Archive for the ‘Easter 2A’ Category

Can You Believe It?!

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Easter 2A, April 27, 2014

Click here for audio of this message

“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” [1 Peter 1:8]

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed! When those words of joy were first spoken, they declared a truth; it was a truth that took all of Christ’s disciples, including the apostles by complete surprise.  Jesus had warned them; He prepared them over and over again that He would come back.  He had made it clear that it was His life to lay down into death and it was His to raise back up again, but all of them missed the meaning of His promise.  But who would have understood?  The truth is, in this life people just don’t come back from the dead.  Isn’t it true, that there seems to be nothing as permanent as death?

Even Harry Houdini, the great escape artist could not escape the confines of death.  Oh he promised that he would; he promised that he would send a message back from the shadows and spirits, but it never happened.

I believe that our common experience tells us that death is simply inescapable.  But Jesus Christ did rise from the dead.  His omnipotence, that is His power as the Messiah over all things including death was declared over and over again throughout the Old Testament, and His resurrection is the very reason that we have the New Testament; it’s the reason we have the Christian Church, and presumably, it’s the reason you are here this morning.

The day Jesus rose from the dead, He proved that He had power over sin, death, and the devil.  That first Easter day that took all of Jesus’ disciples by surprise, became the focus of their lives and the center of their thinking, the way they lived, and the way they died.  It became the very center of their beings.  Christ had escaped death and brought new hope for the world and new life for those who would trust His cross and the message of the empty tomb.

To St. Peter, Jesus’ resurrection was life changing.  You can here his joyful exclamation in the opening words of our Epistle lesson [1 Peter 1:3-9]: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”.

Have you ever wished that you could talk to someone from the past and just pick their minds for a few minutes; get some insight into just who they really were?  I have, and one of those persons I’d like to talk to is St. Peter.  I imagine, that if we were to ask him why the resurrection was so central in his writings, he might answer us this way: “Well, to understand why the resurrection is so important to me” he’d say, “you’d have to remember just who I was before Jesus rose from the dead; you’d have to remember the terrible things that I did.”

“I guess you could say that I was the spokesman for the other disciples.  I was with Jesus from the beginning when He called me away from the family fishing business.  I dropped everything and followed Him.  Oh, how I loved the fact that the Holy Spirit first spoke through me, in order to declare that Jesus was the Christ, the very Son of God.  Later, I evened bragged that if all of the others left Him, I never would.  Then when Jesus really needed me, I the great Peter let Him down!  On the night when Jesus was betrayed and arrested, I the strong and dependable Peter denied Jesus three times, and I ran away and hid for fear of loosing my own life.”

Now, in my mind’s eye I can see the shame coming back from the memory of Peter and changing the expression of his face.  With his now furrowed forehead and tearful eyes, I can hear him say, “Three times—I still feel sick to my stomach when I think about it—three times I the great Peter denied my Lord.  I denied Him while He was getting ready to die for my sins.  And while he hung there dying, John and the women were there with Him, but I did not have the stomach or the faith to watch it.  You see, I had pinned all of my hopes on Jesus, and now He was dead.  But even worse, instead of being thankful to God for being a part of Jesus’ life, I felt nothing but bitter shame and a sense that my entire life had been a complete waste of time and an utter failure.”

But now, I can see Peter’s countenance changing, as He looks me in the eye and says, “But you can imagine how my life changed when the women came back from the tomb with unbelievable news.  Jesus was alive.  He’s risen!  At first I did not dare believe it, but then they spoke a message from the angels, and it changed everything.  They said that Jesus told them to tell the disciples and Peter to meet Him in Galilee.  Think about what those Words meant to me—and Peter!  At that very moment, every doubt was erased from my worried mind and I not only believed that Jesus had defeated death, but that He truly was my God and my Savior!  From that point on I was a changed man, I was forgiven, and the entire world had changed, and for the first time I knew that my eternal future was set and certain.”

At this point we might be tempted to ask Peter what he means, when he says that the entire world had changed, and that he knew that his eternal future was set and certain.  Well, let’s let Peter answer us in his own words from verse 4 of our epistle reading:

“(Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have been born again to a living hope) to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.”  This is a strong declaration of faith; it’s a God given faith that learns to acknowledge our sins of the past, but then by grace, that same gift of faith teaches us to let go of the past and then simply trust in the completed work of Jesus Christ; a completed work that has given us a new identity as one who is “born again” for an eternal life in heaven.  But our sinful flesh fights this truth, as it attempts to set our eyes on anything else other than Christ’s cross and empty tomb.  Isn’t it true that we would rather think about how Peter let Jesus down instead of how we have abandoned Him ourselves time and time again?  Isn’t it easier to see the darkness of Peter’s regrets rather than looking at our own darkness?  Just as Peter was tempted to go back into his old life of fishing rather than waiting on Jesus, haven’t we also been tempted to go back to our old sinful ways, in fact haven’t we actually done that many times?

And when we go back to our sinful ways, isn’t it true that like Peter, we too have felt that we were letting the best of who we were, that is our relationship with Jesus just slip away through our fingers?  Doesn’t it become easier to feed on our failures, that is our sinful weakness rather than repent; turn to Jesus in confession of those failures?  Don’t we too, at times feel like Jesus has abandoned us?

When our marriage fails, when our family ties are falling apart, when our financial base has seemingly been destroyed, when addiction rears it’s ugly ahead  once again, or when death takes the very one we love the most, aren’t we too tempted to run from God and His Church, or lash out at Him in anger?  But then like Peter, we too receive the call to come to the empty tomb, and then everything is changed.  Jesus is alive, not dead.  Jesus is with us in His Word and Sacraments, He has not left us as orphans.  Mankind’s greatest enemies, your greatest enemies, sin, death, and the devil have been defeated and destroyed.

On the cross we see how our enemies were defeated.  Jesus died to save sinners, all sinners.  He died to take away Peter’s sins, and He died to take away your sins.  Upon the cross, the Son of God Himself made full payment for our sins.  But in the empty tomb, we see how the power of our enemies has forever been removed from our lives.  The empty tomb proves to us who have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, that when we were washed clean in the waters of our baptism, the empty tomb is also our reality.  In our baptism Jesus resurrection becomes our resurrection.  Death has been defeated and the dark wall that divides this life from our eternal life has been penetrated.  Or, as St. Peter puts it in verses 4 and 5…

Our eternal destiny has been assured (as) “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for (us who have been baptized), (and) by God’s power (we) are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”  What these Words declare to us is simply this, no lie of the devil and no attacks from this sinful world can jeopardize our salvation and our eternal home with Jesus, because nothing can put Jesus back into the grave and nothing can undo what God has done for you upon the cross and within the waters of your baptism.  No enemy can cheat you out of your inheritance; it can’t be stolen or destroyed.  It is being kept for you by the fact that Christ has risen!

Now we could end our message right here and the Word of God would be declared and most of us would go home happy and at peace, but some of us would not.  Some of us still have questions.  And I believe that the primary question that holds us back in sorrow and prevents us to leave in joy is this: “If Christ’s resurrection makes such a difference in our lives, and since the future holds such glory, and since Christ has overcome all of His enemies, then why is there so much suffering in this world?  Why is there so much suffering in “MY” world?”  Now to this question, let’s let St. Peter answer once again in verse 6 from our Epistle lesson…

Yes it is true, we still experience pain and sorrow just as every other person does in this world, but for us,these experiences are only temporary.  And while we go through them, we are to keep rejoicing in the hope of our inheritance, “though now for a little while we may have to suffer various trials, that the genuineness of our faith, which is more precious than gold, which though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

You see friends, Jesus is not only with you, through the Holy Spirit He is working in you.  He is working to transform you everyday into what you will be for eternity, holy, perfect, and righteous.  He is transforming your character.  And like old Job, we may at times be asked to go through some times of testing so that others can see our faith in Jesus and the transforming power of the cross and the empty tomb.  As Jesus allows us to enter into these times of testing He is also calling the attention of others to notice how we handle these times of testing, but also how God brings us through them.  And as we pass through these times, we prove to others that our love for God is not fleeting and we are not fair weathered friends of Jesus Christ, but we have been transformed forever unto eternal life.

The resurrection tells us that suffering, our suffering is only temporary.  We can make it through those periods, because we are not alone.  We can pass through it and not let it destroy us or take away our faith in Jesus Christ.  Even if the suffering drives us to the very door of death, we know for certain that beyond that door our risen Lord Jesus Christ is waiting to receive us.  We who have been baptized into the cross and empty tomb of Jesus, have been baptized into His death and into His resurrection.  We who trust Him may loose a skirmish sometimes, that is we may fall into temptation and sin, but we are not defeated, because Jesus has won the war.  Jesus’ resurrection tells us that suffering can never have the last word for those of us who belong to Him.

As we close our message this morning, I think that we should address one more challenge to living out our lives as baptized Christians, and it is this.  We can read our Bibles, especially the stories about St. Peter and the others that were in Jesus’ inner circle and think, “I wish that I could have known Jesus and learned to love Him like they did.”  And to that, I believe that St. Peter would say… “What do you mean wish?!  You can.  That’s the point of the resurrection.  He lives now as certainly and as personally as He did then.  You see Him by faith, which is the most precious gift of God that you could ever receive.  Through the Word of God, all of it “has been written so that you would believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God” by faith. “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

Dear friends, can you believe it?!  God loves us so much that He has done everything that needs to be done to save us.  It’s no wonder that Peter declared, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  The resurrection meant to him that we had a sure inheritance, encouragement in suffering, and the joy of constant friendship with his Savior, Jesus Christ.  For Peter the resurrection was an historical fact.  He was there when it happened and it changed the history of sinful men and women.  Christ is risen… that is history.  Christ is risen for you… that is history in the making… AMEN!

Moving From Cowering to Courage!

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008

First Sunday in Easter, March 30, 2008–Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Because the Savior has risen from the dead, frightened and fearful humanity has Divinely-given hope. We no longer need to cower behind closed doors afraid of the unknown because we are no longer held captive in sin, or enslaved by the devil. Jesus Christ has conquered all of these things, and with His wonderful victory on Easter Sunday, He has assured us that we can believe without a doubt that no one can snatch believers from His loving hands. 
At the top of the one thousand foot mountainous peaks of Meteora, Greece, monasteries have been built.  Their inaccessible location gave the monks an opportunity to remove themselves from the cares and concerns of the world. These monasteries became places of solitude, safety and security. Up until the last century, goods and visitors had to be winched up to the monasteries in a basket that was hand-powered by the monks. Those who made the ascent found the ride a terrifying experience because of the basket’s swaying and swinging. One tourist recorded his adventure and admitted to getting very nervous about halfway up the cliff. That’s when he noticed the rope seemed to be very old and frayed. Thinking that he might relieve his fear, at least somewhat, he asked one of the monks who was riding with him, “How often do you people change the rope?” Without a moment’s hesitation, the reply came back, “Whenever it breaks!” That kind of response doesn’t give a person a feeling of absolute security, does it? In our Gospel reading this morning, we find Christ’s disciples fearfully cowering behind locked doors.  They were afraid because the word was out that if any of the ruling Jews of Jerusalem found any of Christ’s disciples their intention was to beat them, drive them forever out of temple worship, and quite possibly put them to death. Now you and I will probably never travel to Greece and visit the monasteries high upon the mountain peeks, and we will probably never be beaten and ordered by our government to stop speaking the name of Jesus, but we all have things that make us afraid; things that cause us to worry.  It’s these things that can make us do the unthinkable; forsake our Savior who has set us free from sin. 
Think about it this way, this morning we can say Christ has risen, He has risen indeed, and then when we go back to our homes, neighborhoods, schools and places of employment and we can very easily become silent and live a life that doesn’t demonstrate the truth that Christ has risen for us, indeed!  That is the reality that we find the disciples in our Gospel reading [John 20:19-31].I. [John 20:19-20] It is Sunday, Easter Evening.  The Lord has risen.  The women saw Him and reported this fact to the disciples.  Peter and John were told this very thing by an angel.  This is great news!  And yet we find the disciples cowering behind two sets of locked doors.  It is precisely in this condition that Jesus miraculously appears to them.  And to this sorry bunch of losers, this sordid bunch of sinners, Jesus begins to give them the scolding of their lives, right?  Wrong…rather Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”Jesus did not scold this fearful group of sinners; instead He forgave and encouraged them with His Word of peace, “shalom”.  This was the same shalom, which he had promised them on numerous occasions was and would be theirs because they believed in Him. And now, there He stands, truly giving that peace to them.  He gives them His peace through His forgiveness of their many sins.  “What sins” we may ask?  Well think about it, when He was being tried and crucified, all of them abandoned Him.  Peter denied Him three times; he even cursed with His last denial.  And now here they all are, except Thomas, knowing that Jesus had risen from the dead just as He promised, yet their fear prevents them from rejoicing, instead they’re hiding away behind locked doors.  But Jesus, their loving Savior calmed their fear and feelings of despair with this absolution, “Peace be with you.  Shalom”We’re not so different from them are we?  We too are often afraid of what can’t see or understand, and when we’re afraid, our fear leads to doubt, which breeds even more-fear. Because our minds are so puny we find it impossible to take in the infinitely great things of God, so like the disciples, we too may resort to a denial of what faith demands; we must believe what lies just beyond reason’s grasp,  and that is hope and a peace with God!  To these doubts and fears, Jesus also says to us, “Peace to you!!” “My peace that I give is like no one else can give.”  There is a saying that has been around for awhile, and it goes like this: “As the person so his word.” In this day and age when a man or woman’s word means very little, Jesus Word is more cherished than solid gold.  Friends, what the disciples found out that Easter evening is what we must discover as well, when Jesus says peace he actually gives what the word says.
 I remember one day after church, an incident occurred that involved the decorative and empty Christmas presents that were placed under the church Advent tree.  One day after advent dinner and before the service began, the parents of a small boy lost track of where their son was, so they set out to find him.  Very soon they found him inside the sanctuary under the tree opening all of the decorative presents.  The parents screamed his name in shocked horror and told him to stop at once.  The boy looked up with a irritated look on his face and replied, “Oh, it doesn’t matter anyhow, whatever kid’s going to get these presents sure has cheap parents…THERE’S NOTHING IN THEM!”  Friends, Jesus word of peace is not an empty package, but one that is filled with a heavenly reality far more beautiful  and active than any thoughts we can  conjure up to understand it.  It is only after we begin to experience the gift that we will truly understand the beauty and grandeur of true Shalom-Forgiveness of all our sins! 
With such a wonderful gift comes an awesome responsibility.  “Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.  As the  Father  has sent  me, even  so I am  sending  you.””[vs. 21]  With these words, the disciples are now given two gifts in one: The peace of God and the invitation to be God’s messengers.  With this gift, they were told to quit cowering behind locked doors and go back out into their communities with the power of God and the message of God: “And  when he  had said  this, he breathed on them and said to them,   “Receive  the Holy  Spirit. If you  forgive  the sins of  anyone,  they are  forgiven;  if you  withhold  forgiveness from  anyone, it  is  withheld.”[vs. 22-23]Dear friends, this mission was not just the mission of the apostles but it is the mission of all of the disciples of Jesus.  This mission is still our mission, because there is still so much sin and suffering in this world.  This mission is not just the mission of pastors, but it is the mission of the entire church.  It is your mission. As Jesus told the disciples then, He also tells us today that just as the Father sent Him to seek and save the lost sinners of the world, He too is sending us on this very same mission; our mission is to proclaim the forgiveness of sins; we are to be God’s ambassadors and proclaim to all who will hear, “God loves you and wants you to come back to Him.  God forgives you through Jesus Chirst.”

Now with a mission so great and a message so wonderful, the disciples immediately rose to their feet and left that place of security and began to proclaim the good news, right?!  Well…no.  Verse 26 says, “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””.  There they go again, cowering behind those same locked doors for fear of the Jews.  And there Jesus is once again offering forgiveness and peace, and they need it too!  They are still captured by their own fears and concerns.  I can hear them now, “We tried to go out Lord, we really did.  We even tried to convince Thomas, you know the one who was missing the first time you popped in for a visit?  He wouldn’t believe.  Said he couldn’t believe unless he could touch you.”   Here we go again as well.  I can hear our excuses even now: “Lord, you don’t want to use me to invite people to church, why I can’t even get my own children and grandchildren to attend with me.”  To the disciples then and to us now, Jesus continues to say, “Peace be with you.”  You are forgiven.  Once again, Jesus announces the very essence of our mission.  Isn’t it wonderful that our God isn’t an angry task master, demanding that we produce results.  No, instead, we have a loving God who is willing to repeatedly demonstrate His principle of forgiveness within us, around us and through us. 
So there stand Jesus, smiling at all of His disciples.  I imagine that he may have said still smiling, “Now where is that doubter?  Thomas, front and center; you have been avoiding me far too long.”  God’s law now begins to confront Thomas and it calls him to task.  Now, Jesus looks directly into Thomas’s eyes, He speaks directly to His heart and says, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side.  Do not disbelieve, but believe.” [vs. 27-28] These aren’t angry words, but words of love.  This dear friends is the sweet word of peace.  It is the Gospel.  Jesus came back for Thomas just as the shepherd in His parable left the 99 secure sheep to find the one lost sheep.  Friends, Jesus is teaching us that He is willing to go to any lengths to save a sinner; even a doubting and self absorbed sinner like Thomas–even a sinner like you.  He will not quit until he has found you or your lost loved one.  Will you help him?  Will you confess your own sinfulness to Him and then joyfully receive His peace that comes with your forgiveness?  Will you help Him find the other lost sheep that are in your community?  He doesn’t need your help, He wants it.  He hasn’t demanded that you help Him, He’s asking.  Will you help?
 Some of you may say, “Oh if only I could have an experience like Thomas, then I would really be on fire for the Lord.  What a blessing Thomas received.”  And to this, Jesus says, “(No, rather) Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  But how can we believe without seeing some may ask?  And to this question, our gospel reading answers, “(Well) Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not (even) written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe (so that you might have faith in the fact) that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” [vs. 30-31]  St. Peter also tells us in our Epistle lesson that “God, according to his great mercy, has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  And that by God’s power, He is keeping an inheritance for us that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.  This work of God’s power is your gift of faith which comes through the hearing, reading and proclaiming of God’s Word, and your inheritance is your eternal life with Jesus! [1 Peter 1:3-5]  If by faith you are willing to live out your life in this peace that Jesus gives, it will change you completely.  Allow me to close with a story that illustrates this point nicely.
There once was a lady who had a small house on the seashore of Ireland at the turn of the century.  She was quite wealthy but also quite frugal.  The people were surprised, then, when she decided to be among the first to have electricity in her home.            Several weeks after the installation, a meter reader appeared at her door.  He asked if her electricity was working, and she assured him it was.  “I’m wondering if you can explain something to me,” he said.  “Your meter shows scarcely any usage.  Are you using your power?” “Certainly,” she answered.  “Each evening when the sun sets, I turn on my lights just long enough to light my candles; then I turn them off.”
Friends, perhaps we are like that old lady.  Maybe we too have tapped into the power but we aren’t using it.  Maybe like the old lady’s electricity, our souls are saved but our hearts are unchanged.  Maybe we are trusting Christ for our salvation but resisting His transformation.  Oh, each Sunday we flip the switch, but when we go home, perhaps we’ve settle for shadows. What would happen if we left God’s light on?  What would happen if we not only flipped the switch but lived in the light?  That is precisely what Jesus is asking each of us to do this morning.  He wants us to trust in His presence and power and to walk with Him. 
Dear friends, since we truly believe that Christ died and rose for us, so that our many sins might be forgiven, then we as Thomas have only one response to this truth: “My Lord and my God.”  Lead on and we will follow.   Since we agree with St. Peter, that “though we have not seen him, we love him (and) though we do not now see him, we believe in him and rejoice with joy, then we are truly filled with God’s power.  And it is that power, which will prevent us from cowering along with our faith behind closed doors and lead us out from this place to walk with and serve Jesus with courage.   May God continue to do this good work within us so that we may always joyfully proclaim, “Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!”  In Jesus name…AMEN!