Archive for April, 2015

Our Relentlessly Pursuing God

Sunday, April 26th, 2015

Easter 4B, April 26, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us”. [1 John 3:16a]

What a wonderful text for us to be blessed with this “Good Shepherd” Sunday.  It speaks of God’s love for each of us as demonstrated through the giving of His Son; a Son who willingly laid down His life for lost little sheep such as we.  But, that’s only half of the verse isn’t it?  The other half seems to set a different tone, and then it is followed up with two more verses that seem even more challenging, listen:  “and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?  Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” [1 John 3: 16b-18]

This morning, if we read these Words without remembering who our Good Shepherd is, we may look at Him in a different way; a way that will cause us to flee from Him, instead of running to Him.  This morning we will look at two pictures of God, or two ideas of Jesus and then with the help of the Holy Spirit we’ll allow God to adjust the vision of who He really is within our lives.

This morning you may be receiving Jesus’ Words in our gospel reading (John 10:11–18) like this: I am the relentless hound of God, and I will hunt you down until you lay down your life for your brothers; until you are willing to share all of your goods with a brother in need.  I will hound you and find you and force you to love with not just talk but with deeds!”

Do you sometimes struggle with the sins of your past and your many failures to measure up to what you feel God demands of you?  Do you sometimes feel that this Christian life we are asked to live out might just be too much for you to bear; that the risk of falling short of God’s expectations seems to be more of a certainty than a possibility?  If so, you are not alone in your feelings.

Around 1896, a celebrated English author by the name of Francis Thompson wrote what has been hailed as perhaps the greatest poem ever written in the English language; it was titled “The Hound of Heaven.”  It was revealed to be the story of the authors life; a life he spent running from God and pursuing the happiness of the world.  Thompson compared himself to a rabbit that had been flushed from its hiding place by a hunting dog, which caused him to embark on a life darting from one hiding place to another as the Hound of God relentlessly pursued him.

Listen to a bit of the poem and see if you can find yourself at times within his words: “I fled Him, down the nights and down the days; I fled Him, down the arches of the years; I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears I hid from Him, and under running laughter. Up vistaed hopes I sped; And shot, precipitated, down Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears, From those strong Feet that followed, followed after. But with un-hurrying chase, And unperturbed pace, Deliberate speed, majestic instancy, They beat— and a Voice beat More instant than the Feet— “All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.”

Can you feel the fear and the sense of despair within the author’s words?  Is that the picture of Jesus we have; as a pursuer, a great judge who will find us where ever we flee to either force us to “knuckle under” to his rule or be punished for our miserable failures in life?

Are we too, simply delaying the inevitable confrontation with our God and the coming to grips with our many failures to live up to the “Good Shepherd’s” standards?  Or do we have the picture skewed, and maybe we do not see Jesus rightly?

“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.”  [John 10:14, 15]

After years of running, Francis Thompson finally met the real Jesus; he began to know Him as the Good Shepherd.  Listen to the words he puts in God’s mouth in the poem when God finally confronted him: “All which I took from thee I did but take, Not for thy harms, But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms. All which thy child’s mistake fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home: “Rise, clasp My hand, and come!”

Dear friends, the point communicated in Thompson’s poem is also the message of all of Scripture:  If we choose to shut out God and His Good Shepherd, then we are shutting out our only true shelter and Provider. God is the source of all things safe and secure so whomever chooses to shut him out will be shut out of all good things; we won’t find the love we are seeking in the world because we have rejected it from God. God is saying to us this morning, “You choose to drive love away from thyself when you choose to separate thee from Me.”

“By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.” [1 John 3: 19-22]

God is not the overbearing task master, who sends His Son out to hunt us down like runaway slaves, but instead God sees us as His little lambs who have wondered off into danger; He sends His Son out as our Good Shepherd, who has given His life upon the cross to defeat our true enemy the devil, who prowls like a hungry wolf seeking to devour us.  He drives off the hirelings, who are the false teachers, by feeding us here in this place of pasture and rest with the living water of His comforting Word of gospel truth, which is received, taught, and learned as the purest of doctrine.  (Psalm 23)

It is this truth, which reassures our hearts that God does not condemn us, but rather He came to us in His Son to live with us and then die for us.  But ultimately He wants us to see that He also rose for us from death so that we would not fear our own death.  And all that He asks of us is that we trust Him and walk with Him as He continues to teach us, protect us, and yes even seek us when we wonder off into trouble.

What is the commandment of God that can either bring fear or comfort to you who are Jesus’ little lambs? “This is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.  Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.”

What do you believe in?  Does any thing outside of the name of Jesus even compare with the eternal love and mercy of God almighty?  Can anything within the world give you the assurance and then the continued reassurance that you are never abandoned or forgotten by your Creator like God’s Word and Sacraments can?  Has anyone in the world ever died for you?  Would you even want them to?  No, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” [Romans 5:8]  He died for us to bring us back into God’s love, where we can daily experience safety, mercy, and peace.  And all we must do is rest, feed, and then follow Him, our Good Shepherd Jesus Christ as He teaches us to live a life of sacrifice and service to other lost little lambs who need to find their way back to their Savior.

I will close with a children’s bedtime story, I call “The Lamb Who Wanted to Be Lost.”

Once upon a time there was a little lamb who wanted to run away from home.  So, he said to his Good Shepherd who loved him very much, “I am running away.”  “If you run away,” said the Shepherd, “I will run after you.  For you are my little lamb.”  Then the little lamb told his shepherd that if he runs after him, he will become a fish and swim away from him.  And the Good Shepherd smiled and countered that he would simply become a fisherman and fish for him.  The little lamb then decided to become a rock on the top of a tall mountain, and so the Good Shepherd said that he would become a mountain climber.  After a rock, he decides to become a flower hidden in a large garden, and the Good Shepherd says that he will simply become a gardener.  Whatever the little lamb wanted to become to escape from his shepherd, he countered with a person or thing that would find him.  And so the story goes until the end, when the little lamb finds himself exhausted trying to come up with more ideas, and finally says, “Aw shucks, I might as well just stay where I am and be your little lamb.”

Well… AMEN!

Repentance and… Heaven!

Sunday, April 19th, 2015

Easter 3B, April 19, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“While he clung to Peter and John, all the people, utterly astounded, ran together to them”. [Acts 3:11]

What should we make of that sick man in our First Reading (Acts 3:11-21) who clung to Peter and John?  Sure he was grateful to have his health back, but to cling to them; to follow them every where; to say good bye to your entire life prior to that moment of healing and be willing to start over clinging to these two men, doesn’t that seem a little extreme, almost cultish?  Well sure, if it was in fact Peter and John this man was devoted to, but it wasn’t, was it?  No!

Peter addresses the large crowd that thought that way, and he corrects them by saying, “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk?”  Then he says, it wasn’t us, it was Jesus, who you killed, that healed this man; Jesus the Author of Life, and the Forgiver of sins!

The healed man knew this and he believed it; he received it all in the name of Jesus and the witness that John and Peter gave to him about that name.  Sure he was healed, but where the real miracle took place wasn’t in his body, or even in the Temple, but instead, it was in an existence so far from their physical reality that normal folks would never believe it.  What was that miracle and what was that existence.  The miracle was repentance, forgiveness of sins, and the existence was eternal resurrected life in heaven!

Last week we heard that the key to Christian fellowship, that is fellowship and harmony with each other is in that little word faith.  This week, we will build on that and discover that the key to fellowship with God is also faith, but then something else is added, REPENTANCE!

What is repentance?  Some will say that it simply means turning around, or turning away from something, and I would agree with that, but there is something much deeper than that, something which makes repentance a part of your eternal life.  You see, what is important is Who you are turning around to.  You notice I did not say what you are turning to or what you are turning away from.

To be sure, those things are within repentance, but it all starts with Who you are turning to.  The sick man knew Whom he was turning to; he was turning to Jesus the Author of Life who alone can take away the sins of the world.  The Lamb of God who not only dies for the sins of the world, but comes back to life to prove that He has defeated sin, death, and the devil for you, so that you too will be assured of the eternal resurrected life in glory just as Jesus lives it out now.

Like the sick man, you too have been healed, forgiven of your many sins and promised a new and eternal-resurrected life, where you too will never again know sickness nor disease, nor temptation to sin.  And all you must do is cling to Jesus!  Turn to Him and receive forgiveness.  When you turn to Him, you turn to the cross and the empty tomb, and all that He has accomplished is yours.  When you turn to Him, you are also turning away from your sin and the ways of the devil and this fallen world; that is, your trust is no longer in sinful things and sinful ways, because Jesus in His Word has taught you a better way.

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”  Those first words of our epistle lesson (1 John 3:1-7) state a reality to all who have turned to and cling to Jesus Christ; you are children of God!  No ifs, ands, or buts about it, it’s a done deal.  People without faith can never understand this because without faith they see no need to turn away from their sinful lives and sinful choices.  So, this whole repentance thing sounds strange and impossible to them.  It is as if they want to ask us, “So let me get this straight, you want me to turn to an invisible man who you say is also God, and then you want me to ask to be forgiven for life choices and a life style that society and I see no problem with.  In fact, isn’t it true that it is only you Christians who find my choices offensive?  No thanks, you can keep your Jesus!”

Why do people without Jesus find you and your clinging to Him so offensive?  Because they don’t know Him!  But you do, don’t you?

Now I can see the wheels turning in your heads and almost hear your thoughts right now.  You may be thinking, “I hope I do; I sure hope so.  I want to believe and I want to know Him, but sometimes I truly just don’t know.”

Repent!  Turn to Jesus and cling to Him.

You are doing that right now.  Just as the sick man seemed to be clinging to Peter and John, so you right this moment are here in church, but your not clinging to this place nor the pastor, you are clinging to Jesus.  This church, and I your pastor are simply the instrument that Jesus uses to speak faith into your hearts so that you will continue to turn away from doubt and keep clinging to Him.

You see you need faith to keep clinging to Jesus, to keep repenting because while it is true that “we ARE children of God now, (it is also true that) what we will be has not yet appeared (that is to this world of flesh that lacks faith); but we know that when Christ appears (that is when He returns in glory) we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.”

And now a fruit of faith that reveals the result of repentance… “everyone who thus hopes (in Jesus; who clings to Him and His Word of forgiveness) purifies himself as (Jesus) is pure.

You see, “everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.  You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.  No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.  Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.”

What does it mean to purify yourself?  Don’t be deceived, you can’t just simply say, “I am baptized!” and then do what ever you wish.  You can’t cling to the world and Jesus at the same time.  Another way to say you are purifying yourself is to say that you are repenting; you have learned to agree with God that He and His Word are right and this sinful society is wrong.  To purify your self is to cling to Jesus, to be filled with His presence within His Word and Sacraments, which are the very means that not only give you faith, but also the strength to fight the sin that is in you.  You see, while it is a truth to declare that I am saved by faith in the name of Jesus, and in that name and person of Jesus I cling, it is also a truth to declare that sin still clings to you; it is within your very flesh.  So what are we to do?

Return to the Lord your God for He is gracious and merciful; slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love!  Return to the promises of Jesus, which were first given to you in your baptism; promises that declare that He will never leave you nor forsake you; promises, which declare that “He who began the good work in you will complete it!”   Claim these promises as your very own and everyday put to death the sin that clings to your flesh.  Fight the good fight of faith and do not loose hope, because…

“Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as (Jesus) is righteous.”  We practice righteousness when by faith, we not only see things as God sees them, but we also fight to do that good thing.  And when we fail, when we fall to sin the answer is the same as before…

Repent! See Jesus correctly and cling to Him alone.  In our gospel reading (Luke 24:36-49), we are once again in the upper room on Easter evening, with the disciples, who are afraid and amazed.  I can almost hear their discussion now: “It must be true, too many people we trust have independently reported the same thing to us.  Jesus is not dead, but He is risen, indeed!”

They must have been filled with faith to know that their hope and dreams had not come to a violent end like the ocean waves which crash upon the rocky shore.  So, why were they afraid when Jesus appeared in their midst?

They were afraid because sinful flesh always demands to interpret circumstances according to the understanding of this sinful world.  “Eek!  It’s a ghost!”  And to that Jesus says.. ‘Knock it off, dummies!’  No not really, you see Jesus is the Author of life, the giver of faith, so He speaks in a way that will turn them away from their fears, doubts, and failures, and then back to the promise of forgiveness of sins and eternal life. “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”  And by the way, “Do you have any thing to eat?”

Do you understand what Jesus had done for them?  It is the same thing He does for you.  He comes to you in the middle of your sins, in the midst of your sinful thinking and He says, “Peace to you!  (I know your struggle and your fears.  Do not be afraid, because I am always with you, even until the end of time when I will come again to take you home).”  See I am with you; I who was crucified upon the cross for you.  By faith see my pierced hands and feet; see the gash in my side.

All these things my Word assures you of.  See I have washed you clean; recreated you into my image before my Father and your Father, and now come to my banquet table.  I myself have something for you to eat and drink.  Take and eat, this is my body.  Take and drink, this is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for the forgiveness of all of your sins.

Repent dear saints, even as this world sees you as no better than them.  Turn to Jesus and cling to Him.  Turn to the place that gives to you His Living Word and His very body and blood, and cling to the gifts that this place so freely gives to you.  It is His will that you believe.  And it is His work alone that opens your minds and hearts so that you will not only believe but continuously turn to Him and receive the promise of eternal life and glory, within the heaven that He has gone to prepare for you.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN and Amen!

The Key to Fellowship… FAITH!

Sunday, April 12th, 2015

Easter 2B, April 12, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” [1 John 1:7]

The audio clip that you just heard is a snippet of the song “Break It Down” by Chris Warren.  Wrestling fans know it as the Degeneration X theme song.  I chose it as the audio and mental hook to hang our message upon, because the words pretty well describe the response of most doubters and deniers of what they perceive to be the Christian faith.  Listen to the opening lines: “You think you (can) tell us what to do?  You think you (can) tell us what to wear?  You think that your better?”

Is that how we present our Christian faith; as a simply a set of rules that are expected to be followed in order to fit into His church?  Or do we believe and model something more; something much deeper?  In reality, that is what this younger generation is looking for.  Like Thomas in our Gospel reading (John 20:19–31), young people today are looking for something that in their minds is real and life changing; something they can not only hear, but touch and be a part of.  This morning, our message will declare that as the very essence of what we preach, teach, and confess; but even more than that, it is something that we live out!

Why didn’t Thomas believe?  May I suggest that He simply chose not to rely on the simple testimony of his friends.  He didn’t want to just believe, but he also wanted the experience of belief; he wanted to encounter the same source of faith that they had encountered.  What experience?  Well, this one: “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” [Jn. 20:19, 20]

In my mind, I can hear the excited testimony of the apostles and disciples who testified to Thomas.  “Thomas, we have seen the Lord.  There is no doubt it was Him, because He showed us the nail scars in his hands and the wound in His side!”  Thomas wanted to experience the same encounter.  He needed that same experience because the last few days of living had beat him down; demoralized him!  Remember, he was the same disciple who said to the others, “Let us go, that we may die with him”, after Jesus announced that it was time for Him to go to Jerusalem to suffer and die. [Jn. 11:16]

Now here is where we see the loving desire of our Savior. Jesus Christ the Son of God, knew that Thomas had been separated from Him by lack of faith, and that just would not do.  You see Thomas had been set aside with the other apostles to not only believe in the Son of God Jesus Christ, but to also testify and proclaim the gospel which heralded the good news that Christ is risen!  So, if experience is what Thomas required in order to feel equal to the others, in order to have faith and believe, then that is precisely what Jesus would give to him.

“Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”  Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” [Jn. 20:26-29]

Thomas’ faith was restored and he was returned to the fellowship of disciples who just eight days earlier also had faith, which seemed to be destroyed and lost.  All of them at first, seemed to have had lost their faith but not there fellowship.  What I mean by that, is that they still gathered together in that upper room, but not in a fellowship of faith, but a fellowship of fear of the Jews and disappointment in their Savior.  They were beaten down by life and disappointed by what appeared to be failure, just as people still are today.

What is the thing lacking in most people, which is preventing them from receiving Jesus as their Savior and then living out their new identity as a new person in Christ?  I submit that it is faith.  Without faith, there can be no real fellowship with God.  Faith is the only way to truly see and know Jesus; to know that He is the propitiation (or payment) for our sins, and not (just) for our sins only but also for the sins of the whole world.” [1 John 2:2]

When Thomas had earlier said “Let us go also so that we may die with (Jesus)”, I am sure he meant every word.  When he said it, he and all of the other disciples were confused and bewildered.  They could not have understood why the Messiah would willingly allow Himself to be humiliated and killed.  That simply was not how a champion behaved.  But they also did not understand what kind of Messiah Jesus was.  People still don’t understand.

People today just like the disciples before us can not receive faith in Jesus unless they perceive a need for Him.  In other words, they must first see a need for the kind of Savior Jesus is.

Jesus is the Son of God who comes to save us from our sins.  He comes to remove our sins; to pay for them with the only payment that can be made; a payment of blood and life.  Again, “If we (desire to be saved and) walk in the light, as (Jesus) is in the light, (then) we have fellowship with (the Father and the Son of God, and) one another, and the blood of Jesus (the Son of God) cleanses us from all sin.”

And it is that little Word sin, which keeps getting in the way; it keeps blocking folks from receiving the very thing they long for… faith.  You see, “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”

So what is the answer to this dilemma?  How can we even begin to reach people outside of Christ, especially young people with the very gift of life that they seem to so militantly reject?  We must make it real to them, by allowing it to be real to us.  We must allow the gift of Christ to change us so that the change is apparent to even the worst skeptics!

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

You know, in this world people say a lot of things; things they don’t really mean.  Another way to say this is that their talk and their walk don’t match.  But Jesus, speaks truth.  When He says “Peace” the very Word gives it.  The word gives peace and the faith of the believer receives it.

If a blind doctor offered you a liquid that would save your life, and then he told you that all you needed to do was hold out your cup and then drink what he pours into it, would you think that it was such a bad thing?  And if you told the doctor “I’m ready, poor away; my cup is waiting”, but you had no cup and simply let the medicine pour out on the ground, would that be the doctor’s fault, or yours?  Fool, why not just tell the doctor you have no cup, and he will gladly give you one!

And that is precisely the way of faith.  God’s Word is the medicine that will save you from your sins.  And the great physician of your soul is Jesus Christ.  If you have no cup, it is because you have either neglected to ask Him or you have refused to admit that you have a need for the medicine.  The cup is your agreement with God that you are indeed dying from your sins, and it is your confession, which proclaims that only He can save you.  The medicine is His very Word, which gives both forgiveness and eternal life; it gives you peace with God and each other.

When we have peace with God through faith in both the work of the cross and the promise of the empty tomb, we live out that peace with the authority that Christ’s Word gives us.  We are not only forgiven, but we are sent out to both speak words of forgiveness and to model them.  We hold no grudges, and simply allow God to work within the lives of the people we meet through the power of the Word he tells us to speak.

“I forgive you” is perhaps the easiest set of words to speak and the hardest to live out.  It is hard to live out because it involves complete faith that God will do what He says He will do.  He will bring peace.  Peace; first to we who speak the words of peace, and then peace to those who will hear and receive those words.

Thomas was restored to the fellowship of believers the same way the rest of them, including Peter were restored, through the person and work of the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ.  Jesus spoke and gave peace to them and their little fellowship of faith began to grow.  It grew so large that they began to attract the attention of the government of Rome, which eventually became terrified that they might represent a new threat against Cesar.  They tried to destroy the church by killing the Christians, but instead of wiping out Christianity, their attacks only served to cause the church to grow much faster.  Why?  Because “great grace was upon them all.  The full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul.”  With great power, the testimony of the apostles, which is the gospel or good news of Jesus Christ, spread and brought forgiveness of sins and peace with God to many people.

That same peace of God, which comes through the same Word and means of grace of God, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are still proclaimed and given freely today.  It is the Word declared and the power of the Word lived out that will save this generation today, if we will simply trust God and live out this faith with an invitation to all we meet to simply come and see.  Come and believe that in our Bibles, “these (things) are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”  AMEN!

Arise, Be Faith-filled!

Sunday, April 5th, 2015

Easter Sunday B, April 5, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson
Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

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 the 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 and the other women who got out of bed early to attend to their acts of devotion and care for the body of Jesus.  And after their early Easter blessing, the apostles and all of the other disciples who were there with Jesus that first Easter morning were blessed as well.  Each of them, as well 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!  He is risen indeed, and so shall you!

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 (Isaiah 25:6-9), about our Easter reality; we heard about our promise land and the banquet that is waiting for us.  We heard how God on His part has defeated our mortal enemies sin, death, and the devil and all we must do is believe in this work and praise God for the great things He has done.

“It will be said on that great day (on the resurrection of all flesh), “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him, that He might save us.  This is the Lord; we have waited for Him; let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation.”  Christ is risen!

Just as the Israelites long ago were rescued and still celebrate their deliverance from their bitter years of bondage in Egypt, so too, we the church have something to celebrate; we celebrate our release from the spiritual bondage of sin, death, and the devil.  So rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice!

Together with all of God’s saints we proclaim our Easter 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 un-forgiven!  In our Epistle reading (1 Corinthians 15:1-11), St. Paul reminds us of the true gospel… salvation is entirely the work of God!  Listen to the truth of salvation, which comes by grace alone, faith alone, and is communicated only by scripture alone.  St. Paul says, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures”. [Vs. 3, 4]

How did Paul deliver this message?  Through the Word preached and taught, and the word applied within the waters of Holy Baptism and the Word served at the Lord’s Table, just as is still done today!  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 Mary and the other faithful women who were disciples, women who physically walked and talked with Jesus on a day to day basis.  They witnessed so many miracles performed by Jesus.  But even their “enlightened” status was not enough for them to see and believe in their risen Lord, in fact they were terrified of the angelic messenger who proclaimed “He has risen!”  You see, their own sinful natures prevented them from seeing that Jesus had in fact risen from the tomb.

It was only later, when their risen Lord spoke to them and called them by name that their doubts and fears would be 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)  Later dear Mary’s faith would be 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 still calling you by name; 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) our 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 458 vs. 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!!