Archive for May, 2012

I’m Tired!

Sunday, May 27th, 2012

Pentecost B, May 27, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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“Someone told someone, and someone told you, that they wouldn’t hurt you that much.  Since everyone spreads the story, with their  own little personal touch: Do nothing till you hear from me.  Pay no attention to what’s said.”  Those are the words to the snippet of the  song we just heard, “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me.” I wanted you to hear it this morning as a way to help you remember our  message.

I can’t help but think that the disciples were just plain tired.  Think of all they’d been through; they saw their Lord crucified, and then  He rose from the dead.  After that, for forty days He just kept appearing and disappearing in the most unusual places.  To cap it all off,  they saw Him ascend into heaven before their very eyes, but before He did, He told them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for  the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy  Spirit not many days from now.” [Acts 1:4-5]

So there they sat in that upper room, tired, worried, and afraid.  I can’t help but wonder what they would have done if Peter or one of  the other twelve would have said, “Come on guys there’s a lot of work to do.  Quit hiding out in here; let’s go out and spread the news.”    I think they would have grumbled, and said, “But were tired.  We’ve been through a lot.  Let someone else go out.  We just don’t have it in us!”  But I don’t think that discussion ever happened because as promised, Jesus by way of the Holy Spirit showed up in a powerful way!  And that is what we are celebrating today, Jesus kept His promise and empowered the church with the presence of the Holy Ghost!   Don’t we need that power too?  Don’t we get tired also?  Sometimes, don’t we feel like we just can’t do another thing; like maybe we’ve already done and experienced enough?

Today, God wants you to know that you need a faith lift.  No, I didn’t say facelift, I said faith-lift!  God wants you to know that life without faith, or life with little or weak faith is a desperate life!  That is what the Jews were feeling when God visited Ezekiel in a vision, in our Old Testament lesson.  They were desperate because they lost hope; they lost faith in their saving God.  They had been conquered and enslaved by the Babylonians for many years and their homeland of Israel and Judea was destroyed.  When they first arrived in Babylon as slaves they were humiliated in their defeat, but at least they still had the love of their God!  But after several generations of life as slaves, they began to lose their faith.  First they began to doubt God’s forgiving love for them, and then after a while they must have begun to doubt His very existence!  They felt abandoned and alone.

Do you ever feel that way?  Do you ever feel like God has forgotten you, or is punishing you?  Maybe you’ve even began to wonder if He’s even real?  If so, then let God speak to you.  Hear the story of “dem old dry bones” because Ezekiel’s vision is our reality.  The valley of dry bones is as real as the battle fields of Iraq, Afghanistan, My Lai, Dachau, and Hiroshima.  It’s as real as the run-down buildings of skid row and the shattered dreams of the poor, unemployed and underemployed.  It’s as real as the crack-house and the poor house.  It’s as real as families broken by addiction and abuse.  It’s a vision of lost dreams and shattered lives!

The Mexican artist, Jose Guadalupe Posada, developed a large body of work that shows people engaged in a wide range of activities, but each person was painted as a skeleton.  In one drawing he depicted a skeleton soldier riding through a valley full of bones and skulls.  As terrible as that piece of art work seems, it pales in comparison to the vision God gave to Ezekiel.  God told him to speak the first message, and the bones were animated with flesh and blood, they were whole bodies, but they were still dead!  Flesh that appears alive but lacks a soul or spirit; I don’t know about you, but to me that sounds like zombies!

Do we have people like that today?  Yes!  It is everyone who thinks that they can please God by being good; by living a virtuous life.  They may think they’re alive, and they may even look alive, but the truth is they are really dead!  They are dead because they lack God’s breath of life.  “Then God said to (Ezekiel), “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” [Ezekiel 37:9]

This was the message for ancient Israel during their captivity and it is God’s message for all of us today!  It is the promise of His forgiving love; a Word of forgiveness that brings restoration and peace with God.  We receive this Word in our baptism.  We hear it every Sunday.  It is the gospel, the good news that assures you that through Jesus Christ you are forgiven.  Will you hear it again and become rejuvenated… alive in Christ!

It was this Word of promise, or forgiveness and restoration that brought hope to the hopeless captives in Babylon, and it is the very same message that God speaks to us who struggle to live our lives in a sinful broken world while not being of the world.  It is a Word that directs us to find our identity not in how the world sees us or treats us but in God’s work of recreation and restoration.

When we feel alone, and think that we’ve lost our way, God’s Word reminds us that He has never left us; it reminds us that He is right there with us.  His Word takes our eyes off of our circumstances, off of our sin and the sin of others, and He redirects our gaze to the cross of Jesus and the waters of our own baptism.  In His Word, in the vision of Ezekiel and the rebirth of dry, dead bones, God shows us that our salvation, our lives and our future are all in His loving hands.  All we need do is keep turning our hearts and minds to Jesus; call out to Him for forgiveness and strength and receive the Word, His Word that promises that He will never leave nor forsake us.

So we wait.  But what are we waiting for?  Do we wait as dry bones waiting to be given flesh and spirit?  No, that was already done for us.  Then what are we waiting for?  We are waiting to hear the gospel; the only Word that can dispel fear and bring power from heaven.  What kind of power?  How about this kind: “And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” [Acts 2:2-4]  Dear friends, this mighty power of God wasn’t given only to the early church; it is given to each of you.  You were first given that power in your baptism, and you are continuously strengthened in that same power each time you hear or read God’s Word of repentance and forgiveness.

Why are some of you living as if you do not have that power?  Because you confuse the individual gifts with the power behind the gift!  What greater power could you need other than God’s power to overcome death?  What greater gift could there be than God’s forgiveness; His ability to recreate you and continually remove your sins, the consequence of your sins from you?

Can you see that you lack nothing?  Can you see that when God works, when He saves He always does it in a way that is all powerful, complete, and effective?  Then why do we still feel tired, alone, and sometimes even rejected by God?  Maybe it’s because we are still waiting for God to speak!  But He has already spoken.  He spoke in your baptism; He speaks in His Supper!  In His Word He tells you that all has been completed so that you may have life abundantly.  Do you hear that?  You are not a zombie… you have life!  You have life right here in this sinful world!  But your life is to be used for a purpose.  You are to use the gifts that God has given you to go out and speak life to those who are dead in their trespasses.

Unlike the hit AMC television series, “The Walking Dead” we aren’t going out to destroy the walking dead before they destroy us, we are going out to bring them back to life.  We are sent out with the only Word that can bring them life, abundant life.  Like Ezekiel, God has empowered us with the ability to speak the breath of life into the walking dead.  And here is how it works.  The problem with zombies is they don’t know they are zombies; they thing they’re alive.  So God tells us to speak His law.  We must hold up the mirror of God’s Word and show our neighbors that they are sinners; just like we are.  We must share with them that they have no future unless they simply admit to God that they are dead in their sins and are helpless in changing that reality.  This confession of reality has now prepared them to hear the prophesy of life; the breath of forgiveness that will reanimate; recreate them into God’s image.  The Word they must hear to know forgiveness and new life is simply that Jesus Christ is Lord!  He is Lord of life and eternity.  He is the conquering Lord that defeated not just the sin of the world but even their sin.  What’s more, Jesus is the Lord who defeated the devil; He is the Lord who protects all that are baptized from ever losing their gift of new life!

Dear friends you are tired, because you are confused.  You’ve forgotten that not only have you been saved, but you’ve been saved, given power, and a mission.  You are to continue expanding the Kingdom of God one saved sinner at a time.  And as you go out in the power of God speaking His recreating Word of forgiveness, His Christian army gets bigger and bigger, and your work load gets easier and easier as many hands make the work of the kingdom light.

So, our time of waiting is over.  Jesus has spoken, and you have been baptized and given the promise and power of the Holy Spirit.   This is our invitation to become part of Christ’ mission to seek and save the lost.  Can we do it?  No, but God will.  He has spoken.  You are forgiven, and so is the world.  Now let’s go tell someone with our own little personal touch, and someone will tell someone else, until the day when Jesus comes to take us home.  AMEN!

This is Love!

Sunday, May 13th, 2012

Easter Sunday 6B, May 13, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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This is love!  What is?  This!  What… this?  All of this!  The fact that we are actually here on a Sunday morning, gathered around God’s  Word hearing about His love; the love of the Father for the Son, the Son for the Father, and God’s love for us!  What?  I don’t get it!   Exactly, and that’s why we sang the hymn, “My Song is Love Unknown.”

How could we ever truly understand a God who is love, loving each of us who are loveless?  How can we understand a God who comes  to us in our flesh, lives, suffers and dies so that we will not only know love, but be love just as He is love?!  Oh who am I that God should  not just die for me, but invite me into life, His life of love unknown?  Who are you that God should love you that intensely?  And yet He  does!  This morning let’s look into this relationship of love that the Father has invited each of us into.

First there is the model love itself, which is God!  “God is love”—perfect and eternal love.  This is the love the Father has for the Son and  Spirit, and the Son and Spirit have for the Father.  This kind of love isn’t reciprocal or growing, it is real and abiding love that is simply  the nature of God, one God who exist in three persons who are each equally love!  And it is this love of God that sent the Son of the  Father to reclaim sinful man; to bring all of mankind back into God’s relationship of love!

The Son comes to sinful man because of His love for His Father.  He becomes one of us, so that He can teach us love, by demonstrating  love; love that the Son has for the Father!  Love that keeps God’s commandments of love!  There are only two commandments of love,  and Jesus came to teach us that they are not burdensome. [1 John 5:1-8]  He came to demonstrate what love for God and for neighbor is.  The Son loves the Father—and that means that He keeps the commandment that Father gave Him.  He loved His Father by coming to us, and He loves His brothers, you and me by dying for us!

So love is obedience; doing the will of the Father simply because God is love.  “This is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” [1 John 4:10] He came to die for us!

Jesus was obedient to the Father’s will because God is love and God loves those that He has created in His image.  God loves you!  God created you in His image but your sin has destroyed that image.  So God the Father sends His Son to become your brother so that He can save you; redeem you through the suffering and death of His Son.  Only Jesus, God’s own Son could do this great thing for you because only God is love, and Jesus is God!

Jesus comes to us because of His love for us.  Just as Jesus alone chose who would be His apostles, it is Jesus who chooses you, because Jesus is God and God is love!  So Jesus comes to us not as an angry God who will order His servants to serve with fear and trembling, but as a loving God who calls us friend, so that we will trust and obey; so that we will love.

Think of this for a moment.  You did not choose God, but He chose you; while you were a loveless sinner, Christ died for you!  And because your sinful flesh always wants to ask how and why, Jesus lived to die so that you could learn the how and why.

Jesus alone stoops down to us to serve us His slaves.  The Creator of the universe stoops down to wash the feet of His creation.  The Master of all creation becomes a servant by taking on our flesh and dying in our flesh.  In the upper room, on the night of His betrayal, knowing that soon He would be betrayed by those He loves; knowing that He would be attacked and killed by those He loves; “knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, (He) rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” [John 13:1-17]

On the cross, Jesus would give one last example of this precept of love.  He would teach that love is demonstrated in obedience; His obedience to the will of the Father; His obedience to suffer and die for the world… for you!

This is love, not that we love God but that He first loved us.  And because He loves us by coming to us we love Him!  We love our Master who became our servant in death, and because we love Him, we remain in His love.  We abide in His will, in His church, in His Word and Holy Sacraments.  We learn simply as we are taught, we learn to abide in God’s love by turning to Jesus and trusting in Him alone.

We abide in His love through Jesus Christ by admitting first that we need His love.  We need His love because we do not deserve His love.  We don’t deserve His love because we are sinners.  That is who you are… that is who we all are!

We abide in His love when we confess our sinfulness and receive His undeserved love and forgiveness.  We abide in His love when we celebrate the fact that He is an on time God, who always meets our needs.  We abide in His love when we rejoice in a love that has found us; a love that is greater than all things, even our sin, our death, and the devil!

We abide in His love but we also keep His commandment to love one another as He has loved us!  Because God’s love through Jesus Christ has overpowered our sin, and because He has recreated us in our baptism back into His image, we celebrate by becoming the servant of all, just as our Master has done.  We go out of our way to meet the needs of others and the needs of God’s church.

I guess, our love is a little like a tennis game.  We give our love to each other, back and forth like the ball is volleyed back in forth during a tennis match.  In tennis, however there is always a winner; so maybe the analogy falls short, but then again maybe not.  I mean, couldn’t we think of our match of love ending with no winners.  In tennis, when you finish with no score, they call that love.  You might hear a report of a tennis match like this: “He won that round, 40/love.”  So we could say that our match of love ends as love/love.  God’s love for us and our love for each other wins the day!

Dear friends, our love for God and each other is unknown to the world.  But we know that it is a love that can only be realized, taught, and learned through Jesus Christ.  And that love  comes to us from heaven to the cross, to the empty tomb, through the Word of the Gospel, the waters of baptism, and then into our hearts.  Yes Lord, our song is love unknown, our Savior’s love to us.  Love to the loveless shown so that we might also love.  Oh who are we that for our sake our Lord should take frail flesh and die for us, for even me?  In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost AMEN!

Baptized to be a blessing!

Sunday, May 6th, 2012

Easter Sunday 5B, May 6, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

The movie clip we just watched was from the animated Christmas movie, The Polar Express. In that scene, the train had just jumped off the tracks and ended up sliding across a frozen lake. With no track to guide it, the challenge for Tom Hanks’ character was to work with the engineer and get the engine and cars lined up at the point where the tracks reemerge from under the frozen lake on the other side.

As Christians, we have been put on God’s track; we call it our walk of faith.  We were first put on that track in our baptism, but our challenge is to stay on that track, as God guides us on our journey of faith. As we stay on that track, God promises to use us as a blessing to others; He does this as He gets them back on track just as He did for us.

In the beginning, each of us needed someone to guide us, and help us stay on track. In other words, we needed someone to help us understand God’s will as declared in Holy Scripture.  So, the very first thing God helped us with was our confession to Him that on our own, as little sinners, we were completely helpless unless God intervened.  As we matured in our faith, God continually enlightened our minds to receive and understand His Word, all so we could continually appreciate that we are forgiven; we are on the right track!  This principle becomes clear in our first reading this morning (Acts 8:26-40).

In verses 30-31, the Ethiopian is struggling to understand what He is reading in the book of Isaiah.  Now I think each of us can put ourselves in the Ethiopian’s shoes; who of us has not felt confused at times while reading our Bibles?  So it’s quite understandable that the Ethiopian could not understand what he was reading; no one can unless God allows it.  The Spirit must enlighten us through the Gospel; that is, we must be given faith!  You see, concerning salvation, the prophets who foretold the coming of God’s work of grace that was to be yours, searched and inquired carefully, wondering when Christ would come and suffer as God had predicted, and then be glorified as a result of that suffering. And they were shown by God that they weren’t just serving their own generation, but also every generation that came after them, including you!  They did this by proclaiming the gospel; a message of forgiveness, empowered by the Holy Spirit, as sent from heaven.  They knew that the things they wrote, which you hear proclaimed, were things that even the angels couldn’t truly understand. [1 Peter 1:10–12]  Why even the apostles didn’t understand until Jesus opened their minds (Luke 24:45).  The truth is, the natural mind, our sinful minds can never understand the things of God until He allows us to understand (1 Corinthians 2:14).

And that is precisely why the Holy Spirit sent Philip to the Ethiopian.  It was God’s desire that his mind would be opened through Philip’s preaching.  And how did God do this?  He gave the Ethiopian a new way to read scripture; He put Jesus Christ in the center of all of God’s Word (vv 31–33)!

This morning, we discover along with the Ethiopian that what Isaiah and all of the other prophets are writing, is a witness to us, about Jesus!  They are predicting the birth, life, death, and resurrection of our God who is with us, as one of us! Yet even the clearest truths about Jesus Christ in the Scriptures can only become evident through the work and guidance of the Holy Spirit.  This was true for the Ethiopian then and it is still true for us today!

The Spirit is still guiding the true Church’s proclamation about Jesus, Him crucified and resurrected; Him alone who has fulfilled each of the Old Testament Scriptures for us (vv 34–35)!

It was Jesus who must come to be the Suffering Servant in Isaiah’s prophecy who, even though He was deprived of justice, He was vindicated by God.  Listen: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth.   In his humiliation justice was denied him.

Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” What a vivid picture of the atoning work of Christ Jesus on the cross!  And  yet, as clear as this message about salvation through the work of Christ alone is, we ignorant sinners still fight to make salvation something we obtain through our own wisdom and effort!

But Isaiah’s own words declared long ago, make it clear to everyone, that salvation can come only through Jesus Christ, who willingly laid down his life for our salvation!  Without the work of God’s Spirit, we pitiful sinners could never receive this message!  And yet, you are here and you have heard!  You have heard and believed the message in the same way countless sinners have for thousands of years.  How?  By the same work the Spirit did long ago for the Ethiopian; God has sent you preachers, faithful pastors who have declared His Word in the power of the Holy Spirit!

And that same Spirit continues to send missionaries, evangelists, and pastors to bring light into hearts that have been held captive in the darkness of sin.  And when the message of forgiveness through Jesus Christ is not rejected, those same sinners discover God’s forgiving love; they discover that it’s true, God does not desire the death of the wicked, but instead, He desires that all of us who have gone astray would repent, turn to Jesus and have everlasting life!  He did this great work for you, by giving you the gift of faith, which in turn has brought you back on track.  Your life on track with God began the same way it did for the Ethiopian; you were baptized and filled with God’s message of forgiveness through Jesus Christ!  And like the Ethiopian, God saw to it that you heard and believed in his Son, so that your sins would be forgiven.

Because God loves you, he sent the Spirit of his Son into your heart, and He is determined to keep you firm in the only faith that saves. Because God has made you his child, his Spirit continues to equip you as you live out your calling as a Christian.  And what is that calling?  Simply this, God wants you to remember that you have been baptized to be a blessing to others; you are a blessing to others when you share your faith with your neighbors.  You are blessing when you demonstrate the same love and forgiveness that you received from God!

Now, I know, this is where many of us can get a little nervous.  You might be thinking that it all sounds so good now, in church while pastor is explaining it, but when you’re on your own, who’s gonna guide you and help you give a good witness about Jesus!

Well who guided Philip?  He was in the middle of the desert, and no help within miles; he was all alone, …but not really!  If it had not been for God’s Spirit, Philip wouldn’t have even found the Ethiopian, let alone been able to witness.  No, here God is reassuring each of us that all things, even distance, time, and fear, are under His control!  What we must remember is that God chooses who He will use to witness and He equips those He chooses.  We simply are to observe and respond when those “God” moments happen in our lives.  All we are asked to do is to honor Jesus as our Lord and Savior within our hearts, and always be prepared to give an explanation to anyone who asks us for the reason we have hope.  And when we give our witness to Jesus, through the work of the Spirit, we will do it with gentleness and respect.

Oh, and here’s another thing that we’ve learned about witnessing this morning; as Philip was led away from the safety of people that he knew and was comfortable with, in order to witness to a foreigner (v 27), so too God may be asking you to willingly step out of your comfort zone and get to know people you wouldn’t normally associate with.  But why?  So that you can be blessed with the knowledge that God really can use you; knowing that others are blessed as God uses you!

What is important for us to remember is this.  God doesn’t need us to help Him reach people lost in sin any more than He needed Philip to help!  If God wanted to, He could have used the same angel that spoke to Philip to bring the gospel to the Ethiopian.  But God chose to bless Philip by speaking through Philip, so that both Philip and the Ethiopian would be blessed together!

So remember, whether you are at work, at school, in the market, away on a trip, or at home in your community, God choses to bless you by using you.  Whether you respond or not has no bearing on the good news; it doesn’t change the fact that Jesus died for you and washed you clean by giving you new life in your baptism!  No, instead, God’s invitation to be His witness is an invitation to receive His blessings by being a blessing to others!

The Ethiopian may have thought at first that it was pure coincidence that Philip was traveling the same road that he was on.  But God wanted him to know the truth about Jesus, and so He brought the two of them together to achieve his glorious purpose. That same Spirit is working in you and among us; He is working through your life’s events to keep you on track and to help others get on the same track; the way to eternal life, through Jesus Christ! As he has guided you so far, let him continue to guide you to grow in faith and use the opportunities He creates to witness about Jesus.  I pray that we will do this as one in Jesus Christ… AMEN!