Archive for the ‘forgiveness’ Category

Jesus… The True Christmas Gift

Sunday, December 18th, 2016

Fourth Sunday of Advent-HL, December 18h, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

 

“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen” (Deut. 18:15)

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Isn’t it true that the best gifts we receive always come from those who are closest to us, who love us unconditionally, who truly care for us and know us? Isn’t it also true to say that the best gifts are those gifts that truly come from the heart? This morning we will be looking at the heart of the Giver of the greatest gift we will ever receive. This morning we will be looking at the gift of Jesus and why He is the very heart of God.

God has kept His Word. He has made good on the promise that He made to the Israelites long ago on Mt. Horeb.

 When the people heard God speak as in the peels of thunder from the top of Mt. Horeb on the day that they gathered for worship, they were terrified. They could not bear to hear God speak, in person… in truth. In the book of Exodus, as God was speaking to the assembly, the people could not help but hear and listen, but they were also terrified. And so they pleaded with Moses in this way, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.” [Exodus 20:18, 19] And God heard the fear of His people and He agreed to speak through Moses. And the Lord said to Moses. “They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my Words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him.” [Deuteronomy 18:17, 18]

The fear Israel felt at Sinai is the kind of terror people still feel when they’re faced with God’s perfect demands and are forced to come to terms with their own sinfulness. None of us can fully understand how far we have fallen and failed to live up to God’s perfect demands. We can never understand how impossible it is to keep God’s law until we’ve tried our very best and still fall short of the mark.

After we’ve tried over and over again to be good but have failed every time, only then will we finally arrive at the frightening moment when we turn to God and say, “If there’s any hope for me at all, it has to come from you. I confess I can not do it!”

And this is precisely the heart of a person that will truly accept and treasure the gift that God has given and wants to continue giving. It’s a gift that expresses God’s true heart; a heart that does not want men and women to live in fear of Him, but it joy and peace. A peace that surpasses all fear, and a joy that always sees the love of God in the gift He gives through His Son, Jesus Christ.

Next week we will begin to unpack this gift of Jesus, the very Son of God but also son of Mary. But for now let us just simply ponder that new born baby in a manger.

In this sweet baby, though without speech as all other babies are, is the very voice of God that made the people of Israel tremble in fear. But this baby also is that Great Prophet that God said would come and speak to His children so that fear would not be the last Word, but hope; Words of hope that would bring joy and peace. And this was the very Prophet that John the Baptist was commanded to prepare the world to receive.

John comes to prepare His way so that all who will hear and listen to Him will hear the true heart of God; a heart of mercy and love.

The message that John brings is one of repentance; that is it is a message that calls us to turn to God’s loving heart that can only be received through the Word of Jesus Christ. When we repent, we are preparing the royal highway by turning away from our sinful lives and making our hearts ready by ridding them of pride and self serving desires. When we repent, we are simply saying once again, “I give up Lord. I have tried it my way and it just hasn’t worked. I am ready for your gift of new life through Your Son, my Savior Jesus Christ.”

John himself models how this is done and what this kind of prepared heart will look like when he evaluates the ministry of baptism he has been called to with these Words: “I baptize with water, but among you stands One you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” [John 1:26, 27] What John is saying, what he is demonstrating is that this great ministry that he is performing through the baptism of repentance and forgiveness, would be nothing without God’s gift of His real presence within the application of water. He is saying that it is the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ that makes the water of baptism more than a simple washing.

John is making everything dependent upon this Jesus, the Son of God. John is saying that next to Jesus, he is lower than a servant who’s job it is to untie his master’s sandal so that his feet may be washed.   John is clearly telling all of us this morning that to know Jesus, to truly know Him is to live a life that decreases in personal gain so that Christ can increase.

This should also be the desire and prayer of each of us. “May I decrease as you increase Dear Lord. Make me small so that I may fit into your heart.” The Only way that this can become our reality is by receiving God’s gift of Jesus, which comes through His Word. And Jesus can only be received through God’s gift of faith.

Faith in Christ is the way of Salvation and eternal life.

“Whoever believes in Him shall not perish but shall have eternal life.” [John 3:16] Jesus says it Himself: “I am the way and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” [John 14:6] “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” [John 6:40] “Whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” [John 11:26] “Whoever believes in me (will) not remain in darkness.” [John 12:46]

This is also the core of the entire New Testament message. This is what the apostles constantly proclaimed. “To Him all the prophets bear witness that every one who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sin through His name.” [Acts 10:43] “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved… Whom God put forward as an expiation by His blood, to be received by faith… because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved…. Every one who believes that Jesus is the Christ is a child of God.”

That you receive this gift of faith is so important to God, He proclaims this warning to those who teach His Word incorrectly, in such a way that they damage the faith of one of God’s little ones: “… but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” [Matthew 18:6]

How then does one acquire such a faith?

The truth is, “Not all have faith.”

Faith is the work of God. But it is also a work that sinful people can frustrate, fight, and even refuse. It is through His Word that God creates faith in a human heart. Faith comes by preaching, if preaching by preaching of Christ.” [Galatians 3:1] The Word of God possesses power to create faith because it portrays Christ to us, and it makes His image a living one that permits God’s Word to reach us. God’s power resides in His Word. His Words are “spirit and life.” This is why Scripture itself testifies that it alone is the “power of God unto salvation for all who believe.” [Romans 1:6]

Scripture alone and faith alone are two of the three great fundamental truths that Luther rediscovered when all of the Bible was placed into his hands and into his heart. This is the center of all evangelical Christianity—that forgiveness of sins is granted to us by faith in Christ and God’s Word, which gives us this faith when we allow it to be our guide. These two fundamental truths are to often forgotten and misunderstood in our time by so called teachers and theologians. This is the reason why so many people imagine that they can be a Christian without going to church if they only live a decent and honorable life everyday. But this is not what God’s Word says to us. “And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have not heard?” And how are they to hear without a preacher?” One becomes a Christian through the living Word of God that abides forever.

This then is the true gift that we received on that first Christmas morning. A prophet like Moses yet far greater than Moses. A Prophet of our own flesh, yet all of God contained in that flesh. A gift that allows sinful men and women to see by faith that the love of God came down to you and granted you new life through the suffering and death of a baby born to die for this sins of the world. This love is lavished upon each of us within the waters of Holy Baptism, which without the gift of Jesus born of the Virgin Mary, suffered and died under Pontius Pilate, and resurrected of the third day, would simply be a sprinkling of meaningless water, devoid of the power of God.

Jesus is that power; Jesus is your gift from God. Jesus is your gift that brings you faith and the forgiveness of sins. May you cling to this gift always, AMEN!

Yes, It Really Is That Simple!

Saturday, July 5th, 2008

Eight Sunday in Pentecost, July 6, 2008

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message.

“Come Unto Me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” [Matthew 11:28]

INRODUCTION: We Americans don’t like the thought of being held captive by anyone, and the historical proof of this is that 232 years ago, the Declaration of Independence was issued, dissolving the colonies’ subjugation to King George III by proclaiming that all people are created equal with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Today, over 2 centuries after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, we may be free from the tyranny of King George, but our nation has witnessed and is still dealing with many other kinds of tyranny and captivity. Terrorism, war, broken families, crime, and racism; these are all signs that tyranny is still at work in this great nation of ours!

Today, it is my privilege to proclaim to you that because of what Jesus Christ has done for you, you’ve been freed from the GREATEST form of captivity and tyranny, SIN!  And today, it is my duty to proclaim to you that there is nothing within you that God would look at and determine that you deserve His passion or His gift of salvation … NOTHING… but as our savior hung on the cross, as He was suspended between heaven and earth, He willing took on your sin and exchanged it with the perfection of God!  And as He hung there, He cried out unto the Father and the whole creation, “IT IS FINISHED!” These three Words were both your declaration of independence from God’s Law that judges you deserving of death because of your many sins, and they are your declaration of dependence upon God’s mercy.  It is God’s love that calls out to you in the midst of your many sins and says, “Come Unto Me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  

I.  With all of this being true, why do we constantly seem to be overcome by sin?  Why do our sins and the sin of others seem to rob us of the joy of Christ’s gift of salvation?  Listen to St. Paul’s words in our Epistle lesson and see if they ring true with you: “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want to do is what I keep on doing” (vs.19) “I delight in the Law of God in my inner being, but I see another law waging war against my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.  Wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Vs. 22-25)  We’re a peculiar bunch of people, we Christians!  We hunger for God’s protection and perfection in our lives, yet it seems we constantly fall short of the mark!  We seem to constantly fall into sinful habits that non-Christians enjoy so much yet when we engage in the same activity, not only are we unable to find satisfaction in these things, but they also become a trap, even a prison that takes away our joy.  In short, …WE BECOME MISERABLE!  Why?  Because we are acting outside of Christ’s nature that was provided for us at the cross and then wrapped around us in our baptism!   

The story is told of a lamb and its mother, who passed a pigpen each morning on the way to the pasture. Watching the pigs wallow in the mud seemed like fun to the lamb. On an especially hot day the lamb asked its mother, “May I jump the fence and wallow in the cool mud with the pigs?” The Mother replied, “No.” And the lamb asked, “Why not?” The mother simply stated, “Sheep do not wallow!” Well, this didn’t satisfy the lamb. He felt his mother had no reason to refuse. As soon as she was out of sight, the lamb ran to the pigpen and jumped the fence. He felt the cool mud on his feet, his legs, and his stomach. After a while he decided he had better go back to his mother, but he couldn’t do it. He was stuck! His thick wool was weighed down with heavy, sticky mud. His pleasure had become his prison. He was a hostage of the mud. He cried out and the kind farmer, his owner, rescued him. When he was cleaned and returned to the fold, his mother said firmly: “Remember, sheep do not wallow!”   

Well sin is like the mud in that story. It looks so inviting, and appears easy to escape from whenever we wish. But, because of God’s Law at work in our hearts, which is like the wool, we don’t find pleasure, but only pain! What seemed like pleasure becomes our prison. Because we sin, because we are born in sin and because we sin daily, we are held captive under the Law.  We are caught in what the prophet Zechariah in our Old Testament lesson called the waterless pit. (Zech. 9:11)  This waterless pit was a dry well that was used in biblical times as a sort of jail cell.  Once in, there was no way out accept if someone (your jail keeper) were to lower you down a ladder of some sort. 

Friends, for us, our waterless pit is the Law of God that says, “Thou shalt… Thou shalt love the Lord your God with all of your heart and soul.  You must always put God and His will first in your life!  Thou shalt love your neighbor as you love yourself.  You must put the needs of your family, friends and neighbor at a level that is equal to or above your own.”  Oh what wretched people we are!  We try and try to do what the Law says we must but instead of victory we run into failure after failure.  Who will deliver us from this prison of death?  “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” 

We hear Him now, at the mouth of the pit calling down to us, “Come unto me, you who have been laboring to free yourself from your prison of sin and guilt, and I will give you rest.”  He calls to us and says, “Here friend, here is the ladder of my grace that you will need to leave the prison of the Law.  But before you climb up to me, set your burden down and leave it there in the pit.”   “Now that’s odd” we think, “I wonder what burden He’s talking about?”  Reading our minds, He replies, “I’m talking about the heavy burden on your back!  Friend, at least take it off and look inside to see what you are carrying.”

Now this is where our Savior gets personal. We don’t want to look inside, because what’s in there is hidden for good reason-it’s embarrassing!  We might even try to down play the weight of our burden by replying, “Oh that thing?!  Well that’s nothing.  I can manage climbing out of here and still carry the weight.  Don’t worry about me.”  But now Jesus is no longer at the top of your prison calling down to you, He’s right there with you.  And He takes off your burden and opens it.  Inside each burden, you will always find two very heavy things…

II. Pride and discouragement.  If there is one word that adequately describes the average American it would be pride.  We have many reasons to be proud.  We are proud of our country, which is One nation under God.  We are proud of our brave men and women who valiantly fight and sacrifice their lives for our freedoms.  We are proud of our work ethic, which says along with the Ford Motor Co. that quality is job one.  These are all great attributes that we can and should be proud of, but there is another kind of American pride that is not so admirable.    It is the kind of pride that says, “I’ll be fine.  I can do it myself.”  Young people, your grandparents called this “lifting yourself up by your own bootstraps” and today we say that we “are an army of one.”  Pride says, “I got myself into this mess; I don’t need any help and I can get myself out of it.”  But to our pride Jesus says, “(No friend.  You must do this my way) and then I will give you rest.” 

There is another burden within our sack that we must surrender to the Lord, and that is discouragement.  Discouragement is a burden because it is a sin; it is a sin because it’s a loss of faith in God’s mercy and love.  Discouragement says, “Oh Lord, I’d like to put this burden down and climb out with you, but I’m so tired.  And you know Lord, I’ve tried to come out so many times before, but I just end up right back where I started.  No, I think I’ll just rest here a while and maybe someday give this freedom thing another shot.”  Friends, discouragement and pride are the very things that Jesus is asking you to give to Him today. But He won’t take them from you, you must give them to Him.  You must come to Him and surrender all of your burdens, and then He will give you rest.  He’s made it easy for you to trust Him by providing the very means that creates this trust; we call this trust faith.  He points you to His Word that gives you the faith to believe that each and every promise of rest and peace is for you and that it is true! He points you to the Baptismal font where He first saved you through the water and the Word, and He says, “I was there with you then and I am with you now.  Believe that I will always be with you!”  Why He even calls you to a Holy dinner where He invites you to feast on His very body and blood, where your faith is strengthened and He ensures you that all of your sins are forgiven!  And now that you are out of the pit and the captivity of sin, He has just one more thing to say to you…

III. “Now, take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (vs. 29a) Rest…Wonderful rest!  We all need rest.  In a world where sin, sickness, disappointment and death are all around us and even within us sapping our strength, rest is the one thing we know we can’t live without and at the same time it seems to be the hardest thing to find! Yet, when we first hear these Words, it might seem that Jesus freeing us from one burden only to give us another?  Could this be true?  Well, yes!  You see friends, the rest and the yoke are two pictures of the same blessing; Jesus is saying that when we take His yoke upon ourselves we will find true rest for our souls; in fact, we take this yoke when he gives us rest.  We know that this is true because we have experienced its truth in our lives already! 

We have already established that we no longer need to carry around with us things like guilt, shame, and discouragement.  In our confession today, we gave him these burdens when we confessed our sins.  And then, praise God, we heard and received the sweet words of absolution, “You are forgiven!” So, if you have faith in this truth, you already feel relieved; you’ve already “tasted and discovered that the Lord is good!” (Ps. 34:8; 1 Peter 2:3)  If you have already discovered by experience that the Lord is faithful and good, that He is a loving God, then you’ve already received His yoke. While he is giving us His yoke he is teaching us through experience that He is right there beside us; a gentle, humble, and loving God shouldering any load we encounter, so that we will know that He is right there working with us.

CONCLUSION: Dear friends, what can be lighter than a burden which removes burdens and a yoke which carries you?  Christ’s burden doesn’t oppress us, but instead it carries itself.  The yoke and Christ’s rest are just two sides of the same coin.  When you take one you have the other.  When we take on a new Master, and he lays on us a new load-but what a difference! 

Now we know that Christ yoke includes the burden of living out our lives under the blessings of His cross, and we know that when we live out His rest, we can expect difficulties just because we are walking with Jesus, but dear friends, all of this is more than counterbalanced by the power, help, strength, and consolation supplied by him.  By simply trusting in Jesus Words and following his gentle instruction we enjoy His grace, mercy, and peace because we are surrounded by His love.  When we let go and let God lead and teach us, then we can truly know freedom from all forms of tyranny, even sin, death and the devil.  Yes, it really is that simple…just let go and let God take over!

Let’s bow our heads in prayer.  Heavenly Father, we thank you that you have revealed all of these things to us your little children because of your gracious will.  Continue to show us how to give you all of the things that hold us back from trusting and walking with you and may Your Spirit, like a dove descend upon our lives and make us whole. 

In Jesus name…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
Click here for audio of this message.

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!