Archive for May, 2010

We are one as He is One!

Sunday, May 30th, 2010

Sunday, May 30, 2010
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

“Whoever desires to be saved must above all, hold the “universal” Christian faith.  And the “universal” Christian faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance.” [vs. 1-3 of the Athanasian Creed]

God is one.  There is only one God.  The one God has always existed from eternity as one God—and He always will!  God alone is eternal.  And to this, your Muslim neighbors would say a loud AMEN!  Does it surprise you to know that they will appeal to this very truth in an attempt to draw you away from your Christian faith?  You see, in addition to confessing that God is one, we Christians also confess that God is love, in fact we say that Love is the very essence of God.  Now your Muslim friends will never deny that God loves but they will deny that this love is the essence of God.  You see, they will claim that if God can’t be God unless He loves someone, then God can’t be God without someone to love.  So how can an eternal God be dependent upon His creation in order for Him to be God?  Muslims will tell you that although God does love, love can’t be God’s essence, because He is dependent on no one.  But this kind of thinking about God is a lie and it isn’t any better than the lies that come from people who worship many gods.  There’s no difference between having one idol and a half dozen.  Idols are idols.  The Moslem god is an idol.  The true God is one, but the mere acknowledgement of this fact doesn’t mean a person is worshiping the true God.  The one true God is also united within Trinity.  The only God who exists is the Triune God.  Any god who isn’t triune is not God because a god who is not triune cannot be love, and God is love.  Dear friends, please do not ever let any devil lead you away from this truth because it is crucial to your very salvation.  If God wasn’t love then he would not have suffered and died upon the cross for you!

The love of God is not an attribute that makes Him dependent on us.  It is the eternally defining attribute of God that defines His very essence as God in regards to His relationship shared between the three persons within the One Godhead.  When we say God is love we are also saying that God could not be love unless He was Triune.  You see, there’s an eternal unity of love between the Father who begets and generates the Son who is begotten.  This eternal unity of divine love exists as well between the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit who is sent from both of them.  But as I told the children, this is far too high for us to grasp.  You see, how God relates within Himself is far too much for us to comprehend.  After all, He is the Creator and we are the creature!

While completely understanding God is far above us, we can know about Him by paying attention to what He has already revealed about Himself.  We know from scripture that the Father has generated or begotten the Son on many occasions.  It was the Son and two angels who visited Abraham outside of Sodom and Gomorra to warn Abraham of the pending destruction of the two cities, so that His nephew Lot might be saved.  It was the God the Son generated by the Father who took on the form of a burning bush so that Moses might behold some of the Lord’s glory and receive God’s Law that would teach Israel and the people of faith how to relate rightly to a Holy and loving God.  There are many more instances throughout scripture that demonstrate that God the Father generates or begets the Son in order to accomplish the purpose of God, but for us, the best example is found in John 1:  “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” [John 1:14]

Do you hear in those words how the Son is now forever generated or begotten in human flesh yet He still possesses eternal glory, grace and truth.  Do you understand how together the Father and the Son send the Holy Spirit?  It was God the Spirit who was hovering over the face of the waters in the very beginning of creation. He was sent by the Father and the Son, and together they created the heavens and the earth-He was sent by these Words: “”Let there be light,” and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good. [Genesis 1:1-4]  Like a marvelous symphony God’s Word’s of Love spoke forth creation and goodness.  It was an eternal love generated and sent from the heart of the One true God who has always revealed Himself in three persons.  But we must always remember that we can’t divide the person’s from the One True God or else we will lose His essence, which is love.  What do I mean by this?

Well you see, while it is the Father who generates or begets, and it is the Son who is begotten but not made, and it is the Holy Spirit who is sent together by the Father and the Son, there are not three God’s but One. As One, the three persons created everything that is together.  The divine mystery of God’s triune nature is this: As One they have always existed and since God does not change they will always be One in glory and majesty.  There is only One Uncreated, Eternal, and Almighty God.  When we pray to our Lord in heaven we do not pray to three Lords, but rather we pray to one Lord because the Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, and the Holy Spirit is Lord.  Three persons united eternally in One essence of love, which is God! 

After all of this, I think that we all now agree that God’s ways are far above our ability to understand, so why am I talking about an eternal relationship of love into which you and I could never find our way?  

Because God has created a way-He has brought His love to us!  In so doing He has established fellowship with us.  But in order to enjoy all of the benefits of this relationship (eternal grace, mercy, and peace with God and each other), we must also faithfully believe that God the Son took on human flesh.  God did this not because He needed to, but rather He did it because He is love.  We are the ones in need!  We need God to come to us.  Although God’s voice declared all that He had made good, it was our own sinfulness that has forever turned good into evil.  Think now, in the privacy of your own hearts, who among us has not thought or done evil already this morning?!  Isn’t it true that without help we could never stand before a perfect and righteous God!  There is not a single thing that we can do to save ourselves…we need God’s mercy, pardon, and forgiveness.  And yet the punishment for sin is death, and that is precisely what it will take to pay for our sinfulness.  But as a true champion, our Redeemer God came to us in our own flesh and paid for our sins himself.  The entire God came to us.  Our creator wrapped Himself in creation, because only He could change our hopeless situation.  Why do I say the entire God came to us?  Because if you remember, we can never divide the essence of God; God always acts as one because He is one!  Now I know that once again, this is far above any of us to understand, but we must believe this truth because it is how God has revealed Himself.  Let me offer a crude representation that might make this a bit more intelligible:

Before a wedding, there were three women in the dressing room putting a dress on the bride, who was one of the three and she participated as well with putting on of the dress. We could say that all three were dressing her; and yet only one is being put in the dress. In a similar way, we see that all three Persons, as one God, created the one humanity, clothed the Son in this, and united it with His person, so that only the Son became man, and not the Father or the Holy Spirit, yet because God is One and not three, the Son who from the time of His birth as Jesus would now eternally be fully God and fully man. 

Friends, it was this same Jesus who lived the sinless life on our behalf.  It was this same Jesus who allowed Himself to be put to death by sinful men.  He did not have to do this but rather He chose to suffer and die for us, because God is love.  Please hear me, “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men,(because it was your sins that compelled God out of love to suffer and die for you.  But be of good cheer), God (has) raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” [Acts 2:23-24]  By His stripes you have been healed.  By His suffering and death you have been released from the eternal punishment for your many sins!  By God’s love you have been saved! 

At your baptism God’s work of re-creation was activated for you.  All of the benefits of His suffering and death were given to you.  The old sinful man and woman that was your identify at birth has now been put to death through His same Word of creation that was spoken “In The Beginning”. This re-creation of life from death is now yours because of God’s own suffering and death through Christ Jesus!  Dear friends, do you see what a wonderful gift of love is now yours?  You have been freed from your former body of death and you have been given a new life.  Embrace and cherish this gift.  Live out this new life with certainty that it is yours!  As wonderful as this new life is and as sinful and undeserving as we may be, we must not doubt that this gift is ours, because it was given out of God’s love.  And yet when the troubles of life creep in, we do doubt, we can lose hope, and that is why Jesus hasn’t left us alone in life as orphans.  He promises that He and the Father are still with us in love, because He has sent us the gift of the Holy Spirit, and where the Holy Spirit is, there also are the Father and the Son, because God is One! 

It is the Holy Spirit who moves our hearts to hunger for hearing and studying God’s Word.  It is the Holy Spirit that causes us to remember God’s saving love when we remember our own baptism.  It is the Holy Sprit that creates a hunger within us to gather at the Lord’s Table where we receive His very body and blood when we eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins.  It is the Holy Spirit that creates in us a clean heart, which in turn moves us to come to God in prayer, asking first for forgiveness and then for all the desires of our heart, with the assurance that God hears us and answers us according to His will.

Dear friends, because God is One and God is love, and because we are called into fellowship with Him by love, then we are also called into the fellowship of His Mission to seek and save those that are lost and dying, separated from His love because of sin.  This mission is from the Father, and the Son who is the very message of the mission. This message, which you have been given is nothing less than the good news about the incarnation, suffering and death of Jesus Christ for all sinful men, women, and children.  The message is that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  Since the source of mission is God the Father and the message of the mission is God the Son, then what of God the Holy Spirit?  Dear friends, the Holy Spirit is the very power of God’s mission.  MISSION IS HOLY SPIRIT POWERED!  What this means is that God’s mission can’t fail because He is the very source, message and power of that mission, but God always uses means to accomplish His mission.  He uses simple things to confound the supposed wisdom of the devil and sinful men.  God chooses to use you and me!

We are all called to be ambassadors of God’s love and we are to declare His message in our own words, but they are words that are centered in God’s love for us; they are centered in His Word, which is the very Word that has given us new life and sustained us while living out our lives in a sinful world!  And as we live out our lives gathered around God’s Word, the Holy Spirit is ever active within and around us, leading us out into our communities with the message of Jesus Christ.   

Dear friends, the Holy Spirit is united for eternity with the Father and the Son, and together They lead us by faith so that they may strengthen and grow God’s Church.  The Holy Spirit, sent by the Father and the Son propels all believers out into the mission field, our community, armed with His Word and Sacraments, personal witness and Christian living in order “to convince the world concerning sin and righteousness.”  And to this truth we answer, “Teach us to love our neighbor as you love us, and lead on O Lord, and let us be one in missionary zeal as you are One—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  In Jesus name…AMEN!

Prophecy Fulfilled at Pentecost

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

Pentecost Sunday, May 23, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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“We all need a little good news once in a while,” so goes the old saying.  But if we pay attention to our Bible, and especially to this morning’s scripture readings we would say rather, “We always need good news—all of the time.”  The good news of course is the gospel, and we need to hear the Gospel all of the time because we sin daily.  Our second lesson this morning is the fulfillment of our Gospel reading where Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you.  But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, who the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. [John 14:25,26]  This is the “Gospel Promise” that Jesus left the Church just before His ascension.  It is His promise he gives to you today.  It is “good news” for you, if you will only believe.

The first time God shared the gospel with us was immediately after the very first sin.  When Adam and Eve were encouraged by the devil to do the only thing God said they could not do, eat from the tree of knowledge.  When they did this, they committed the first sin.  In one bite they exchanged God’s truth and love for a lie (You will be like God.  You will become wise).  Instead of finding wisdom they found misery; instead of becoming like God they became separated from Him.  But God in His love would not let mankind suffer in this state; in His love God demonstrated His mercy by immediately proclaiming the Gospel.  Speaking directly to the devil, but for the benefit of mankind, God said: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” [Gen. 3]  In these words, God promised that the savior of mankind would come as a descendant of Adam and Eve, and it was in the work of this Savior that God would restore mankind into a right relationship with Him. 

 Now, many years after this, God examined the earth and He found that evil had completely overtaken the face of the earth and according to His judgment all that was evil must be removed from the face of the earth through the means of a flood; but God was able to find one family that still wanted to walk with Him by faith; Noah and his family alone placed their faith in God’s gospel of hope; a gospel that proclaimed the coming of a Savior who would make it possible for all people to once again relate to God in love.  Once saved from the flood, Noah’s sons and their families were told to go out into the new world and spread throughout the land and repopulate it with people who like them wanted to relate to God in this spirit of repentance and hope in the coming Savior.  But, as is always the case, they soon ignored God’s command and they gathered as one people in one place.  They went no farther than Mesopotamia, an area today we would call Iraq. 

 The descendants of Ham, a son of Noah who became a powerful people and they began to oppress the other descendants of Noah.  They wanted to make a name for themselves; they wanted to rule over all others in the place of God.  They built a tower; a tower that seemed to reach up to the very heavens screaming at God, “Look at us!  Look at what we have done without you!”  Now the other descendants of Noah wanted to fit in; they did not want to be different, so they went along with this strange building project, and when they joined in, they chose the way of man over the ways of God.  Once again, mankind traded God’s truth and mercy for a lie.  They wanted to live as if God did not matter, as if He didn’t notice their sin!  But God did take notice: “And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.” [Gen. 11:6] 

Their sin was like that of Adam and Eve; they wanted to be independent of God.  And like Adam and Eve, they too would be banished from their land and forced to do what God had commanded through Noah, to inhabit the earth. “Come, let us go down and there and confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.” [vs. 7-8]  Here God was saying essentially, “In their prideful condition they no longer desire to know me, they no longer realize that they need me.  I must dissolve their pride, and remind them of their need for my love and mercy.  They must again look to the coming of the promised Savior.”

In our New Testament reading (Acts 2), we see how God ensured that His message of grace, the good-news that was first proclaimed in the Garden of Eden, would be proclaimed to all people on the face of the earth.  It was the day of Pentecost, or the Jewish Harvest festival; a one day event where Jews from all over the earth were invited back to Jerusalem, to give a Thank Offering to God for His goodness in providing an abundant harvest.  There were people from all over the known world in and around the temple area; each with their own national language, yet all were Jews who fluently spoke and read Hebrew.  And then there were the apostles and disciples of Jesus, about 150 of them, including women and children.  They were gathered somewhere in a large building near the temple; something similar to our fellowship hall.  It was about 9:00 a.m., and they were seated on the floor listening to one of the Apostles (probably Peter); most likely they were trying to figure out what Jesus great commission meant to them; for these were the last words He spoke to them just before He ascended into heaven.  The disciples must have been asking the apostles questions like, “What did Jesus mean when He said he was with us even until the end of time?  He has left us to be with the Father, so how is He with us?”

Peter would not have time to formulate an answer, because out of no where, a very loud noise, like tornado approached their building, and filled the room.  It was the sound of wind, without the wind.  ILLUST: I am a witness to a tornado, and it sounds just like a very loud train is bearing down on you.  IT IS FRIGHTENING!  Now that God had their attention, He was about to remind them, in a miraculous way that Jesus ALWAYS keeps His Word!  The promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit was about to be fulfilled!  Somewhere in the center of the room appeared a large flame; I would imagine that it was similar to the burning bush that Moses saw on Mt. Sinai.  That alone must have frightened the group, but then it did something very new, God’s Holy Spirit became very personal; it divided into many parts, and the parts spread out and began to hover over each person’s head.  Now, fear was replaced with awe, as each one stood on their feet and being led by the Holy Spirit, they began to make their way outside of the building, and into the street.

They were probably in a public square somewhere near the temple because a huge crowd had gathered outside of their building, most likely because of the great sound of the wind that passed from the street into their meeting room.  Now as each disciple, being led by the Spirit of God proceeded outside, they began praising God in a new language that was foreign to them; it was a language that exactly matched the languages of the foreign Jews who gathered at the temple for Pentecost.  Each one heard something like a hymn of praise, in their own native language.  The majority of the people stood in awe.  Someone in the crowd must have known that the disciples were those who had been with Jesus; that they were simple people from Galilee that “should not” have been able to speak these languages so fluently, because the comment was made, “Aren’t all of these people who are speaking Galileans?  So, how is it that we hear, each of us in his own language?  ”  [Vs. 7, 8]

 What a wonderful demonstration of God’s miraculous power!  This was the first recorded miracle God performed after Jesus ascension into heaven, but it certainly would not be the last, in fact, the book of Acts is loaded with miracle after miracle.  God used these miracles starting with this gift of tongues to propel the church throughout the world in such a way as to ensure its growth, very much like how God used the confusion of languages to compel men and woman to spread throughout the earth.  Now God was ensuring that each and every person would hear the praise of God in their own “heart” language.  Through the gift of tongues God demonstrated that His mighty Spirit was leading His church at a time when such a witness was needed.   

Back to our story, Peter now takes his place among the disciples, and he hears some from the crowd proclaim that the disciples praising God are probably drunk!  With this word, the devil once again attempted to take the focus of attention off of the Creator and place it instead on the creature.  But God would not be silent; He could not!  At this very moment Peter’s gift of the Holy Spirit was activated—the gift of prophecy!  Filled with the Spirit, Peter recalled Jesus’ own Words: “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you.  But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, who the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” [John 14:25,26]  Praise God, the Helper had come in a mighty way.  And now led by the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ real presence went out to his people from the mouth of Peter.  Peter continued God’s plan from the beginning, he preached the Gospel.

Dear friends, Peter’s sermon makes it clear that God’s Spirit will be poured out on the last days.  When are the last days?  They are now!  The last days are every day after Jesus suffered, died, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven and sent in his place the Helper, the Holy Spirit, who causes our hearts to respond to God’s call of repentance: “Turn away from your sin and turn towards Jesus Christ.  Confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that Jesus is your Lord and Savior, and you will be saved.”  Yes, the last days are today.  Today, Jesus calls out to us through the Holy Spirit, to turn away from a life that has us our desires as the most important thing, and turn towards Him. And by His Holy Spirit, our hearts are moved to confess our sinfulness to Him and then turn towards Jesus as our only source of help.  Only faith in Jesus Christ, the living Word of God can transform you, renew you, and bring meaning to your life.  In vs. 17 He promises this very thing to you: “And in the last days it shall be, declares the Lord, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams.” [vs. 17]

 Dear saints, you are those sons and daughters that will prophesy and see visions.  Young people, God’s Word specifically mentions you.  There are none too young or too old to receive God’s Spirit, because that Spirit was first given to you at your Baptism.  Do you believe it?  Then live this truth and allow God’s Spirit to keep hold of it and  cherish it.  Call out to Him and He sill save you!  “To call upon the Lord’s name” means to call out to him for the forgiveness of sins and it means to believe that you have been forgiven.  To call upon His name is to call upon God’s mercy as proclaimed in His gospel; it is a gift that you neither earned nor deserved, yet it is yours!  It is the same gospel that God first proclaimed to Adam and Eve, and the one you first received at your Baptism.  And when we are changed by this gospel, the result will be that we will prophesy.  We will share the good news, the saving and blessed will of God to people everywhere.  With God as the center of your world, your vision is his vision—He uses your talents and abilities in a way that is sure to astound you.  Think of it—He will use you to impact the world, the people around you, in a way that will both glorify Him and lead others to know Him also.   

Dear friends, Jesus said to Peter and the other apostles just before his death, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. [John 14:27]  Through the work of the Holy Spirit and His means of grace, Jesus actually gives and leaves His peace to each of you this morning and for eternity.  It is this very peace that all people since the first sin of Adam and Eve have been hoping to receive; trusting in God by faith that the Messiah would come.  He has come and he suffered, died, rose, and ascended for you!  HE IS RISEN!  And all God’s people say, “HE IS RISEN INDEED!”  AMEN!

Shout Glory in the Night!

Sunday, May 16th, 2010

Seventh Sunday after Easter, May 16, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church
Click here for audio of this message
 

Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me  because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” [Jn. 17:24]

 Do you want to see Christ’s glory with your physical eyes and not just your eyes of faith?  Are you sure?  Then pray… beg Him to come quickly, even right this second!  Are you praying for Jesus to come soon?  Then you are praying for Him to end your existence in this world so that you can meet Him in His glory in paradise.  Are you ready for that… I mean are you really ready for that?  Are you sure that you will be meet with a Holy kiss and welcomed into paradise or are you afraid that you will be meet with admonishment and cast outside of the City with the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood? [Rev. 22:15]  You know, what determines your eternal destination is what or Whom you place your trust in!

Harry Connick Jr. tells the story about his first real break in show biz that came in front of Frank Sinatra, the man he made a living out of impersonating. The young singer was nervous; what would his idol think of his performance? When Connick began his performance, he immediately forgot the opening words of the first verse, and that mistake was followed by numerous others.  As he ended the song, he knew it was a disaster, but at the final note, the enthusiastic yet ignorant audience rose to its feet and cheered the singer. The cheers echoed down the halls of the casino. Connick looked to the box where Sinatra was seated; he was looking for the approval of only one man, but Sinatra seemed unimpressed. All the excitement of the crowd could not compensate for the lack of Sinatra’s approval.  (As told by Connick in an interview on American Idol Season 2010)

Much is wrong with our society and even in our own lives. We can all make a list; broken homes, the increase in violence and dishonesty, the lack of integrity in public life, the slow slide of the church into adopting the ways of the world, the decay of sexual morality. It is the duty of the church and every saint within the church to be the watchman who sounds the alarm!  And our only tool that God has given us for this task is His Word… the inerrant Words of the Bible.  This is the most important source of approval that we have; at times it will be our only source.

Our gospel reading for this morning is a prayer, Jesus prayer to be exact.  His time to leave this world had come and He desired that His apostles would be encouraged to know that their master was praying for them and would continue to pray for them.  But we also discover that He is praying for us.  Listen: “I do not (pray) for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” [Jn. 17:20, 21]

 Who is Jesus praying for?  Well He is praying for you!  What is He praying for?  That you might have faith; that you might believe in Him unto salvation!  How does He say this faith, this ability to believe will come to us?  He says that it will be through God’s Word, which comes to us through the Words He has given the apostles. What will be the result of this faith that Jesus asks the Father for?  None other than unity and the spread of the gospel!  Just as the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit exist in unity, our Savior desires that we also be one with Him and with each other!  But He also asks that this unity be used for a purpose, and that is so that the sinful dying world might know Him through God’s Word unto salvation as well.

 Now there may be some here this morning that are right now at this very moment wondering, “But what about my salvation?  How can I know for sure that I will be welcomed into paradise and not admonished and thrown into the darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth?”  Friend, the only way you can be certain is as I stated, through His Word.

God is so serious about His Word that He gives us grave warnings to protect it from anyone who would add to it or take away from it.  Each Word is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit; the power to bring faith to sinners who without it are eternally damned to live in darkness.  Listen to the warning He gives us in our epistle lesson: “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” [Rev. 22:18-19]  Now some may say, “But that refers to the prophecy found in the book of Revelations!”  And I must warn you that scripture must be taken as a whole.  You can’t cherry pick some as true and reject other portions as false or culturally irrelevant. 

 You see, every word of Scripture must be seen as a sanctuary; a sanctuary which is just as infallible and unchangeable as God Himself. [Deut. 4:2; 12:32; Prov. 30:5–6; Rev. 22:18–19]. Every addition is a sacrilege, since it dilutes God’s Word with the word of men. In the book of Proverbs, God provides this warning to those of us who want to tamper with His Word: ‘Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar. [Prov. 30:6]  Jesus Himself defends the completed Word of God this way: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” [Matt. 5:17–19].

Dear friends, God does not want you to leave here afraid and worried.  He wants you to leave here assured that He has made a way for you to join Him in paradise, a way back to the tree of eternal life, and He did it through the fruit of another tree, the tree of woe… the blessed cross.  You see, to hang upon that tree is to be accursed, so Jesus hung on that tree for you!  He bore our curse and removed it from us.  That then is the fruit of eternal life that He gives to you, the fruit of His righteousness… righteousness unto eternal life! [Rev. 22:2, 3]  Friends, He’s given you this fruit within the waters of your baptism, where you have been washed by the water and the Word… you have been washed clean in the blood of the lamb!  He promises you that although you may experience periods of night, it is not the darkness that awaits those who die in their sins because of their rejection of both God’s love and His Word that speaks of Christ’s passion.

You dear saints are now the servants of Jesus Christ; you are allowed by faith to see Him in His Word, seated upon the throne.  You bear His name upon your foreheads because in your baptism you were sealed by the Holy Spirit and moved by that same Spirit through the Word to believe in God’s real presence and His love for you!  You know by faith, that God has a plan for you and you trust in that plan.  And the day will come when night for you will be no more; you will enter the Eternal City as a servant of the Most High God Jesus Christ, and you will be infinitely blessed in that service, because you see, as a servant of the Lamb of God you will no longer have to learn the will of God, because it will be part of your very nature.  And the Lord God will be your light, and you will reign with Him forever and ever! [Rev. 22:3-5]

You see, unlike the sinful world that fears their own death, you are assured that the end of this world, is not something to be feared but anxiously awaited and celebrated when that day comes. Sure, Jesus may come at any moment to repay the entire world for what each individual has done, or he may also come at any time when you close your eyes for that last time in a natural death.  In either case, you dear saints have nothing to fear if you are trusting and resting in God’s Word.  Because in that Word you have been shown that through Jesus Christ you do not have an angry God but a God who loves you.  You have a God who has done all of the work Himself to ensure that you will be with Him, even today… this very moment in paradise! 

Is this your desire friends, to be with Jesus in paradise?  Then always remember this: We have no Christ, no God, and no salvation without His perfect and Holy Word.  And we have no unity with God and ourselves without that same Word.  But the more we have His Word ruling in our hearts and lives by faith, the more perfect our unity with Him and each other becomes.  And the deeper we are drawn into that unity the more we’re assured by God that we have nothing to fear!  The truth is friends, we are as close to Christ and each other as we believe, teach, live, and confess all that is contained in God’s Word. Let’s always remember that every deviation in doctrine, life, and practice from God’s Word distorts our unity and hinders the fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer for unity and assurance. Let’s also remember that people who are bent on changing any part of the Word, also those who demand things that aren’t in that Word must be warned that it is their very salvation and the power of the gospel for the entire world that is at stake!

So friends, spend time in that Word.  Let it become for you the living presence of almighty God.  Let it change you and rearrange you.  Let it alone become your moral compass.  Pray over His Word and meditate on God’s will, and then listen to Him speak!  Can you hear Him whispering to you now in the night of this sinful world?  He is saying, “I am coming soon.”  And what does He want our response to be?  You must shout in the night of this sinful world, “Glory!  Amen!  Come, Lord Jesus, come!”  AMEN!

Help Us!

Sunday, May 9th, 2010

Sixth Sunday after Easter, May 9, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church
Click here for audio of this message
 

We are on a mission—a mission from God! We are to share God’s love, first through the Word and then through our actions!  The words Jesus spoke to his first disciples still apply today; Listen: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” [Jn. 20:21 and Jn. 17:18]  The universal church, every local congregation and every Christian in it, is sent into the world to fulfill a definite, defined task. Jesus, the church’s Lord, has issued marching orders. Individually and corporately, all God’s people are now in the kingdom building business… we are to seek and save the lost!  We are to pass on the love of God!

 This mission from God has three directives.  First and foremost, we have been called into the work of giving a worldwide witness, making disciples, and planting churches. [Matt. 24:14; 28:19-20; Mark 13:10; Luke 24:47-48]  We have been told that Jesus Christ is to be proclaimed everywhere as God in human flesh, Lord, and Savior  We are to make it clear that this is God’s only invitation to eternal life, and it can only be received by turning to Jesus in repentance and faith. [Matt. 22:1-10; Luke 14:16-24]  This message is to be delivered to the entire world. This morning, in our first reading (Acts 16:9-15), the ministry of church-planter Paul the evangelist models this primary commitment.  

The second directive that all Christians, and therefore every Christian on earth, are called to practice is sacrificial love; acts of mercy and compassion.  We are to model a form of neighbor-love that responds willingly to all forms of human need as they present themselves. [Luke 10:25-27; Acts 16:15; Rom. 12:20-21] 

The third directive is to ask God the Father in the name of Jesus to give us both the means and the will to do these very things.  Well that’s a lot to receive this morning, so let’s get right into it!

 In our first reading we are immediately asked to consider a vision, St. Paul’s vision.  Now even though it comes to him at night, we are told that it is not a dream, but a vision from God!  What does God show him?  A man in Macedonia standing in front of him urging and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” [Acts 16:9]  Now one thing we need to be clear on right away; this vision was not a surprise for Paul and his three companions.  You see, they had been praying and planning on a vision from God for quite some time, but this is the first time that God actually made it clear to them where they needed to go!

 Does this sound familiar to anyone this morning?  Have you ever had the Lord make something absolutely clear to you after praying and searching His Word for direction?  Certainly we as a congregation have experienced this!  Now, we didn’t need to ask where we must go, because God has already established us at 7210 Lisbon St., right in the middle of the communities of Jamacha and Encanto!  So, that’s a no brainer, but then again so was the vision that Paul had.  They were asking “Where should we go and what should we do?”  And the answer was, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!”  Help you do what?  “Help us obtain God’s love and mercy.  Help us receive salvation and then joy and peace!”

 What’s interesting about this part of our reading is that in the Greek presentation of the first verse we would really read it like this: “A man of Macedonia was continually standing there, and he kept on urging him and saying,  “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” [Acts 16:9]  Do you see the difference?  In a vision, Paul was told that first it was urgent that he and his friends go to Macedonia, and second their work there had to be continuous.

 Friends, that is God’s call to us as well with the vision that He has given us.  We are to continually bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to our neighbors with a long term strategy.  We aren’t to say, “Well, we’ll give it a try, and if it doesn’t seem to be working will just give up.”  No, remember, God has made it clear to us that our call to bring the gospel is urgent and continuous.

 Now let’s go back to our reading to see how Paul responded to the vision.  Starting in the 13th verse we read, “And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.  And after she was baptized”. [vs. 13-15a]

 The first thing we see in Paul is obedience.  He heard God’s call and he responded.  Once in Macedonia, he did three things—he searched for a place where spiritually minded people gathered, he looked for a person of peace that God had already been working within, and finally he shared the gospel.  Now, let’s look at our circumstances here at Trinity and see how we compare.  First, we as well have responded obediently to God’s vision.  We are very close to opening our Ministry School where media, music, and the arts will be taught, and we have also now added a Wednesday evening gospel service where gospel music that is meaningful to the community is offered along with prayer and a gospel message.  People will come to Trinity because first it is already know as a spiritual gathering place and second because we are willing to “sit down and talk with them” about things that are meaningful to them!

 Another thing we see in our reading is God’s work because of Paul’s obedience.  We are told that one of the women that were present to hear Paul speak was a woman named Lydia.  She was a non-Jew who was already familiar with and worshiping Jehovah God.  Now remember when I pointed out the difference in the Greek language compared to the English in regards to the vision of the Macedonian?  Well we have something similar happening again.  In vs. 14, we simply read, “One who heard us was a woman named Lydia”, but in the Greek language it reads more like this, “One who kept on hearing us was a woman named Lydia”.  What’s the difference?  Well from this we learn that Paul did not just spend one Sabbath day with them and “presto-chango” she’s a Christian.  No he invested time in developing a relationship.  She probably heard many messages from Paul over a period of several weeks, but eventually in God’s time and power Lydia came to know Jesus Christ as HER Lord and Savior.  Through the Word of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ she wanted God’s salvation to come to not to just her alone but to her entire family.  And how did it come…. Through the washing of the water and the Word… through Holy Baptism!  Imagine that, her and all of her children were born again.  Why?  Because God was faithful and Paul was obedient!

 Paul could have passed by that little group of woman as being insignificant.   But he didn’t.  He saw their needs and through the leading of the Holy Spirit he was moved to have compassion on them.  Lydia was baptized… born again unto eternal life.  She could have simply thanked Paul and dismissed him and his friends while she got back to her normal daily business routine, but she didn’t.  Instead, moved by the same Holy Spirit, she had compassion on Paul and his missionary friends, and asked them to not just live with her and her family, but to make her family’s home their missionary headquarters.  It only took a spark from the Holy Spirit’s presence to get a fire of Christian love and service going within the heart of the born-again Lydia!

 Friends, consider this for a moment—hasn’t God already asked us here at Trinity to open up our worship home to new neighbors who are seeking a relationship of love peace with God?  Haven’t already been convinced that He is asking us to bring in new people who need to know about Jesus in a personal way?  When you stop and think about it, God is asking us to be simultaneously both like Paul and Lydia.  We are like Paul in that we are asked to be on a mission from God, a mission to seek and save the lost.  And we do that by both proclaiming and teaching the gospel.  Some of the people we meet will have no idea about our faith or our Savior Jesus Christ.  Some, like Lydia will be familiar with God, even worshiping Him, but they do not know about His grace, mercy, peace, and joy He brings once you know Him unto salvation.  But, we are also like Lydia.  We who have been born again in the waters of Holy Baptism have been recreated.  We have been changed, and because of that change God has given us a heart that responds both to His Word and His living presence within us.  He asks us to respond with our time, talents, and even our treasure.  But that can be a scary thing; you see it requires faith!  Lydia must have been a little hesitant about opening her home up to strangers, even strangers that brought her eternal life through the gospel.  Like Lydia, we have God’s Word; we know His will and yet we begin to be uncertain.  So where do we go with our fears and worries?  We go to the Lord!  And what do we do?  We pray!

 In our gospel reading (Jn. 16:22-33) Jesus is speaking once again in that upper room just before His death and resurrection.  He knows His disciples are worried and afraid, so He speaks to calm their fears and prepare them for the joy and confidence that will come after His resurrection and ascension, on the day of Pentecost.  After that day, the Holy Spirit will come and live within every Christian as a result of their baptism.  And His presence within them will lead them to ask for all things that are centered in the name of Jesus.  Listen once again to His Words of assurance: “Whatever you ask of the Father in my name, He will give it to you.  Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (vs. 23,24)   “In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” (vs. 26, 27)

 Dear friends, Jesus tells His disciples, He tells us to ask “in (His) name.” And he seals this directive with a promise, “you shall receive” what you ask in my name. Why such a promise?  Well friends, so that our “joy may be fulfilled.”  By remembering that the Father loves us because we love His Son Jesus Christ our joy becomes fulfilled.  And as we experience this joy we begin to experience obedience as Jesus sends us out and leads us onto the mission field that is our community.  As we go out on our Heavenly Father’s mission… to seek and save the lost, we remember Jesus Words, so we ask the Father, in Jesus name to open the doors and hearts of our neighbors to our gospel message, so that they too may know Jesus Christ unto salvation! 

 Well, let me close with this short story:  There once was a man who refused to sell his home to a bank.  His house and property sat adjacent to a tract of land that the bank wanted to build on.  The bank wanted to buy his home and knock it down.  But the man refused!  The bank offered to pay top dollar, but again… no deal!  Ninety years old, the man had live in his house for most of his life.  He didn’t have to sell so he decided he wouldn’t!  But the bank wanted to build, so they decided they would!  The result of this failure to compromise is a new bank building shaped like a horseshoe around the man’s house.  An automatic teller machine dispenses cash fifteen feet from where he sleeps.  The cars drive through and idle in front of his kitchen window.  These two parties may be next to one another, but we certainly wouldn’t call them neighbors. 

 Do you want to find true joy in your life?  Stay close to Jesus and ask for the things He has promised to give you!  Walk where He leads you and let Him sacrificially love your neighbor through you.  And as you walk with Jesus, He will allow you to see a transformation in the people He loves through you.  After the people you witness to become disciples through faith, you will see them being transformed through daily contact with their Lord.  Through God’s Word and the power of the Holy Spirit, they will develop such a strong and abiding love for the Father that nothing can ever move them.  So don’t grow weary from doing well friends.  Keep trusting and following your Lord, even when you have doubts.  Remember, even though you’re on a mission from God, “in this world you will have tribulations (and trials).  But take heart (Jesus) has overcome the world! [Jn. 16:33b]

Such Joy!

Sunday, May 2nd, 2010

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 2, 2010
Click here for audio of this message
 

“So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” (Jn.16:22)

This morning, God’s Word teaches us about sorrow and joy.  Does anyone here know anything about sorrow?  I’m right there with you.  What is sorrow?  Is it the absence of joy?  Well maybe; or just maybe it’s the feeling of being helpless and alone; the feeling that it’s you against the world!  But what happens when someone steps in to help us shoulder the burden were under?  We begin to feel a sense of relief… a sense of joy!  That’s what Jesus wants you to experience when He says, “Come unto me, all you who are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”  If you’ve experienced that rest through God’s Word and His Sacraments, give God glory right now and thank Him!  God is good isn’t that right?

 Friends, God doesn’t want you to feel like it’s just you and Him against the world.  He’s called you into fellowship with other saints who have been saved by grace, through faith because of the living Word of God, Jesus Christ.  He wants you to be a part of the body of Christ so that the other saints in His body can help you carry your burden and sorrows, and then you can help them carry theirs.  Again, I say, God is good… Amen!

 But God doesn’t want you to think that it’s us against the world either.  He wants you to remember that your real enemy is the devil, not people.  So where does He send you after you’ve tasted and seen that the Lord is good?  Well, He sends you right back out into the same sinful world that looks down upon you and your Lord.  He asks you to love those who belittle and demean you, even harm you, and He asks you to pray for them; He wants you to invite them to become part of His kingdom.  In other words, God wants you to be kingdom builders!

 I. This morning, in our gospel reading we are given a picture of confusion, worry and fear.   It’s the perfect illustration of “me against the world”!  The disciples are gathered together in the upper room, just hours before our Lord’s arrest and crucifixion.  Jesus has washed their feet and said they must be servants.  He has revealed once and for all that He is God.  He has taught that He and the Father and the Holy Spirit are together God.  Three persons, yet one God.    Then He began talking about the world’s hatred towards Him and by proxy for them.  But now comes the crushing blow; one of them will betray Him unto death and another will disown Him.  “How can this be?” they wondered.  “What am I going to do now?”

And to these fears, Jesus says: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” [v.12]   ‘Many things?  Oh Lord, if there anything like these other things, I don’t really care to hear them.’  But He continues, “A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me.  Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.”   In a little while, the disciples indeed shall feel alone in their grief.  They will be drowning in their own tears.  Their beloved Lord and master will die the death of a criminal!  But the world… well that’s another thing.  It will rejoice and be glad in it!  The devil, has worked his murderous plan upon the Author of Life and the world celebrates with unholy glee!  This is the “little while of sorrow” that Jesus spoke of.  But He also says “again a little while, and you will see me.”  Your sorrow will become joy!  And what was the source of their joy?  It was the Easter morning Resurrection!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  But in just a few short weeks He would leave them again when He ascends into heaven.  That’s why He reminded them and us that the Holy Spirit of God remains with us as our counselor, advocate and friend.  He reminds us that He has not left us as orphans.  He remains with us in His Word and Sacraments through the power of the Holy Spirit.  And, He is within us and He is all around us through the fellowship of other each other!  “Lo, I am with you always” He says!

 Dear friends Christ promises us that in this world “WE” WILL experience both sorrow and joy; but He assures us that He is still with us!  He comforts us with His Holy Word which is empowered by the Holy Spirit who lives within us!  He has washed us clean in the waters of our baptism… we are born again!  And He feeds us His very body and blood, through the bread and wine so that we may be continuously reminded that we are forgiven.  But He wants us to remember that we aren’t in this alone!  You see he has called us into His body, the church!  And together we learn to submit to His will, suffer and bear more than all other people.  We learn to take anything and everything the devil and this world can throw at us, because Jesus is still with us!  Who of us could have ever guessed in our youth that we would have gone through what we have gone through and still be walking with the Lord? 

 Dear friends, there is simply no way you could have made it through the troubles you’ve seen unless the Holy Spirit was guiding you!  He is called “the Spirit of truth” because in spite of what your sorrow and fears tell you, His message is always the same: “You are not alone!”  Through the work of the Holy Spirit the promises of the gospel break through and assure us that God’s dwelling place is within us and around us!  Jesus lives within you and you are his child, his friend, and his brother.  What a joy to know that we are not alone!  God is with us and we are in this together.  Isn’t it a great joy to be part of His body?  Isn’t it a blessing to call the person next to you brother or sister?

 II. But we still have sorrow, fears, and worry to contend with.  So what do we do when trouble and sorrows surround us?  Well our sinful tendency is to huddle together and protect what we have instead of sharing it!  Were a little bit like porcupines.  You know, the colder it gets outside, and the more we feel threatened, the more we huddle together; but the problem with that is, the closer we get to each other, the more we hurt one another with our sharp quills.  So the deeper our sorrows and fears become the more we begin to drift apart and wander out on our own in to the freezing cold.  We freeze to death in our loneliness!  That’s how congregations eventually die out.  Why does this happen?  Because we forget to let the Living Word of God and the presence of the Holy Spirit lead us and change us!

Dear friends, when we develop this “us against the world” mentality when we forget that God’s Spirit is ever with us and sending us out into the world.  Instead of seeing ourselves as a missional outpost that raises up, equips, and sends out ambassadors to seek and save the lost, we can become more like a fortress; digging in and protecting what God says we must share.  If a congregation remains in this fortress mentality they will become unresponsive to the working of the Holy Spirit.  They become so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good!  It’s as if they’ve draw a line in the sand and said, “This is us and that’s them!”  But who is them?  Well, “them” becomes anyone who doesn’t think, act, talk, or worship like us!  In our Epistle reading this morning Peter along with all of us have been warned by the Holy Spirit not to look upon as unclean what God has made clean. 

Like Peter, when we put up our walls of protection thinking that we are fulfilling God’s will, we may just find ourselves fighting against the work of the Holy Spirit.  Now don’t get me wrong, certainly, like Peter we must protect God’s Holy Word and the correct understanding of it.  We must preach, teach, and confess both the Law and the Gospel in its proper form.  Our doctrine is pure, and we must fight to keep it that way.  Our Sacraments are precious and we must never let anyone rob us of God’s work that is given to us through them.  Our liturgical heritage is a gift from God and it finds its origin in the very first days of worship that were centered on God’s living Word.  Certainly there is no reason to abandon it now.  But what about those things that are not central to our faith?  May God protect us from becoming so fixated on a European heritage that we block out all other cultural heritages.  God forbid we call unclean and unholy what the Holy Spirit has sanctified and called clean!

 III. So what is the only way to ensure we are working with the Holy Spirit and not against Him?  By keeping our hearts centered on the gospel.  If we remember that God so loved the world, even you and me, that He gave His only Son that WE ALL might have eternal life, we will easily move from worry, fear, and sorrow into the joy of our salvation!

 Dear friends, God wants each of us to leave here this morning knowing that there is the promise of joy even in the middle of sorrow, fear, worry and pain. And until our hour comes to leave this veil of tears, I pray that we will not only rejoice in the hope of salvation, but we will also learn to rejoice in God himself.  If we will simply rest in Christ then through His Word and the presence of the Holy Spirit we will learn that Jesus’ love and presence are more than any circumstance in our life.  That he is greater than all his gifts.  That he is fully adequate for every situation in our lives.  You will learn that just as He promised, He is with us through the Holy Spirit guiding us through all the adverse circumstances, all the crushing disappointments, and all the heartaches.  And as you go through these things, you will learn that God is giving you the very thing He is after, faith and such joy in your salvation!

So hold on dear saints!
  Help isn’t on the way, it’s already here!  As one heart, God’s Spirit is inviting us to walk and work together with Him.  And remember, we are all serving and waiting together for the same goal—The day when each of us will be with God as His people, and He will be with us as our God.  He will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things will have passed away. [Rev. 21:3-4]