Archive for May, 2011

Be Ye Holy!

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Easter 5A, May 22, 2011
Sorry, no audio for this message.

This morning our message comes to us from our Epistle lesson (1 Pet. 2:2-10), but before we can understand what God is saying to us through St. Peter we have to go back to the first chapter of the same epistle; specifically we want to go back and start with these words found in verses 15 and 16 in the first chapter.  Listen: “As He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “(Be ye) holy, for I am holy.”  Now is this law or gospel?  Well the answer depends on who you are, or rather where you are with God.  And just like our message this morning, we have to go backwards into our lives to get the answer.

In the beginning portion of our lesson, St. Peter says that we are like new born babies, longing for the pure spiritual milk that matures or grows us up into salvation.  What is this milk?  Well, it is nothing other than the pure Word of God!  The same Word that was given to you in your baptism and is offered to you every day in your Bibles; that is God’s spiritual milk!  In these things you have already experienced the Lord’s presence in your life; you have tasted the Lord!  So here is another question: Is He good?  Do you like the flavor and the strength that He gives you in His Word?  If you do, then St. Peter would tell you that you are Holy, so keep on being holy!  How?  By continually tasting the Lord and seeing that He is good through the studying of and resting in His Word and Sacraments!  Keep hearing and reading that God so loved you that He sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world to suffer and die upon the cross for you!  Why did He do this?  So that you might be able to not only taste and see that the Lord is good, but so that you might have an abundant, full, and meaningful life!  As an infant hungers for the milk of its mother, so too do we need our Lord’s Word!  And because of this spiritual milk, you are holy!

You are holy!  Listen, don’t worry about your past or even your future.  Don’t worry about what you may have done or failed to do before, but concentrate on who you are today… you are holy!  This isn’t something you need to do; if it was you already know that you would be anything but holy; no this is entirely the work of God, and that is good, because in that way none of us can brag about what we did or do, instead we can give God all of the gory!  And how do we give Him glory?  Well Peter answers that question for us in verse 4, we keep coming to Him, a living stone rejected by men in the sight of God chosen and precious!  Who is this living stone?  It is the living Word of God Jesus Christ, and we keep coming to Him when we read His Word, gather to hear it preached, remember our baptism, and when we come to His Holy table to be served a meal of forgiveness!  When we do these things we ourselves as St. Peter says in verse 5 are “like living stones being built up as a spiritual house”.  Dear friends, this spiritual house is nothing less than the body of Christ, His holy gathered saints who are being preserved in a sinful time, in a sinful world as His own children! 

You know one of the most interesting questions that Christians ask a pastor is this: “What are we going to be doing in heaven?”  I smile at this question because in it I see the old sinful nature of this person fighting viciously to survive.  The clue comes in one word that is contained in that question, “DO!”  Do, do, do; that is always the desire of the old sinful nature that has been crucified with Christ, and drowned in the holy waters of baptism!  No free lunches for that dead flesh; it wants to earn everything and be catered to as its reward!  But dear saints, that is the wrong question to ask; instead we should learn to ask, “Who will I BE in heaven?”  And the answer is that you will be the same person in heaven that you are on earth; you will Holy!  Or as Peter continues to explain in verse 5, you will be “a holy priesthood, offering up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ!”

What are those spiritual sacrifices?  Well, in Hebrews 13 we are told that through Christ we will, “keep offering up sacrifices of praise constantly to God, that is, the fruit of our lips confessing His name.” [Heb. 13:15]  Then in Romans 12 we are asked to “present our bodies as a living sacrifice, which is well pleasing to God.” [Rom 12:1]  Then in the fourth chapter of Philippians we are told that our prayer and praise are a “sweet fragrance, a sacrifice acceptable and well pleasing to God.”  And in the eighth chapter of Revelations we are told that “the prayers of all of the saints, the holy children of God are upon the golden altar before His throne!  These sacrifices are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ because they are given in His name, for His honor and glory! 

So you see, the very same things that you are empowered to do here in this sinful world are the things you will do there, accept now we do them imperfectly because we still live in an sinful world and struggle every day to put to death our sinful nature.  Here we remember that everything we have is really Gods, even our money!  So we give it eagerly and liberally along with our time and talent as a sacrifice of praise unto our God!  But why do we give ourselves to God?  Because we are His holy ones who live in His kingdom, and everything we do is for Him!  So we see, even now as we struggle against our old sinful nature we are holy, but not yet perfect; soon in heaven, when we finally are free of our sinful flesh we will experience what God has declared us to be; holy, perfect, and righteous!  This is the work of God alone and it is marvelous in our sight!  But for now, we simply continue becoming what He has said we are; we continue being holy!  And how do we do that?  By resting upon Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith!  Or as St. Peter says, we as living stones learn to rest upon our Cornerstone.

ILLUST: A long time ago, there was stone offered up by God and all men were asked to build upon this great stone as their cornerstone.  God assured them that if they built upon this stone, they would have a house of worship that could never be moved.  But the builders examined that stone, and collectively and continually rejected it as inferior!  They had other stones that could better serve “their” purposes for building.  So the stone of God sat discarded for centuries, rejected and even afflicted by the sinful builders.  Their great building was complete; it was a giant temple that was said to be the very inhabitation of God!  Many people gathered to admire the temple and worship a god that they had created in their own image.  But one day, God caused that rejected stone that should have been the corner stone, to come alive among them!  The Living Stone warned the builders that their house was not pleasing to God and it would not stand the test that God was bringing.  He implored them to abandon their house of worship and build a new one upon Him!  He explained to them that only by aligning all of the other stones upon Him and using the mortar of faith would they be able to find a structure pleasing enough to God so that He would allow His Spirit to live among them!

Dear friends, Jesus IS the Cornerstone that was rejected by a people who were once God’s people but no longer!  Not only did God reject them as a people, but He destroyed their temple of worship; He destroyed it because it was built on a stone called pride.  But in its place, He raised up a new temple, a temple of living stones held together by faith in the true Cornerstone, Jesus Christ!  We are His building, a holy temple, called out of darkness to light; we are His people, His true children, a holy nation of holy people!  We are living by faith and not by sight.  We are holy because we are resting upon the Holy Living Stone, Jesus Christ!

We are holy!  And as Peter says in verse 9, we are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession!  We, His holy ones are like Him our Prophet, Priest, and King!  We are prophets, each of us because we are to speak His Word; we are priests because each of us are called to offer our entire selves as a living sacrifice unto God.  And we are kings because we are children of our Holy King, the living God!

Now it would be a terrible mistake if we were to think that after being given so much as holy children of the living God we could just sit back and take it all in; just contemplate our honor and our excellence!  No, it would be more than a mistake it would be a sin if we did that!  We were not created to be still and be served; we were created to be ever active and becoming what God created us to be.  And what is that?  We are to be His ambassadors, his prophets sent into the darkness of sin to speak light and salvation!  We are to announce the fame of the One who called us out of darkness into His wonderful light!  We are to offer up our spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ!  As living stones, we are to be used to ever build and expand the Kingdom of God!  We are kingdom builders!

True believers, true holy ones of God can’t keep still; they simply must speak out with their mouths, time, talent, and treasures, because that is what we were created for!  This is our calling as holy members of God’s royal priesthood.  We are here and not in heaven right now because God has given us a mission!  We are to go out into the darkness and bring light!  We are to go out to people who are trapped in the darkness of sin, and bring salvation to them.  Who are these people?  They are the very ones who rejected the great Cornerstone, Jesus Christ!  God sends us who once were not a people, sheep once without a shepherd but now sheep in His pasture to seek, find, and bring salvation to others who are far from God’s love and forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  Right now, in their current condition, they are non-people in God’s eyes, but our great Cornerstone is still calling out to them; there is still time if they will turn to Him!  If they will turn to Christ they are promised that they will be a real people, part of God’s holy people, and He will be their King, Savior, Protector, Provider, and God!

So, be ye holy!  Be all that God has said that you are!  Rest upon your Cornerstone, the Word of God, but then be living and always serving Him by proclaiming the wonderful works of God.  Tell those lost what He has done for you; tell them how He alone saved you from sin, death, and the devil!  And then gather again in this house of worship to celebrate and receive every gift that our Living Cornerstone has to give to us!  May God continue to strengthen us for this wonderful mission that He has set before us.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

By His Stripes!

Sunday, May 15th, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Burning Desire!

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Easter 3A, May 6, 2011
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In our gospel reading, it’s once again the first day of the week, Easter Sunday.  Some of the women who were disciples of Jesus went to the tomb and found that He wasn’t there; instead they found angels who declared that He had risen from the dead!  They went back to where they were staying and found the 11 apostles and a vast number of disciples hiding behind locked doors, because they were afraid that they would be punished as well!  When the women reported what they discovered and what the angels told them, they were astounded, but soon the excitement wore off, and they all went back to normal living; ignoring the reports of the resurrection!

That same day, two of those disciples were on their way to a town named Emmaus, about 7 miles from Jerusalem, and they were trying to make sense of everything that had happened.  They must have been discussing their last three years with Jesus; how they were appointed witnesses and given authority to drive out demons and heal disease.  They must have recounted how they followed this man they thought was the messiah; the one who would anoint Israel to rule and bless the entire world.  They must have recalled how on Palm Sunday He made His triumphant entry into the city and then into the temple to purify it from evil, which was supposed to restore God’s rule on earth.  But now, their hopes had been dashed by Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, who was handed over to be killed by crucifixion and then sealed away in a tomb along with all of their hopes and dreams!

Now while they’re talking about these things and sharing their disappointment and shattered dreams, who is it that comes along side of them?  None other than Jesus Himself that’s who!  But their eyes are kept from knowing who He is?  Now that’s strange!  How did He do that?  Well first, let’s remember who Jesus is, shall we?!  He’s God, and He can do whatever He likes!  But we also need to remember our message last week about Thomas; he refused to believe until he could actually see and touch Jesus, right?  And what did Jesus have to say about that?  He said that Thomas believed because he saw Him, but more blessed are those who believe without seeing; those who see not with physical eyes, but eyes of faith!  Remember, Jesus is talking about you and me; we who believe because of the work of God’s Spirit that comes to us in His Word and Sacrament.  Remember this, because it will be an important truth at the end of our message.   

So back to our gospel reading and the two disciples who are kept from recognizing or seeing Jesus for whom He is. So Jesus asks them, “What is this conversation that you’re holding with each other as you’re walking along?”  And they stood still, looking sad.”  That means that they were actually frozen by grief; they were so sad and depressed they couldn’t even find the strength or motivation to walk any further because of what they felt they lost; the one they thought was the Messiah is dead!  “Then one of them named Cleopas, answered Him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened (in Jerusalem) these days?”  (Dude have you been locked away in a tomb?!)  And He said to them, “What things?”

Now that’s strange; I mean, why did Jesus ask “What things”; He’s God right?  He knew, didn’t He? Sure He did!  May I suggest that Jesus was testing their faith?  In other words, He was pointing out that they had no faith, or they had false faith!  He had to completely destroy their hope in what they saw and perceived so that He could give them faith in what they could not perceive or understand!  How?  By opening up the scriptures and explaining God’s Word!  What part of the Word?  All of the Word; He did this by showing them that every page of scripture was about Him!  He showed them that He was the key for not just unlocking scripture, but understanding it. How?  By knowing that the gospel, the forgiveness of sins is exactly the very thing that God has always been up to throughout the history of man; by seeing that every word is scripture is recorded for that very reason!  By showing them that Jesus, as the Lamb of God came as a sacrifice, the only sacrifice that could be made that would take away the sins of the world; even their sins! 

So, what we learn this morning is that Jesus wants to remove our fears and disappointment and put Himself in their place!  Listen to their confession after Jesus asked, “What things?” and see if you don’t hear fear and disappointment in their words.  They answered, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people” (oops they forgot the part that He was begotten by the Holy Spirit; they forgot the part that says He’s the Son of God), but at least they got the last part of the creed right.  Listen, “and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up (to Pontius Pilate), to be condemned to death, and crucified Him.  But “WE” had hoped that He was the one (who would) redeem Israel.”

Then they continued their testimony about how some of their women amazed them by declaring that when they went to the tomb of their former Messiah the body wasn’t there, but instead they were greeted by angels who said that Jesus wasn’t dead but alive!

And this is where Jesus begins to speak faith into their hearts and even into ours this morning, and He does it first with a scolding: “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!  Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?”  And that is the fatal flaw of their false faith.  In their faith, their freedom, their new world order, their grief was central to everything.  Their lack of glory, or their desire for glory was the central reason for their unbelief in Jesus!  But Jesus reverses their thinking, their glory seeking and shows them that His glory should be the center of their faith; He shows them that without His suffering and death, there could be no hope for them or the world; it was necessary for Jesus to suffer and die!  Now Jesus brings faith and salvation into their hearts by preaching about Himself!  Now the living Word of God begins to open their eyes of faith and our own so that we might believe unto salvation.  But then He stopped the sermon as they were drawing close to the village, and He acted as if He was going on farther.

“But they urged Him strongly (they insisted), saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.”  So He went inside the home with them.  “(And) when He was at table with them, He took bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them.”  Now doesn’t that sound familiar?  Listen to the rest of that statement found in Luke 22:19, “saying “This is my body, which is given for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.”  Yes, this appears to be a repeat of His Words first spoken in the upper room when He instituted the sacrament of Holy Communion!  “And (once he spoke those words), their eyes were opened and they recognized Him.”  Where and how did they recognize Jesus?  In His Word and in His sacrament!  Here dear friends is the great transition from becoming a disciple through the act of being an eye witness to becoming a disciple by being a witness through the power of God’s Holy Word and Sacrament.  Once they were given faith through the Word and the breaking of the bread, their eyes were opened and they saw, they recognized Jesus!  “They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the road, while He opened to us the Scriptures?”  And that has been God’s means of bringing sinful men to faith ever since.  It is His means and not ours.  It is so He is glorified and not us!

Now, as I close our message, I would like to speak to you parents, especially you mothers and grandmothers on your special day.  I can think of no greater honor that you could give to God than to lovingly direct your children’s hearts to burn in love for God, His Word and Sacraments, and your Christian family.  Wouldn’t you agree with me that children seem to have a natural burning love, or at least a burning desire for the love of their mothers?  Isn’t that the reason that we have a national day to honor our mothers and grandmothers?  So, your task dear mother’s is to take that love and direct it first and foremost to God the Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!  You have the challenge of teaching your children that if they value and respect your love, they must first value and respect the love of God the Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds.”  In other words, they are to develop a fear for God!  Or as our epistle lesson states, they are to learn to conduct themselves “with fear throughout (their) time in exile.”  What does that mean, their time in exile?  It means the time that they are living and waiting in this sinful world for Jesus to come back; the time that God has determined will be their last moment here on earth!  How will you accomplish this task?  By reminding them that they were purchased or ransomed out of this sinful world with the precious blood and sacrifice of God the Son, Jesus Christ!  In other words, you must help them see that their future does not depend on you or them, but upon Jesus Christ Crucified and Resurrected for them and the world!  Or as Martin Luther wrote, we must teach them to believe that Christ has “purchased and won (them)… not with silver or gold but with His holy, precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death, that (they) may be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him!”

Now dear Christian parents is the time to begin directing the hearts and minds of our children towards God, no matter their age!  Do not stop to think about lost time; do not even wonder if it is too late!  Remember, their salvation is not up to you, it’s up to God and His work through His means.  It’s not what you have done or failed to do, it’s about what God has done through Jesus Christ and what He is continuing to do!  Our only job is to always point them to Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected for them and for us!  That is the beautiful thing about grace… it’s never too late for faith in Jesus Christ!  So for now on, when they ask you what you want for Mother’s day, or any other special day, tell them that you want them to come to church with you.  Give them the life changing exposure to God’s means of grace, His Word and Sacrament!  Today dear friends is the first day of the rest of their lives.  Let’s make it a blessed day by keeping Jesus Christ in the center of it!  He has risen, He has risen indeed!  AMEN!

A Ministry of Sheep!

Saturday, May 7th, 2011

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Friday Night Gospel Celebration, May 8, 2011
 
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Dear friends, I am not the Good Shepherd, I am just a called sheep from within the flock.  St. Paul is not the Good Shepherd, he is simply an inspired sheep from within the flock.  But Jesus is “the Good Shepherd,” [Jn. 10:11], because He alone is “the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.” [I Pet. 2:25] 

Tonight we remember that Jesus as our Good Shepherd is the author and perfector of our faith.  We remember that Jesus is still very much in control of His church, even this little congregation that we call Trinity.  In all of our readings we are reminded of this.  In our Gospel reading Jesus Himself reassures us with the words: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” [Jn. 10:27-28]

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

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

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

Paul’s ministry and our ministry here within our community, must be completely transparent; it must be subject to the judgment of friends and enemies alike. So like Paul, each pastor’s ministry must be centered on working tirelessly towards building up the saints within his own congregation and then together with the saints, focused on working towards gathering other lost sheep within the community.  As Christian members of this community, each of you have been called to work beside me here in our community as God has equipped you.  

As a pastor, Paul challenges me and all pastors to lead each flock “with humble-mindedness and tears and trials.”  These three traits marked Paul’s own “work for the Lord” and they should be the marks of every pastor who has been called to shepherd Christ’s flock!   In regards to tears, Paul withstood many trials and attacks without so much as a quivering lip! So the tears that Paul speaks of were tears that were drawn out of a heart wrenched with pain over people who were dying without the grace of Jesus Christ! Just as Jesus wept over the sinful and continuous rejection of His grace by the people of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41), Paul shed many tears for those from within his community who refused to be saved!  We, too, by the work of the Holy Spirit will also find ourselves moved to tears, by the continual rejection of God’s love and forgiveness from those within our community where we have been placed to seek and save the lost.  And yet we are continually moved to keep offering our best efforts to ensure the proclamation of God’s love and forgiveness continues here.  We are moved to proclaim the gospel and support the ministry of its proclamation no matter the cost!  

The entire gospel, which we are to proclaim is centered entirely on “the repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”  You must never let anyone teach you that God’s favor and grace can come in any other way!  There must be an actual turning to Jesus alone for salvation and life.  This turning to Jesus then means a turning away from a life of sin!  Only then can God’s forgiveness and love come and save a person.  So, repentance includes all of God’s law, and faith includes His entire gospel.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

In order to help us remember this truth Paul shares with us the Words of our Lord Jesus Christ which are only found in this address of Paul: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’  Dear saints, through God’s work among us and within us, these Words amazingly become our heart’s desire.  Do you want to be truly blessed?  Then God says give!  Whatever the Lord has equipped and moved you to do for Him is your ministry! At the very least, and certainly this is not the least of works in ministry, you can and should be praying for the physical work of this congregation and others that are involved in ministry here at in this community.  Remember, your ministry includes both your time and your talents.  But what about your treasure?  Certainly we must dedicate our money to Christ’s ministry here in our own community!  Do you see what a great calling you have in our own community?  Speaking of our community, I would like to explain a little something about what God is doing here at Trinity.  We have begun a new music and art school here at Trinity.  We are building God’s Kingdom by raising up, training, with the hope of sending out new Christian artists, musicians, and dancers for the glory of God and the furthering of His Kingdom.   

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

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

In Jesus name… AMEN!

These Things Are Written That You May Believe!

Sunday, May 1st, 2011

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Easter 2A, Sunday, May 1, 2011
 
Click here for audio of this message

INTRODUCTION: Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead so that you can know for certain that sin, death, and the devil have no power over you!  That is the good news of the cross and the empty tomb!  We need to know this because each of us has a real and natural fear of death. 

On February 27, 1991, a few hours before President Bush announced the end of the Gulf War, a young soldier named Clayton Carpenter stepped on a land mine somewhere in the desert sands of Iraq.  In the confusion of battle, he was reported to have died.  That report was first given to his command and then delivered to his mother back in the U.S.  But three days later that same command discovered that this was a case of mistaken identity; Clayton Carpenter was still alive!  Clayton’s command quickly picked up the phone and called Clayton’s mother with the good news, “Clayton is alive!”  She would not believe it; she was still too deep in her grief!  Then her son called her; still it seemed like a dream… it seemed too good to be true!  So, she began to ask him questions she felt only he would know the answer to.  A short time latter two army officers arrived at her front door and assured her that it was true, her son was alive!

 In a similar way, on a rocky hill called Golgotha, Jesus was crucified, but three days later, the Word was delivered, “He is risen!  He’s alive!”  The evidence kept pouring in hour after hour, more and more people were encountering their risen Lord and Savior, but for some it seemed too good to be true!

 I. This is the tension that should be read into our gospel reading this morning.  You see, it isn’t simply a historical account of events that happened long ago, but instead it is something that is happening in the here and now!  Jesus has risen, and yet so many people, even our own loved ones refuse to believe.  To them it seems too good to be true! 

We can become discouraged when we share our faith; we may begin to doubt the effectiveness of our faith story, because after all we weren’t eye witnesses.  But that is not how God wants you to approach His mission of spreading the gospel, because believing and receiving the resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ is a work that He does within the hearts of sinful men; it is a work that He did even in your own heart!  You believe because of God’s Word and the gift of faith that He gave to you!  You believe because you see, but you do not see with physical eyes but eyes of faith!

 You see, God has caused you to be born again into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.  And by God’s power (you) are being guarded through faith for a salvation (that is) ready to be revealed in the last (day). [1 Pet. 1:3b-5]

All of this is the same work that God began on Easter morning and it is a work that He continues today.  He does this work through two gifts: The gift of faith and the gift of mission!

II. Because faith is a gift from God, it only makes sense that He gives that gift in a way He desires, isn’t that true?  Listen to how he first gave faith to a bunch of frightened disciples who were locked away in a room. “On (Easter evening) the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”  When He said this, He showed them His hands and His side.  Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” [John 20:19-20]  Now, many will read this and think, “See He let them see Him!  Why can’t He do that today?”  But friends, the fact that they saw Him isn’t what gave them faith; instead it was only the tool God used to open their hearts to the same gift of faith that has saved you.  And what is it that God always uses to give faith?  What does scripture say?  “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word about Christ.” [Rom. 10:17]

What Word did Jesus speak that gave them faith?  It was “Peace be with you!”  Don’t hear these words just as a standard greeting; you see when Jesus speaks them He gives exactly what He offers.  He gives faith that believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.  He gives faith that believes that Jesus has overcome the grave.  He gives faith to believe that Jesus has defeated the devil and completely removed the consequence of your sin!  That is the kind of peace that Jesus offers and gives to those who don’t reject it!  That is the very message of the cross and empty tomb that He wanted these frightened disciples who were locked away to receive!  But He had another gift to give to them; one that would carry the same power of God out into a sinful and dying world.

 III. Jesus gave them a mission; to not only announce the forgiveness of sins and victory over death and the devil, but to also provide these very things in His name and through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.  Listen: “Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”  And when he had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” [Jn. 20:21-23]

Now Jesus makes it clear that this peace that He is giving is not just for the “eyewitnesses” but it is for the entire world!  It is divine power for building, nurturing, and protecting His church.  It is the very thing that God uses to build His kingdom.  This peace first comes to the church, you and me and then it is sent out through us to a dying world!  So you see, in order to bring and give Christ peace we must first have that peace.  So what is that peace?  It is God’s power to forgive sins!  When Jesus breathed on them, He was giving the Holy Spirit not just to them but through them!  He was blessing their sharing of the peace through their sharing of God’s gospel or good news.  What is that good news?  Again, it is the forgiveness of sins.  Which sins?  All sins; the sins of the world!

But there is a condition isn’t there?  Yes, the one being forgiven must first admit that he has sinned.  If he will not agree that he needs God’s forgiveness then He will not receive that forgiveness!  The greatest sin is the refusal to believe that Jesus has risen from the dead!  If you will not receive that resurrection peace, then you cannot receive the gospel peace which frees you from sin, death, and the devil.  And that takes us to Thomas and his unbelief.

IV. On that Easter evening, there was one person who was absent when Jesus appeared and gave them peace; a person who said that he was ready to die with Jesus!  So they went out and found him and told him, “We have seen the Lord!  He has risen!!”  Poor old Thomas, he seems to be a skeptic from our own community.  He responds to all of their joy and excitement with, “Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.  (No way and no how!)” [vs. 25]

 And so it is with the world today, maybe even some of our own friends and family!  But we shouldn’t be too hard on them, because doubt is understandable.  After all Jesus was crucified, dead, and buried!  No doubt about it, Jesus was dead!  And to that doubt, the disciples must have pleaded, “But we saw him!  We touched Him!  He spoke with us and even ate with some of us!”  And to that Thomas then and the doubting Thomases that live today, the response is, “Nope!  I won’t believe until He shows me Himself!”  How sad these cases of doubt are; it locks people away with their own sins and fears.  As long as they doubt and remain fearful they also remain miserable and lost.  How can we change them?  Well we can’t; only Jesus can give them His peace; all we can do is wait and pray!

“Eight days later, His disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them.  Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  Then He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put your hand, and place it in my side.  Do not disbelieve, but believe.”  (And) Thomas answered Him, “My Lord and my God!”  Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed!”

 How did Jesus give Thomas saving faith?  The same way He always does; through the power of His Word, a Word of gospel peace!  It was the same Word of forgiveness that He still gives today!  What about your unbelieving friends and family, and those throughout our community who doubt?  Where and how shall they receive the peace of the Lord, the forgiveness of sins?  Through that same Gospel Word of peace and forgiveness!  Keep on praying for them!  Keep on asking God to open their eyes of faith!  Keep on loving them, sharing God’s Word with them, and inviting them here to hear it for themselves!  It is the Word alone that brings that peace and Jesus will not give up on them, and neither shall we; after all, He died for them too!

CONCLUSION: Let me close by reminding you that it is Christ’s resurrection alone that gives you complete victory on the final Day of Judgment.  That is why we confess, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.”  Christ has risen bodily, strong and victorious over death.  His resurrection wasn’t just a spiritual victory but also a bodily victory for us!  As He rose from the dead so shall we!  We can’t understand this, or imagine what kind of body we will have, but we know that it will be like our Lords; Holy, perfect, and righteous, just as it was in the beginning in the garden.  And because by faith, we know this is true, we can stomp on the grave and say, “Where, O death, is your victory” Thanks be to God!  He gives the victory (to each of us who know this truth by faith through the power of His Living Word) our Lord Jesus Christ!” [1 Cor. 15:55, 57]  Christ has risen!  He has risen indeed!