Archive for the ‘Pentecost 16C’ Category

It’s Already Forgiven!

Sunday, September 8th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 16-C, September 8th, 2013

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“Confident of your obedience, … I know that you will do even more than I say.” [Philemon 21]

Our Epistle lesson this morning (Philemon 1-21), is a little different from our usual epistles, and here’s how; all of the other Epistles in your Bible are general letters to all of the people in a local congregation, or they are intended for many congregations that make up the Church.  But this one, … this one is different.  It is a private letter from the Apostle Paul to a pastor and leader of a local church; a man named Philemon.

Philemon was not only a pastor he was also a wealthy one.  How do I know that?  Because he owned slaves!  Slaves?  Wait just a minute, why would a pastor own slaves?  Because that was an accepted practice within the Roman Empire, and specifically in the area that he lived, a town called Colossae.  The ranks of slaves were not only made up of those who were conquered in war, but also of persons who voluntarily sold themselves into slavery so that they would have a place to live, food to eat, clothes to wear, and a little money to spend.  Now within the roster of slaves working for Philemon, was one named Onesimus.  What he did for Philemon, and how he became a slave is unknown, we only know that he was a slave in the household of Philemon.

But what we also know is that Onesimus ran away and eventually found St. Paul in a Roman prison waiting for a trial that would eventually lead to his death.  Why did he run to find Paul?  Because St. Paul was the founder and Bishop of that church in Colossae and Onesimus knew it.   He must have known many things about Christianity while observing the worship services in Philemon’s home.  He also must have observed many qualities of the Christian faith that he admired but which also confused him, so it only made sense that when he ran he would seek out the only authority he knew of within the Christian church, the Apostle Paul.

So here are three truths we must realize so that this message will make sense.  1. This is not a message on the morality of slavery.  2. When Onesimus ran away, he committed theft; he was depriving his master Philemon of the income or service that he would have rendered had he stayed.  3. Onesimus was attracted by the Christian faith, from what he heard and witnessed, but he was not yet converted; that is, when he ran away, he was not a Christian.

Now let’s look at the letter.  In verse 4 Paul reminds Philemon of his true identity in Jesus Christ.  He is not just a wealthy business owner; he is not just a husband and father; he is not just an owner of slaves; and he is not just a leader of a local congregation… he is Christ’s own Ambassador in all of the vocations or positions of life that he lives.  Through faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ he has been set free, pardoned of all of his sins.  In his baptism this pardon engulfed him and recreated him into the image of His Lord Jesus Christ.  In other words he was made one with God through a relationship of love and faith with the Son of God.  Now this is the truth that empowers St. Paul’s entire message contained within this letter.  The underlying question throughout this whole letter is this: Shouldn’t this relationship with God through Jesus Christ direct every thing we do in life and guide the way we live and behave with all people?

In verse 6, Paul talks about the fellowship of believers and how we relate to each other in the body of Christ and how we treat those outside of the church who hopefully will be attracted to the faith because of how we treat them.  Sometimes I mourn over the damage done to the image of the church because of our public persona.  The church may no longer be seen as a group of ordinary people who love in an extraordinary fashion, by celebrating joyfully with others over their great fortune, and weeping and mourning intensely with still others because of their misfortune and tragedies.  Instead, I am afraid we sometimes may be seen as a group of individuals who just want to get our praise on and avoid letting others into our tight circle because either we are jealous that their blessing isn’t our blessing, or because their sorrow is bringing us down and threatening to take the joy out of our own lives. Paul’s letter is encouraging us to go back to our relationship with God through Christ, and he is commanding us to be reconciled with God and with our brothers and sisters in true Christian love!

In verse 7, Paul asks us to consider a couple things.  Are we being a blessing and useful to others in the church by how we spend our time talent and resources and are we allowing others to bless and be useful to us with their time, talent, and treasure?  Or are we so caught up in the moment and with those in our little cliques that we have no time for others who may be different than ourselves?

In verses 8-15, Paul acknowledges that Onesimus sinned against Philemon, and he admits that this sin has separated the two.  But Paul points out that Onesimus not only acknowledges this before Philemon and Paul, but before God Himself.  You see, Onesimus has turned and received God’s gift of forgiveness through Jesus Christ; he was baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and now being reconciled to God through Christ, He also wishes to be reconciled to Philemon.  In other words, Paul is once more turning Philemon’s eyes and heart to Christ and His cross.  He is showing Him that forgiveness has already been accomplished at Calvary, now all that is lacking is for Philemon to pronounce and live out that same forgiveness towards Onesimus, who once was only a slave, but now is so much more than that, he is Philemon’s brother!

In verse 18, we have perhaps the most beautiful part of the letter.  Here we see Paul, who points Philemon and us to the cross, and he takes up that same cross himself on behalf of Onesimus.  He says that what ever Onesismus owes you, what ever harm he has done that you feel demands restitution, charge it to me, Paul, personally!  “In other words,” says Paul, “as Christ paid my debt of sin and freed me from that burden, I too can not help but do the same for Onesimus.”  Now this is beautiful and it is important, because it sets up what comes next.

In verse 21, Paul says that he is confident that Philemon will take back Onesimus as his brother in Christ without penalty and with complete forgiveness, in fact he is confident that he will do something even better. Paul is certain that Philemon like himself, through the power of the Spirit of Christ, will also take up his cross, and absorb what every financial or social loss that Onesimus’ disobedience caused, just as Christ did for Philemon and Paul upon His cross, where His death brought life for all sinners, even sinners such as Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus.

Dear friend, may I speak to you personally through the grace and forgiving love of Jesus Christ?  Do you know that I thank God for your salvation; I can’t help but celebrate that like me, He has snatched you too out of the grasp of the devil by paying for your sin Himself.  What a joy it is to know that He has also washed you and recreated you into His own image in your baptism, so that like me, you too need never fear the punishments of death.  The fact that you are listening to these words this morning is proof of your love for Christ, even as weak as it may be, it is present by the work of God, and for that I truly am joyful.  I know that it is this same love of Christ that has moved you to give freely and abundantly in your time, talent, and treasure to the church and in other places and ways.  Through your giving, you have truly refreshed the lives of so many.

Now because of this wonderful gift of grace that is active in your life, I must be bold to speak a command of God.  “You must be reconciled with your brother or sister.”  You are required to do this thing, not asked.  Yet you are forgiven through grace, so this command will not cause you any fear or worry, because it will actually be Christ within you forgiving, becoming reconciled to the one that has hurt you and deserves, in the worlds eyes, only punishment and retribution.  You know as well as I that any good works that God commands, which are done out of fear or obligation, do not count for a thing in His eyes.  Instead, we know that God loves a cheerful giver, one who gives of their time, talent, treasure, and even forgiveness, voluntarily out of a heart filled with love and abundant thankfulness for what Jesus has done!

So I, a simple pastor who at times can also be a sinner, ask you to forgive that person who has sinned against you.  Let it go and allow the cross of Jesus Christ to absorb it.  When you see them living their life as if they had never sinned against you, why not do the same.  Let all anger and animosity go and be reconciled to that person.  Sit down, speak truthfully with them; talk about sin, their sin and your own, and talk about grace, Christ’s grace that forgives each of you completely.  Think of how you were baptized and know that the very same waters also cleansed them.  Allow them back into your life after God’s own Word has restored both of you.  This is my prayer for each of you and it is the very thing that I celebrate even now, because I know that by the Spirit of Christ, you will do even more than I ask.

As we close our message, I thought that I would share one more bit of information with you about the relationship between Philemon and Onesimus.  Not only did Philemon forgive Onesimus and take him back, he took him back just as Paul asked, as a dear brother, fellow redeemed sinner through Christ Jesus.  Now to strengthen our faith, allow me to show you what God can do when brothers and sisters are willing to be reconciled with each other through Jesus Christ.

Some time latter after Onesimus’ return, Philemon released Onesimus and had him go back to Paul and serve as a missionary as Paul directed him (Colossians 4:7-9).  Church tradition teaches that later Onesimus went on to become a bishop of the Church in the city of Ephesus at the age of 70, and latter he probably died as a martyr in the Christian faith, refusing to recant his faith in God and his love for his Savior Jesus Christ.

All of this, because Philemon obediently followed the Spirit of Christ and was willingly reconciled to Onesimus.  I wonder whose lives we can influence and change by also being obedient to the Spirit of Christ?  May God bless each of us Onesimuses, and may we also be reconciled to those we have hurt and to those who have hurt us.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

You Are Found!

Sunday, September 12th, 2010

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 5, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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In our gospel lesson this morning Jesus told a story about a lost sheep.  It was a parable He used to illustrate God’s joy in seeing an open sinner turn away from his sin and receive forgiveness and salvation.  It communicates in a very wonderful way how important each of us is to God!  This morning, let’s allow God’s Word to show us something about being lost, how He searches for the lost, the need to celebrate when the lost are found and finally the great joy in being found!

In our Old Testament reading we’re given a wonderful depiction of how God loves us and cares for us in our time of need; in the times we wonder off and get lost!  When is our time of need?  Well, it’s pretty much all of the time, because you see we are sheep who are always prone to wonder!  Listen to how God explains His role and ours: “Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out.  As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.” [Ezekiel 34:11-12]   Let me ask you a question, who is it that gets lost?  Isn’t it us?  But why are we lost?  Friends, we become lost when we lose sight of our Savior; when we cease to hear our Savior’s voice in the clear Word of God.  You see, when we lose our focus on God’s Word, we begin to wander into a world of thick darkness, which is our own sin and the sins of this world that seek to separate us from our Good Shepherd, who knows that we are lost and promises to find us!

But what if we don’t know that we’re lost?  Could that really happen?  Isn’t God’s Word pretty clear in describing the sin we get lost in?  Yes, but you see, the devil is like a cunning and hungry lion, and he’ll do anything he can to separate us from God’s fold, the church and then lead us out into the dark world of sin.  How does he do this?  By turning other lost sheep into false teachers in order to confuse God’s clear Word so that we become confused and disoriented!  Listen to how God speaks to these false teachers in our Old Testament lesson: “Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture; and to drink of clear water, that you must muddy the rest of the water with your feet? And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have muddied with your feet?” [vs. 17-19]

Friends, this treading down the pasture and the mudding of the clear water is precisely what happens when false teachers manipulate God’s Word so that what God calls evil seems to be good!  What does God call evil?  Well listen to what He says through St. Paul: “Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine”. [1 Tim. 1:8-10]  Who are the lawless and disobedient, the ungodly sinners?  In short, it’s you and me!  How are we saved?  By knowing that we are lost and in danger and then turning to God to be saved!  But if we allow God’s Word to become clouded by the opinions of our sinful society then how are we ever to know that we are lost and in danger?

In our gospel reading this morning we see an interesting example of this.  In our lesson, we see two classes of people, those who knew they were sinners and those who thought they weren’t.  The first group was described as publicans and open sinners.  They heard Jesus pure teaching of the law of God and they knew they were lost.  The second group of people, the Pharisees and the scribes had the same law of God, but they had muddied it so much with the traditions of their religious society that they would never see that they were lost!  They had also heard Jesus teaching but they wouldn’t listen, because if they did, that would mean that they were lost too!  As Jesus was feeding them God’s pure Word, all they could think about was how good they were and how filthy the sinners following Jesus were!  They must have been listening to Jesus and thinking “Look at Him there; He’s surrounded Himself with a bunch of dirty open sinners!”   Indeed, scripture teaches that “sinners were always drawing near Him.  And to this observation Jesus decides to tell a parable.  “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?” [Luke 15:4]

Did the open sinners know they were lost?  Yes!  God’s Holy Law, like a mirror showed them all of their ugliness, which was their open and militant sin!  What was their reaction?  They felt lost and separated from God because Jesus’ Word had showed them their sin!  What was their response?  They turned to Jesus for help!  They wanted to hear how to find forgiveness and peace with God their Father.  They wanted salvation!  Did the Pharisees and scribes know they were lost?  No!  You see, they wouldn’t let God’s pure Word judge them because they thought that God had given them the right to judge… judge another person’s salvation!  They were so focused on the lost and sad condition of others that they wouldn’t look into God’s Holy Law and see their own lost and sad condition!

What was the point of Jesus teaching?  Simply this, God cares about each and every lamb!  He will go to extravagant measures to save them.  How extravagant?  How about becoming a sheep to save the sheep!  Friends we are the sheep that need saving, whether we admit it or not!  It is God’s clear Word that calls attention to our sin… sin that we can’t get rid of; sin that has caught us and trapped us like a little lamb caught at the edge of a cliff with a hungry lion bearing down on it!  But Jesus, the Son of God, our Savior and Shepherd has come to us and freed us from this trap by taking our place!  He died the death that we were to die so that we would be saved! 

The truth is friends, the only difference between the open sinners and the Pharisees is that one group saw a need for a Savior and the other group didn’t.  Isn’t it true that if a person refuses to admit that they’re sick they’ll also refuse to call on a doctor even when they are dying?  If a person won’t admit that they’re lost aren’t they more likely to run away from their rescuer rather than run to him and be saved! 

Has God’s Word convinced you that without Jesus you are lost in your sins?  Are you also convinced that you need to be found?  If you answer yes, then you have already been found!  God found you with His Word!  When you hear the ugly accusations and terrors of the devil and your own conscience, then you must also hear the sweet words of the gospel… the absolution… the forgiveness of all of your sins.  Friends, when you feel the weight of your sins closing in on you then you must also feel the purifying washing of the water and the Word, your own dear baptism that is always cleansing you of all unrighteousness!  When you feel as though God can’t keep forgiving you because you keep sinning, then let Him strengthen your faith; let Him lead you often to His Holy Supper so He can feed you a meal of forgiveness; a meal where He promises to nourish you with His very body and blood!  Let His holy Word convince you as it did the open sinners that you too have been found by Jesus!  Let God’s Word teach you as well to rest in His means of not just finding you but saving you!

So now what?  Well now it is time to allow God to use us in order to find others.  How?  By going out as sheep who ourselves were once lost but are now found.  We go out as former open sinners looking for other open sinners, but we don’t go out like the Pharisees and scribes, looking down our collective noses at the dirty sinners, instead we go out singing “Amazing Grace”!  Oh how sweet the sound of the gospel that saved a wretch like me.  I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see!  Why do we see?  Because God’s pure Word, the law and the gospel has shown us our sin and then continually shows us forgiveness and eternal life through our Savior and Shepherd Jesus Christ.  How do we work with God to find others?  By showing them the same Word that saved us!  We don’t change it or rearrange it, instead we allow it to change and rearrange us and them! 

Yes there is much work ahead of us as God LEADS us out to find others, but right now it’s time to celebrate the finding of the lost, even you and me!  If you think about it, Divine Service is really God’s on-going celebration of finding the lost.  Jesus says that “there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” [vs. 10]  Think of our worship every Sunday as simply a response to God’s Divine Service of saving us!  It’s a divine service of Word and Sacrament that continuously saves us and then celebrates our salvation.  

Dear friends, when you leave here today let this reality completely over take you… YOU ARE FOUND!  Let God teach you the great joy in knowing that no matter how lost you were in your sin and the sins of this evil world… He searched for you… He found you… He saved you… and He cares for you!  You are found!  You are found!!  Now thank the Lord and give Him praise and tell everyone what He has done.  Oh amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me and like you! 

I pray (that God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost always) guard this Word entrusted to you. (May you) avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of (the false teachers that have caused) some (to leave the Christian) faith.   (May God’s) grace (always) be with you. [1 Timothy 6:20-21]  AMEN!