Archive for November, 2014

Are You Ready For The Rending?

Sunday, November 30th, 2014

First Sunday in Advent-B, November 30, 2014

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message.

“Time Enough at Last” became one of the most famous episodes of the original Twilight Zone, and has been frequently parodied since. It is “the story of a man who seeks salvation in the rubble of a ruined world” and tells of Henry Bemis, played by Burgess Meredith, who loves books, yet is surrounded by those who would prevent him from reading them. The narration of the episode begins with these words: “Witness Mr. Henry Bemis, a charter member in the fraternity of dreamers. A bookish little man whose passion is the printed page, but who is conspired against by a bank president and a wife and a world full of tongue-cluckers and the unrelenting hands of a clock. But in just a moment, Mr. Bemis will enter a world without bank presidents or wives or clocks or anything else. He’ll have a world all to himself…without anyone.”

Bank teller and avid bookworm Henry Bemis is at work at his tellers window, while reading David Copperfield, and because of the distraction of the book, he shortchanges a customer who becomes annoyed. Bemis’s angry boss, and later his wife, both complain to him that he wastes far too much time reading books.

The next day, as usual, Bemis takes his lunch break in the bank’s vault, where his reading will not be disturbed. Moments later he sees a newspaper headline, which reads “H-Bomb Capable of Total Destruction”, and just then, an enormous explosion outside the bank violently shakes the vault, knocking Bemis unconscious. After regaining consciousness and finding his thick glasses that he needs to see, Bemis emerges from the vault to find the bank demolished and everyone in it dead. Leaving the bank, he sees that the entire city has also been destroyed, and realizes that a nuclear war has devastated the Earth, but because he was in the vault, he was spared.

Finding himself totally alone in a shattered world with food to last him a lifetime, but no one to share it with, Bemis begins to be overcome with despair, but in the distance, Bemis sees the ruins of the public library. Investigating, he finds that the books are still intact and readable; all the books he could ever hope for are his for the reading, and (as he gazes upon a huge fallen face of a clock) he realizes that he has all the time in the world to read them without interruption.

His despair gone, Bemis contentedly sorted through the books he looked forward to reading for years to come. Just as he bent down to pick up the first book, he stumbled, and his glasses fell off and shattered. In shock, he picked up the broken remains of the glasses that are now useless, leaving him virtually blind, and he says, “That’s not fair. That’s not fair at all. There was time now. There was all the time I wanted…! That’s not fair!”, as he burst into tears, surrounded by books he now can never read.

Mr. Bemis was not ready for the rending of the heavens and the final judgment day; he was not ready to discover that it is God alone who defines what is fair and what is not.  He was not ready for God to come in power, are you?  Can you truly agree with the prophet Isaiah and say…

“Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence—as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil—to make your name known to your adversaries, and the nations might tremble at your presence!  When you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.  From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for Him.  You meet Him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember you in your ways.” [Isaiah 64:1-5]

God has come down and “rended” the heavens in the past; He came to meet sinful yet faithful men and women as they were.  He answered the prayers of His people when they were in bondage in Egypt and caused great plagues to strike the land and its people until mighty Pharaoh let His people go!  He parted the Red Sea so that they could escape on dry land, but then allowed the waters to recede and destroy the pursuing Egyptian army.  He listened to the faithful prayer of King Hezekiah, and thwarted the Assyrian army that had amassed itself around Jerusalem by striking down tens of thousands of Assyrian soldiers in their camp while they slept.”

Faith, which is a gift of God turns to the Lord in prayer.  Even when God seems shut away and silent in heaven, faith prays.  The message that God desires us to take with us this morning is that even in ominous times, God wants His children of faith to call out to Him in prayer.  He wants us to call out to Him, “Our Father, our Redeemer from of old” (Isaiah 63:16), “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence!” These are the words of a believer—a child of faith who is facing difficult times, but still clinging to God’s promises of power and grace.  For those who cry out like this, everything may seem to be “out of whack” in this world; evil may seem to be over powering good, and the devil may seem to be stopping even God’s will, but faith still prays.

In times like those, when God’s enemies seem to be defying His rule and authority, the prophet Isaiah encourages all believers to call out to God and ask that He step in and correct this apparent imbalance.  “O Lord, come quickly.  Assert your power; protect and deliver your people.  Destroy your enemies and the enemies of your people.”

But there is just one little problem.  If we are honest, we too are many times found to be acting as if we are faithless; we too because of our sins, have been and will be again the enemies of God.  We remember the God of old and His mighty deeds, and we are afraid.  We are afraid because we know that we too fall short of the qualification of joyfully working towards righteousness.

“Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved?  We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.  We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.  (This is why) There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses Himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.” [Isaiah 65:5-7]

So what is the solution to our apparent inability to call out to God, to see and hear God in a righteous way?  How can we possibly rid ourselves of so many and so vile of a list of sins, sins which soak into our very being making us in God’s eyes simply a bunch of filthy rags?  (Filthy rags which are like those discarded by a woman during her menstrual period.). The answer is that we can do nothing to rid ourselves of this curse of sin, but God can!  He alone must work once again in a way that this sinful world would never expect.  He must do what we can not.  He must come quickly to be our defender and our Savior.

No one could have foretold of the mighty deeds God did in Egypt to free His people; no one could have foretold that God would rend the heavens and shake the mountains as He met Moses on the mountain top and spoke with Him.  No one could have foretold that God would save Jerusalem by striking down the Assyrian army as they surrounded the remnant of Israel.  And no one would have guessed that all of this was leading up to God’s greatest miracle for sinful men and women such as us.  Sinful men and women who since the fall of Adam and Eve, have been held in the cruel bondage of sin.  We could never love God and our neighbor as God’s perfect law demands… it is beyond us.  But God made a way out of no way.

Who could ever have imagined that God would bring us back to Him by grace through faith, by sacrificing His own Son upon a wooden cross at Calvary?  What human mind could have anticipated the empty tomb?  Could anyone have anticipated that by faith in God’s Son and Servant Jesus Christ, a man or woman could become an adopted child of God?  But this is always how our mighty God acts; He reveals His truths to humanity… in a way that all of creation must simply stand in awe and receive His gift of presence with thanksgiving and praise.

The wisdom of God’s gracious and powerful plan lies completely outside of our realm of understanding.  If any man or woman is to understand and receive God’s work of redemption they must first be given the ability to believe and receive it through the faith giving power of the Holy Spirit that comes to them through His proclaimed and fulfilled Word of promises.  In other words, they must hear and receive the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In our Old Testament lesson, which is simply a prayer of the prophet Isaiah, we are drawn to God’s loving heart along with the prophet to call out to God in prayer and then hold fast to a principle which teaches, that God always acts on behalf of those who wait for Him.  But He only acts for those who know Him as Father and Savior.  He acts for those who know that He is the potter and they are His clay; they are His creation.

“But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.  Be not so terribly angry, O Lord, and remember not iniquity forever.  Behold, please look, we are all your people. [Isaiah 64:8, 9]

Why should God even listen to our prayers, let alone respond to them?  Because we are the clay, and He molds us after His will.  We are the work of His hands; His mighty hands, the hands of Jesus, which were pierced for our transgressions.

In one part of God’s Word, we discover that our disgusting sins are all that is needed to separate us from God’s love, but in another part of God’s Word, the gospel, faith tells us of another way; it tells us that through His Son, Christ Jesus, we may turn to Him by faith and trust in His gracious promises to both redeem and save us, and to remake us into the image of His Son.

Many of you have been taught since your were children to both begin your prayers “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” and to always pray “in Jesus’ name.”  Why do you suppose that is?  It is because God has no reason to listen to any of us outside of the miraculous work of His Son Jesus!  We come to Him in the name of Jesus, who has shed His blood to wash away our sins and cover us with His robe of righteousness.  When we call upon and trust in the name of Jesus, God invites us to pray to Him as dear children and to ask their dear Father for those things that we need.  We can pray with confidence and boldness because, in Jesus, God IS our dear Father.

As we enter into the season of Advent, it is my prayer that the peace of God will allow your heart to boldly call out to God, asking Him to come again through His Son and rend the heavens and make all things right and well for each of you, as you are transferred from the Kingdom of grace into the Kingdom of glory and power.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Lambs Don’t Shove?

Sunday, November 23rd, 2014

Last Sunday of the Church Year-November 23, 2014

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message.

Yes, you are Jesus little lamb and further He gives you every reason to be glad at heart as He leads you through life as a gentle shepherd.  And as you follow, you are assured by faith that He knows your every need and that He provides for those needs in your life.  Since all of this is true, then why do you sometimes act as though it isn’t true?  Why do we as people seem to have this insatiable desire to be first and best, even at the expense of other little lambs around us?  Why is it that we never seem to have a shortage of good ideas in our minds on how to do things better, but we seldom are willing to offer our own efforts in order to accomplish those ideas?

I submit to you that the reason is very simple, and it looks back at us every day in the mirror.  While we may indeed be Jesus little lambs, we live our lives as if we are Jesus mighty and powerful rams, pushing and shoving trying to be the shot caller, trying to get the best seat, the best place in line, and the most important position available.  And while we congratulate ourselves for living as a strong sheep and not some helpless little lamb, Jesus warns us in our gospel lesson (Matthew 25:31-46) that we are acting more like a goat.

Now, we should be clear from the outset that this kind of sinful behavior is nothing new; God had to deal with this same issue years ago through the prophets, and this morning in our Old Testament lesson (Ezekiel 34:11-24) we hear him speak about this very issue through the prophet Ezekiel.  Listen: “As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: “Behold, I judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and male goats.  Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture, and to drink of clear water, that you must muddy the rest of the water with your feet.  And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have muddied with your feet?” (Vs. 17-19)

This morning God is speaking to us just as He did the Jews who were in exile in Babylon.  He is speaking in a way that calls attention to the sinful practices that He observed in the lives of His people then, and in the lives of His children of faith today.  He sees Christians acting like the godless goats and beasts around them and not like sheep.  And he isn’t just talking about how we act in church, but how we act in our families and within our communities.  He is warning us that if we insist on being someone of importance, that is a leader and not a follower then He will hold us to a much higher degree of accountability.

This morning, you may find yourself thinking that you are more equipped to lead the church, your family, or community than others, and because your superior abilities have been underused or gone unappreciated, you find yourself pushing and shoving others so that you can be heard and recognized.  God sees, and He is not impressed.  And what He sees is that through your pushing and shoving, you are teaching through your actions an incorrect faith or false teaching; you are teaching that your way is better than God’s way; you are muddying the waters of true doctrine, and you will answer for what you are doing.  Every time you exert your personality over another sheep, in church, at home, or within our community, and you take away their ability to enjoy God’s provisions for joy and peace in their lives, you are going to pay; Jesus says you will be judged as a goat and not a sheep; you will be cast out into darkness, never more knowing the care of your good shepherd.  In other words, “If you want to act like a goat and not a sheep, then go for it.  You are a goat; so go to the place of goats!”

This morning, God promises to do two things: First He will personally remove the false shepherds who push, shove, and take advantage of the flock, and second, He will personally provide for the needs of His sheep.  He will seek out His sheep who are lost in the church, in the family, and in the community, and bring them back into the fold.  How will he do this?  By reminding us that…

We are His little lambs. We are not mighty rams or wild goats.  We are his little ones that so badly need His care; we need His Son, Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd, because without Him, we will become lost; lost in our communities, lost in our families, and even lost within our church.

Dear friends, this is a truth that each of us must hear, whether we are in leadership or simply part of the flock.  We are all being led by only one Good Shepherd, and the voice of another we must not listen to.

In a world in which it is increasingly difficult to find Christian leaders in any area of life, isn’t it comforting to know that the Lord has promised to become personally involved in caring for the needs of his people, even when those who should be providing leadership aren’t doing their jobs. When you think about it, that’s much better anyway, isn’t it?

Jesus is a faithful Shepherd. It is more comforting to put yourself in His care than in anybody else’s.  Jesus is the only Shepherd who has not only laid down His life for His sheep, but He took it back up again when He rose from the dead.  Jesus is your good shepherd who suffered as you suffer, but even more His sufferings were for you; not only for your eternal salvation, but also so that you might have joy and peace right now, even though you see people in positions of authority over you abusing their high callings of leadership.

Now to those of us who are in positions of authority or desire those positions, God has this Word for us: If we fail to be Christian shepherds in our families, in our community, in our congregation, we can expect those under our leadership, to start trampling the pasture, muddying the water, and shoving and taking advantage of the weak. Sinful human beings do such things if they are not constantly pointed to the Lord Jesus, our true Good Shepherd and his way.

So how do we correct our sinful tendency to push and shove others at the expense of cutting them off from the peace and joy that Jesus provides?  By remembering that we too are only Jesus little lambs.

When we remember that we are Jesus’ little lambs and not some big shot ram or wild goat, we will also remember that we follow our Good Shepherd.  “For He grew up… like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him.”  He was born in the humblest of births, born in a manger.  Even though He was the eternal Son of God, He was known simply as the son of Mary, and the son of a blue-collar carpenter.  “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.  Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But He was pierced (upon the cross) for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed.”

“(And) All we like sheep have gone astray (like lost little lambs who think they are powerful rams or wild goats, we are lost in our families, our communities, and even within our church); we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on (Jesus) the iniquity (the sin) of us all.”

(And as they took your precious Jesus, the Good Shepherd away to the cross to die for your sins, He modeled the life of a little lamb; a trusting sheep who follows its shepherd.  “He was oppressed and He was afflicted (for you), yet He opened not His mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.” [Isaiah 53:2-7]  And neither did He push nor shove, but instead He simply trusted His God and Father.  And just before His final moment of life upon the cross, He experienced something so horrible that it troubled His soul and caused Him to cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  But that was His human flesh crying out only; you see Jesus, the begotten and eternal Son of God knew why He must be forsaken at the ninth hour; He was forsaken so that His little lambs could trust that He would never forsake or leave them.  He suffered in their place so that each of us would know for certain that nothing and no one can ever pluck us from His hand nor the hand of His father.  For we rest as sheep in His pasture.

So how do we remain sheep within God’s flock?  How can we be protected from the ambitions of being a ram or the irresponsible living of a goat?  By remembering that not only are we sheep in God’s flock, but even smaller than sheep, we are simply little lambs who know nothing of the dangers ahead nor how to avoid them.  And as little lambs, we simply follow the voice of our Good Shepherd trusting in His guiding way.  He guides us with His rod and His staff, which are His Word and His sacraments.  His law warns us when we are wandering astray, and His gospel seeks us out, cleans us up, and nuzzles us back into the fold as one who was once lost but now is found, nestled safely in the love of Christ, back in the fold.  He has cleansed us in Holy Baptism, and He nourishes us through the sacrament of the Altar.  And together with the other sheep, we sing in peace and joy these true words: “Who so happy as I am, even now the Shepherd’s lamb?  And when my short life is ended, by His angel host attended, He shall fold me to His breast, there within His arms to rest.”  AMEN!

Can You Be Sure?

Sunday, November 9th, 2014

Pentecost 22A, November 9, 2014

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message.

“If you were to die tonight, are you sure you would go to heaven?  If so, why?  Can you be sure?”  Those were some of the introductory question behind a program called “The Evangelism Explosion” created by Dr. D James Kennedy in the 1960’s that became popular with many Lutheran congregations in the 1980’s and 90’s.  The questions in and of themselves are pertinent, but the conversations that they sparked, very rarely ended with a sense of security, in fact in my opinion, those questions left both the interviewer and the one being interviewed with a deep sense of hope (I hope I’m saved), and also a feeling of fear (what if I’m not saved?).  This is why the “Evangelism Explosion” kind of fizzled out within our denomination.

What many of us discovered was that faith is not something you can logically present to someone, rather it comes when a person encounters the crucified and resurrected Jesus through the Word of God within real life contexts.  But like I said, the questions in and of themselves are worth considering, so let me ask the question in a different way; “Can you be sure you are saved?

In our Old Testament lesson (Amos 5:18-24), God through the prophet Amos was talking to a bunch of people who just knew that they were saved.  After all, they were the children of Abraham, a chosen and unique people.  There was no need to ask them if they were saved, or if they were afraid of the day of judgment, because each of them would have answered quickly, “Of course I’m saved, and why would I be afraid, I’m a son of Abraham!”  But God did not send Amos to ask thought provoking questions; instead He sent Amos to deliver some very bad news, listen: “Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! Why would you have the day of the Lord?  It is darkness and not light”.  This is a blunt warning from God that their eternal security is not nearly secure as they thought it was.  Within these words, God was telling them that if they continue in their insincerity of faith, the Lord’s coming on the last day will mean trouble worse than any they have ever experienced or would experience on this earth.

Amos said that the Israelites were like a man who runs away from a roaring lion (which represented their current troubles), only to be met by a more dangerous bear (which symbolized the day of the Lord, or judgment day).  And if that analogy didn’t get their attention, He gave them another one: It will be like someone who reaches home safely (the day of judgment and rest in heaven), only to lean against the wall in your home and have a snake jump out of a whole near your hand and bite you.  That bite is God’s judgment and it would take the people by surprise.

But why wouldn’t they receive the promised salvation that they thought was theirs?  Because they broke their covenant with God.  So for them, the day of the Lord would be as dark as midnight on a country road.  So what happened?  How did those who were once so close to God’s love and mercy fall so far away?

Well God answered that question in the rest of our reading, listen: “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.  Even though you offer me your burnt offering and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offering of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them.  Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen.  But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

What God was telling the people then and us today is that just going through the motions of worship without faith can’t save you; their hearts were not devoted to God, but instead they embraced the ways of the world around them.  They trusted in the things that life brought and not in the things that God gives.  They thought that being a faithful child of God meant following a set worship formula, which would please God and assure them of His favor and eternal peace.  In their opinion, going to God’s sanctuary for festivals and assemblies was a way of appeasing God and staying on His good side, even while they disobeyed His commandments and broke His covenantal laws during the week.

But what about we Christians today?  Is God pleased with our worship and our liturgies that we practice today?  And the answer is the same now as it was then: Only when our worship comes from penitent faith-filled hearts.  That is hearts that painfully agree with God that they are sinful and unclean and can only be changed and saved by God alone.

The danger for us today is the same danger that had consumed the people of Amos’ time.  We too, run the risk of losing our security if we think that our Sunday worship centered around liturgies, hymns, and offerings are a way to stay on God’s good side, and then when the worship is over, we live a life that cares nothing about God’s will for us as we live out our lives at home, at work, and at play.  In other words, if we are using Sunday worship to excuse our misconduct during the week, we are in for a very rude awakening.

So here we find that religion offers no guarantee that God will be pleased with us on the Day of Judgment.  So then, what about those who say they love God, claim Jesus as their Lord, try to live a decent life before God and their neighbor, but see no need for faithful church attendance?  Where do they stand?

In our gospel lesson (Matthew 25:1-13), Jesus in His story about the ten virgins, let’s the non-religious people know where they stand as well.  I think that the story is meant to answer a simple question that was hidden inside the heart of the sincere Jews who were listening to and following Jesus, and that question is this: “What shall we do while we are waiting for the day of the Lord to come?”  And what is Jesus answer?  “Make sure you have plenty of oil in your lamps!”  So what does the oil represent?

Martin Luther and many others felt that the oil represented faith.  I like that explanation, but like the questions used in the Evangelism Explosion, simply saying “have faith,” can be received more like the law than the gospel, depending on what you think faith is.

Some Christian scholars will tell you that the oil represents good works that are done because of faith.  But again, how is the individual Christian to define works of faith, and when has the individual done enough works so that God is pleased?  No, I am afraid if the oil has anything to do with what we do, then this is the law, and the law demands that all of our works must be done perfectly and unceasingly, which I’m sure you would agree is impossible for sinners such as us?

But let me steer your sinful hearts away from you and your abilities and point your eyes to another way to define the oil.  What if the oil is simply the source of our faith and the power within us that produces good works.  What if the oil is simply your relationship with God, who is the source and power behind all that is good in our lives and in this world?  If this is what the oil in our lamps represents, then we can also see who the two different classes of virgins are.  The five that had their lamps lit with an ample supply of oil are those who remained close to God and His gifts of grace.  And the five who ran out of oil would be those who had become distant to God and His gifts of mercy and forgiving love.

You see, each of us in our baptisms were cleansed of all sin.  We were as St. Paul says to the Corinthians, “presented (to the Lord) as a pure virgin.”  That is, through the work of God we were made pure and holy and acquired by Him to be His own children, and the bride of His Son, Jesus the Christ.  By remaining in this state; within this relationship, our virginity, or if you prefer our purity is protected.  But when we turn from this work of God and from His means of grace that keep us pure, or when we find fulfillment in other things above God’s gifts, well then what St. Paul says next to the Corinthians applies to us as well: “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” [2 Corinthians 11:2-3]

So how can you know that you are truly save?  By knowing that you are known by God; by seeking out His presence and allowing Him to keep you there.

When the five foolish virgins returned and found the door shut, they called out, “Lord, Lord open to us (the door).  The response from within was chilling, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.”  And to that, what can you say?  Wait I know, you could say, “But Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?”  But even to those proclamations of good works, Jesus declares, “I never knew you; go away from me you workers of lawlessness.” [Matthew 7:21-23]

So what we see then, is that being right with God is more than just doing the right thing.  It’s more than just saying, “I know Jesus.”  But what can be more important than knowing Jesus?  Well, being know by Jesus of course!

Does the Lord know you?  If you come to His church regularly to receive His Divine Service and His gifts with a heart that knows God’s Son is the only way for you to have peace about your eternal salvation, well then certainly you are known by Jesus.  If you end each night with a prayer of confession and seek God’s grace and forgiveness through Christ alone, I would say that you are know by Jesus.  If each Sunday as God’s Divine Service begins in our midst, you find yourself coming before God with a broken spirit as you confess your sins, and then as you hear the sweet words of absolution spoken you find your burdened removed, well then I would say that you are known by Jesus!

You see friends, to know God and to be known by Him through His Son is the only way you can be sure of your salvation.  When you know God and are know by Him through Christ, well then you are assured that His Word, which you listen to here in this house of worship is indeed good news for you.  In His Word, He reminds you everyday that on the day of your baptism, His righteousness along with His grace did in fact roll down upon you like an ever flowing-life giving and sustaining stream.  And in that same Word, when you approach His Holy altar to receive the Sacrament of the Altar, you are pulled even deeper into a relationship of faith and love with these Words, “Given and shed for you!”

How can you be sure?  Because God gave His Son unto death for you.  Upon the cross, Jesus took all of the darkness and gloom upon Himself.  There at the cross, the darkness of the day of judgment came upon Jesus so it would not come upon you. [Mark 16:33]

How can you be sure?  Because God’s Word promises that for you who trust in Christ alone, who hunger for God’s Divine Service and the gifts that He so freely dispenses to His church, even here in this place we call Trinity Lutheran Church, for you is given only the promise of eternal day.  The eternal day when you will in fact be welcomed into your mansion prepared for you by Jesus, within the city of Zion, the New Jerusalem.  “And (that) city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb (of God, Jesus Christ).  By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.” [Revelation 21:23-25]

How can you be sure?  Only by faith alone, grace alone, and scripture alone, and all of this comes to you here in this place through Christ alone!  So come to His holy house, and come often and be filled with His perfect peace, which surpasses all understanding… AMEN!

This Is For All The Lonely People

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

All Saints Sunday A, November 1, 2014
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114

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That song by America, “Lonely People”, which you just heard also brings us both the title and the theme of our message this morning: This is for all the  lonely people.  What is?  The message, God’s message, which proclaims that very soon, God Himself will comfort you; He will dry every tear and you will  finally be home in that place that He has prepared for you; a place where you will never again know disappointment, pain, illness, suffering, nor disease.   But you will also never again feel grief.

Isn’t it true that we all grieve for someone, or perhaps for several someones; people who made a mark in our lives; modeled the Christian faith and taught us  what it means to fight the good fight of faith?  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could just sit down with them for 20 minutes and just listen to them once  again, or feel the warmth of their embrace?  Well our message, in a sense allows us a glimpse of them as it gives us a certain hope in God’s certainty that one day, perhaps sooner than we think, we will join them for eternity.

In our lesson from the book of Revelation (Revelation 7:2-17), God gives to John and through John us, a dual vision which are separate yet one vision.  It is a  vision of two simultaneous realities; one is in our time and the other is set in eternity.  It is the picture of the church carrying out it’s mission, which we will  call the church militant, and the church at rest with its mission accomplished, which we will call the church triumphant.

In verse 2 through 8, we are given a vision of a multitude of persons numbered at 144,000 who have been sealed by God; marked as His very own.  What  shall we make of this 144,000 and the seal that is placed upon their foreheads?  Much has been made of both this seal and the number over the years, and  most of it has only caused confusion and sometimes fear in the hearts of Jesus little lambs.  And that fear is not in keeping with the Gospel of our Lord, a  message of Good News, which is meant both to take away fear and create faith and a clean heart within Jesus little lambs.  Didn’t our Lord say this very thing with these Words: “Have no fear little flock.  For the Father has chosen to give you the Kingdom”?  In other words, God Himself through the work of Jesus Christ has both sealed you as His very own and marked you as one of the 144,000.

The Seal. St. Paul speaks this very message in this way, “The firm foundation of God stands, having this seal: the Lord knows those who are His.” [2 Timothy 2:19]  And, “the foundation of God” is certain because it has this “seal: the Lord knows those who belong to Him.  That is, you dear Christians can be absolutely certain and sure of his salvation and faith because it rests on the truth of God’s Word and God’s seal within that Word: “the Lord knows those who are his.” So, it is through his Word that God seals his people, assures them by his Spirit that they belong to him and that he will protect them in their faith. Paul says that Christians are “sealed” by the Holy Spirit, given to them as God’s “pledge” or “guarantee” of the inheritance that He has promised. [Ephesians 1:13–14; 2 Corinthians 1:22]

In the ministry of the holy Apostles as in our ministry of the church today, the proclamation of the gospel is accompanied by “sign(s)”—or perceivable activities of the Spirit—activities which confirmed that their ministry of preaching the Gospel (Acts 2:14–35), baptizing (Acts 2:38, 41), and the breaking of the bread (Acts 2:42) was of God.  The Church today still administers these Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as visible signs with tangible elements (water, bread and wine) empowered by the Word of God, as God’s means of forgiving sin and strengthening faith. [Matthew 26:28; Acts 2:38] Through these means of grace, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the Spirit still works sealing God’s people and confirming to them that they are indeed his people.  So, the Spirit of God, in his gracious activity through God’s Word and the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, seals you little flock, so that you may know that you belong to God and that He will protect you through faith, even in the middle of the worst of tribulations.

So then what are we to make of the 144,000? Well, the best and most historic answer is that the number is symbolic, and it represents the full number of saints who are continuously being drawn out of the church militant, that is the church that is on mission to seek and save the lost.  But why is the number made up of 12,000 from each of the Old Testament Tribes of Israel?  Well, it is not uncommon for the writings of the New Testament to refer to the church of Jesus Christ, both Jews and Gentiles, in Old Testament language. Didn’t Jesus promise His disciples that they would “sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:28–30)? Paul says that the believers in Jesus, Jews and Gentiles, are in fact the true Israel of God and the true sons of Abraham. In James 1:1, the introductory statement makes it clear that the epistle is addressed to “the twelve tribes in the diaspora”, that is, those Christians who are scattered throughout the Graeco-Roman world. Since the very beginning, the New Testament church has quite naturally assumed the continuation of the twelve tribes, because that was part of the assignment given to the Messiah, [Jeremiah 3:18; Ezekiel 37:19–24] and Christians recognized themselves as the true heirs of the Jewish faith (Romans 4; Galatians 4:21–31; Phil. 3:3).”

So since we have established that “every tribe of the sons of Israel” is to be understood as a description of all the followers of Jesus Christ, what does the number 144,000 mean?  Well, the number is simply a multiple of twelve: twelve times twelve thousand. It suggests a total completeness. It gives a numerical picture of God’s people on earth in perfect marching order, in perfect step. It suggests that God’s Israel, the church of Jesus Christ, as it advances to battle in the mission given it, is a perfect and complete army, fully equipped and ready to do God’s work.  But what is most important for you this morning, is the fact that the number includes YOU!  You have been sealed and are being sealed every time you are in the Word, every time you come to church and receive God’s gift of forgiving love through His means of grace!

Now we have another scene or vision to look at before we close our message this morning, and this is the very vision that is meant for those of us who are lonely because of the loss of loved ones who have died sealed in the faith of Jesus Christ.  In contrast to the smaller crowd of saints on earth still fulfilling their mission, the crowd shown to us in Heaven is vast and uncountable.  This host of saints in Heaven stand before the throne of God and they are at rest and in peace, celebrating the results of the mission of the church on earth.  Just as we, as part of the 144,000 stand ready to be launched out into a world of sin and suffering to accomplish our mission, so too, the vast array of saints have been utilized in that way before us.  But they, who make up the church triumphant, are at rest and at peace awaiting the final act of God’s sealing protection, which is the end of days and the time of judgment and reward.  They who make up that vast host will never again experience tribulation and persecution.  For them, Paul’s promise in Romans has been fulfilled by God, “I reckon that the sufferings of this preset time cannot be compared to the glory that shall be revealed to us.” [Romans 8:18]

This vast crowd that is called countless, reminds us of God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that their descendants would be beyond counting—as numerous as the sand of the seashore and as the stars in the heavens.  And this crowd we are told is not only from the ethnic people who made up the 12 tribes of Israel, but from every ethnicity found upon the face of the earth.  And this entire vast host of people is arrayed in white robes.  Their white robes symbolize a reality that we within the church militant hold onto by faith here on earth: We have been washed through the water and the word, cleansed with the blood of Jesus, and through Christ we are pure and righteous because of His blood!

So what does all of this mean for us below who are still clinging to Jesus and being built up in the gift of faith? It means we are not alone… we are part of the vast array of saints that have gone before us, Saints that will very soon be joining in the feast of victory for our God.  But perhaps the most amazing truth that God would like you to receive from His perspective and the perspective of those who have gone before us is this: You have already taken your place next to them before His throne and at His table and the feast of victory.

Just as they are before God’s throne of Victory, so too, you are before His throne of grace.  Just as they serve God day and night, so too, you serve Him as you live your life of faith in Him and service to His church and to your neighbor.  Just as God’s divine service shelters them from harm so too, His divine service here in our church shelters you from anything that could separate you from the love of God and His seal, which is yours through Christ Jesus.

As a vast heavenly chorus, the saints who have gone before us, including your loved ones that you miss, agree with Jesus when He calls you blessed!  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

If that vast host could call out to us this morning, they would probably repeat the promise of Jesus to us in this way.  “Amen, yes Amen!  Rejoice and be glad little ones.  You are as we were and always shall be… you are blessed.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so we too were maintained by God’s means of grace, and now we are sheltered by His eternal presence, standing before His very throne, never again to know hunger nor thirst, sickness nor disease, violence nor war.  For the lamb in the midst of us, Jesus the crucified, resurrected, and now ascended Son of God is our Good Shepherd and He will guide you as He guides us, to springs of living water, and one day soon, He will do for you what He has done for us; He WILL wipe away every tear from your eyes.

As we prepare to approach God’s table of mercy, by faith allow Him to assure you that your loved ones are there as well.  See in your mind’s eye that they too, are seated across from you on the other side of the communion rail.  Therefore with angels and archangels and with the vast array of saints in glory we can not help but laud and magnify God’s glorious name, evermore praising Him and saying: Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Sabbath adored, Heaven and earth will full acclaim shout the glory of Your name.  Sing hosanna in the highest, sing hosanna to the Lord; truly blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!  AMEN!