Archive for April, 2010

Pay Careful Attention!

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Fourth Sunday after Easter, April 25, 2010
 
Click here for audio of this message

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers,to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. (V. 28)

Dear friends, I am not the Good Shepherd, I am just a called sheep from within the flock.  St. Paul is not the Good Shepherd, he is simply an inspired sheep from within the flock.  But Jesus is “the Good Shepherd,” [Jn. 10:11], because He alone is “the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.” [I Pet. 2:25] 

This Sunday we celebrate “Good Shepherd” Sunday.  Today we remember that Jesus as our Good Shepherd is the author and perfector of our faith.  We remember that Jesus is still very much in control of His church, even our own little congregation that we call Trinity.  In all of our readings we are reminded of this.  In our Epistle reading we are comforted with these Words: The Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” [Rev. 7:17] And in our Gospel reading Jesus Himself reassures us with the words: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” [Jn. 10:27-28]

Friends, we are Christ’s flock; the sheep of His pasture.  We are His church, a united flock, and not a large number of individual sheep. We are a fellowship of believers who commonly share in our Good Shepherd’s Gospel And the means through which we share this gospel is also common among us, it is called faith. As His sheep we also share in other spiritual and mutual gifts. God creates this common fellowship by calling us into a partnership with His Son so that we share in all of Christ’s works, blessings, glory, and goods. This fellowship, this flock is a union of believers in Christ which transcends race, politics, social status, and even death.  And it is a fellowship that is to be ever growing and expanding. 

Now, because living in this fellowship within Christ’s flock, is living in the very body of Christ, Paul warns all of us sheep who are called to be pastors to “Pay careful attention to ourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made us overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 

Dear friends, when you call a pastor to serve this congregation, you are calling him to serve with you and among you as one who has been equipped and trained.  It is another of our Lord’s great mysteries; a sheep equipped by our Lord to shepherd other sheep.  My ministry as your pastor is in fact, your ministry… it is our ministry together. 

Paul’s ministry and our ministry here at Trinity, must be entirely open and known to all.  It must be subject to the judgment of friends and enemies alike. So like Paul, each pastor’s ministry must be transparent and centered on working tirelessly towards building up the saints within his own congregation and then together with the saints, focused on working towards gathering other lost sheep within the community.  Dear friends, each of you have been called to work beside me within this ministry as God has equipped you. 

 As your pastor, Paul challenges me and all pastors to lead each flock “with humble-mindedness and tears and trials.”  These three traits marked Paul’s own “work for the Lord” and they should be the marks of every pastor who has been called to shepherd Christ’s flock!   But friends, don’t be fooled into thinking that the tears that Paul is talking about were tears related to his trials or the attacks of men.  Paul withstood these things without so much as a quivering lip! No these tears that Paul speaks of were the tears that were drawn out of a heart wrenched with pain over the repeated rejection of the grace of Jesus Christ! Just as Jesus wept over the sinful and continuous rejection of His grace by the people of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41), Paul shed many tears for those from within his community who refused to be saved!  We, too, by the work of the Holy Spirit will also find ourselves moved to tears, by the continual rejection of God’s love and forgiveness from those within the community which we have been sent to seek and save.  And yet we are continually moved as a congregation to continue on with our best efforts, the proclamation of God’s love and forgiveness.  We are moved to proclaim the gospel and support the ministry of its proclamation no matter the cost!  

The entire gospel, which we have been commissioned to proclaim is centered only in “the repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Friends, you must never let anyone profess or teach within the walls of this sanctuary that salvation, God’s favor and grace can come in any other way!  There must be an actual turning away from a sinful life and a turning to a life of forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  Only then can God’s forgiveness and love come and save a person.  So, repentance includes all of God’s law, and faith includes His entire gospel. 

 Now Paul adds one more trait of a true pastor who is being led by the Good Shepherd… he must not shrink from proclaiming the full counsel of God! (vs. 27)   If Paul was looking for an easy ministry, he might have easily placed his best efforts on the rich and influential.  He might have focused his best efforts on activities that would serve his own personal needs.  He might have kept back some parts of his teaching, because they seemed to run against Jewish bigotry, accepted cultural practices or the ignorance and narrow mindedness of fellow Christians. But Paul always remembered who he must give an account to on the last day. So he proclaimed “the full counsel of God,” the entire will of Jesus Christ. 

 Paul spelled out every doctrine and every Holy truth, and he never altered or toned down a thing. He had no hidden agenda or any strange personal views. He never neglected a part of God’s Word because it seemed to be out of step with the spirit of the times. He put justification by faith into the center of his teaching because that’s right where God puts it!  This morning in this reading, God calls each of us to examine ourselves and to ensure that we are each contributing to support and protect this ministry of repentance and faith.  Paul did it with confidence.  He could say confidently that he was innocent of the blood of any man, because He had obediently declared the full counsel of God. [v. 27] I pray that we as a congregation can we be as bold! 

 Now, in verse 28, Paul moves from using his ministry as an example for future ministries, to addressing current and future threats that each congregation must contend with.  “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” [v. 28] Pastors who have been tasked with caring for others must first be mindful of their own sinfulness.  Paul is telling those of us who are pastors to be clean ourselves before we try to cleanse others. We must remember that we too are sheep who are prone to wonder.  And because we are sheep we must remember that we have also been justified by grace–God’s  own blood. The blood of Christ was and is the price of our salvation.  Pastors and all of the Lord’s sheep have been bought with a great price.  Because of this price we have truly become His own!

 Why must pastors pay so close attention to their own living; to their own beliefs?  Why must congregations be so careful in how they call their pastor?  Well in verse 29 we get our answer: “Because there shall come fierce wolves (from) among you, who will not (spare) the flock.”  But that isn’t all; Paul warns us about yet another attack of the enemy.  In verse 30 he writes: “And from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.”  Yes friends, the enemy, the devil, will attack from outside and from within the body of Christ.  Paul sees the wolves coming. He knows how easily people can be misled and he knows the times. But he also remembers Jesus own warning to the church: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  You will recognize them by their fruits.”  [Matt. 7:15-20]

 Dear friends, Paul and our Lord are stating a certainty.  There will be wolves in sheep’s clothing who will invade the church. In fact, this has been the greatest battle throughout the history of the church.  Each generation brings its own false doctrine that must be defeated.  Every one of these false teachings tears at the very fabric of Christ’s body. But Paul wouldn’t have us become paralyzed with fear; He would remind us that neither he nor your pastors are the good shepherd; Jesus Christ is the only Good Shepherd, and He Himself has built and protects the church.  This is a promise of protection that even the combined efforts of Hell and every demon cannot defeat.

 And yet Christ calls us to join with Him in the work of building and protecting His kingdom.  So, like Paul, we are moved by God’s Word and the working of the Holy Spirit to pour our whole soul into God’s ministry here and throughout the world.  The love of Christ and the presence of God’s Spirit is compelling us to not only believe in His Word, but to ensure that it is proclaimed to as many of our neighbors as possible. His living Word wells up from within our own hearts like a living stream. We don’t have to put our hearts into it; it comes out of our hearts. This is the very power of our congregation’s ministry here within our community.  And this is only possible through the mighty working of God’s Spirit.  God is with us, and He is protecting us!  Through His Word and Holy Sacraments He feeds us and teaches us.  He blesses us and leads us out into His mission field; out into our community. 

 Dear friends, if we keep our hearts and minds centered on God and His means of Grace, then our Good Shepherd promises that we will not only be a congregation centered in His love, but we will also be a healthy and growing congregation.  Here is a divine truth: Heavenly-mindedness does away with earthly-mindedness. It is the thought of our heavenly inheritance that waits for us, which continually leads along with Paul to regard all material things as simply a tool to build God’s kingdom of grace here within our community.  With this common heart and mind, we will regard our time, talents, and treasure as a means to take care of the weak and the poor, and seek and save the lost!  And in order to help us remember this truth Paul shares with us the Words of our Lord Jesus Christ which are only found in this address of Paul: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

 Dear saints, through God’s work among us and within us, these Words amazingly become our heart’s desire; the desire of a congregation that is diligently working within the Lord’s kingdom.  Do you want to be truly blessed?  Then God says give!  Whatever the Lord has equipped and moved you to do for Him is your ministry! Are you a prayer warrior?  We all can pray, but some have that ability as a special gift.  If so, then give.  Be continually in the spirit of prayer for our ministry!  Do you have time and talents that would benefit our ministry?  Then give!  But what about your treasure?  Certainly God moves us to dedicate our money to ministry here in this church!  Do you see what a great calling you have in the ministry of this church?  Maybe you are wondering about the guitar case that has been leaning against the communion rail?  I put it there to make a point.  What is that point?  Well, we have begun a new ministry here at Trinity.  We are close to opening a community ministry school that will focus its time and talent on raising up new Christian artists and musicians within our community for the glory of God and the furthering of His Kingdom.  We also will concentrate on working with God in restoring broken families and at-risk-youth. 

 To our amazement, God has raised up many people from within our community who have become energized with a desire to help make this vision of ministry a reality.  We are just weeks away from our grand opening which has been slated for June 6.  The classrooms have been renovated and the workers to share in this ministry have been raised up from within the harvest just as we prayed for.  There is just one challenge left to overcome.  We are short about $5000.  I say this is a challenge, because it is not a problem.  God will provide!  I ask for your prayers.  Pray that God will provide all that is needed to complete this work.  Pray and ask God if you can afford to donate towards this ministry above and beyond what you normally give.  

 I know that however God leads you to support this ministry you will be blessed.  If you decide to pray for those of us who are here speaking and demonstrating God’s Word and love here in ministry, you will be blessed.  If you are led to volunteer and get involved with our ministry here, you will be blessed.  And if you decide to give towards this ministry above and beyond what you normally give you will be blessed, because “It is more blessed to give than to receive!  In Jesus name… AMEN!

Post-Easter Conversion!

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

Third Sunday after Easter, April 17, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church
Click here for audio of this message
 

Anger, depression, gossip, and murmuring, envy, jealousy… where do these things come from?  I mean, we are Christians; we are living a victorious life as God’s beloved; we’re His redeemed, so why do we struggle with these things?  Well friends, I believe these things come to us when we lose focus on the Easter truth, that Christ is risen indeed!  When we forget that our lives are to be a living memorial of worship to the Lamb who was slain, and rose, and now sits upon the thrown, we can get lost within this world and ourselves!  The truth is friends, once we realize the true meaning of the resurrection—Christ resurrection and our own resurrection, life can never ordinary for us!  Ask yourself this question: Do the ordinary things of life really fill my days with meaning or do I need something more? 

In our first reading this morning, Saul tried to live as if Christ never rose from the dead, but on the Damascus road Jesus confronted, converted, and commissioned him to be his ambassador. In our gospel lesson, Peter and the disciples tried to go back to their fishing— they tried to go back to a business as usual mindset and they caught nothing. But the extraordinary forced its way into their attempt at ordinary living.  Jesus stood on the beach and called out to them, “Children, have you any fish?” Jesus presence that day changed their disappointing fishing trip into an extraordinary experience. 

Today, within the church there are two different types of faith stories.  One is the story of Saul, a zealous man of pride, but he was also who was dramatically confronted with his sin and then converted and regenerated into the spiritual realm. Saul represents those who like him have encountered both the mighty Law of God and the life giving Words of the Gospel, and because of this, they can testify that they have been radically recreated and justified by God even though they were the chief of sinners.  Many of these faithful saints, like Saul can even tell you the exact day they were “born again”!  The other faith story is that of Peter; Peter represents those of us who have walked and talked with Jesus for what seems to be a life time.  We have come to know the stories of grace intimately, yet many times we have fallen into a worldly way of living (that’s a nice way of saying we sinned), and like Peter, we too have needed to be converted back into our baptismal grace, once again living the reality of being justified by Jesus Christ. 

Well first, let’s look at the story of Saul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1–20).  In Saul, we see a very zealous man who actually thought he was doing God a service by hunting down Christians. If you would have stopped him and asked why he was doing this, he might have said something like “God requires it!  Jesus was a fraudulent Messiah, and now he’s a dead Messiah!  And God’s put it in my hands to hunt down those who are still following Him!” 

In spite of his great learning (Acts 26:24), Saul was spiritually dead (2 Cor. 3:12–18); He didn’t understand what the Old Testament really taught about the Messiah. Like many today, he stumbled over the Cross (1 Cor. 1:23) because he was depending on his own goodness and not on the righteousness of God (Rom. 9:30–10:13; Phil. 3:1–10). The truth is friends, self-righteous “religious” people don’t like to be told that they are wrong… they don’t see a need for a full time Savior!  

When Saul of Tarsus found himself laying face down on that dirt road, the Lord allowed him to make some wonderful discoveries! He discovered that Jesus of Nazareth was actually alive! Of course, the believers had been constantly affirming this (Acts 2:32; 3:15; 5:30–32), but Saul had refused to accept their testimony. If Jesus was alive, then Saul was in big trouble—because you see, he had been living as if it was all a lie; if Jesus was alive, then he now had to change his mind about Jesus and His message of repentance and forgiveness; now he too, needed to repent.  What a difficult thing for a self-righteous person to do!  And for Saul that meant that he must admit that he was a lost sinner in danger of facing the judgment of God. It was God’s Law, which struck Him like a bolt of lightening and said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting!” (Acts 9:5, nkjv). All this time, Saul thought he had been serving God, when in reality he had been serving his own religion and pride, and in turn he was also persecuting the Messiah! 

Now let’s look at the story of Peter.  In our lesson for today the disciples of Jesus had lost their focus. They were confused and weary. They needed a break. They had been through so much. They saw their Master crucified on a cruel cross. It easily was the lowest point in their lives. They had invested everything they had into following Jesus—including three years of their lives. When they saw him nailed between two thieves, it was as if everything they had worked for had been without meaning. No one could know their pain and disillusionment. 

Now since then, they had already seen their risen Lord on numerous occasions.  They knew He had risen, but they hadn’t come to terms with what that mean for them!  He kept popping up in locked rooms and on dusty roads.  They had to be wondering, “When will He show up again and what will he find me doing when He does?”  The disciples were still trying to sort through all of this when it seems Peter said, “Come on fellas.  Let’s not worry about all of this.  Let’s go fishing!” And they all agreed. A familiar night of fishing would help them clear their heads and get focused once again. It sounded like the perfect remedy for their stressed out souls. They grabbed their nets, untied their boat and launched out. Unfortunately, they fished all night without any luck. Do you know how those tired men felt?  Haven’t you experienced that as well?  Isn’t it true that many times the same old way of doing things no longer seems to bring joy or meaningful results!  That’s how it was with the apostles; as the sun began to shine, their nets were still empty and they were tired, but then they saw a stranger on the beach.   We might say that the apostles lost their resurrection focus, because they didn’t even recognize Jesus.  Maybe this little humorous story will help illustrate the apostle’s problem, which might also be our problem at times as well. 

A man showed up at church with his ears swollen and painfully blistered. After the service, his concerned pastor asked “What in the world happened to you?”  The man replied, “I was lying on the couch yesterday afternoon watching a ball game on TV and my wife was ironing nearby. I was totally engrossed in the game when she left the room and the hot iron near the phone. The phone rang and keeping my eyes glued to the television, I grabbed the hot iron instead of the phone and put it to my ear.”

“Ok” said the pastor with a smile, “but how did the other ear get burned?”  “Well” said the man, “I had no more than hung up and the guy called again.”

     Now there is a man whose focus was on the wrong thing. He was so caught up in watching the game; he didn’t know the difference between a telephone and a hot iron.  And so it was with the disciples.  They sere so caught up with their own cares and concerns that they thought the voice of their Savior was the voice of a stranger. 

“Any luck?” Jesus called out to them. “Nope!” they called back.  “Well, cast the net on the other side of the boat,” the stranger replied, “and you’ll find some big ones there.” So they did, and this time their net was loaded with fish. The disciple John turned to Simon Peter and said, “It’s the Lord.” 

Well duh!  Who else could it be? Who else has control over both land and sea?  Of course, it was the Lord. Like the hot iron on the man’s ear in our little story, Jesus was about to reenter their lives in a powerful way.  He was getting ready to readjust their focus.  It was time for Jesus to confront his disciples about what lay ahead of them. That’s why he was there interrupting their fishing trip. It was time for them to come to grips with what he expected them to do; not what they wanted to do!  It was time for them to wrap up their old lives—their old way of doing things and to move on. They wanted to go back to their nets; to that familiar way of life, but Jesus had bigger things in mind. Sometimes Christ comes to us and CONFRONTS us in order to pull us from one dimension of life into a more important one. 

 Christ comes to CONFRONT us when we would shrink back from our responsibilities at home, at work or at His church. He comes to CONFRONT us when we would rather murmur and complain, instead of becoming a part of His ministry and marching forward towards our destiny and our calling.  Christ comes to confront us when we prefer to live in the shadows rather than walking in the bright sunshine of service for Him. The disciples simply wanted to go back to their boat, but Jesus came to them. He CONFRONTED them. Their ministry, their service to Him was not over. 

The boat has been pulled up on shore. They’re sitting around a charcoal fire now. The disciples now recognize their risen Lord, but they just can’t figure out what His resurrection means for them. While they are lost in their thoughts the resurrected Christ takes some bread and breaks it and gives it to them. Then also the fish; how awesome this must have been, sitting at breakfast with God the Son as your host!  What do you say at a time like this?  Well, the disciple knew that there was nothing you could say, you simply confess your sinfulness and receive what ever the Lord offers.  So they sat there silently.  Then Jesus turns to Simon Peter and knowing his heart asks one of the most famous questions in the Scripture, “Simon Peter, do you love me?” I say he asked this knowing his heart, because he asked it three times.  How many times did Peter deny Jesus before His crucifixion?  That’s right three times!  Jesus, knowing Peter’s heart knew that Peter’s guilt over his betrayal was almost unbearable; that is why he asked the question three times.  Each time Jesus was acknowledging Peter’s confession of guilt for each separate sin.  The hammer of God’s Holy Law had done its proper work on Peter’s heart; he was already humbled, and now Christ would bring healing with the Gospel, “Feed my sheep.  Feed my lambs. Peter Feed my sheep.”  Our Lord was telling Peter as He tells us, you are forgiven.  You are still an important part of my body.  You are still an important part of my mission.  Take care of my church.  Carry forth the gospel.  Tell your story of faith in new ways.  Get involved and be a part of bringing God’s saving love to your community. 

This morning dear friends, we discover that Jesus’ focus was not on Saul and Peter’s inadequacies and sins, but on the vocation to which they were called; a vocation of simultaneous joy and suffering; a vocation of blessing and sacrifice.  It is joy, because Jesus’ resurrection means that we to will rise.  Death no longer has a hold over us.  So, ‘Rejoice believers!’  Your sorrow and fears are turned into joy. This morning, Easter joy calls all of heaven and earth to participate in our Lord’s resurrection.  But Easter joy is also an invitation to follow Jesus through the sorrow of passion, cross, and death.  In this call we will experience suffering, shame, disappointment, hurt, sickness and eventually death, but then that sorrow will once and for all give way to the eternal resurrection joy.  The lives of those who gather around word and sacrament within Christ’s church are full of the same sorrows and joys as Paul and Peter. We struggle, weep, and are grieved. We want to avoid these challenges just as they did, but the Resurrected Jesus invites us to follow Him into these things! He invites us to turn from our comfortable habits that give us a false sense of security and then turn towards Him so that we can then participate in His joy.  When this happens, then we can “sing together with all the company of heaven and earth, and join in the hymn of all creation; Blessings, and Honor, and Glory, and Might, be to God and the Lamb forever. Amen! – “Rejoice, rejoice believers!”

May God continue to lead us into a life that lives out this joyful resurrection reality, in Jesus name….AMEN!

He is Risen!

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Easter Sunday, April 4, 2010
Click here for audio of this message

“He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” [Luke 24:6-7]

 He is Risen!  He is risen indeed!  It’s funny, but that phrase is probably the key to most of my meaningful Easter memories!  Oh I remember other things as well.  Things like watching the Easter Parade with my parents, and afterward enjoying a delicious Sunday dinner with many of my family members.  But without at doubt that phrase, “Christ is risen, He is risen indeed” stands out in my mind.  What Easter memories come to mind for you?  For some, maybe your clearest memories aren’t necessarily centered on Christ.  Maybe, you even have unhappy memories?  This morning, our Heavenly Father tells us that through Christ, He has created a new heaven and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind, because “Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!”  [Is. 65:17]

 Over two thousand years ago, on the first day of the week, at early dawn, some of the disciples of Jesus went to His tomb to finish preparing His body for its eternal rest, and they were women!  Even then, women were the practical ones of the church.  They didn’t sit around talking about what must be done… they got up and did it!  So there they were at the tomb and they discovered that the stone had been removed from the opening, and even more surprising was the fact that the body of their Lord was gone!  “Thieves and grave robbers have taken Him” they must have thought! 

 And then in perfect time, God’s time… Jesus sends His Holy messengers with a challenging announcement and a question that puts all things into their proper prospective: “Why are you seeking the living among the dead?  He isn’t here, but He is risen!”  “Wait” they must have thought.  “Did you say He’s risen?  As in risen from the dead?”  “Yes” the angels must have been smiling.  “(Don’t you) remember how He told you, while He was still in Galilee, that (He) must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise?” [Lk. 24:5-6] And then, they remembered!  They remembered that God was indeed faithful, merciful, and abounding in steadfast love.  They remembered that God did promise them that He would never leave nor forsake them! [Josh. 1:5]

 Up until that point their hearts were centered on death.  They were lost within their own grief!  And this is the exact thing that happens to us when we forget the gospel.  When we are so focused on life and it’s pain and suffering, we forget that in Christ we don’t just have a friend and a master we also have a Savior.  When we are focused on death, we forget His promises of life!

Dear friends, when we forget the Easter message, we end up looking for God in all of the wrong places.  While God is certainly there with us in tragedy, pain and suffering, He is also leading us out of these things; away from fear and trembling and into faith and hope.  In the middle of life’s challenges, He challenges us by asking, “Why are you seeking the living among the dead?”

 Many of you know what I’m talking about don’t you?  I’m talking about that perfect peace that comes to you when you know that even in the middle of a tragedy, Jesus… Emmanuel… God is with you!  You can’t explain it, it just is!  Well this morning, God doesn’t want you to be perplexed, He wants you to be amazed.  He doesn’t want you to be frightened with your head down low; He wants you to know that the peace you feel when others are terrified is because you have the living Word of God within you!  You have the very presence of Christ strengthening and leading you!  So get up and go on.  Don’t hang around with the dead!  You’ve got some living to do; you need to live in the victory of the resurrection, not the defeat of the grave!

 But I hear some of you now, “But pastor, it’s hard to live the life of a believer when there are so many doubters out there.  It’s hard to live the resurrection victory when so many of my family members and neighbors think that I’m crazy.”  Friends, I know how it is when people close to you are telling you not to take your Christian faith so seriously.  They say, “Sure Christianity is a good model to follow to help you live a good life, but don’t go overboard.  Live a little; enjoy your life.”  I know what it’s like to share the resurrection story with them, and they ask, “Do you believe in the Easter Bunny too?”  But most importantly, our Lord knows about the doubters, and He talks about it this morning in our gospel reading.  Listen: “Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” [vs. 10-11]  How could the apostles forget all of the promises that Jesus made to them?  How could they forget the joy that being with and listening to Him brought them?  Because friends, they had drifted away from the living Word of God; because they were not walking in the joy of the gospel, but instead they were engulfed by the fears of death!  But when God’s Word becomes central in your life, His miraculous presence takes over and you can’t help but rejoice at the Words, “He is not here, but has risen.”  He is risen.  He is risen indeed!

When we remember these wonderful Easter Words we also remember that Jesus is both the Son of Man and the Son of God.  We remember and we know that the resurrection of Jesus Christ marks a new era. Heaven and earth have been joined, because Christ, our Savior, is risen! Our sins, our doubts and our fears that were once like a mighty wall of separation between us and God have been torn down; God is reconciled to men; the sacrifice of the Son has been accepted by the Father. This is the supreme Easter reality. 

This Easter truth loudly proclaims that Jesus is not the “Great I WAS” but instead He is the “Great I AM!” He is not only a historical figure but also a present-day, living reality. Our wonderful faith rests upon the truth that Jesus Christ rose from the grave and is now seated at the Father’s right hand as our personal advocate.  He is now a God who is for us and not against us!

The thrilling news from the empty tomb is that life has triumphed over death! This is a message that dispels our fears and gives us the sure hope that because Christ lives, we shall live also (John 14:19). Alleluia! He is risen.  He is risen indeed!

 Dear friends, the truth is that our lives can’t help but be changed once we return from the reality of the empty tomb!  Once you see and know that the tomb is empty through God’s most Holy Word, faith begins to change you completely.  Because once “you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” [Rom. 10:9]

 That unconditional word of grace transforms us. It swoops us into Christ’s death, and then it gives us new life with Jesus within His resurrection. Within this relationship of love with God, His re-creating word justifies us and completely destroys our sinful past before God the Father. It sets us completely right and innocent before Him.  Our names have been recorded in the indelible ink of Christ’s blood within God’s book of life’ [Phil. 4:3]  But just like the woman who went so early to the tomb, we who now hear the Word, also remember and we are changed in the here and now; just as they were given heaven on earth, and exchanged their sorrow for joy, our lives also are changed as well.  Through the Word of life God daily leads us to live out our baptismal hope.  We are not among the dead but among the living.  Through Christ, God calls us every day to put to death our old sinful nature and the habits of sin, and work with the Holy Spirit, cultivating the new resurrected nature… a heavenly minded nature.  He is risen!  He is risen indeed!

 What a wonderful message we have been given.  But this message isn’t just for us; it has been given to us so that we will share it with everyone.  You see, neither you nor I could ever know anything about Christ, or believe in him and receive him as Lord, unless this Easter message was first offered to us and made real within our hearts through the preaching of the gospel and the witness of others through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Oh it’s true that all of the work for our salvation is finished and complete; Christ has acquired and won the treasure of salvation for us by his sufferings, death, and resurrection. But if this wonderful work of God had remained hidden, then none of us would have ever known about it; Christ would have died in vain and all would be lost for us. But to ensure that God’s greatest gift to this world would not remain buried and hidden, He has commanded that the Gospel Word be published, proclaimed, and witnessed to!  So always remember the truth of this Easter message and share it with everyone who will hear.  HE IS RISEN!  HE IS RISEN INDEED!

Our Lord’s Passion

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

NOTE: Scripture only for the 7 Meditations (short messages) are provided.  Audio for each meditation is available by clicking on the link provided at each message.

Meditation 1 (John 19:1-16a)
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1 Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. 2 And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. 3 They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands. 4 Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” 5 So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” 6 When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.” 7 The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.” 8 When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. 9 He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” 11 Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” 12 From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” 13 So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha. 14 Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” 15 They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” 16 So he delivered him over to them to be crucified.

Meditation 2 (John 19:16b-22)
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So they took Jesus, 17 and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. 19 Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” 20 Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. 21 So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’ ” 22 Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”  16 So he delivered him over to them to be crucified.

Meditation 3 (John 19:23-24)
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23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, 24 so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says, “They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” So the soldiers did these things,

 

Meditation 4 (John 19:25-27 )
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25 but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

Meditation 5 (Luke 23:39-45 )
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39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” 44 It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.

Meditation 6 (John 19:28-30)
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28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” 29 A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Meditation 7 (John 19:31-42)
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31 Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. 32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. 35 He who saw it has borne witness-his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth-that you also may believe. 36 For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” 37 And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.” 38 After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. 39 Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. 40 So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. 42 So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.

It IS the Lord’s Supper!

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Maundy Thursday, April 1, 2010
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If you were invited to have dinner at a close friend’s home, would you even consider telling that person that you want them to prepare something else?  Would you tell that person that their dinner plans are unacceptable, and that you would rather have them take you out to an expensive restaurant instead? If your friend served prime rib, would it be appropriate to tell everyone the next day that you had hot dogs?  Yet all around us we find many different explanations about what Jesus instituted and served on that first “Christian” Passover meal long ago.  How are we to approach this Holy meal this evening?  Let’s allow our Lord to answer this question for us; After all, it IS His Supper you know!

On the night before He died, Jesus shared with His disciples the Passover, or the Seder. But in the midst of this Seder meal, Jesus served and instituted another meal, a new meal, a meal that was to be repeated, “The Lord’s Supper.”  Tonight, through eight explanations, we will explore just what kind of meal it was and continues to be today and always will be until He returns!

I.  First, it is a historical meal.  In Exodus 12, we learn that the Seder meal was instituted as a time for the Jews to remember and to celebrate God’s saving work as He led them from captivity in Egypt towards their promised land.  God did it. Not one Israelite army stood against the mighty Egyptians; not one Jew contributed anything in accomplishing their deliverance!  Freedom came in the blackest night while Israelite families huddled around the Passover table, their bags packed, waiting for deliverance. Why was it called the Passover meal?  Well, it’s because the angel of death visited only the homes of the Egyptians but it passed over the homes of the Hebrew families because they had marked their homes as God directed them-with the blood of a lamb.  The Jews celebrate that event each year with humility and praise through the Seder meal.  In that meal they remember how God alone saved them; there is no room for pride. For the children of Israel, independence from Egypt meant dependence on God. In fact, God comes back to this event throughout the Bible as a way of describing himself: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt.”

Much later, in the upper room, Jesus would give Passover night an even broader significance. In a time when Jews throughout the world were bringing out their choice lambs to slaughter, eat, and remember the blood and deliverance, Jesus would now show the world that He had been selected as the TRUE Passover Lamb, not just for the Jews, but for all of humanity (1 Corinthians 5:7). The words “When I see the blood, I will pass over you” (Exodus 12:13) came to convey a whole new meaning. The Lord’s Supper is now superior to the Passover meal in that it promises salvation not from physical slavery, but deliverance from the power of sin, death, and the devil.

II. Second, it is a Memorial Meal That Remembers Christ’s Death on Behalf of Us All. St. Paul speaks of Holy Communion as a memorial meal in this way: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me (1 Cor. 11:23-25).

Did you notice that each time Jesus delivered the elements of His Holy Supper that he punctuated it with the need to Remember Him?  Since the bread eaten is Christ’s body “for us” and the wine drank “is the new covenant in (His) blood” then clearly this meal is a memorial or a way of remembering Christ’s atoning death. In churches all across the world, we can find other Christians partaking in the Lord’s Supper and recognizing it as a meal that remembers Christ’s death. But sadly, sometime after the zeal of the Reformation wore off, some churches began to look at HIS Holy Supper as nothing more than a memorial meal.  It is here that we need to turn our hearts towards God and receive all that He is graciously giving to us in this meal, because it is so much more than a memorial meal!

III. Third, it is a Holy Meal, because God’s very Word consecrates it as Holy.  When family, friends, neighbors, classmates or coworkers ask you “Why do you believe that the bread and wine are the Body and Blood of Jesus?” you must quickly and simply answer that “It is God’s Word that makes it holy!”  You see, the words of consecration that Christ spoke at the Last Supper and which the Pastor repeats each time this meal is served are the very power of God. We do not say that a pastor or priest by virtue of their ordination has the power to transform the bread and wine, but rather it is the very Words of Christ spoken over the bread and wine that makes this a holy meal, presenting both bread and wine and Body and Blood. But why does God do this?  The answer to this question brings us to our Fourth explanation of what kind of meal this is.   

IV. It is a meal in which God feeds us with the forgiveness for all of our sins and serves us an overflowing cup of peace with God.  In our Gospel reading you heard Christ Himself say, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” If you can only remember one thing about this meal then remember this, IT IS A MEAL OF FORGIVENESS!

Just as the preached Gospel announces and gives forgiveness through the cross of Christ to all who believe, so does this meal. In the Holy Supper, the Gospel of forgiveness is not only heard but it is also seen, smelled, touched and tasted. But why?  Because we have been wonderfully created to experience God in ways even the angels stand in awe of!  You see God created us as flesh and blood.  We experience God through our senses.  Not only does God wish us to hear and see Him through His Word, but also through the Sacrament of Baptism and His Holy Table.  It is there that He gives us the opportunity to touch, see and even taste Him in a way which was designed to build an intimate and lasting relationship with Him.  Through all of our senses, God is allowing us within His Holy Meal to experience the complete forgiveness that Christ has won for us on the cross. In the Lord’s Supper, that once-and-for- all forgiveness is freely given to each one of us who by faith, believe in His promise.  God wants you to experience the assurance that all of your sins, including the ones that are heavy on your heart right now, are completely forgiven.

This is why we teach that the Lord’s Supper is for true sinners.  If you are sorrowing and struggling over your sinfulness, then Jesus says “Come unto me ye weary and I will give you rest!”  Friends, this is not a meal for people who feel worthy, but it was instituted for those peculiar children of God who cry out “Have mercy on me Lord Jesus, a pitiful and unworthy sinner!” 
 

V. Fifth, it is a Meal that is God’s Work for Us, Not Our Work for Him.  Just as the Jews played no part in their deliverance from the oppression of the Egyptians, we also play no part in our Salvation and the complete forgiveness of our sins.  This is all entirely the work of Jesus.  It was His blood that was poured out for the forgiveness of your sins. In this holy meal, Jesus invites us to eat and drink. Can you see that it is Jesus, not us, who is the one who offers, prepares, and serves this Divine Supper?  He serves us His body “which is given for you” (Luke 22:19). He serves us His blood “which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:20). All the emphasis is on what He gives for us. Our “job” is only to receive.

VI. In our sixth explanation we are taught that this is a Meal in Which We Eat and Drink Christ’s Body and Blood.  Most Christian traditions affirm that Christ is present somehow in the Lord’s Supper. But it’s not enough to just say that Jesus is present in this meal. Some Christians today speak of Christ’s “real” presence in the bread and wine as being spiritual.  Some will say that when Christians eat the bread and drink the wine that they spiritually ascend to Christ who is at the right hand of God. While these words of well meaning may seem harmless, we must not be deceived; remember, IT IS HIS SUPPER, NOT OURS!  Jesus clearly says “This IS my body” and “This IS my blood.”  He did not say that this represents my body and blood; nor did he say ‘I am spiritually present in the bread and wine.”  No, our Savior clearly states that the bread IS His body and the fruit of the vine “IS (His) blood of the new covenant!”

We Lutherans firmly believe that this is a meal in which we consume Christ’s body and blood along with the bread and wine. We base this on the words of institution, in which Christ offers bread and says of that bread, “This is my body.” and offers the wine and says of that wine, “This is my blood.” Do we attempt to explain how this can be? No! We simply accept the plain sense of the words that the bread, somehow, is also Christ’s body, and the wine, somehow, is also Christ’s blood.

VII. In our seventh explanation, we learn that this meal is also a Family Meal that Gives and Celebrates Unity Among Those who Eat It.  The Lord’s Supper has often been called the Sacrament of unity. Why? In part, because of the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:17: “Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.”

These words infer two things. First, they infer that the one bread broken and distributed signifies the oneness of the body of Christ, the Church. On most Sundays this may be difficult to understand when we receive individual bite-size wafers. But tonight I will distribute the body of Christ from one large loaf of bread.  As the bread is broken and distributed think about this concept of unity. Realize that while you may be receiving only one small piece of the loaf, every one here is being fed from the same source. 

Second, the words of Paul infer that those who partake of the one bread become one body; that is, the eating of this meal creates as well as celebrates unity. St. Paul’s point is that it is wrong to enter into communion with those with which you have no true unity – and true unity includes recognizing all of the mysteries that are given in His Holy Supper.  For us here tonight, when we respond to His invitation to eat and drink, we are professing that we come together truly as a family that is one body in Christ, one in faith, and one in doctrine. When we eat this meal together, we will as one heart celebrate our Lord’s life, death and resurrection until He returns!

VIII. Lastly, in our eighth explanation, we discover that this is a Meal that is “a Foretaste of the Feast to Come.”  This phrase, taken from a Communion liturgy of Lutheran Worship, beautifully expresses another aspect of the Lord’s Supper. It is meal that is a foretaste of that eternal, heavenly meal that we will enjoy with our God. For this meal points not only backwards but also forward in time. It looks to the past and remembers, looks to the present and receives, and looks to the future and anticipates!

In this look towards the future, we are strengthened in the present.  In His Supper, we are allowed to look ahead to a time when there will be no more tears or pain, only joy and peace.  Through this Holy Communion, we are assured that no matter how difficult our current circumstances may be, through our crucified and risen Savior, we shall overcome, and feast with Him in glory forevermore!  How can this Holy Supper do all of this?  Because He says so, and after all “IT IS THE LORD’S SUPPER YOU KNOW!”  AMEN and AMEN!