “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” [Romans 8:28]

So we see, in this way God causes good to result from evil, not that He wants us to do evil, but in His goodness He can take even our great wickedness and turn it into good.  It’s God’s nature to forgive a fearful and sobbing sinner who is begging Him for mercy.  And this is the very lesson that Jesus was trying to get Peter to understand; it’s the lesson He wants each of us to go home with this morning.

In our gospel lesson (Matthew 18:21-35) Peter asked Jesus how many times he should keep forgiving someone for something they do against him over and over.  Now, the Jewish teachers said that three times is enough to satisfy the mercy of God, so that the justice of God could take over.  So Peter took that number and multiplied it by 2 and threw in one more for good measure and answered his own question with a question: “Seven times?”  Now don’t be too hard on Peter, because from a human standpoint, a flawed and sinful standpoint Peter did pretty well.  Even our own society today would call that excessive and a bit naïve.  You know the old saying, “Fool me once shame on you; fool me twice shame on me!”

So now learn the lesson about how things work in God’s Kingdom.  “Jesus said to (Peter), “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.”  Now that’s excessive!  But the number isn’t the point of Jesus teaching, it’s the attitude or the spirit.  Jesus is teaching us that the new nature of a baptized child of God is the type of nature that doesn’t keep count.  Even if you did count how many times someone kept sinning against you, isn’t it true that you would lose count long before you got to 490?  So the nature of a citizen in God’s Kingdom simply does as Joseph did, He gives it to God and trusts that all things will work together for the good that God has determined.

Joseph learned to trust God and so did Peter.  They learned that even when it seems that things are at their worse, God is still present and in control!  Each of us must learn this as well, and God has made sure that we can do this very thing.  He did it by breaking into our existence, into our history through one event that has rendered everyone subject to One Judge… Jesus Christ Himself!  The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ has led not only the past, but it shapes the present, just as it will shape the future.  Joseph trusted in the coming Savior along with every other citizen of Heaven that came before and after Him.  And when the Son of God took on our flesh and broke into our present and our future, the words of Joseph become the Words of Jesus: “As for you and your sinful ways, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. (Through my suffering and death your sins have been wiped clean.  My death brought you life!  Will you rest in this gift or reject it?)”

Today friends, we who are baptized into Christ Jesus can confidently say “I am a citizen of heaven.  I was saved by Christ’s death on the cross, and through that work of the cross, forgiveness of sins was given to me in my baptism! I haven’t refused that forgiveness and I pray for it every day.  Daily through the power of God’s Word, I continue to see the sin that is still within me, but through that same Word I am given the promise of forgiveness and the ability to fight and destroy that sin, as I turn to Jesus and His cross for forgiveness!  Every day I see the unthankful forgiven sinner within me holding grudges and planning revenge against my brother who sins against me, but I take this nature and I drown it in the waters of my baptism; I crucify it upon the cross of Jesus!  Every day I fight to allow God to love my brothers and sisters through me even when they sin against me.  I do this not because they deserve it but because God has done and always will do this very thing for me!”  This dear friends is the life of a child who lives in the Kingdom of God.

Now I could end here and we would have a wonderful message about forgiving our brothers and sisters, but then you wouldn’t have God’s entire message.  In order to complete our message, we must import one more bit of scripture.  In Matthew, chapter 5, Jesus has one more group of people that we must learn to love and forgive… our enemies!  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” [Matthew 5:43-45]

Now this can be a hard lesson for all of us to accept, especially right after the thirteenth year anniversary of the September 11th attack against our nation by Muslim terrorists; right after Islamist warriors have decapitated three journalists, two of them Americans, and yet God is asking us to not only accept His will but to fulfill it!  Here the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ gives us a command; we must love those who hate us and attack us.  We must pray for the ability to forgive them and also pray that they would turn to Jesus for forgiveness and restoration.  This kind of love can exist only in the Kingdom of God; indeed it is the very thing that separates it from all other kingdoms.

Now don’t misunderstand, God isn’t asking you to put your arm around your enemy; He knows that we have reason not to trust them or like them.  But He is asking you to be filled with the love of Jesus and let Him do His work within you!  This is a higher form of love that can only come from God.  It’s the kind of love that says “I know that I will never like a murderous terrorist, or a criminal who may have robbed me or threatened my life; I can’t like a false and lying, slanderous person who has attacked my character over and over again; but I can by the grace of Jesus Christ love them all; I can see what’s wrong with them and follow God’s Spirit within me and work to do them good.  I can pray that God will free them from their vicious ways just as He has done and is doing for me!”

Is living in the Kingdom of God easy?  No, of course not!  It requires the same things that Joseph had and that Peter received.  It requires faith and trust in a God who promises that all things will work together for the good for those who love Him and trust in His calling and purpose!  Will you struggle with this command to forgive?  Yes!  Will you fail sometimes and fall back into a spirit and mindset of the world, probably so!  But remember, its God’s presence and mercy; it’s His forgiveness for you that will carry you through until the end and deliver you safely into His Kingdom!

If  we will remember that we are “children of our Heavenly Father” not because of a decision but because we are reborn by grace through faith in the Son of God, we will not only be able to love and forgive our brothers and sisters, but even our enemies because that is how our Heavenly Father loves them.  As we struggle every day to remember this, we keep turning to Jesus; we keep running to His cross, and we can truly say, “It is well with my soul!”  In Jesus name… AMEN!

AN EXPOSITION OF SAINT MATTHEW 18:1-22

Sunday, September 7th, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost 13A, September 7, 2014

Click here for audio of this message.

INTRODUCTION: This morning we will discuss a topic near and dear to me, and it is my prayer in Christ’s name that by the end of this message, it will be near and dear to you as well.  Specifically, we will be discussing the application of Matthew 18 in our lives and in the life of our parish.  Have any of you ever heard me speak of Matthew 18 in say the last 2 years?  Well now, with the leading of the Holy Spirit you will understand completely what I meant before and what Jesus desires you to learn today.  And it is also my prayer that these words will bring new life and love to this parish, which IS Christ’s church.

This morning, Jesus declares, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” [Matthew 18:3]

I. Why did Jesus say those words to His own apostles, the ones who were closest to Him, and by default, likely the most spiritually mature of all of the disciples?  Because in fact they were not spiritually mature.  They were trying to understand the coming of God’s kingdom in terms of how the world thinks as oppose to how God thinks.  They had a false idea of what it meant to be the greatest and the best.  To them, to be the greatest meant to be the most powerful, second to Jesus of course.  But that is not how God’s Kingdom operates; His way is the opposite of man’s way.  So Jesus addressing the twelve, calls a small toddler to come to Him, probably motioning to it with open arms, and then He most likely picks up the child who comes quickly and easily, and says… “If you want to be someone important in heaven, then REPENT, that is turn to me in love and trust just as this child did.”

Small children trust so easy and they forgive even easier.  This child most likely had never known Jesus before, but it was attracted by Christ’s love; by His soothing voice and the welcoming gesture.  So it came to Jesus quickly.  And once in Jesus’ embrace, it did not think, “I am such a wise child.  I must be great to be welcomed so easy by this gentle man.”  Little children do not think like that; they simply trust and obey, and the reward from Jesus is more love!

TRANSITION: So, do you want to be someone important in heaven; maybe you want to be a big shot around here?  Good then humble yourself in both the sight of the Lord and your church family here, and Jesus Himself will pick you up. [James 4:10]  But maybe you say that you have already tried that years ago and now you are already mature and in a position of leadership here in Christ’s church.  Ok, then welcome others who are still struggling with pride, fear, and doubts.  Welcome those who are still rough around the edges and difficult to get along with.  Repent, again and again, and hear these words of Christ fresh and new every day: “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” [Vs. 5, 6]

I trust that our Lord has your attention now?  Good, then what He says next will definitely move your heart to cry out for His mercy.  Listen…

II. “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!  And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire.  And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.”

Now, I have preached and taught this portion of Matthew 18 many times and each time it is brought up, it causes some fear and confusion within your hearts.  I seem to have to repeat the teaching of this portion more than any other.  Now this morning I will say briefly and concisely that these words are meant to teach you that it is impossible for you to please God by being good!  You cannot earn a place in heaven by trying to be sinless.  If that was the case, then you should, by all means cut off your offending body parts, and keep cutting and cutting until there is NOTHING left of you, but perfection!  But that is not God’s way of grace.  Christ has the better way; He gives to us the way of the cross, which is the way of baptism.  Repent, turn to Jesus and become nothing so that He becomes everything.  Repent from your desire to be Mr. or Mrs. Big Shot, and become humble like a child, like your Savior.  In this way of the cross, repentance not only brings forgiveness of all sins, but it also brings to you a new ability to welcome, value, and protect those who are by nature and spiritual stature, weaker and less mature than you.

III. The way of the cross will also help prevent you from looking down on other folks.  Or rather, it will help you understand what Jesus means when He says: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?  And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” [Vs. 10-14]

Being humble, being as a child forever running into the arms of Jesus can be a wonderful life, if you will simply embrace it with the faith that God provides, but it can also be a trying and difficult life as well.  What do you do when one of the little immature ones is wandering away from the faith?  What do you do when they are behaving badly, and embracing the way of the world more than the way of the Kingdom of Heaven?  Well, you could look at all of the work involved in helping them come back to the Kingdom way of life and say, “Forget it!  Let someone else worry about So and So.” Or, you yourself, can become like a child, run to Jesus and then follow the real Good Shepherd as He leads you out to find and bring back your lost brother or sister.  You could do that if you truly desire to be humble and willing to be led yourself.

TRANSITION: But don’t some people deserve to be lost and punished for their sins.  Isn’t there a time when we just let some people go to the devil to be tormented and perhaps scared back into the fold?  Well remember now, we are talking about little ones, helpless children in the eyes of God.  If you saw a toddler separated from it’s mother wandering along a dangerous highway, would you say, “Let him go.  If he doesn’t get killed, maybe his fear of this danger will teach him to make better choices next time.”

By now, some of you are catching on to what Christ is teaching us, and some of you are having trouble letting go of your idea of justice.  And perhaps you are thinking, “But pastor, there are times when someone has committed a gross sin, and they simply will not repent.  Are you saying that Christ wants us to ignore that?”  Certainly not!  He wants you to be jared by it like a slap in the face, and then He wants you to do something about it.  He wants you to do everything within the power and abilities that He has given you, to bring that little sinning child back to a forgiven relationship with God; back to a state of grace within Christ’s church.  He does not want you to stop pursuing your brother or sister until they are safe once again within the heart of Christ, within the bosom of His church.  Listen to Christ’s way, the way of the cross…

IV. “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.  But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” [Vs. 15-17]

A common theme of frustration, which I hear over and over again from dear saints who believe they are following this portion of Matthew 18 is this: “Pastor I have already tried that.  They will not listen to me.”  And my answer, which is also Christ’s answer is, “Try again.”  And the response I get is, “I didn’t read that in Matthew 18!”  And to that response I counter with, “Oh but when Peter asked in verse 21, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered him in verse 22, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”  In other words there is not an assigned number of times where you simply give up on one of Christ’s little ones.

But at some point, you will begin to become discouraged and even tired of the tension that your brother’s sinful state is causing both to you and others.  At this point, you should look for both strength and wisdom in the presence of others.  Proverbs 15:22 teaches us that “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.”  When you share your burden for your lost brother or sister, you are admitting that you are small and incapable of finding a way of changing the lost ones heart, so you naturally reach out to others who are also aware of the lost one’s state, so that they may assist you in your rescue mission.  And the first thing that you must do as a group is pray to the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, and then allow the Holy Spirit to formulate a plan that will lead you towards recovering your erring brother or sister.  But I warn you, the others may tell you something you may not want to hear; they may tell you that you are making a much bigger deal out of the behavior of the one you have labeled lost; they may tell you truthfully that what you are experiencing is not sin, but a portion of the other person’s personality that is still immature, but open to growth and change.  In other words, they may tell you that you are making a mountain out of a mole hill.

But if, within the multitude of counselors, there is common agreement that your brother or sister has committed a gross sin against you or Christ’s heart, the church, then you will approach that little one, in love for the purpose of helping that person turn back to Christ and away from the sin that has trapped them.  Again, there is no assigned number of attempts; you simply keep trying until once again, you are exhausted.  When you reach that point, and only that point, are you free to make that lost brother or sister’s sin public, and you do that by telling it to the church.

The church is not the pastor, but he is part of the church.  The church is not the Board of Elders, but they are part of the church.  The church is not only the body of Christ, but it is the place where you find His very heart; it is His bosom of love, where each of us through baptism are brought to nestle safely within.  When you tell it to the church, the church does not respond as the judge, jury, and executioner, but instead they respond as the heart of Christ; they respond in love.

TRANSITION: The church gathered together listens to the perceived danger of the lost little one, and then, and then…

V. And then they pray!  “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.  Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” [VS. 18-20]

Binding and loosening is serious business; it has eternal consequences both here and in heaven.  We are talking about either granting forgiveness of sins or withholding it.  This is a matter of heaven or hell.  So the church must pray; we must intercede for our lost brother or sister, but then at the time appointed by God and displayed with the peace of the Holy Spirit’s presence, we must finally confront our lost brother or sister.  “Do you repent of this gross and public sin or do you not?  Do you desire to be part of Christ’s body, protected within His sacred heart or do you not.  Do you repent?”

When this question is asked let the entire church give into their trembling and weak legs and fall onto their faces before God, interceding before His thrown of grace, asking that He please move the heart of their lost brother or sister, so that they will see their sin and return to Christ and His church.  And if they will not repent…

CONCLUSION: Oh, my… how sad.  My heart is broken because resting in the heart of my Lord, I know that His heart is broken too.  If they will not repent, then we have lost our brother; we have lost our sister.  But perhaps there is still hope?  Doesn’t our Lord promise that “if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them”?  And so we never give up; even if our brother or sister has chosen to be like one apart from Christ, we still wait, hope, and pray that one day they too will return, repent like us; become like a humble child and rest safely and securely in Christ’s Kingdom of grace.

So I ask you now, have you really followed Matthew 18 in the past?  May each of us be moved to follow our Lord’s Words recorded here for the rest of our lives, by the power and love of Christ that compels us… AMEN!