Archive for December, 2010

Violent Night, Holy Night!

Sunday, December 26th, 2010

1st Sunday after Christmas A, December 26, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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Picture shows a woman holding her child hiding from Herod's soldiers.

INRODUCTION:

I found our gospel lesson this morning a hard message to preach.  It’s hard to hear a message that included the slaughter of “innocent” babies; that’s not the message that most of us want to hear the first Sunday after Christmas message, right?  Haven’t we all been taught that Christmas is a time of happiness?  So why would I want to preach about violence and death?  Well, because it is in the Bible!  And God’s Word is always relevant and timely.  In this reading from Matthew, we are shown sin at its ugliest, but it is also shows us an important piece of prophecy that was fulfilled.  In our gospel lesson God wants us to learn about His special providence or care, which accomplishes His will, even when bad, violent and evil things happen.  In short, God wants us to know that even when bad things happen, He is still in control!

 As a way of introduction, please allow me a few words about the history behind how the church has dealt with this text.  Somewhere around the middle of the 4th century, the church observed this Sunday and this text as “The Feast of the Innocents.”  It was a big deal for the early church because they felt that it was the very first evidence of martyrdom for Christ.  During this time period, the church was soaked with the blood of Christians who died to proclaim the truth of the gospel, and they used this day to honor those who had given so much.  The liturgical setting was often the color purple, which was usually reserved for the season of Lent.  In the worship service it was a day to emphasize repentance and personal examination.  Let me share with you a sample prayer that I found that I feel best describes the over all mindset of the early church: “O God, whose praise the martyred innocents did this day proclaim, not by speaking but by dying: Destroy in us all the malice of sinfulness, that our lives may also proclaim thy faith, which our tongues profess.  Through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.”

Let me give you a few questions to consider before I address our text:  Did people die yesterday on Christmas?  Were there homeless people Christmas Eve?  Do you think that every Christian experienced a problem free Christmas?  Do you think that there might even be some of your brothers and sisters in the Lord here today that did not have a MERRY and WONDERFUL Christmas?  If you answered yes to anyone of these questions then you’ve discovered like me that God’s Word for us today is very timely and appropriate for us to consider, but in order for us to hear God speak, we must understand HOW He spoke in the past.  So let’s examine the world as it was in today’s Gospel.

I. From Joseph and Mary’s perspective the last 9 months had been hectic, confusing, joyful, exciting, and worrisome!  Angels, relatives, strangers, farm animals and innkeepers had all been a crazy part of God’s prophecy that they saw fulfilled right before their eyes.  But there still remained many unanswered questions about this miraculous baby boy that God had placed in their care.  To put it simply, Joseph and Mary were going full speed ahead into a mystery that somehow declared that this baby is God in human flesh, Immanuel!  What before seemed like a dream had now become very real as the angel instructed Joseph to “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until (God told them to leave, because) Herod (was) about to search for the child, to destroy him.” [Matt. 2:13] Talk about a stressful way to cap off the first Christmas!

 Now let’s look at the first Christmas from King Herod’s perspective.  From Herod’s point of view, God’s Word about the Messiah presented a direct challenge to his pride and to his precarious reign as the King of Palestine.  Throughout His reign as king he ruthlessly destroyed anyone he thought was a direct threat to his throne, including dozens of his blood relatives and even his own children.  History records that Herod, while on his death bed, even had his son Antipater decapitated as a final act of revenge. 

Now back to our Gospel lesson which is about one of Herod’s many diabolical plots that was carried through, well …sort of.  You see, when Herod learned that the Magi (The Wise Men) were somehow warned of his plot to kill the Messiah, and had refused to return to him and reveal the location of the baby that would be “King of the Jews,” true to form, he became furious, and ordered that all the baby boys two years old and younger must be slaughtered, thus ensuring that the Messiah would be killed as well.  What a pathetic person Herod was to think that He could thwart the will of God and prevent the prophecies from being fulfilled!  Think of the horrible sounds that came from Bethlehem that day when Herod’s soldiers carried out his hideous plan. I shudder to think of the painful screams of the infants and the horror-filled cries of their parents.  As a Father I cannot bear to think about this any further and neither could St. Matthew, so we will just leave it as he does.  But what is amazing is that Herod’s evil plan somehow became the fulfillment of prophecy, as St. Matthew tells us: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning.  Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

Now, since we’re speaking about background, let me provide just a little more insight into this quote that actually comes from Jeremiah 31:15.  The prophet Jeremiah was speaking about the Exile of the Jews from Judah to Babylon after they were conquered.  Ramah was a staging point about 5 miles outside of Jerusalem, which the Babylonians used as a sort of Internment camp.  It was here where the strongest, fairest and brightest like Daniel the prophet, were singled out, marked, separated from their families and sent to Babylon.  Rachel who weeps for her children, was the sister of Leah and she was Jacob’s favorite wife.  She represents all of the Jewish mothers who wept for their children when they were deported to Babylon, but she also represents all those who would weep when the prophecy of the “slaughter of the innocents” is fulfilled.

 Do you find this depressing?  I did too, until I realized that this incident would cause yet another prophecy about Jesus to be fulfilled.  You see, when the angel warned Joseph in his dream to flee Herod’s evil plan and run to Egypt, one of God’s final prophecies about the God-child, Jesus the Messiah would be fulfilled.  It was an obscure Messianic prophecy that is found in the book of Hosea that speaks of the Messiah like this: “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” Well, let’s close our background study and take this sacred recording of history and let God speak to us this morning. 

II. Within our Gospel lesson, God’s Word provides us with three things: FAITH, OBEDIENCE, and the gift of ETERNAL LIFE.

Now, in regards to faith, God’s Word is always His chief means of Grace.  A means of grace is simply the way in which God chooses to give us saving faith, that is the ability to believe that He has forgiven all of our sin. Mary received this gift through God’s Word when the angel came and spoke to her regarding the child that she was to give birth to.  Listen: “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” [Luke 1]  And Joseph was visited too and given God’s Word of faith when the angel said to him, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” [Matt. 1]. 

Friends, that same Living Word of God that Joseph and Mary heard is Who speaks to us today.  It is the Word that assures you that, “(Jesus) The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost (even you).”  This little baby who was born to die for the sins of the world, surely died also for those little ones that Herod slaughtered.  We can rest knowing that God had preordained from the beginning that these little ones that died in Christ’s place, would foreshadow the mission of our baby Savior who would latter do an even greater thing by dying for them and us, and giving us eternal life.  Know this for certain, all little children are precious to our Savior.  Do you recall that  later as an adult, Jesus would gather the little children to Himself; He laid hands on them, and blessed them.  He told His apostles that unless they entered the kingdom of God as like a little child they could not get in!   

Even today, Jesus is still gathering little children to Himself in Holy Baptism.  It is through His Word which comes with water that the sins of our little ones are washed away.  Through His Word, faith is given and that faith clings to the promise of Christ; the promise which states that they are the redeemed possession of the Triune God.  That is why we bring our little ones to Baptism and faithfully teach them the mysteries and the truths of the holy Christian Faith.  It is faith that knows that Jesus shed his blood for the infant boys of Bethlehem just as He did it for you!

Through this faith God grants us strength to follow where he leads, and to endure all of the hardships that life brings.  We call this strength to follow God “obedience”.  Those little babies were privileged to never know the life- long pain or suffering and violence, disappointment, sickness or death.  But Joseph knew what it meant to sacrifice.   Joseph was obedient to the call of God to flee Bethlehem.  In the middle of the night, he obediently gathered Marry and child and fled to a foreign land.  But faith, given through the promises of God’s Word provided him with the strength to obediently follow where ever God would lead.  Mary also knew how to be obedient.  She also followed God’s will in raising her son, even though she knew that Jesus, her child was born to suffer and die for her sins and the sins of the world.  Joseph and Mary knew what hardship was and so did our dear Savior.  Scripture tells us that Jesus was a man acquainted with sorrow.  Jesus Himself spoke of this truth in the garden of Gethsemane, before His death, when He said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”  But faith provides obedience to follow where God leads and believe that all things will work together for good, no matter what the cost.  How can we remain obedient even in the middle of suffering and death?  Well if it were up to us we couldn’t, but through the on-going work of God’s Holy Spirit, we can look to His Word and follow Jesus journey along the road of life that led to the cross.  We can obediently come to this communion rail and receive the bread and wine and not question how it could possibly be His body and blood; it is simply enough that our Lord said that it is, and that through this eating and drinking He gives us forgiveness of sins and the strength to follow Him!  We can remember that as he suffered and died, so must we, but as He rose again from the dead so shall we also!   

Yes friends, life is a struggle, but scripture promises that those who finish their course, who run the race to its end will be rewarded with an eternal life that will never again know pain, fear, sickness or death again.  The short race of those babies in Bethlehem ended when God called them home and rewarded them with eternal life.  When the time comes for God to call us as well, we will say, along with all of the other saints who have gone before us “Where O death is your sting, where of grave is your victory.”   

 Dear friends, God had a plan for Joseph and Mary.  He had a plan for the innocents, and he has a plan for you too.  I can’t tell you exactly what His plan for you is, but I can tell you this much, where ever He leads you and where ever you go, even if in the past you have sinfully walked away from where He was leading you, “He will never leave or forsake you,” because He is Emmanuel, God with Us, even unto the very end.

 Well before we close our message this morning, there is one final prophecy that I need to remind you of that was also fulfilled.  Now, it’s a small one, but without it coming true, Jesus could not have been declared the Messiah.  What is that last prophecy?  It’s this:  “(The Messiah) will be called a Nazarene.”  How was it fulfilled?  Well, Joseph was also warned by God in another dream  “(That another evil ruler named) Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod,” so to protect God’s Son, Joseph was told to take up residence in “the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth.” So the final piece of prophecy is fulfilled! 

CONCLUSION: Listen friends, isn’t it a comfort to know that God is always in control of things that are happening in our lives?  Isn’t it encouraging to know that the very same voice that spoke through the prophets is STILL calling out to you as well!  He is calling you to remember when your love for him was new and fresh; when you would gladly follow where ever He would lead.  Follow Him now; pick up His Word and learn from Him who is gentle and meek.  Remember His promises of old that were given to you at your Baptism.  Remember that what God’s Word declared was done for you at your Baptism can never be undone.  God has saved you for Christ sake.  I pray that you will continue to claim His promise of salvation and not doubt, but only believe that he who was faithful to begin a good work in you will complete it! [Philp. 1]  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

God is With Us!

Sunday, December 19th, 2010

4th Sunday of Advent A, December 19, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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This illustrates the gospel reading for Pastor Brian's sermon found at www.thegatherings.us

God is with us!

INTRODUCTION: Perhaps the two best gifts I ever received as a child came on my 13th birthday.  One I knew immediately was great and the other took me until just last Friday to value its worth.  They were a 5 speed cross country bike and a Timex wrist watch.  The bike, although it wasn’t what I dreamed of (I wanted a 10 speed) represented my independence.  On that bike I could and did take wonderful trips by myself to places that were up to 10 miles away from my home!  For a teenage boy that independence was exciting.  I took many trips around the lake near my home.  Every Saturday, I would wake up, prepare my bike and take off on my trip after breakfast.  My mother would always pack me a few sandwiches and a thermos of milk, and send me on my way; that is after she gave me some pretty explicit instructions.  “Brian” she would say, “dinner is at 5:00 pm, and so be home no later than 4:30 pm!”  That’s where the other gift came in… the watch.  I learned to hate that thing.  Just as I was in the middle of some wonderful adventure, I would check my watch and discover there was no time to finish it!  Usually, I would mind the time and go home grudgingly, but sometimes I would ignore the impending curfew and continue with my fun.  The result was always the same; when I got home my bike would be taken away for 2 weeks and my adventures would end.  My father would always give me the same lecture.  “Son, until you learn to be mindful of your mother and “obedient” the bike will be put away!”

Now as I said earlier, it wasn’t until just this last Friday that I realized just what that watch represented and what a gift it was.  I have now come to finally appreciate what my parents gave me.  They gave me freedom, but they also taught me responsibility and the need to be obedient to the giver of the gift of freedom.  I learned that obedience isn’t always fun but it is a requirement, a responsibility that comes with freedom!   

I. I think all of us can agree that the best gift that we can receive is one that’s on our list of hopeful treasures.  It comes after someone close to us promises to give us that gift.  In our Old Testament reading, we see God confirming a promise that He made even farther back.  It is the promise of a Savior who would come and conquer the devil, death, and even our own sin!  In Genesis 3:15 God first gave us this promise, when He spoke it to Eve and the devil, after Eve and her husband Adam chose disobedience and independence instead of obedience and dependence on God.  This choice came because they decided to trust the devil instead of God.  In response to this, God promised the devil punishment, but to Adam and Eve He gave the promise of hope and peace for them and all of sinful 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.”

Within this promise we should always keep a few things in mind.  First, if God says He’s going to do something it is certain that He will do it exactly as He says.  Second, God’s timing is never as we expect it, but it is always perfect timing!  Third, God speaks as the author and perfecter of our faith, and as the giver of all good gifts.  So when He gives the gift it can never be improved upon and it like the timing when the gift is given is always perfect.

II. So what is the gift that God promised in Genesis 3:15?  What is the one thing that we need, whether we admit it or not, that we could never acquire on our own?  Friends, it is the gift of closeness with God!  It is the gift of a relationship of peace and love with our Creator!  Whether a person admits it or not, each of us has a giant hole in our souls, and emptiness and void that can only be filled by God.  All around us is the evidence of that missing piece.  Why are there sickness, death, destruction, famine, and war?  Because God is missing!  Why are there anger, bitterness, strife, and hostility?  Because someone will not let God change their hearts.  He has promised that He can and will do this… so why isn’t it happening?  Because people are still choosing to be disobedient!  But for you who have been called by God’s grace, like the believers in Rome who Paul addressed in our epistle lesson (Rom. 1:7) you have learned by faith to trust that God has already fulfilled His promise to you and anyone else who will trust in His faithfulness!

This is the same promise that all of the prophets of old have repeated over and over again throughout Holy Scripture.  In our Old Testament lesson this morning (Is. 7:10-17), God made the promise first given to Adam and Eve even clearer.  Through the prophet Isaiah He made it clear to a disobedient and independent King Ahaz that He was coming soon to break into our existence as our mighty champion and Savior!  King Ahaz would not ask for a sign that God would provide; a sign which would prove God’s faithfulness in the hour of King Ahaz weakness and need.  But God would not let Ahaz’s sinfulness stop the coming of His solution to our problem of Sin.  So God speaks and Ahaz and all sinners must listen: “(Very well, since you will not ask for a sign) Therefore the Lord Himself will give you (and all sinful mankind) a sign.  Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel!”

Who is this Immanuel?  It is Jesus!  How can we know for sure?  Because His name describes the miracle of God’s coming to us as our champion and our Savior!  What does Immanuel mean?  It means God is with us!  And to assure us of this truth, God assigns Him a proper name that explains His ministry.  “You shall call His name Jesus!” [Matt. 1:21]  What does Jesus mean?  God saves; He saves His people from their sins!  What sins?  All sins; sins that come because of our disobedience and desire to be independent of our Saving God!

This dear friends is the true gift that God foretold for us long ago in the promise of defeat and victory which was given to the devil and to Adam and Eve!  It is a gift that you haven’t earned nor deserved; it comes purely out of God’s love for you and His desire to have you back into a relationship of love and dependence upon Him!  It is His gift of grace that gives back to you His gift of presence and dependence and it comes only through a child, a God-child born of the virgin promised long ago.  How can a virgin, a young woman who has never known a man give birth with no earthly husband?  She cannot unless God breaks into our physical reality!

This Christmas season God is declaring to each of us that He has broken into our reality.  Whether you sense it or not makes no difference to the reality that God is with us!  Do you have doubts or worries?  Don’t you think that Mary and Joseph did?  And it is to these doubts and worries that God assures us with these Words: “Do not fear… for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  (Mary has) conceived and (bore) a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins (even your sins).” [Matt. 1:20-22] 

III. Dear friends, do you truly understand what this promise means?  It means that in spite of what your present circumstances may look like, God has not left you and He never will; He is with you always even in times of darkness, even at death!  When we grab onto the promises of God’s Word and trust and believe that He is with us always, we realize that the true gift that God has given to us is Himself through Jesus Christ!  He surely was born a man child in a humble stable, but He was also God in our flesh!  He was conceived not of man but by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.  He was miraculously made of a woman as was promised long ago.  By His birth, Jesus who is the living Word of God with us as our Savior came to us in a real body and soul.  He had a human will and He ate, drank, grew weary, and He died a real death!  And it’s in this reality where so many fall from faith because they cannot believe!  They cannot accept that God was born and they cannot accept that God chose to die a real death!  But remember that God’s ways are not our ways.  Just as we can never understand His timing, we can never understand the way He acts, because He is the author and source of both the promise of a Savior and the miraculous way the Savior comes and breaks into our reality!

Dear friends, doubts are nothing new; all of us have them!  Think of how dear Mary must have felt when the angel first spoke to her!  “Why me?  Couldn’t God find someone better and more deserving?”  And what about dear Abraham?  When God spoke to Him and promised that He would be the father of an uncountable nation of people who would be God’s own children simply because they related to Him by faith, don’t you think that He doubted?  When God told Him to leave his homeland and head out into an unknown territory don’t you think he was afraid?  And what about Joseph, who was a righteous and good man who discovered that his virgin bride was pregnant?  How must he have felt when he discovered that the child that he was to adopt was the Son of God?  How would He be a Father to God Himself?  How indeed?  How can any of us make it through this world of sin, surrounded by the darkness of death and the attacks of the devil?  How can any of us be God’s own light in a world of darkness?  Dear friends we do it the very same way that Adam and Eve, Abraham, Mary and Joseph did it; we cling to the promises of God found in His Word and by faith we trust and obey; we follow where ever God leads knowing that He is with us always.  We believe that all things will work together for the good for those who like Saint Paul says in our epistle lesson are “called to belong to Jesus Christ!” [Rom. 1:6]

CONCLUSION: By faith friends, Jesus calls us to follow Him; follow Him to the cross.  Like our Savior Immanuel, we too were born to die, but were also born to know that because we die to ourselves we shall live forever with God.  And we can only do this by faith, through the gift of God giving Himself, which comes to us in the promises of His Word.  And then through that same Word we are enabled to obediently follow where ever He leads.  And where does He lead us?  He leads us out into a world darkened by sin, misery, and death, so that we can be His light of hope! 

Dear friends, when we follow Him wherever He leads, we are doing it for the sake of making His name known among all of the nations, even within our own sinful community.  Why do we do this?  So that others may know that God, through Jesus Christ has broken into their reality too!  He sends us out as His ambassadors to live out the cross that He has given to us so that through our witness of Him we might bear fruit.  And what is that fruit?  It is seeing others become sons and daughters of God by grace through the gift of faith so that they too may experience the double gift of freedom and obedience.  This is the fruit of the Gospel promise that God first made long ago; it is the promise and the work of the God-man Jesus Christ.  This is your mission that God sends you out on.  He has given you your freedom from sin, death, and the devil and He asks you to be obedient to your calling to walk by faith with Him, cling to His Word, and tell everyone who will listen what He has done for you and for them!  I pray that by faith you will be obedient to this mission, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

It’s Good to Be a gentile-Christian!

Sunday, December 5th, 2010

2nd Sunday after Advent A, December 5, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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INTRODUCTION: In our epistle reading this morning [Rom. 15:4-13] we are allowed a glimpse into an issue that caused quite a bit of controversy within the body of Christ, the Church.  There were divisions being created over the question of how the gentiles should be received by the Jewish Christians.  Some said that they should become Jewish by adopting the historic practices of the Jews, specifically circumcision.  We must remember that the very word “gentile” was often used in a derogatory fashion.  It was someone who was outside of God’s covenant of peace with the Hebrew people who were chosen by God to be a light or a beacon unto the gentile nations.  A gentile then signifies a person or a group of people who are “strangers”  to God Almighty.  In the time of Paul, the Hebrew word “goi” or gentile meant “nation,” and often it was used to designate nations that were politically distinct from Israel. [Deut. 15:6; 28:12, 36; Josh. 23: 4]  From this use the word gentile has come to be defined as “stranger” or “heathens.”

You can see how tension could develop in the middle of a worship service, especially at the Lord’s Supper if heathen were showing up to not just worship, but to receive our Lord’s very body and blood!  Well that tension was resolved once and for all by the Council of Jerusalem in 50 A.D., it was decided that the “gentile” Christians would not be troubled with any religious burdens other than remaining with in the one faith in Jesus Christ and to abstain from things polluted by idols and sexual immorality.

So problem solved!  Now there will be no more divisions within the body of Christ right?  Wrong!  We still experience divisions within the body of Christ.  Things like economic status, color, ethnicity, styles of worship, and denominational differences still divide us.  What went wrong?  This morning we will look at two things that God’s Word says if followed will bring harmony and peace, first within our individual hearts and then within the body of Christ, His church.  They are the welcoming of all believers and the adherence to God’s Word!

I. In verse 7 in our epistle lesson we read “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”  Who is it that Paul wants us to welcome?  Well he says one another, so right away we can see that he is referring to a particular group of people.  Does he mean a congregation?  Yes!  Here God through St. Paul is telling each of us to look past any prejudice or anger we may have, even if we feel it’s justifiable and welcome one another in peace. This welcoming that Paul is talking about is the type that ignores differences and grudges against other Christians, and it forgives and perseveres in love simply because Jesus first loved them!  Here Paul calls us to carry the perceived weaknesses of a brother as long as it takes.  Just helping them once or twice and leaving them to someone else is not what he has in mind.  No Paul is calling us to continually welcome them and to help shoulder their burden as long as it is needed.  But how and why should we do this?

Well in regards to the how, we must first admit that we can’t do this on our own.  You see we are all caught in sin; that is, on our own we can’t love someone else as Christ loves us!  So if we are to welcome our brothers and sisters here, we must be willing to ask Christ to come along side of us and give us a desire to forgive and to love and then we need to ask Him to give us endurance and encouragement so that He can continue to work within and through us.   Well that answers the how, but why should we do this?  Friends, St. Paul answers that question too; we do it simply for the glory of God!  We must remember that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us; he welcomed us and He wants us to do the same for each other!

Well, I think that each of us can agree that this is truly God’s desire for our congregation and I’m sure that each of you will through the power of God’s Holy Spirit work towards fulfilling His will.  You know, there is nothing sweeter than a congregation that is centered in the love of God and Christ Jesus.  Jesus should be the heart of every member here!  But if we allow these words to take us no further than within this small body of believers, then I am afraid we are no better than the Jewish Christians that were admonished by the Council of Jerusalem.  Because you see there are other Christians who are not Lutherans who also hear these Words of encouragement and admonishment, and they too are being moved to act along with us!  But act in what way?  Well to love and forgive one another.  To believe that if anyone confesses with their mouth and believes in their heart that Jesus is Lord they are saved and they are your brother or sister.  And what are we called to do together?  Friends, we are called to build the Kingdom of God together! 

Now some will be wondering if I am trying to say that all denominations are the same, and to this I will answer, “Certainly not!”  And yet they are my brothers and my sisters, even if they are different!  So St. Paul calls us to welcome them as well.  But how!  Let’s let St. Paul answer that question.  Listen: “for whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of Scriptures we might have hope.”

II. How can there be unity in such a vast sea of different denominations and teachings?  By being in, living out, and teaching correctly God’s own Word!  By holding onto what was written and not rejecting any of it.  In His Word, God promises to come along side of us and create harmony, real unity among believers!  You see, like before, it is God coming among and within us doing the work!  The strong and the weak, the rich and the poor, Roman Catholic and protestants of all flavors are promised unity if they hold onto the pure Word of God!  Where the Word of God is preached, taught, confessed, and lived-out, you have the true church, the One Holy catholic Church!  This was our Lord’s desire when He prayed his High-priestly prayer.  If you remember he prayed that we be one as He and the Father are one.  Then He prayed: “Sanctify them in the truth; thy Word is truth.” [Jn. 17:17, 21, 23]  How do we become one?  By remaining in His Word and being set apart as Holy through it!  Why did He want us to be united?  So our unified voice and harmony would impress those in the world that were outside of this faith; so that they would desire to be part of this oneness! 

Dear friends, you don’t see the body of Christ grow by changing or getting rid of some of the Word; no, Christ says that we will only see people come to faith and rest in this faith if they remain in His truth.  How do we remain in His truth?  By remaining is His Word; all of His Word is truth!  All of God’s Word that is found in your Bible is inspired by Him.  It is to be used for reproof, for correction and improvement in our lives.  No one has the right to discard any portion of scripture.  We are to declare both the Law and the Gospel as it has been given to us!  Jesus gave His Church the specific commission to teach all people to observe all things whatsoever He commanded. [Matt. 28:20]  And Paul declared: “I have not shunned declaring unto you all the counsel of God.” [Acts 20:27]  In the Old Testament too, people were forbidden to add to the written Word or to take anything away from it. [Jos. 1:8; Deut. 17:19].  This means dear friends that nothing in Scripture can be regarded as culturally irrelevant or worthless, because whatsoever was written before hand was written for our learning! [Rom. 4:23,24; 15:4; 2 Tim. 3:16; 1 Cor. 10:11]

How can unity be restored not just in this church and our denomination, but within each denomination and throughout the Kingdom of God?  By knowing what God’s Word says and sticking to it!  This is what we call doctrine!  What is doctrine?  It is whatever the apostles and prophets wrote and taught for our learning.  These writings, this unified Word of God alone is what is the foundation of the Church.  It is the Word of God alone that proclaims the doctrine of Christ and His redemption, the forgiveness of sins for the entire world.  The Bible is a unit in which all of its parts, statements, doctrines, commandments, and promises either directly or indirectly, serve the purpose of teaching each of us how to be saved through faith in our Savior Jesus Christ.  And then it boldly teaches us how to live out our lives as children of God in a world darkened by sin, all for the glory of our God, Jesus Christ.  It is this holy Word of God alone that feeds us and then sends us out into the world to seek and save the lost!

How will we see the Kingdom of God grow?  By being of one mind and one mouth, “so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” [Rom. 15:6]  Dear friends, with one voice means with one united confession of faith.  To glorify God is to speak and to act so that his glory may appear within us and among us!  As his glory is one and unchangeable so must our proclamation of His Word be along with our service to Him as we allow Him to work though us building and advancing His kingdom!  This oneness of conviction and confession is what we call our doctrine!  When we lose our oneness of mind or voice someone is wrong and God’s glory is diminished through us!  But the clearer our doctrine is and the truer it is taught the more God’s love is displayed among us and through us.  Do we work alone and ignore our brothers and sisters in other denominations in order to protect our doctrine?  No, we must work with them and allow them to see that through God’s Word and its pure doctrine we have been given not just strong instruction but also endurance and strength. 

CONCLUSION: Dear friends, I know that sometimes we can really get tired of the real doctrinal differences that are found in the various Christian denominations.  The gentile-Christians who received the pure gospel of Jesus Christ were tiring of the continued religious attacks of the Jewish Christians.  But they didn’t separate, instead they and their pastors continued to plead for harmony and unity through the pure Word of God.  They used strong doctrine to convince the Jerusalem Council that they were indeed their brothers and sisters even though before they were considered gentiles; strangers and heathen.  It was strong doctrine that brought the church together under one heart and mind, the heart and mind of Jesus Christ.  And it will be again that same strong doctrine that will unite us under that same heart and mind.  It is this pure doctrine, the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ that alone unites us and turns us from a people of religion into a people of faith; people who are resting and serving within a relationship of love with God through Jesus Christ.  Yes it is good to be a gentile-Christian; one who has been saved through Jesus Christ; one who was once a stranger to God because of sin, but no longer because of grace.  Now, together through grace and faith we can rest in His love and forgiveness by the will and power of His Living Word, Jesus Christ!

 “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” [Rom. 14:13]  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!