Archive for the ‘Acts 3:11-21’ Category

Our Relentlessly Pursuing God

Sunday, April 26th, 2015

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

Click here for audio of this message

“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

Click here for audio of this message

“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!