Archive for October, 2009

Reformation: Let’s Do It Again!

Sunday, October 25th, 2009

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

 INTRODUCTION:  In 1505, a young but brilliant German law student named Martin Luther found himself caught in the open, on foot during a violent thunder storm.  As lightening struck the ground all around him, Luther in fear for his life threw himself on the ground, and with his face in the mud, he begged God to have mercy on him and spare his life.  He entered into “negotiations” with God by stating that while he knew he was a sinner, if God would spare his life, he would then dedicate his life to Him and become a monk.

 Luther did survive, and true to his word he became an Augustinian monk.  During his time in a monastery, Luther tried to work out his salvation and become closer to God through study of the Psalms, prayer, fasting, meditation and hard work.  But no matter how hard he tried, he could not seem to find peace for his troubled soul.  Nothing seemed to shake his feeling that he was a helpless sinner caught in the grasp of an angry and vengeful God.  We might say that Luther began to feel as if he was a flightless bird trapped in a gilded cage.

 In 1507, Luther was ordained to the priesthood and licensed to preach and study Theology at the University of Wittenberg.  Luther’s superiors soon discovered that God had gifted him with a brilliant mind, but yet he seemed to be held back by his now obvious feeling of guilt.  The solution?  Luther must make the pilgrimage to Rome, where church tradition taught that the journey itself would earn merit with God and bring the pilgrim closer to salvation.  Luther was also told that he could purchase certificates of forgiveness called indulgences, which were published by the Pope himself.  These indulgences guaranteed the purchaser of even more favor and love from God.  Well, Luther, ever the obedient monk did as he was told, but he found no peace in the pilgrimage or the possession of indulgences.

 While the story of Martin Luther is for some ancient history it is nonetheless our history, the history of the church.  Historians tell us that if we are to understand our history correctly, then we must learn to identify with it.  This morning, that will be easy for us.  You don’t have to become a monk, Priest or Pastor to put yourselves in Martin Luther’s shoes because we all have something much deeper than this in common with Brother Martin—we all struggle with sin!  If we think of Martin Luther as a flightless bird being held in a cage, then sin was the cage that held him captive.  Today, on Reformation Sunday, we celebrate the freedom that God gave first to Martin Luther and then to the whole church. 

This morning, we’ll look at how we too have been freed from sin and enabled to live as God intends us to live, by learning two concepts.  First, the cage that holds us captive has been opened; and second, we must be given two strong wings so that we can fly out of it. 

 I. The cage of sin can only be opened when God’s Word provides the gift to believe, that is faith.  All of us, like Martin Luther are born trapped in this cage of sin.  No matter how hard we try to free ourselves from our cage, we fail.  This is the hard lesson Luther learned.  It was not until God, through His Word provided Luther with the faith to trust in Jesus that Luther saw the cage of sin opened.  What does scripture say about faith?  Faith comes from the Word of God.  Martin Luther discovered this one evening while studying God’s Word in the privacy of his own room.  Through his devotional reading of our Epistle this morning, Luther received the gift of faith.  Listen to these words, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” [Rom. 3:21-24]

 By those Words, Luther discovered that God is not angrily staying far away from us and we do not have to try hard to reach Him or please Him.  In fact, the opposite is true.  You and I though born sinful and distant from God are not lost at all, for God Himself through Jesus Christ, has come to us so that we who were once lost are now found and released from the bondage of sin.  Through Christ’s work alone upon the cross, and through the gift of new life given to you within the holy waters of your baptism, you are now right with God!  Now while this is certainly Good News, it is not new news, but rather it is the consistent and old gospel of grace, which has been handed down from the very beginning; it had simply been overlaid and hidden by the traditions of men.  But now the cage, which once imprisoned Luther and even us, has been opened and like Luther, we are set free; but free to do what?  Free to follow God’s direction in our lives.   

 II. So Luther, now armed with a vibrant faith through God’s Word was able to rightly understand that Word.  Through God’s love and care, Luther was changed in a way that would impact time and eternity, and God’s desire is that we would also be changed in this way.  Remember that I told you that Luther was like a flightless bird, caught in a cage?  Well, the cage has now been opened, and now Luther and we too, must be provided two strong wings so that we can leave the cage of sin and soar where God wants to lead us.

 A. The first wing for Luther and for us comes from our Lord in these Words: “Come unto me, all you who are tired of carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.”  For Luther there could have been no heavier burden than the burden of sin!  And now Jesus had miraculously removed that burden from him and exchanged it for peace with God.  Luther realized that he could quit working to please God and simply rest in God’s forgiving love.  What did Jesus say in our Gospel reading?  “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. (And) if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  You see friends, not only have we been freed from the bondage of sin, but we have also been invited to rest in God’s love as His adopted sons and daughters.  But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12).  (And) all who are now led by the Spirit of God, are now sons of God.” (Romans 8:14).  What good news!  Rest in this gospel!

What’s preventing you from resting in God’s love?  What’s preventing you from living out this truth?  What is preventing you from becoming all that God has declared for you?  Is it anger, pride, or an unforgiving spirit?  If so, please hear my words, CHRIST HAS SET YOU FREE! 

For some, perhaps what’s holding you back is the very thing that hindered Martin Luther for much of his early life, FEAR!  There is nothing that I can think of that darkens the human heart more than fear in any of its many forms. But those of you who truly trust in Jesus Christ have been saved from all of your fears. You’re delivered from all fear of misfortune; you’re delivered from all fear of other people; you’re delivered from all fear of death; and you’re delivered from perhaps the biggest fear of all, the fear of eternity. Write this question on a card “Where will you spend eternity?” and give it to a person who doesn’t know the Lord, and it will make that person extremely angry; write the same question on a card and hand it to a Christian, and it will make them smile. Why is this? Simply because a person who trust in Christ alone isn’t afraid of eternity, but instead that person delights in the thought of eternity because to that person, eternity means joy, happiness and glory.  

B.  Now let’s look at the second wing that we’ll need in order to soar where God leads.  Jesus said just before He ascended into heaven: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  You see, the second wing God gives us, is His real presence in our lives, which is critical when we as His church and as individuals are obediently following His great commission.  In essence, God wants us to listen to His call and follow Him.  But follow Him where? Well out of the cage of course; out of our bondage to sin and fear and out into our communities, our schools, our places of work, and even into our families to be His Children, the Ambassadors of Jesus Christ.  Well what are we to do?  Well, we are Ambassadors of Christ aren’t we?  Well then we are to represent Him; we are to do the very thing He did, we must seek out and save the lost with the very same gospel and baptism that saved us.  Who are the lost?  They’re the broken people that live in our community.  They’re the people who still live in bondage to sin and fear.  They’re the people who become angry or afraid when asked where they will spend eternity. 

 Dear friends, we must go out to our neighbors and develop relationships of trust by serving them where they are.  We must be Christ to our neighbors!  Which is easier, to bring the City of San Diego into Trinity or for Trinity to go out into our community?  That’s right, now you see, we are being sent out to them!  We do this as individuals when we just simply live our lives at home, work, school, or where ever we go.  But how will we do this as a congregation?  Honestly, we don’t know yet.  That is why we have entered into our sermon series and it’s why we’re praying for God’s vision. 

 CONCLUSION: While we wait for God’s burden for the lost within our community to become His vision for us, we at least know this much: It is God’s desire that we along with Martin Luther and all other Saints learn to soar where he leads us.  But we must soar on two wings, not one.  To live only in the promise “Come unto me you weary and I will give you rest” is to live only half of the life God has provided for us.  Instead, while retaining the first promise, let’s also embrace the second one, which is that God will be with us as we go out into our community with the Good News in a way that will impact the people in our communities for time and for eternity.  Let’s not let our fear hold us back, because He is with us—we are not alone!  He is always with us, even to the end of time.  If we can live out both of these promises, then along with Martin Luther we will have reformed both our own lives of faith and also the faith life of our church.

 May God grant this to you and to His church, in Jesus name…AMEN!

Praying and Planing for a Vision

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

Praying and Planning for a Vision![i]
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego 
click here for the audio of this message

Last week we discovered that God’s vision always starts out as a burden—a feeling that you must act or do something.  It becomes a moral imperative, because it is.  What is that moral imperative?  To seek and save the lost—God has called each of us to help others know His forgiving love through Jesus Christ.  So our vision for our church, our family, and even our employment will always be centered on that truth.  This morning we will talk about that dreaded period of time when it appears impossible for your vision to come true.  We’re talking about those weeks, months, and sometimes even years when circumstances don’t seem to allow you to act upon your vision.  This is the season when you are not yet free to take action, but your passion seems to push you to do something.  Visions often die during this stretch of inactivity; we can become discouraged while maintaining a vision that seems to have very little potential for happening.  It’s during these times that God is calling us to do 2 things: Pray and Plan! 

In 1989, early in my career with the Border Patrol, something terrible happened in my life that would be the beginning of a burden, which in turn God would create into a vision.  One night, a law enforcement friend showed up at my door in tears asking for a place to sleep.  I later found out that his wife had the police remove him from the family home with a restraining order demanding that he not return.  We stayed up and talked most of the night, but it seemed that most of his problems were spiritual in nature.  I did not yet have the expertise to help him sort out all that had happened, was happening, and might happen.  Not knowing what to do, I referred him to his family’s priest. 

The following morning, my cop friend woke up early and waited for the priest to arrive at the church.  About four hours later he returned to my home once again in tears, but this time he was drunk.  He told me that the priest was clueless about the life that cops lived and that he was unable to even sympathize with him.  I spent the next 2 hours with my friend trying to console him, but I had to go to work, so I left him alone.  As I was leaving for work, I told him that he could spend one more night on my couch. 

That night while I was at work, my friend took his own life with his service revolver. 

 As I stated earlier, this incident would be the birth of a burden that God would turn into a vision.  I knew that if my friend could have talked to a clergy with law enforcement experience, there was a good chance he would not have taken his life.  My friend needed a chaplain, but the Border Patrol did not have a program.  I began to research chaplaincy programs with a passion.  I collected every bit of information I could find.  I even recruited my family Pastor and several other clergy to volunteer for the position, provided I could get them the training.  I submitted all of my research, findings, and recommendations to our Chief in the San Diego area and waited.  Very quickly my answer came back…NO!  He did not want church people bothering his agents! 

I began to pray and pray and pray!  I prayed that God would make my dream a reality.  About 2 years later, while I was still praying, but also doubting, God began to work.  My pastor recommended that I seriously consider becoming a lay-minister.  I enrolled in the Deacon program and began studies that would eventually lead to seminary and my ordination.  One day, out of the blue, some 7 years after my friend took his life, I received a phone call from Washington D.C. directing me to report to Border Patrol HQ on temporary assignment to work on a National Border Patrol Chaplaincy Program.  In 1999, God turned my vision into a reality, by establishing the very first National Chaplaincy program in the Border Patrol!  More on this story latter… 

What’s the point of the story?  Prayer kept the vision alive in my heart and God did the rest! 

Prayer is critical towards strengthening our relationship with God and developing the vision He has given.  Why?  Because during these times of prayer are when we begin to see what we are looking for.  Without prayer we can often miss what we don’t expect to find. 

Nehemiah prayed for two things in reference to his vision: He prayed for opportunity and he prayed for favor.  Let’s look at the first part of verse 1:11 to see how he prayed for opportunity: Nehemiah prayed, “O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name and give success to your servant today…”  Normally, we tend to pray for miracles, but in most situations, it is more appropriate to pray for opportunities.  Think of it this way, you have already been given the greatest miracle of all, eternal life.  Through the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, your sins were paid for; you are right with God and eternally forgiven through your baptism; just as Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, you too have been guaranteed that you shall join Him in heaven in a place that He has especially prepared for you!  What greater miracle could you receive?  So since God loves us that much, shouldn’t we be willing to trust and work with Him in fulfilling the vision that He has gives to us?! 

Parents, instead of praying that your child or grandchildren would become a man or woman of Godly character, pray instead for opportunities to help build that character in their lives.  Church, instead of praying that God would bless your church with growth and new life, pray for opportunities to become a part of our church’s mission to go out into the community with the presence, power, and purpose of God…seeking and saving the lost! 

If you pray for an opportunity, most likely you will recognize it when God brings it to you.  Isn’t it interesting that Nehemiah never prayed that God would rebuild the wall, but instead he prayed that God would use him, give him the opportunity to build the wall himself?  This is the difference between dreamers and visionaries.  Dreamers dream about how nice it would be if someone else did something and visionaries look for an opportunity to do it themselves! 

Next, during Nehemiah’s prayer time, he prayed for favor.  Let’s look at all of the 11th verse to see that: “O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”  If God is for us, who can be against us?!  Nehemiah prayed that God would cause King Artaxerxes to take an interest and support his vision; he prayed for the favor of the king.  This was a long shot!  The king wasn’t known to be a compassionate man.  In fact, when Nehemiah finally got his chance to speak to the king, we read that he was frightened out of his wits.  “And the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart.” Then I was very much afraid.” [2:2]  Have you ever been afraid of people that you felt had some sort of power over you?  Has your fear of these people ever seemed to paralyze you from action, like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car?  Nehemiah knew that fear, but he trusted in the God of mercy, who was always with him.  He knew that it was God’s responsibility to relieve the burden and fulfill the vision that He put within his heart. 

Remember that I told you in my story about the Border Patrol Chaplaincy program that I first tried to implement the program here in San Diego, but the local chief turned it down because he didn’t want church people bothering his agents?  Guess what my first assignment was when I returned to San Diego…I was tasked to sell that very same chief on the now national but not mandatory chaplaincy program.  The thinking was that if San Diego, the biggest patrol area in the nation accepted and implemented the program, the rest of the nation would follow.  What did I do?  I began to pray!  What did I pray for?  I prayed that God would change the chief’s heart.  I prayed for the favor of the king!  I spoke to one of the assistant chiefs, and made an appointment with the chief about the chaplaincy program…and this was the advice I was given: “You better come up with a real good reason between now and then, because you already know how he feels about the idea.”  Well, I didn’t do any additional preparation as far as pitching the idea, but I did continue to pray for favor.  One week later I had my face time with the chief, and in 3 short minutes he informed me that he had a change of heart and decided to implement the program.  What’s more, he said that he wanted me to head the program because I demonstrated moral integrity, passion, and determination.   

 Think about this, if God could sway the chief’s heart and King Artaxerxes to do a thing that was not in keeping with their nature, he can certainly change the heart of anyone who stands between your vision or the vision of this congregation!  Humanly speaking, there was no way the king was going to support Nehemiah’s vision.  But prayer takes us well beyond human possibilities doesn’t it? 

Finally, let’s talk about something else you can do during the time it seems your vision is on hold…you can plan.  It is important to spend a good deal of time planning a strategy for implementing your vision.  Don’t let the seemingly impossible things about your vision stop you from putting together your plan. 

If you had the resources, what would you do?  If you had the time, what would you do?  If you knew someone would be sent by God to give you the opportunity, what would you do?  Let’s look at Nehemiah’s plan to get some help with our own planning endeavors: 

Step 1, convince the king to allow me to leave his service so that I can go and rebuild the wall.  Step 2, convince the king to lend financial support to the building project.  Step 3, Get letters from the king to the authorities in the area asking them to give me safe conduct along the way.  Step 4, work out a deal with Asaph, keeper of the kings forest to procure enough lumber to rebuild the gates and a new house for me to live in.  Step 5, ask the king to give me the title of Governor of Judah so that I can govern the people and keep order.  Step 6, Organize and equip the people of Judah.  Step 7, begin construction. 

Whew what a list!  Now I don’t know about you, but the fact that he actually implemented everything that he planned for and asked for makes me feel a whole lot better about God’s leading, guiding, and fulfilling His vision that he gives to me, to you, and to the church! 

Our plan, may not be as intimidating as Nehemiah’s, but we must remember that if our passion is in keeping with God’s moral imperative, to seek and save the lost, to repair broken and lost relationships through the gospel, God will be the one creating, leading, and guiding our vision.  Pray dear friends, pray and plan, because God given visions will not fail.  We must always remember that all God ordained visions for His church, His people, our families, and even our vocation depend entirely upon God working in us and through us to draw all people into a relationship centered in His saving love and grace through Jesus Christ.    

This morning we have learned that when considering our vision, we should follow Nehemiah’s example by spending a lot of time praying and planning. In other words, God wants us to pray and plan for an opportunity to work with Him in our visions so that He can do a work in us and through us, so that others may be drawn to him through the finished work of Jesus Christ!  Let’s pray…

[i] This is a series which draws heavily from the book “Visioneering” by Andy Stanley, published by Multnomah Publishers, Inc., ISB #1-57673-538-9

The Birth of a Vision!

Sunday, October 11th, 2009

The Birth of a Vision![i]
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego
Click here for audio of his message

On December 17, 1903 at 10:35 in the morning, Orville Wright secured his place in history by becoming the first person to perform a powered and sustained flight from level ground.  For twelve gravity defying seconds he flew 120 feet along the sand dunes of the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  

Now in the field of aviation, this historic event represents a beginning.  But for Orville and his brother Wilbur Wright, it was the end of a long and tedious journey—it was a journey initiated by a dream that is common to all little boys—the desire to fly.  But what most children abandon and let remain fantasy, Orville and Wilbur insisted on looking at it as a potential reality.  They believed that they could fly!  But more than that, they believed they should fly, and eventually, fly they did! 

This childhood experience sparked in the Wright boys an insatiable desire to fly.  The only thing missing was a means to do it.  So they immediately went to work removing the obstacles that stood between them and their vision to fly.  This morning we will begin a journey learning what a vision is, where it comes from, how it is initiated, and how it becomes a reality.  While what we learn during this time together will have immediate application for following a vision for our church and its ministry within our community, the same concepts can be used to help you develop and follow multiple visions in your personal life. 

What is a vision?  Well, a vision is a concern that God puts on your heart.  In our Old Testament reading we join a man named Nehemiah who was one of the many Jews who were captivated by the Persian Empire when the nation of Judah was defeated.  The capital city of their nation, Jerusalem was also the home of God’s Holy temple.  It was left ransacked and inhabitated by only a remnant of Jews and other people who were moved into Judah by the Persians.  One day, while Nehemiah was at work within the Persian king’s palace, a group of men who still lived in Jerusalem met with him and reported this: “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.” (vs. 3) Not only were these things true, but Nehemiah also learned that the Temple and its worship practices were not being maintained and that the remaining Jews had all but abandoned their worship of God and they had adopted the religious practices and cultures of the surrounding nations. 

Now this probably was not new news to Nehemiah or any of the other Jews held captive in Persia.  Undoubtedly he had heard this type of report before, but this time something new happened to him…he felt an overwhelming concern; in fact he felt this concern so deeply that he began to weep.  Now Nehemiah was not the type of man who wept at the drop of a hat.  He wasn’t weak and he certainly wasn’t emotionally unstable.  But he was now burdened, and his burden led him into a prolonged period of prayer and fasting.  

Little did Nehemiah know that these deep feelings were the initial birth pangs of a vision that you and I would be reading about in our Bibles thousands of years later.  The point is, Nehemiah’s vision didn’t begin as a vision.  It began as a concern…and a burden; a burden for his nation and for his people. 

But a burden doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to take immediate action.  As a pastor, I talk to a lot of people with a ton of good ideas.  Many times, I get the sense that God is truly beginning the process of creating a vision within their hearts.  The problem with almost all of these ideas is that they want to implement them RIGHT NOW!  Once they feel that their idea is from God, they assume that all systems are a go, and they must drop anything in their lives that will hinder that vision.  They want to step out in faith and start right away.  But the story of Nehemiah, along with numerous other Biblical accounts illustrates the truth that burden does not necessarily mean you have a green light to begin relieving that burden; not yet anyhow.  You see, a burden rarely requires immediate action.  It does however, require patience and prayer. 

Why wait?  Why can’t we just plunge right in?  Because developing or discovering a vision for our church and its ministry or even in a particular area of our lives takes time—God’s time.  Vision development is a process.  Sometimes it can even be a painful process because of the time it requires.  But it is a process that yields a product worth every bit of agony we may encounter along the way. 

Now, revving our vision engines at the starting line feels like a waste of time.  “After all, there are people to rescue, relationships to save, and even blessings to receive!  So what’s the use of waiting?”  Friends, it’s this sense of wasting time that is the very thing that compels many people to act far too soon.  The assumption of our culture is that if we aren’t moving on, nothing’s going to happen.  But this isn’t the case at all, because you see, while we are waiting… 

God is developing the vision within us.  As God is working within our hearts and the circumstances of our lives, He is also developing His vision within us.  What starts out as a burden and a seed of an idea begins to grow.  As God’s vision is developing within us, He is also maturing us in preparation for implementing His vision.  Now please hear this, because the difference between holding onto a vision and allowing it to fade away as fantasy depends on this truth:  If you are following a God given vision, God will ensure that it matures into a reality because He is the One at work behind the scenes preparing the way for it. He is the One preparing the way!  If God is the One who has given us the vision and God is the One is preparing the way for it to come true, then we want to make sure we are working with Him and not against Him.  We want to work where God is already working!  

But how do we know if a burden we carry is from God or instead centered in our own self-serving desires?  Well friends, a God given vision will eventually feel like a moral imperative, because it is!  The author of our Epistle lesson [Heb. 3:12-19] knew the importance of shutting out all other messages and motivations and focusing only on God’s will as declared in the gospel.  Listen, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.” [vs. 12]   Our Lord also warned about false security when He turned the young rich man’s heart away from money and personal accomplishments and talents, and instead directed his faith to God’s leadership and care.  Listen to His Words of life: “You lack one thing: go sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”  Our Lord’s point was not that the young man’s riches and accomplishments were evil, but instead His point was that the young man trusted in those things primarily and not in God’s mercy, love, and forgiveness in his life through our God in human flesh, Jesus Christ!  What the author of our Epistle lesson and our Lord are saying to us is that we must first center our desires and plans on the will of God and everything else will fall into place.  What is the will of God?  That by faith we will trust in Jesus Christ, confess our sinfulness to Him, and believe that He will forgive us! 

Nehemiah also knew that God’s will—His love and forgiveness, were the key to God’s favor and intervention for his fellow Jews in Judah and God’s city and temple in Jerusalem.  Listen to his confession as he communicates this imperative in a wonderfully humble manner: “O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’  They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name. [Neh. 1:5-11] 

Dear friends, all God ordained visions will always be in line with what God is up to in our community.  What is God up to in our community?  Why the very same thing that He is up to in every community and every nation in the world…forgiveness of sins and salvation for all people.  Listen to the Words of our Savior as he was preparing Himself and His disciples for His eminent and violent death upon the cross:  “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 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.” [Matt. 11:28-30] 

What will God’s vision for us entail?  Nothing less that taking on the yoke of Jesus Christ; taking on the burden of proclaiming God’s means of salvation to those who are dying within our community!  But before we can prepare to receive God’s vision for how we will do this, He wants us to first confess to Him as individuals and as a congregation, that we have not been faithful in declaring His message to our neighbors.  We must confess to Him that we have not always been a bright light of grace within our community that has been so badly darkened by sin.  We must then ask Him to show us how to make His will our desire and our vision in our ministry to our neighbors.  

You see friends, all God ordained visions for the church; His people, our families, and even our vocation depend entirely upon God working in us and through us to draw all people into a relationship centered in His saving love and grace; the same relationship you now enjoy with Him because of your baptism.  In short, God wants you to work with Him in all that you do so that He can do a work through you, so that others may be drawn to him through the finished work of Jesus Christ!  I pray that as we progress in our messages these next six weeks, that this burden… the burden that was the burden of Nehemiah and that of the church since its conception, would now be your burden… our burden, and that together we would continually as a congregation lift this burden up in prayer as we seek God’s vision for our congregation, our families, and our lives.  I pray and ask this in Jesus name….AMEN!

[i] This is a series which draws heavily from the book “Visioneering” by Andy Stanley, published by Multnomah Publishers, Inc., ISB #1-57673-538-9

Our God Reigns!

Sunday, October 4th, 2009

18th Sunday after Pentecost, October 3, 2009

A prepared sermon adapted and proclaimed by

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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Today we celebrate Lutheran Women’s Missionary League Sunday using the theme from their convention earlier this year in Portland, Oregon: “Look to the Hills…God Reigns!”  Our Scripture texts – 2 of them – move our eyes and lift our senses to undefined hills and mountains. Now let’s put some definition to those hills and mountains by turning our mind’s eye to the Word of the Lord: Psalm 121:1-2 (NIV) I lift my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. Isaiah 52:7 (NIV) How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God Reigns.”  So let’s look to the Hills.  Why?  Because God Reigns!


Here in Southern California, we seem to always be suffering from what we feel is a lack of rain… a lack of water.  It’s easy to forget that technically we live in the “high desert” where water is always a short commodity.  But even here, God also blesses us with life-giving water-rain. As we receive the blessing of rain, we “praise God from whom all blessings flow,” in creative ways. In the Oregon Convention Center where the LWML met in June, there is a nine-acre roof. Those nine acres of rainfall that fall on that roof don’t go into the storm drains, instead they’ve created a Rain Garden that captures all the rain, which in turn is used to water the landscape surrounding the Convention Center.


At the Lady’s convention, it was suggested that everyone turn their umbrella upside down and catch the blessings while they were in Portland. And if they didn’t have an umbrella, they were told to simply open their hands to catch the blessings that flow down from their gracious creator!  Our God Reigns – He Reigns on us abundantly!  With upturned faces and upturned, expectant hands we receive the bountiful blessings which flow from the King of Kings, the Lord of Lord, Your God Reigns!

That majestic word “REIGN” doesn’t comes up in your day-to-day conversation very much—except for some teenagers who say things like “Hannah Montana reigns” or “the Jonas Brothers reign!” We just don’t use that word much anymore. Reign is the period of time during which kings and queens exercise their term of office. If someone is reigning then someone else is being led. Reign means someone else in charge. But what does it mean, when we say that “God Reigns?”  What do you think the original audience that heard about Isaiah’s vision thought when they heard “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news …GOD REIGNS”? It sure didn’t look like it! “God Reigns?—whatever!”  You see, they were captives – in Babylon – which is modern day Baghdad, Iraq. There were no hills or mountains in sight! They were there against their own will. They were hostages; captives who were forcefully exiled and deported to Babylon. They were trapped in virtually the hottest and flattest city in the Middle East.  But they could remember what the hills in their native land looked like before they were deported.  It would be wonderful news to know that someone else would soon reign over them! For Israel this was awesome news. They were in exile, and it seemed that their God had lost his power. Around them they saw only the temples and adornments of the false gods of the Babylonians.

Do you ever get that helpless feeling? There is so much that happens around us – there are other powers which look much greater and more powerful than we do as the church of Christ.  Christians are in the minority. Christians seem to be losing influence and often are publically ridiculed.  In the Pacific Northwest where the ladies’ convention was held, participants were told they were visiting the “None Zone.” What’s the “None Zone?” It’s the most popular religious preference checked off in a survey.  What is your religious preference? Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, Lutheran, Other?  Religious preference? NONE!   NONE – the most popular choice there– hence it is called the “none zone.” The powerful, false gods, of our time and our society are worshipped there, but not in churches.  Groups gather in large buildings, but those buildings or stadiums or malls are not churches. Like Babylon, they live in a place where they seemingly are held captive. They need GOOD NEWS.  Well, we’ve got some good news for them…as impossible as it might seem, OUR GOD REIGNS!


The holy writer says, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news…” The captives couldn’t see the mountains that were over 100 miles away … Yet their faith’s eye could see them! They couldn’t see those blessed hills, but they could hear the message “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘God Reigns.’” (Isaiah 52) What a promise, even in the midst of despair. Their hope was refreshed in a desert of desertion and despair and so is our faith and the faith of our neighbors. We get to go home! Our God Reigns! That kind of good news comes from the hills all around us.


In Paul’s letter to the Romans – Paul was talking to people who knew something about politics, power, and reigning monarchs and Caesars. Using the power-words “God Reigns,” Paul speaks right to the heart, where God wishes to reign as your only Lord. The word “reign” is used four (4) times in the following bible passage – listen for reigning… Rom 5:17-21 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.


Dear friends do you hear that good news?  You Reign…you reign with your conquering Savior, Jesus. …so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5: 17-21 NIV) Grace reigns! The Risen Jesus is now our reigning Lord and Savior.  If trespasses have been reigning in your life, Your God Reigns!  If debts have reigning in your life, Your God Reigns!  If sin has been reigning in your life, Your God Reigns!


In one of the more contemporary translations of the Lord’s Prayer, archaic language gives way to English the way we speak it today in America. Gone are the words “trespasses” and “debts.”  Instead, you find the real day to day word: SINS. “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Those words speak of the free gift of victory and good news. “Forgive us our sins….”  “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us…” The good news is yours. Shout it from the hill tops, how beautiful on the mountains are the feet that bring you that good news. Forgiveness is ours!


Friends, would you please take out your bulletin and look at the Logo on it.  See those hills, all decked out in Purple? I lift my eyes to the hills…My help comes from the Lord…Our Golden Creator;…Our Royal Purple Redeemer;…Our Green Growth Sanctifier.  Our awesome and reigning God dresses His creation in golden waves of grain, purple mountain majesty, and the green, green grass of home and growing faith. Gold, Purple, and Green – Look to the Hills friends, God Reigns.


Did you know that purple and gold are the official colors of the LWML?  Would you like to know why?  Well, according to the Southern Illinois Lutheran Woman’s Quarterly Supplement, October 1948, the Southern Illinois district was the first to adopt the colors, purple symbolizing royalty, and gold, symbolizing value and integrity. Shortly thereafter, the LWML Executive Board adopted purple and gold as their colors.  Here is the wording of actual motion: “Motion was made by Mrs. Emil Frank to recommend that the colors Purple and Gold as suggested in the Handbook, be adopted as the official League colors.  Action – Adopted.” That was 1951.  Those LWML ladies who dress in purple are following Him who was dressed in purple for us!


Jesus was mocked in purple, and crowned with thorns, mocked as royalty.  Mark 15:16-20 16 The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. 17 They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. 18 And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” 19 Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. 20 And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him. (NIV)  Jesus decided to reign in love and sacrifice and not with might and power. It is your Jesus, who was mocked in purple and crowned with thorns that reigns for you today! Jesus, mocked in purple and crowned with thorns, gave Himself so that each of us can have the courage to wear purple for the rest of eternity, sons and daughters of the King!  Isaiah 52:7 says it with joy to captives and homesick people: “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God Reigns.”


Whose beautiful feet bring this message? Who brings good news? Who proclaims peace? Who brings good tidings? Who proclaims salvation? Who says, “God Reigns!”? It’s Jesus! How does Jesus do this?  By rising from the dead!  When Jesus Christ rose, he reigned! He reigned over sin, death, and the devil, and became our champion. Ever since, the church has been going to the ends of the earth, baptizing and making disciples.


The LWML mission is to help proclaim the saving message of the one with beautiful feet who washes away the sin of the whole world. With Word and Sacrament, with preaching and baptizing, believers have been his hands and feet, proclaiming his unconditional love by word and deed.  Acts 1:8 “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  From Jerusalem to Antioch to Rome, to Wittenberg, to Portland, to the Pacific Rim, to San Diego….even to Babylon’s Baghdad… all around the world, witnesses of the mighty acts of God, believe it themselves…and can’t help but be a league of missionaries.  Good news bubbles up and gets shared. In the book of Acts, in 30 short years, we find recorded 95 people by name in 54 cities, in 32 countries, and 9 Mediterranean Islands. It is said that they turned the world upside down, proclaiming the gift of Jesus.  All this from a Savior in a purple robe, a crown of thorns, seven words from the cross, and an empty tomb, an empty shelf, and an empty table that today holds the very body and blood of the resurrected one, Jesus.


The closest you’ll ever get to Jesus, this side of heaven, is in the miracle of the Word and the Sacrament. In Holy Communion we share the reality of Jesus Christ who proclaims the good news, peace, good tidings, and salvation. He reigns and His royal decree is that we share this feast of the Lord’s Supper when we are together in His Name. We can have the courage to wear His purple robe, now a robe of righteousness that he freely grants us in His love.

Our God is an awesome God…he reigns from heaven above… In every age, God performs the mighty acts of faith in life and action among us. We are built up, refreshed, and renewed with a sense of awe because our God reigns! The problem is, how do you teach old Christians new “awe?” Jesus knew then, and He knows now; He did it in the Sacrament of the Altar.  Luke 21:30 When he was at the table with them, he took break, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him.”


May God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit work this miracle or awe and wonder in each of our hearts as we gather at His Holy table, eagerly expecting Jesus miraculous presence and power in our lives.  In Jesus name we ask this… AMEN!