Posts Tagged ‘Easter 4A’

Salvation Through a Dying Shepherd!

Sunday, May 7th, 2017

Easter 4A, April 30, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.ORLCSD.org

Click here for audio of this message

Christ is risen, He is risen indeed! “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree (on the cross) that we might die (that is cease to exist) to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds (by His suffering and death upon the cross) you have been healed.” [1 Peter 2:24] Jesus, our Good Shepherd laid down His life for us and now, He is calling out to us this morning to follow Him! We should follow Him, because we are His sheep; we hear His voice and we follow. The Jews, children of Abraham were His sheep by blood, but they refused to hear His voice; they refused to follow Him as children of faith. Their teachers would not enter by the door, simply because Jesus claimed to be the door, and so they would not (and will not) follow His voice. Instead, they beat Him and hung Him on the cross, hoping to silence the very voice that would save them. But what they meant for evil God used for good, our good. You see, by the same suffering of the whip and cross God brought salvation, healing from sins, and complete forgiveness. This is the true healing that Jesus wounds, His stripes provide. We who are gathered here are a fellowship, a congregation of healed and forgiven sinners simply because our Good Shepherd laid down His life and then took it back up again for wandering sheep such as us. Once we were lost sheep, but now we are called found sheep!

Another way to speak of the church, this fellowship of believers is to call it a sheep pen!

When Jesus used this metaphor in our gospel reading (John 10:1-10), He was of course speaking of His holy church, His body which is made up of true Christians. I trust that by faith in your Good Shepherd, you have heard His voice in His Holy Word and Sacraments and you are resting in His flock!

Let me ask you a question, how did you get into this pen that contains Christ’s flock? Was it because you are wise and prudent? Was it because you wanted to simply cover all of the bases concerning the afterlife, so you simply entered just to be on the safe side? Maybe you just followed your parents, family, or friends here and you have learned to be comfortable among the other sheep? If so, I am afraid that you may not be a true part of Christ’s flock. Now don’t misunderstand me, I am not making a judgment in regards to your eternal salvation, only your Good Shepherd can do that, but I am only speaking a word of caution along with a prayer that you will one day, hopefully soon, hear your true Good Shepherd call out to you and then surrender to His leading. In the meantime you may rest if that’s what you seek, but remember your time of waiting is growing short.

Time is running out, both for sinners and this sinful world. Soon our Good Shepherd will return to save His little lambs, and then He will call out to all who refuse to be His, and then cast them away with these Words, “Away from me! I never knew you!” And then they will find themselves in complete darkness where there will be only eternal misery and pain!

But if you are here because you heard His voice through His Word and you followed, then by His stripes you are healed! If you are here because in His Law you heard your Shepherd call out to you and prove that you were lost in your sins, and then you heard in His gospel promise that He found you and forgave you, healed you of your many sins, well then you are found and you are certainly part of His flock!

You see, Christ’s church, our congregation is a fellowship of lost and hurting sheep; sheep who were once lost but now found; sheep who finally find themselves following the Good Shepherd’s voice.

Here in this fellowship we who have been found, have also found peace and joy, but we still know pain and suffering. We are hurting people who are sometimes raw with emotion and pain. We still experience sickness, pain, disappointment, fear, and hard times. It’s alright to admit that; we all go through it. Our Good Shepherd knows and we readily admit that we either right now or in the past have been raw and beaten up by life, and we are also willing to testify to others that because we have turned to hear our Good Shepherd’s voice, we now rest safely in this fellowship with Him and other raw and hurting sheep of His flock; we have found rest!

The truth is friends, we live in a world that is full of raw people; they’re all around us! Have you ever wondered how many people in our community are struggling with sins like lust, alcohol and drug abuse, anger and rage?

Think for a moment and consider just how many people have been or are victims of these terrible things we call sin! Do you think they will ever find help with their raw human needs, needs that surround us every day? They will, if they hear the voice of “their” Good Shepherd! How will they hear? They will hear through the bleating of fellow raw and hurting sheep! They will hear through you!

We are our Good Shepherd’s flock, sheep of His pasture and pen!

We cannot afford as a church to simply live out a “business as usual” mindset when so many raw and hurting people are dying without Jesus Christ! What is a business as usual mindset? It is thinking that the church, the flock of Jesus Christ exists only for the sheep of His pasture. It’s thinking that the business of the church, the mission of the flock is to hold Sunday services, which satisfies only the needs of the flock. A business as usual congregation thinks that people who are part of the Good Shepherd’s flock are anyone who speaks like them, dresses like them, or worships like them. These kinds of congregations are only living to die, and soon they will do just that! But as the Good Shepherd’s flock, we know that we do not exist for our own glory and comfort, but instead we exist for God’s glory. And we know that God is glorified when other lost sheep are brought into the flock and the flock grows by adding more and more hurting and raw sheep to its number!

The truth is friends, only churches that are serious about rescuing the lost and hurting sheep will survive and make a difference… and friends that must be us! It must be us because it is God’s will! How can we remain a flock, a congregation that pleases our Good Shepherd? By continuing to be a healing fellowship where hundreds, maybe even thousands of lost and raw sheep can find rest and a home of forgiveness and healing. How do we do this? By following our Good Shepherd’s example; we must learn to trace His example and make it our life’s calling and passion. Listen to St. Peter’s words in our Epistle lesson again: “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you and example, so that you might follow in His steps.”[1 Peter 2:21] Let me illustrate this point with a couple of examples.

When I was a child, I wanted to learn how to draw portraits. I tried and tried, but my portraits always looked like… well they looked like a little child drew them. Then one day, I found some tracing paper in my father’s desk. I put that paper over a picture of my great grandmother, and I began to trace every shape and feature that made up her face. When I removed the tracing paper from the portrait I discovered that I had a perfect outline of the face, but it lacked dimension and depth. So I began to add shading and definition the best I could. Now when I was done, my mother saw the picture and commented on what a good job I had done, and how it resembled someone, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it. “Its grandma” I responded, somewhat disappointed as I showed her the portrait I was copying! “Oh, of course it is” she replied. “Now I can see that. What a nice picture” she said!

Every day we follow the example of our Savior, walking the same way He did. We deal with the same disappointments and pain caused by raw and hurting people that He dealt with. At first we are just tracing His image, kind of going through the motions, but soon our faith deepens and our confidence in His voice strengthens, and we begin to add depth and nuances to our walk of faith that begin to look more like Jesus. And if people aren’t quite sure what to make of our lives, we will simply point out who our Good Shepherd is and why we are following Him. In that way, our lives will become attractive to others.
And speaking of following, let me close with one last story.

When I was a young Border Patrol Agent, I was assigned to work with a living legend in the Border Patrol. He was famous for following sign or evidence that is left behind by a person. In essence he became a master in the art of tracking. One night I was assigned to go with him to downtown San Diego and meet up with San Diego Police officers who were looking for some gang members that killed a San Diego police officer. I knew nothing about the art of tracking, so he told me to stay out of the way and simply follow him and learn. I stayed very close to him, as he explained what he was doing and what he was looking for, finding, and following! It took a very long time, and I was cold and hungry, but He said that we must keep going. After several hours, to my amazement, he moved a piece of plywood lying in the back yard of a residence, and found empty shell casings. After another hour, under a pile of trash he discovered the weapon that was used to kill the officer. Our job was over; the police officers took over, and later that night on the news I heard that they had arrested three gang members for the murder of that police officer.

The point of this story is this friends, we are to follow the way that Jesus went. We are to watch and learn. It is a way that was full of pain and sorrow; it was the way of the cross. As we follow our Good Shepherd we too will know pain, suffering, sickness, sorrow, and even death. But we will encounter all of these things with the confidence of knowing that we are being taught by our Master, and it is by His stripes, by His wounds we are forgiven and healed of all of our sins, and as an added blessing, we are assured that God loves us and will never leave us. We are assured that because Christ has risen, so shall we. We are assured that as we are tracing our Masters portrait and looking more like Him every day, one day we shall be just like Him! Because we hear His voice in His Word we are assured that just as He has overcome the grave so shall we!

But we also must understand that just as we were once found lost, hurting, and raw, Jesus wants to do the same thing for others within our community through us! How will he do this? The same way He did it for you, through His voice, through the living Word of God that is read every day and that will also live in them!

So when you leave this place of worship this morning knowing that you are forgiven and loved, don’t just live a life that only looks forward to next Sunday, but live a life that follows your Good Shepherd Jesus Christ Monday through Saturday, practicing the lessons that He teaches you each Sunday. And when you follow Him, be prepared. He is seeking out people who do not want to be found; not to punish them but to offer them pardon and forgiveness! In this way, you are like I was long ago following behind that living legend looking for the bad guys. You must stay out of the way with your prejudices and self-interests and simply learn from the master; you must learn that even those “raw” people who are straying away like sheep, are called to return to the Shepherd and Overseer of their souls, Jesus Christ! May God equip us to do this very thing, as we live lives that declare, Christ has risen, He has risen indeed!

You Need God’s Strong Word

Sunday, May 18th, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Easter 5A, May 18, 2014

Click here for audio of this message

“And the twelve (Apostles) summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.” [Acts 6:2]

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed! You know that He has risen because His Word has told you so; you know that this Word is true because His Word is strong in deed; full of grace and the very power of God.  It is this Word alone that saves sinners and brings them new life, and that is why the Apostles said that they should not be distracted from the study, preparation, and the declaration of God’s strong Word.  The Sunday proclamation of God’s Word is the source of God’s grace and power, but you dear saints, like Stephen are the result of that grace and power when it is active in the life of a redeemed and sanctified saint of God.  And like Stephen, you need God’s strong Word so that you will know both God’s heart regarding your sin, indeed all sin, and so that you will not only know God’s solution to your sin, but also so that you will embrace His solution with all of your heart.

God’s heart concerning your sin is hate.  God hates sin because sin is the very thing that separates you from Him, and God loves you.  Sin is that thing which refuses to die, and with great obstinacy, clings to your flesh and cries out “There is no God.  But if there is a Creator, He can’t possibly be interested in my sin.”  Therefore, sin is that thing which either elevates you as your own god, or it allows you to define who or what your god is.  The sainted Dr. Martin Luther once said that a god is anything you turn to in times of trouble or turmoil.  God’s strong Word tells us today, that not only is He powerfully present in your life, He is also powerfully active, bringing you grace (that is the undeserved kindness and mercy of God) and power (that is God’s power, which takes away your sins, and then gives you a peace with Him that surpasses all understanding).

You need God’s Word today because there are very many “false teachers” who take God’s strong Word, which is to be for Christians, as pure “breast” milk is to infants (1 Peter 2:2), and they either dilute it or replace it all together.  But how do they do this?  When they confuse the Law of God with the Gospel of God.  But why do they do this?  Well for the very same reason the Sanhedrin whom Stephen confronted in our first reading (Acts 7:51-60) abused the law of God then; they are by nature stiff necked people and uncircumcised in (their) hearts and ears; (they) always resist the (grace and power) of the Holy Spirit, just as sinners have always done and always will do.

To be stiff necked is to be unwilling to bend or respond to the work of God’s strong Word, as He shows you your sins.  That is, stiff-necked people refuse to be molded or recreated into God’s will.  To be uncircumcised in the heart and ears means that the listener refuses to hear God’s solution to their sins.  We received a powerful example of this behavior when Stephen, full of God’s grace and power simply reported the enormity of the Sanhedrin’s error; in their sins they had blindly crucified God’s solution… Jesus Christ.  “Full of the Holy Spirit, Stephen gazed into heaven and (was allowed to see) the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.  And (Stephen) said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”  But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him.” [Acts 7:55-57]

You see, false teachers then and false teachers today think that by living a certain way and believing in certain principles, they have received a way to please God; they think that through their attempts to keep God’s Law, they are safe and secure from the judgment of God. They take the very means, which God has instituted to show them the ugly truth about their sins and they have twisted it into a way to please God and assure them happiness.

It is a shame that the people who stoned Stephen that day, and the people who will not hear God’s strong Word today would not and will not listen to God’s strong Word.  It is that very Word, which the Apostles proclaimed and the people followed that is still preached today in Christ’s true church.  It is the strong Word, which is still the very rhythm of life for all children of God, and the work of that strong Word is called repentance.  What is repentance?  Simply this, the strong Word of God shows you your sins and you are grieved over them.  As a result, you feel lost and separated from God, that is you feel pain over your sins; real pain, but then the strong Word of God, the Gospel of God shows you His solution to your sins… the very Son of God, Jesus Christ!

You see friends, this truth is so simple that even little children can understand it, but little children must be taught this truth and they must learn to refuse to be fed any other teaching.  Another way to say this is that “Jesus Christ alone is our corner stone; He alone is God’s chosen and precious solution to our sin, and whoever believes in Him will not be put to shame.” [1 Peter 2:6]  Only those little ones who believe and confess this truth may declare with a certain confidence, that “Christ died for sinners; He died for me!”  But for those false teachers and for those who do not believe that Christ alone is God’s only means of salvation, “The (corner) stone that the builders (that is the false teachers) rejected (has become for them) a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.”

They stumble because they disobey the Word of God.  They stumble because they will not allow God’s Word to declare them hopeless, helpless, and unclean in their sins.  They stumble, because they will not allow God’s Word to lead them into that condition of heart, which the church calls contrition… real pain for real sins.  And because they will not allow God’s Law to work within them, they will not, no they can not receive the Gospel of God, which declares that only the cross of Christ and His resurrection can bring peace with God and eternal life.

Stephen knew this truth and it transformed him forever.  As he declared the Word of God, he was also filled with the power of God.  But again, this truth makes no sense to the false teachers today, just as it would have been a pathetic joke to the Sanhedrin then.  Where is the power in an execution?  Who is the one in control?  To the rock throwers they were in control; they had the power of death.  If you were to tell them that with each rock they threw, Stephen became stronger and stronger, they would ultimately point to the pummeled, lifeless body of Stephen and asked, “Where is his power now?”  But this is always what happens to those who will not receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ, because you see, God’s message to sinners is not just the cross, but it is also the message of the empty tomb; the resurrection of the dead!

Stephen died for the Gospel of God because he knew that was what God had called him to do.  Would you do the same if called upon by God?  You would, if you were trusting in His strong Word.  Stephen was not an apostle, nor was he a pastor.  He was simply a redeemed sinner transformed and then nurtured by God’s own means of grace.  The position he held is what we would today call deacon.  The assignment that he fulfilled was much like the ministry our own deacons perform in their respective ministries here at Trinity.  Stephen was in charge of one of several help or charitable distribution centers, set up to help the poor, much like our own pantry, which Deacon Mark oversees, or the legal aid Deacon Clifton offers here at Trinity in the name of Jesus as an attorney.

So where did Stephen get filled with such grace and power that enabled him to give such a strong witness?  He received the teaching of the apostles just as you are doing today.  He was first baptized and filled with all of the Spirit’s power, just as you have been.  Each time he heard the Word about forgiveness of sins in Christ’s name preached, he was filled with that power.  Each time he received the absolution from the lips of his pastors, the apostles, he was renewed just as you are being renewed today.  Each time he approached the Lord’s Table and received the very body and blood of our Lord in, with, and under the bread and wine, he not only heard, saw, touched, and tasted forgiveness of sins, but he also received a powerful strengthening of his faith, which is the very thing that happens to you here at this altar.

We will close our message with the final portion of our first reading and two thoughts that God willing, will carry us through this week, until we gather again next Sunday to be filled once again with God’s strong Word: “Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” [Acts 7:58-60]

Think about this truth first: As hard as a sinner’s heart may be, as lost as they may have become in the unholy doctrine of false teachers, God’s strong Word is still working to reach them.  This truth was proven true in the heart and life of the young man named Saul, who supervised Stephen’s execution.  For you see, this young man named Saul, would later encounter the resurrected Jesus Christ, the very Son of God as he was traveling down a dusty road to arrest and oversee the execution of even more Christians.  And after that encounter, Saul would for ever be know as St. Paul, the apostle of Jesus Christ.  And he would follow in the footsteps of Stephen and also die for his Lord.

The second truth that we are led to see, is how God magnificently demonstrates His grace and His power in the lives of Christians just like us.  He does it as He did it through Stephen… He does it through the forgiveness of sins.  As you have received the absolution of God through the gospel of Jesus Christ this morning, it is God’s will that when you leave this place but not His presence, you too, would say along with Stephen, when someone does you harm, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”  Can you forgive as simply and freely as Stephen?  Yes, indeed you can, with God’s strong Word working within you!  AMEN!

You Need The Good Shepherd

Sunday, May 11th, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Easter 4A, May 11, 2014

Click here for audio of this message

“The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” [John 10:3b, 4]

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed! But more than that He has risen for you!  Before His death, He assured His disciples then, as He assures us today, that He would not leave us alone as orphans; He promised us that He would come back to us!  And He has.  This morning, in our readings and in our message He speaks to you and you hear His voice.  You have been hearing His voice since your baptism, where He first called you by name.

This morning, like all other mornings He speaks to you and He invites you to follow Him out, but out of what, and out to where?  Well, our message this morning will answer that very question, but before we begin, let’s first agree on what He does not “yet” lead you out of.  He does not yet lead you out of this world.  You must follow your Good Shepherd within this life of sorrows and trouble.  There are many dangers here in this world, as all who have lived any sort of life will agree.  The question each of us must answer is, “Do I want to pass through this way of danger with or without the Good Shepherd?”

So, are you ready to follow where Jesus leads us in this message?  Good, let’s get started!

The first thing that Jesus leads us out of is our sins.  Every misery in your life and mine, can be traced back to sin, either our sins or someone else’s.  Sin is the very thing that leaves us alone; it separates us from the love of God and His real presence in our lives.  Isn’t this true in all relationships in our lives?  If we sin against spouse, friend, coworker or neighbor, aren’t we going to be deprived of those relationships if something isn’t done to repair them?  And so enters the need for an apology.  But an apology without real change in the one who has done the harm is simply a string of empty words; something substantive must take place to repair and restore that lost relationship.  This is what we call making amends.

And so enters your Good Shepherd.  Upon the cross, His bitter suffering, agony, and finally His death made amends for your sin.  Jesus died for sinners; He died for you.  Jesus died to pay for your sins; to remove your sins from your standing before a righteous and perfect Creator; sins you have committed first against your Heavenly Father and second, sins you have committed against your neighbor.  That is what He did for the entire world, but this atonement, this making amends wont help you in the least if you do not claim it as a work that He does for you.  In your baptism, He gives you the means to do this very thing!  In your baptism not only does He give you complete restoration with Him, but He also provides you with the real presence of His Holy Spirit and the Sprit’s power; He gives to you the Good Shepherd Himself, Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Now, as you go out in the real world you will encounter real dangers; dangers that on your own you can’t overcome.  That is why you need the Good Shepherd.

On your own, you are only a little lamb.  You need the Good Shepherd because bad things really do happen to righteous, baptized children of God; in fact, bad things happen to everyone.  Bad things happen, because until the end of all things when Christ returns, God’s Children of faith are still to be living, breathing, and finding their very purpose of life in Him, here in this sinful and broken world.  But, as we wait for Christ’s return, we wait with a purpose, or for a reason.  We live first to give God glory in all things, and then we live to share God’s presence and gifts with other sheep who have not yet heard their Good Shepherds voice, or have maybe forgotten that voice and have wandered away into danger; the real danger that exists in this world.

So, as we wait, we are busy listening to our Savior’s voice and following Him through some pretty rough places. If we listen, we will find comfort and assurance that safer pastures are just around the bend, down the hill, or through the canyons.  If we listen we are assured that the Living Water is always with us to quench our thirst, and we little sheep can really work up a thirst, especially when we are wandering away from our Good Shepherd’s voice, and falling into some pretty sinful places; places that we have no business being in or going to.  Of course, the Living Water that I am speaking of is the privilege that comes to us who are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  And that privilege is the forgiveness of all of our sins.

Each and every time you receive the absolution, you are being picked up, cleaned off, and brought back to the fold by your Good Shepherd.  But remember, you are here for a purpose, and that purpose is to glorify God and to help others know his forgiving love as well.  An excellent way for you to do this very thing can be observed in how you pass through those dangerous times of life when you are following your Good Shepherd.  What kind of dangerous times?  Well right off the bat, we might include illness, tragedy, and disaster; and those would be good examples, but what about when you suffer unjustly at the hands of another simply because as a Christian you are an easy target; a target that will not fight back by meeting evil with evil?

You see, whether you sin by responding to an unjust attack with a similar counter attack, or simply let it pass without response, you still will have to endure through the suffering.  “But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” [1 Peter 2:20b, 21]  To what have we been called?  To suffering?  Well… yes, but you are suffering for a mission, with a purpose.  What purpose?  That others will see your life and how you live it and give glory to Jesus, your Good Shepherd.

Think of how much Jesus suffered for you; think about His passion to save you, and then remember the wonderful gift of complete forgiveness that is yours because you have been baptized.  Isn’t that enough to move you into a condition of heart that simply desires to listen to the voice of your Shepherd and follow Him through this dark valley you are passing through?

Do you Remember the choice we were given in the beginning of our message?  You can either pass through that danger with or without Him?  Now before you answer, consider what your Good Shepherd did to save you.  “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him (that is God the Father) who judges justly.  He himself bore (your) sins in his body on the tree, that (you) might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed (that is you have complete forgiveness of sin).  For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” [1 Peter 2:22-25]  Do you really want to wander away from all that your Good Shepherd provides?

I trust that the voice of your Good Shepherd has put your little feet back on the straight and narrow, so now, let’s follow Him as He shows us how to live our lives in both the obligation to bless and glorify God and to bless each other and our neighbor with His service to us and through us.

Let’s be clear on something, God does not need our worship nor our service.  God is God and He neither lacks or needs a thing.  But He insists that we both worship and glorify Him and serve our neighbor.  Why?  Because we need Him and your neighbor needs you.  We need to meet God and receive His divine service, and we receive that very thing when we gather around the teaching of the apostles in His Word and the breaking of bread, that is His Holy Supper, where Jesus gives us both His body and blood, for the forgiveness of sins.  We need to hear Him speak forgiveness to us, but we also need to ask for it; that is we need to speak to Him in prayer.  In other words friends, we need God’s Divine Service so that we can continue to follow our Good Shepherd as He leads us out.

Again, let’s consider where He leads us out to; He leads us out to be with first our brothers and sisters in Christ (that is, the church), and then He leads us out to be with our neighbors who are lost little sheep without the Good Shepherd.  To get an idea of how this life style might look, let’s read a portion of our first reading: “And all who believed (that is all who were given the gift of faith through the Word of God about their Good Shepherd), were together and had all things in common.  And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.  And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” [Acts 2:44-47]

That dear friends is a picture of a wonderful and forgiven flock of sinful sheep that simply have learned to trust their Good Shepherd.  All who believed were willing to trust all that they had to the use of their Good Shepherd.  All who believed were reminded that all that they had was simply a gift from the very One who was still leading them into an eternity where there would be no more suffering nor pain, sorrow nor offense, sin nor death.  That is where their Good Shepherd was leading them, and that is where He is leading us.

Isn’t it a little thing to simply follow the One who has given and done so much for us?  Is it too much for Him to ask, that as we go on our way following Him, that we praise Him and tell everyone what He has done for us and for them?  Shouldn’t we have glad and generous hearts that freely give as we have received?

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” We confess in the Creed, “I believe in one holy Christian and apostolic Church.” We believe what we cannot see. We cannot see the unity in the body of Christ, instead we see division. We cannot see the holiness of the church, instead, we see sin. But we must have faith, not in what we see, but in what Jesus our Good Shepherd says.

When we place our faith in His Word, we will find that our unfaithfulness is simply no match for His faithfulness. He who gave his life for the sheep has never accepted our sin; He died for it!  He has never excused our sin; He forgives it!  His voice, is what unites us with Him. His voice is what unites us with each other. His voice – his holy Word – is our greatest treasure in this life. It leads us through some pretty dark and rough times, and it teaches us how to receive and share God’s heavenly treasures here in Christ’s Church on earth.  May each of us forever follow His voice as He leads us to our eternal heavenly home… Amen!

By His Stripes!

Sunday, May 15th, 2011

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Easter 4A, May 13 2011
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Christ is risen, He is risen indeed!  “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree (on the cross) that we might die (that is cease to exist) to sin and live to righteousness.  By His wounds (by His many stripes from all of the crucifixion) you have been healed.” [1 Peter 2:24]  Jesus, our Good Shepherd is calling out to us this morning to follow Him!  We should follow Him, because we are His sheep; we hear His voice and we follow.  The Jews, children of Abraham were His sheep by blood, but they refused to hear His voice; they refused to follow His as children of faith.  They would not enter by the door, because Jesus claimed to be the door, and so they would not follow His voice.  Instead, they beat Him and hung Him on the cross, hoping to silence the very voice that would save them.  What they meant for evil God used for good, our good.  You see, by the same suffering of the whip and cross God brought salvation, healing from sins, and complete forgiveness.  This is the true healing that Jesus wounds, His stripes provided.  This is a fellowship of healed and forgiven sinners; lost and now found sheep!

Another way to speak of this fellowship is to call it a sheep pen!  When Jesus used this metaphor in our gospel reading He was of course speaking of the church, His body which is made up of true Christians.  I trust that by faith in your Good Shepherd, you have heard His voice in His Holy Word and Sacraments and you are resting in that flock!

Let me ask you a question, how did you get into this pen that contains Christ flock?  Was it because you are wise and prudent?  Was it because you wanted to simply cover all of the bases concerning the afterlife, so you simply entered just to be on the safe side?  Maybe you just followed your parents, family, or friends here and you have learned to be comfortable among the other sheep?  If so, you are not part of our flock; you may rest if that’s what you seek, but soon our Good Shepherd will find you out and cast you away with these Words, “Away from me!  I never knew you!”  And then you will be cast out into the complete darkness where there will be only eternal misery and pain!  But if you are here because you heard His voice through His Word and you followed, then by His stripes you are healed!  If you are here because in His Law you heard your shepherd call out to you and prove that you were lost in your sins, and then you heard in His gospel promise that He found you and forgave you, healed you of your many sins, well then you are found and you are certainly part of His flock!

You see, this is a fellowship of lost and hurting sheep; sheep who were once lost but now found.  Here in this fellowship we have found peace and joy, but we still know pain and suffering.  We are hurting people who are raw with emotion and pain.  Don’t pretend that you don’t still experience sickness, pain, disappointment, and hard times.  It’s alright to admit that; we all go through it.  Admit that you either right now or in the past have been raw, beaten up by life, but also be willing to testify to others that because you have turned to hear you Good Shepherd’s voice, because you have entered into fellowship with Him and other raw and hurting sheep of His flock, you have found rest!

You know, raw is a word that I find hard to like!  Raw rice is too hard and raw oysters are too slimy!  Raw humor tends to be too dirty and raw skin is too painful!  As a matter of fact, anything that’s raw and centered around people tends to be disgusting!  But the truth is friends, we live in a world that is full of raw people; they’re all around us!  Have you ever wondered how many people in our community or even in this congregation are struggling with sexual lusts, alcohol and drug abuse, rage and the effects of rage?  Think for a moment and consider just how many people have been or are victims of these terrible things we call sin!  Do you think they will ever find help with their raw human needs, needs that surround us every day?  They will, if they hear the voice of “their” good shepherd!  How will they hear?  They will hear through the bleating of fellow raw and hurting sheep!  They will hear through you!

We are our Good Shepherd’s flock, sheep of His pasture and pen!  We cannot afford as a church to simply live out a “business as usual” mindset when so many raw and hurting people are dying without Jesus Christ!  What is a business as usual mindset?  It is thinking that church, the flock of Jesus Christ exists only for you the sheep of His pasture.  It’s thinking that the business of the church, the mission of the flock is to hold Sunday services, which satisfies only the needs of the flock.  Who are the flock?  Anyone else who wants to speak like us, dress like us, or worship like us.  These kinds of congregations are only living to die, and soon they will do just that!  But as the Good Shepherd’s flock, we know that we do not exist for our own glory and comfort, but instead we exist for God’s glory.  And we know that God is glorified when other lost sheep are brought into the flock and the flock grows by adding more and more hurting and raw sheep!

The truth is friends, only churches that are serious about rescuing the lost and hurting sheep will survive and make a difference… and friends that must be us!  It must be us because it is God’s will!  How can we remain a flock, a congregation that pleases our Good Shepherd?  By continuing to be a healing fellowship where hundreds, maybe even thousands of lost and raw sheep can find rest and a home of healing.  How do we do this?  By following our Good Shepherds example; we must learn to trace His example and make it our life’s calling and passion.  Listen to St. Peter’s words in our Epistle lesson: “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you and example, so that you might follow in His steps.”[1 Pet. 2:21]  Let me illustrate this point with a couple of examples.

When I was a child, I wanted to learn how to draw portraits.  I tried and tried, but my portraits always looked like a little child drew them.  Then one day, I found some tracing paper in my father’s desk.  I put that paper over a picture of my great grandmother, and I began to trace every shape and feature that made up her face.  When I removed the tracing paper from the portrait I discovered that I had a perfect outline of the face, but it lacked dimension and depth.  So I began to add shading and definition the best I could.  Now when I was done, my mother saw the picture and commented on what a good job I had done, and how it resembled someone, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it.  “Its grandma” I responded, somewhat disappointed as I showed here the portrait I was copying!  “Oh, of course it is” she replied.  “Now I can see that.  What a nice picture” she replied!  And as far as I know my mother still has that traced picture put away with here valuable and important pictures.  And friends, that is what we do every day.  Every day we follow the example of our savior, walking the same way He did.  We deal with the same disappointments and pain that He dealt with.  At first we are just tracing His image, but soon our faith deepens and our confidence in His voice strengthens, and we begin to add depth and nuances that begin to look more like Jesus.  And if people aren’t quite sure what to make of our lives, we will simply point out who are Good Shepherd is and why we are following Him.  In that way, our lives will become attractive to others.

And speaking of following, let me close with one last story.  When I was a young Border Patrol Agent, I was assigned to work with a living legend in the Border Patrol.  He was famous for following sign or evidence that is left behind by a person.  In essence he leaned the art of following footprints and other things.  One night I was assigned to go with him to downtown San Diego and meet up with San Diego Police officers who were looking for some gang members that killed a San Diego police officer.  I knew nothing about the art of tracking, so he told me to stay out of the way and simply follow him and learn.  I stayed very close to him, as he explained what he was doing and what he was looking for, finding and following!  It took a very long time, and I was cold and hungry, but He said that we must keep going.  After several hours, to my amazement, he moved a piece of plywood and found empty shell casing.  After another hour, under a pile of trash he discovered the weapon that was used to kill the officer.  And one hour after that, he followed the sign to a back door of a residence.  Our job was over; the police officers took over, and later that night on the news I heard that they had arrested three gang members for the murder of that police officer.

The point of this story is this friends, we are to follow the way that Jesus went.  It is a way that was full of pain and sorrow; it was the way of the cross.  As we follow our Good Shepherd we too will know pain, suffering, sickness, sorrow, and even death.  But we will encounter all of these things with the confidence of knowing that by His stripes, by His wounds we are healed of all of our sins and assured that God loves us and will never leave us.  We are assured that because He has risen indeed, so shall we.  We are assured that as we are tracing our Masters portrait and looking more like Him every day, one day we shall be just like Him!  Because we hear His voice in His Word we are assured that just as He has overcome the grave so shall we! 

But we also must understand that just as we were found lost, hurting, and raw, Jesus wants to do the same thing with others within our community through us!  How will he do this?  The same way He did it for you, through His voice, though the living Word of God that lives in you!

So when you leave this place this morning knowing that you are forgiven and loved, don’t just live a life that only looks forward to next Sunday, but live a life that follows your Good Shepherd Jesus Christ.  And when you follow Him, be prepared.  He is seeking out people who do not want to be found; not to punish them but to give them pardon and forgiveness!  In this way, you are like I was long ago following behind that living legend looking for the bad guys.  You must stay out of the way with your prejudices and self-interests and simply learn from the master; you must learn that even those “raw” people who are straying away like sheep, are called to return to the Shepherd and Overseer of their souls, Jesus Christ!”  May God equip us to do this very thing.  In Jesus name… AMEN!