Archive for the ‘Easter 3C’ Category

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

Sunday, April 14th, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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