Archive for May, 2015

God Is Love!

Sunday, May 31st, 2015

Trinity Sunday, May 30, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

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

God is one.  There is only one God.  The one God exists from eternity as one God.  God alone is eternal.  Would it surprise you to know that there are many other religions that will agree with you?  In fact, they will appeal to this very truth in an attempt to draw you away from your own Christian faith.

You see, in addition to confessing that God is one, we Christians also confess that God is love, in fact we say that love is the very essence of God.  Now these other religions will never deny that God loves but they won’t agree that love is the essence of who God is.  They will argue that although God loves, love can’t be His essence, because that would make Him dependent on someone, and God depends on no one.  But this kind of argument is false because it ignores the very essence of God.

The true God is indeed one, but just believing in this fact doesn’t mean a person is worshiping the true God; for you see, the one true God is also united within Trinity, and within His Triune nature God is love.  The only God who exists is the Triune God.  Any god who isn’t triune isn’t God because a god who isn’t triune can’t be love, and God is love.  Dear friends, please don’t ever let anyone lead you away from this truth because it is crucial to your very salvation.  If God wasn’t love then he wouldn’t have sent His only begotten Son to suffer and die upon the cross for you!

God’s love isn’t an attribute that makes Him dependent on us, but rather it’s an attribute that defines His very essence as God in regards to the relationship shared between the three persons within the One Godhead.

When we say God is love we are also saying that God could not be love unless He was Triune.  You see, there’s an eternal unity of love between the Father who begets and generates the Son who is begotten.  This eternal unity of divine love exists as well between the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit who is sent from the two of them.  But as I told the children, this is far too high for us to grasp.  After all, He is the Creator and we are the creature!

Dear friends, while completely understanding God is far above us, we can know about Him by paying attention to what He has already revealed about Himself.  We know from scripture that the Father has generated or begotten the Son on many occasions.  It was the Son and two angels who visited Abraham outside of Sodom and Gomorra to warn Abraham of the pending destruction of the two cities, so that his nephew Lot might be saved.  It was God the Son generated by the Father who took on the form of a burning bush so that Moses might behold some of the Lord’s glory and receive God’s Law that would teach Israel how to relate rightly to a Holy and loving God.  And it was God the Son who appeared to Isaiah in heaven and out of love sent Him to preach repentance to Judah.

There are many more instances throughout scripture that demonstrate that God the Father generates or begets the Son in order to accomplish the purpose of God, but for us, the best example is found in John 1:And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” [John 1:14]

Do you hear in those words how the Son is now forever generated or begotten in human flesh yet He still eternally possesses eternal glory, grace, and truth.  And together the Father and the Son send the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit.

It was God the Spirit who was hovering over the face of the waters in the very beginning of creation. He was sent by the Father and the Son, and together they created the heavens and the earth—He was with these Words: ““Let there be light,” and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good. [Genesis 1:1-4]  Like a marvelous symphony God’s Word’s of Love spoke forth creation and goodness.  It was an eternal love generated and sent from the heart of the One true God who has revealed Himself in three persons.  But we must not divide the person’s from the One True God or we will loose His essence, which is love.  What do I mean by this?  Well think of it this way: While it is the Father who generates or begets, and it is the Son who is begotten but not made, and it is the Holy Spirit who is sent together by the Father and the Son, there are not three God’s but One. As One, the three persons created everything that there is together.  The divine mystery of God’s triune nature is this: As One they have always existed, and since God does not change they will always be One in glory and majesty.  When we pray to our Lord in heaven we do not pray to three Lords, but rather we pray to one Lord because the Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, and the Holy Spirit is Lord.  Three persons united eternally in One essence of love, which is God!  So why am I talking about an eternal relationship of love into which you and I could never find our way into?

Because friends, God has created a way—He has brought His love to us!  In so doing He has established fellowship with us.  But in order to enjoy all of the benefits of this relationship (eternal grace, mercy, and peace with God and each other), we must also faithfully believe that God the Son took on human flesh.  God did this not because He needed to, but rather He did it because He is love.  We are the ones in need!  We need God to come to us.

Although God’s voice declared that all that He had made in the beginning was good, it was our own sinfulness that forever turned good into evil.  In our natural condition, there is not a single thing that we can do to save ourselves…we need God’s mercy, pardon, and forgiveness.  And yet the punishment for our own sin is death, eternal separation from God’s love.  But as a true champion, our saving God came to us in our own human flesh and paid for our sins Himself.  In Jesus Christ, all of God came to us.  Our Creator, out of His love for us, wrapped Himself in creation, because only He could remedy our hopeless situation.  Why do I say all of God came to us?  Because, remember, we can never divide the essence of God.  God always acts as one because He is one.

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

At the baptismal font God’s work of re-creation was activated for you; there at the font, you were “Born Again!”  All of the benefits of Jesus’ suffering and death were given to you.  The old sinful man and woman that was your identity at birth has now been put to death through His same Word of creation that was spoken “In The Beginning.” This re-creation of life from death is now yours because of God’s own suffering and death through Christ Jesus!

Dear friends, do you see what a wonderful gift of love is now yours?  You have been freed from your former body of death and you have been given a new life.  Please, don’t take lightly what God has done for you.  Rather, embrace it and cherish this gift.  Live out this new life with certainty that it is yours.  We must not doubt that this gift is ours, because it was given out of God’s love.  And yet when the troubles of life creep in, we do doubt, and that is why Jesus has not left us alone in this life as orphans.  He promises that He and the Father are still with us in love, because He has sent us the gift of the Holy Spirit, and where the Holy Spirit is, there also are the Father and the Son, because God is One!

It is the Holy Spirit who moves our hearts to hunger for hearing and studying God’s Word.  It is the Holy Spirit that causes us to remember God’s saving love when we remember our own baptism.  It is the Holy Spirit that creates a hunger within us to gather at the Lord’s Table where we receive His very body and blood when we eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins.  It is the Holy Spirit that creates in us a clean heart when we hear the sweet words of absolution, which in turn continually moves us to come to God in prayer, knowing by faith that He hears our confession and will always forgive and love us.

Dear friends, because God is One and God is love, and because we are called into fellowship with Him by love, then we are also called into the fellowship of His Mission to seek and save those that are lost and dying, separated from His love because of sin.  When we cry out in confession like Isaiah, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a sinner, and I live in the midst of a society of sinners,” God in His love for us, through His Holy Spirit, touches our hearts with the Gospel, and says, “Behold, your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” [Is. 6:4-8]  And by the work of the same Spirit, God speaks to our hearts and asks: “Whom shall I send, and who will go out to the world for us?”  And by the work of the same Spirit we are moved to respond, “Here am I!  Send me!” [Is. 6:8]

Note two remarkable truths. First, the Lord wants to send someone to speak for him. The question asked, “Whom shall I send?” is for the benefit of Isaiah. God wants to send a human to speak for him. God could have sent the seraphs who sang in the heavenly temple, but that isn’t His choice. Instead, God desires to send a creature limited not only by flesh and blood but also by sin. Isaiah had just confessed his sinfulness just as you have done, yet God wanted to send him.

The next amazing truth is the willingness of Isaiah. He responds without hesitation, “Here I am. Send me!” The same person who just a moment ago was terrified because of his sin is now exhibiting courage, and he gladly in embraces his call to go for the Holy One of Israel. What caused this transformation? The very same work that God wants to do in your heart; forgiveness and the realization that God wants to use us like He used Isaiah, produces the reply. Forgiveness has worked a miracle inside the prophet. Courage replaced fear. Willingness replaced a sense of unworthiness. God has worked this miracle “to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13). And Isaiah volunteered without knowing anything about his call. He simply expressed his willingness to go no matter what tasks the Lord had in store for him.

Friends, the mission of the church is your mission!  It comes from the heart of the Father, and from the Son who is the very message of the mission. This message, which you have been given is nothing less than the good news about the incarnation, suffering and death of Jesus Christ for everyone.  The message is that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  [John 3:16]

If the source of mission is God the Father and the message of the mission is God the Son, then what part does God the Holy Spirit play?  Dear friends, the Holy Spirit is the very power of God’s mission.  MISSION IS HOLY SPIRIT POWERED!

What this means for us is that God’s mission can’t fail because He is the very source, message and power of that mission.  God has invited you to work with Him in His mission.  For you see, God desires to use simple means to perform mighty miracles in order to confound the supposed wisdom of the devil and sinful men.

Along with His Word, God uses simple water, bread, and wine, and He chooses to use you and me!  He uses us when we speak His Word and give our witness to our neighbor.  And who is our neighbor?  Anyone that God puts in our daily lives!  Won’t you give it a try?  Won’t you tell others about your love for your One True God who exists in both Trinity and Unity?  Tell them how you were saved at the baptismal font.  Tell them how you grow in His Word every day, and how your faith is nourished here at His Holy table!  Why not invite a friend to come with you to church.  Don’t worry, you won’t be alone when you do these things…remember, you’re on a mission with the rest of us, and that mission is powered by the Holy Spirit!

Well this morning dear friends, we have learned that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are united together as one in love; in love for each other and their love for us, and together they lead us by faith so that they may strengthen and grow God’s Church which is centered in His love.  And to this truth let’s bow our heads and pray:  “Teach us to love our neighbor dear Lord as you love us, and lead on O Lord, and let us be one in missionary zeal as you are always One—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  …AMEN!

It All Comes Down To This

Sunday, May 24th, 2015

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost B, May 28, 2015

Click here for audio of this message

It all comes down to this!  Down to what?  The coming, presence, and work of the Holy Spirit, of course!  Jesus said, “… I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.  And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.”

Now, I know the presence of the Holy Spirit is nothing new; His Work was essential, “In the beginning.. (when) the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.  And (He empowered the Word of God when) … God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” [Genesis 1:4]

The Spirit was there with Adam and Eve as they were repelled out of Paradise, and it was the Spirit Who constantly reminded them of the Promise of restoration through the coming Champion who would destroy sin, death, and the devil, and bring humanity back to Paradise.  The Holy Spirit was with Noah and the Animals as the Ark was built and the animals were compelled to enter the Ark in peace.  The Holy Spirit was with Moses as He parted the sea and led God’s people to dry land.  It was the Spirit who filled every one of the prophets of old and the Apostles of Jesus to speak Words of hope and new life, all once again centered around the Champion who has actually fulfilled the promise of Paradise restored.  And that champion is Jesus Christ, crucified, risen, and ascended!

Now this is all “good news” but it is not the only news on this day of Pentecost.  The news of Pentecost is that not only has Christ risen, but also that He has risen for you.  And here’s the best part of that proclamation, it is empowered by the Holy Spirit to actually bring you a new life with God, and take you back to Paradise; back to a right relationship with God!

So, the Good News for each of you today, is that through the fulfilled Word of God, you have been given faith to believe in each and every promise God makes regarding your sin and Christ’s Work upon the cross to take away your sin.  You have been given faith to know this truth as a certainty.  Just as the Spirit at creation hovered over the waters to empower the Word of God to create everything out of nothing, so too He has empowered God’s promise of forgiveness and restoration and the waters of your baptism.

But here’s another truth…

Life without faith is desperate. In our Old Testament lesson, we are given a graphic demonstration of this desperation through the vision God gave to His prophet Ezekiel.  The valley of dry bones is the ultimate expression of life overstepping its limits, which is the abandonment of hope in the Creator God.

Ezekiel’s vision is the reality of our world today.  Certainly the Christian martyrs in the middle east must feel dry, desolate and alone as they die one by one through the demonic power of ISIS.  But we do not have to go that far to know the feeling of emptiness and abandonment; how must the people of Detroit feel as they think back to better days when the economy was booming and neighborhoods and business were flourishing, but now all that stands are the burn out shells of homes and businesses that once were.

The Mexican artist, Jose Guadalupe Posada created a large body of art showing persons engaged in a wide variety of daily activities, but each were depicted as skeletons.  In one drawing he depicted a soldier riding through a valley of bones full of human skulls.  What was he trying to tell us?  Was he trying to say that hope in the government above or in place of our hope in God only leads to death?

Perhaps the most terrifying aspect of Ezekiel’s vision is after the bones became skeletons, and after the skeletons were fleshed, what filled the immense valley floor? Bodies of real people who are simply dead because they lack the touch of the Holy Spirit; they lack the breath of life!  This dear saints is the ultimate tragedy… not that people die, but that they refuse to live.  The flesh without spirit, not the dry bones is the most haunting aspect of Ezekiel’s vision.  A world of zombies, the walking dead if you will who are in that state and don’t know it, or worse yet they know but they do not seem to mind.  But…

Life with faith in Christ overcomes the curse of the walking dead; it overcomes despair! Jesus declared to the world and to you personally on the day of your baptism, “I came that (you) may have life and have it abundantly.” [John 10:10]  He is the only One who can not only speak hope, but deliver it.  He not only promises a restored and renewed hope, but His Word actually gives it.

Every Word that Jesus spoke and taught was to prepare each of you for that one moment in your life when you realize that there is something great and profound missing in life, and then receive it!  When your moment of despair comes, and sometimes they come frequently like the waves on the ocean shore, when it comes it is God’s will that you recall His promises of forgiveness and restoration, which you have heard declared, read, or even sung, and then remember.  Remember what?

Remember that although through His Word you have discovered that your sin is great, deadly, and terrifying, you must also remember that all of Christ’s righteousness has been given to you completely through His Work upon the cross and the declaration of the empty tomb.

But the Easter cry of “He is risen” is like a iPhone without a battery, if you can not or will not reply, “Indeed, He has risen for me!”  And this is now getting at the power of the abundant life that Jesus has promised to the church, and through the church , to the world.  This is where we discover that…

Life with Christ finds empowerment through the Holy Spirit in the church for the work of witness and missions! So it all comes down to this… The day of Pentecost is a demonstration of both the love and power of God, which takes the good news of forgiveness of sins and ensures that it will be declared throughout the world.

As Peter and the disciples gathered in the upper room right after their Lord Jesus ascended into heaven, they must have felt alone and afraid.  But they knew somehow they were not abandoned; they knew that Jesus would make good on His promise to send a helper, a counselor, and protector.  And my, did he ever…

Some may say rightly that until that day when the Spirit showed up in power, Christians were just playing the part of church; they were playing around with the idea of Christ, not yet allowing the resurrected and ascended Christ to come alive in their midst.  Again, they were like an iPhone without a battery, or better yet they were like a bus without an engine.  But then something happened on the Day of Pentecost… Jesus made good on His promise; He sent the Holy Spirit.

The entire account given to us in our second reading (Acts 2:1-21) can not help but excite us and invite us into the story of the church. The imagery of the event comes alive as it glows with tongues of fire and the bewilderment of other languages. People seem to be staggering and stammering like drunken men. But when Peter speaks and the air clears, that which is testified to, is nothing other than the mighty works of God.

Dear friends, the mighty works of the Holy Spirit are still being performed today.  We witness the same power as the dreams of the old and the visions of the young people refuse to play church, but actually become and behave as church through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.  And this mighty work is none other than the work of salvation; the translation of sinners into saints for “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved!”

When ever the Word is proclaimed, whether through the work of the sermon, Bible Study, personal witness, or when it is carried overseas to far way places, it is fulfilling the mission of Christ found in Matthew 28:”Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Vs. 19, 20) So Pentecost is really the birth of Missions or the empowerment of the church to fulfill Christ’s mission.

As you leave this place but not Christ’s presence, you leave reminded that you are on a mission to share the good news that sinners sins have been forgiven through the work of Christ alone. But you do not go alone; you have been empowered and you are protected by the Holy Spirit.  And as you share the good news, what will be the response that you will receive from friends, neighbors, and family?

Now we are at the very heart of sinful mankind’s response to the gospel.

Humanity’s situation without God is so desperate and their opportunities with Him are so big that almost any response seems inadequate and even a little ridiculous.  Do people fall to their knees and cry mercy or rise to their feet and cry glory; once they are converted by the Holy Spirit, do they spend a period of time in study and training or do they rise from the valley of dry bones in service to God and neighbor?

To dwell on questions like those can also be another way we play church and play with the mission of Christ.  Why not face the facts as we know them; anyone who has been struck by the Spirit of Pentecost has received the breath of life; they’ve been recreated through the waters of Holy Baptism.  In other words they have been reanimated.  And what they do next is the very same thing we do every day…

We repent! We believe and we become what God has already declared we are… Redeemed!  Repentance is the heart beat of the church.  It is the radical turning of the whole self from itself, to a right relationship with God through the cross of Jesus Christ.  To be baptized is to enter into the life and mission of the church.  To receive the Holy Spirit is to allow the Sprit to shape your life in obedient witness and service to Him who first loved us!  And yes, it may even mean making amends for past wrongs, selling or giving away what we don’t need and sharing the proceeds or other goods with the needy, sharing a common life with other Christians on days other than Sunday, worshiping daily and breaking bread in homes, the very transformation that marked the Christian community after the great day of Pentecost. [Acts 2:37-47]

SO IT ALL COMES DOWN TO THIS. The Holy Spirit is among us in great power, just as He was in the beginning, just as He was with Adam and Eve, just as He was with Noah, Moses, the prophets and apostles of old, and just as He was that first Pentecost Sunday.  In the past all who have made a difference within the building and growth of God’s Kingdom only did so because they were willingly being led by God’s Word and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.  So it all comes down to this.  Are you willing?  I pray in Jesus name that you are… Amen!

These Things Are Written That…

Sunday, May 17th, 2015

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Easter 7B, May 21, 2015

Click here for audio of this message

May the words of this message and the meditations of our hearts be both directed by you, and pleasing unto you O Lord.  In the name of the Father Son and Holy Spirit, AMEN!

Let’s immediately address the title of our message this morning.  Can you finish it?  I hope that you can because we just sang those words in our Alleluia and Verse, before the reading of the Gospel lesson.  “These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.”  [John 20:31] The apostle who wrote those words is the same St. John who wrote these Words from our Epistle lesson (1 John 5:9-15), “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” [V.13]

Notice, that the Word says “that you know that you may have eternal life”,  and it does not say “that you can have eternal life.” God desires that all men, women, and children, know that eternal life is already there’s through His Son Jesus Christ; through His life, death, and resurrection, and then know that all of it was done for you.  He came so that you could have a new and forgiven life, without fear or doubt.  He came that you might have an abundant life once again with your Creator.
His coming to sinful men and women was promised in His Word since the first sin of Adam and Eve; a sin that seemed to forever bar all mankind from returning to Paradise.  But the promised solution, the hope for both them and all mankind was the “Seed of the woman,” who would latter be known as the Messiah; the One who would make all things new and right with our Heavenly Father.  This Seed we know by faith, as a gift from God, is the Son of God, Jesus Christ.  He is the Messiah who was promised, that would restore mankind’s lost relationship with God, and thus bring us back to Paradise lost.  It is God Who makes all things new, and it has absolutely nothing to do with you and your efforts or lack of them.  He does it entirely through His Son Jesus Christ alone and through…

Scripture alone, grace alone, and faith alone. It is scripture, grace, and faith alone that recreates our hearts and minds so that we will believe that Jesus is the Christ and then receive His saving name, which alone ensures our hearts that we have eternal life. Again Jesus the Christ saves us, but saves from what?  Well, from the condemnation of our sins of course!  But how do we know this is true?  Through…

Scripture Alone: In the message of the inspired writers of Holy Scripture comes the re-creative Word of God; the Logos, who in the beginning said, “Let there be…” and there was!

John admitted that he could have written much more about the physical life of the Logos who came to us, but what he did write was enough to bring us eternal life.  St. Paul put it this way: “You have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” [2 Tim. 3:15]  Scripture does this by introducing us to Christ Jesus. So, we can say that as God’s Word introduces us to Jesus, it is also bringing the power of God into the lives of we who believe. [Rom 1:16]  God’s Word, every bit of it, found within your Bibles is powerful, because it teaches you about Jesus Christ.

The word of the prophets, which promised the coming of the Messiah, can be compared to a fire, because it purges the hearts of sinners of anything that does not come from God’s Word.  And it can be compared to a hammer, because it shatters our hearts that can become hard as rock when we place our hope in anything accept Christ alone! [Jeremiah 23:29]  The words of Scripture rise from the pages of our Bible with only two purposes, to pierce our hearts in regards to sin, and to heal our hearts in regards to the work of our Savior. [Heb. 4:12] John’s words about the Word made Flesh were written to bring life to each of us who hear or read those Words.  “These things are written that you may believe  that Jesus is the Christ!”

Now with all of this being true, we must always remember that when we are reading God’s Word, it must be handled with both respect and a sense of awe.  We must never try to impose our own cultural ideas upon that Word, nor use it to justify our sinful actions.  Scripture interprets Scripture. The Word of the Lord alone can govern how his Word is to be understood. The one who listens to God’s Word is to be “trapped” within that Word. It remains an authoritative voice from outside of our control. Therefore, the words of Scripture must be understood within the context of God’s revelation of Himself within the biblical text, and not according to what contemporary society says is truth.  We as the readers or hearers of God’s Word stand under that Word and never over it.

In our first reading this morning (Acts 1:12-26), we join the eleven apostles and many disciples of Jesus as they are leaving the mount called Olivet, where for the last time, they physically saw Jesus as He ascended into Heaven to be seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.  After they witnessed Jesus going up into heaven, they returned and stayed in Jerusalem, just as Jesus had commanded them.  But it was the way that they were waiting, which has significance to our message this morning; they were waiting “with one accord, devoting themselves to prayer.”  That is, they were devoted to worship and the one correct understanding of God’s Word!

What was it that united them?  Scripture alone!  It was through scripture that the work of the Holy Spirit moved Peter to fill the place that Judas, by his death vacated.  Judas Iscariot, the one who scripture prophesied would not only betrayed Jesus Christ and the Christian faith, but take his own life to boot!

Peter, filled with the Spirit of God, and moved by the Spirit, stood before the congregation, and began to apply scripture to their situation.  As he spoke, the Holy Spirit reminded of the two portions of Scripture from the Psalms of David, which prophesied both the betrayal of the Messiah, and the punishment and replacement of the betrayer. First, he read Psalm 69, which proclaims, “May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it.”  In other words, the betrayer will be punished, and his betrayal of the faith will not be repeated again by those who replace him.  The next Psalm brought before the heart of Peter was Psalm 109, which declares, “Let another take his office.”  That its let another apostle be called.

So what we learn from this is that it is Christ alone who chooses, and it is Christ who still speaks to His Church through Holy Scripture and prayer.  It is by grace alone that any are chosen, and it is by faith alone that they will continue stead fast in this high call of God.  And we will need this faith that comes through the Word of God every day, because like Judas we too can only be saved by…

Grace Alone: And like Judas, we too are subject to fall from our call as Christians and betray our Lord, choosing the rewards of this sinful world over the grace of God.  In fact, it has already begun in your life, hasn’t it?  Wasn’t it your sins, like the sins of Judas that caused Jesus to set His heart on that painful walk to the cross?  Quickly, don’t deny it; simply say “Yes, Christ died for my sins.”  Because if you cannot say that Jesus died for your sins, that it was your sins that led Him to the cross, then you cannot receive the forgiveness of sins that His death brings.  That is, you cannot receive His grace, which is the undeserved gift of God’s forgiving love.

Dear saints, when you are in Christ’s church, when you are gathered around the Word and Sacraments, you are receiving Jesus gifts without merit, which come through Scripture alone, by grace alone, and which save you by both creating and sustaining faith alone.

Faith Alone-is that very thing, which allows us to receive and believe that not only has Christ died to save the World, but He also died to save you!  By faith alone, you are able to say along with the entire church, “He is risen, indeed, but more importantly, He has risen for me.”

Because he died to save sinners, He died to save you, and in your baptism, He has given all of this to you.  In the washing of the water and the Word of God, you may stand with confidence upon the work of Jesus Christ and the teaching of the twelve apostles, which alone not only promises, but also gives eternal life.

So faith is simply the empty hand of a beggar, which has nothing on its own, but simply waits to be filled with belief in Christ by God Almighty.

Now let’s look at a case study of a real man whom God says was a type of Judas; a type, which all of us may become if we do not cling to Jesus alone, through Scripture alone, by grace alone, and by faith alone. It is the story of Ahitophel, who was counselor of King David.  The Bible mentions this man only in three places, yet his life is intertwined with King David from the time that David became king in Hebron until the time of the death of David’s son, Absalom.  In 2 Samuel 16:23 we are told that the counsel of Ahitophel “was as if a man had inquired at the oracle of God: so was all the counsel of Ahitophel both with David and with Absalom.”  So where did this man of God, Ahitophel come from?    Well, the Bible says he was from the town of Giloh, a town near Hebron (Joshua 15:51-55). Hebron was the area where young David, before he was king, sent his young men to a man called Nabal, asking for some thing in return for having protected Nabal’s shepherds and flocks from marauders in the area of Carmel.  David was ridiculed by Nabal, and it was Nabal’s wife Abigail who saved the lives of all of them from the wrath of David, by her quick thinking and action. After Nabal died, David married Abigail, and if you read 1 Samuel 25 you will see that she admits that the meaning of her husband’s name Nabal, is “Fool”. This is the only man in the Bible who has this name.

So what is the meaning of Ahitophel’s name?  It is “the brother of a fool.”  But unlike his brother Nabal, he was renowned for his wisdom and understanding. You’ll find him mentioned as King David’s counselor in 1 Chron. 27:33. And it appears, that he held this position up until the time of the rebellion of David’s son Absalom.

So why did Ahitophel commit suicide?  Well, Ahitophel had served David closely and obediently for years, yet out of no where he seems to have turned on his King, and joined the conspiracy of David’s son Absalom to over throw David, but when the advice he gave Absalom in regards to defeating David was not followed, out of shame and fear, he committed suicide by hanging himself.  But Why; why did he turn traitor, and why the permanent solution to what seems to be a temporary problem?  And herein lies an interesting tale.

You see, Ahitophel was the one person who was in the know when David committed adultery with Bathsheba. He was in the Palace, in the confidence of the King and he was Bathsheba’s Grandfather! Yes, you can look it up yourself in 2 Sam.11:3 and 2 Samuel 23:34. Bathsheba was the daughter of Eliam whose father was Ahitophel. So here along with the death of his brother, is the seed of betrayal that years later became the motivation for Ahithophel to turn on David and join David’s son, Absalom.

Remember, Bathsheba had been happily married to Uriah, and it was Bathsheba whom David seduced and then had her husband Uriah killed in battle.  Ahitophel knew all of this, and carried that grudge for years.  In Psalm 41:9,  David laments, “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.” This is the very verse that Jesus quoted about Judas at the last supper, as the betrayer, who like Ahitophel turned against the one who entrusted him with responsibility.

When both Ahitophel and Judas saw that their advice to their kings was rejected, they both saw that there was no future for them, so they both chose the same end… betrayal and then suicide!

CONCLUSION: Dear friends, we must all consider Ahitophel and Judas when we are tempted to hold a grudge against someone who may have hurt us or let us down.  And then by faith, we must see how God has so lavishly blessed us with His grace, and then ask the Lord to take that root of bitterness out of our hearts, because if it remains, it will ruin us and rob us of the faith that is needed to be led by His Word.

Friends, if you have a grudge against someone, allow God’s Word to have control over your lives.  By faith, go and make peace with the one you are at odds with, and then with the same grace you have been given, go and offer forgiveness to the one that has hurt you.  And remember, forgiveness is a verb, not a feeling. It is something you do through the help of God, and it’s not something you feel. Peace comes after you have gone and forgiven the one you were in conflict with. Whether they accept your forgiveness or not, once you have forgiven, you will by faith, through grace, experience the peace of God in your soul, because the Word of God promises that it is so.  AMEN!

From Lesser to Greater

Sunday, May 10th, 2015

Easter 6B, May 10, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” [Acts 10:47]

This morning, I want to start out our message with a word of encouragement from me your pastor, to each of you who make up this congregation we call Trinity Lutheran Church.  You truly are a welcoming and loving bunch of saints, and your diversity proves that.  You are made up of Asian, African, African American, Caucasian, Hispanic, Polynesian, wealthy, middle class, and poor.  You love each other equally and you are willing to offer up what you have to help each other when asked.  You seem to be following God’s example… you are not a respecter of persons.

All that being said, may I suggest that we take what our first reading (Acts 10:34-48) has to heart, and see if we might still have room to grow, both as individuals and as a congregation?  Good, let’s get started.

Another way to rephrase Peter’s question, would be like this: “Does anyone see what God is doing differently than me?  I see Him saying that He wants to save all people, regardless of who they are or what they are; regardless of what they’ve done or what they haven’t done?”

Did you notice that no one disagreed with Peter?  Now, don’t dismiss this fact because it is very relevant to what God is doing both in our reading and within our community today.  You see, prior to this day, God was seen as a national God, or a God of the Jews.  The Jews believed this, and it tended to steer them towards looking down on other folks; people who were not a part of their nation.  Peter was of this same mindset to an extent; he couldn’t help but be that way because he had been mistakenly taught this mindset from childhood.

But prior to our reading, in Acts 10:1-33, we discover that God had prepared Peter for a shift in his thinking through a vision.  In his vision from God, Peter was shown a great sheet that came out of heaven with all kinds of un-kosher creatures; you know creepy crawly things.  And in the vision, God said, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.  But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.”

Now prior to Peter’s vision, a gentile Roman Centurion who feared God but did not yet know him also had a vision.  And in his vision he was told by an angel to go to the home where Peter was staying and invite him to his home to share the gospel.  And obedient to God’s command, Cornelius sent his men to find Peter and ask him to come and speak.  The next day when Peter arrived at the home, Cornelius welcomed Peter, and Peter proclaimed these wonderful words: “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.”

And then Peter said a prayer, opened his moth and he began to preach this sermon: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.  And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

To those Jewish Christians who were accompanying Peter, and had not the privilege of the vision, this all must have seemed very odd, and out of order.  They must have been thinking, “These are Roman gentiles and not Jews; why is Peter preaching to them our gospel?”

Before they had time to object, and before Peter could even finish his sermon, the Holy Spirit acted in a way that would make God’s desire clear to everyone there and everyone who would hear about this day: “While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

No one that day attempted to prevent these people, who were foreign to God’s holy people from becoming part of Christ’s body; from becoming part of the church.  The gift of speaking in foreign languages was the same work of the Spirit that was done with the apostles and disciples earlier on that first Christian Pentecost.  In other words, God was telling Peter and all of the Jewish Christians that these gentiles, and all people of the earth are equal to the Jewish people; equal in their sins and equal in their need for a Savior.

The blood of Jesus was poured out for not just the sins of the Jews, but for the world, and the waters of Holy Baptism is for all sinners who have been crushed by God’s perfection as demonstrated through His Law and desire forgiveness of sins, and to be born anew, recreated through the washing of the water and the Word!

Would you look around this sanctuary please and tell me what is missing, or should I say who is missing? (Pause) Where are the young people?  Where are the children and young adults?  Oh, we have had plenty of the young people come to visit; we’ve even baptized at least a dozen of them in the last few years, but where have they gone to?  Do you know?  If you don’t know where they’ve gone to, do you know why they left?  Could it be that they left because they didn’t feel that there was a place for them here?  Could it be that we have been so impressed with our diversity in regards to race, ethnicity, and economic standard that we were beginning to feel like we have done all things well, and that there is no more room to grow?  Could it be that we have become a respecter of persons in regards to age?

The title of our message is, “From the lesser to the greater,” because that seems to always be how God works.  He takes the things that we may look down on and turns them into the very thing that brings His law to shame us with our sin of superiority and then shape us with the gospel, the forgiveness of that sin, with the challenge to go and sin no more.  In other words, God has taken that sin from us, so now we must identify it, mark it, and avoid it.

From the lesser to the greater for Peter meant, receiving a message from God about unclean food and then applying that message towards people he felt were unclean. For us today, from the lesser to the greater can be seen in our own lives and discovered within the lives of our neighbors, no matter their age.  We see this play out in our own salvation don’t we?  God moved each of us here this morning, at some time in our own lives from sinner to saint.  That is, within the waters of our own baptism He recreated us through the same word that created the universe, and He recreated us into His very own children.  But He didn’t stop there did He?  No, daily he moves us from repentance to forgiveness; from sin to salvation, and He does it through the same means that He uses to save others who are not yet a part of us; He does it through the proclamation of the gospel (the preached Word), Holy Baptism, and His Holy Communion where He feeds us His very body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine.

All of these things, along with our own witness and conversation with our neighbors, points our hearts and minds back to the very same thing which equally saved us and continues to save us; we are taken back to the Word of God.

Did you notice a moment ago when I was listing God’s means of grace, or His means of giving us faith to believe and confess in the name of Jesus, I also included your own witness and conversation with our neighbors?  This is because we the church are to grab onto and utilize the Word of God in all of its forms.  In both baptism and the Lord’s Supper, it is the Word of God along with the working of the Holy Spirit that brings faith to the one receiving these gifts.

There’s no magical power in any of these things that simply works by itself; it is all empowered by the Holy Spirit to bring faith to the one that is receiving.  The content of the Gospel contains and delivers God’s power for salvation as it creates faith and speaks to that faith.  Just as we struggle to avoid removing the speck from our neighbors eye while ignoring the log within our own, so too we often need a sermon, or a fellow believer to apply the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection to our own hurts and desires of comfort.

Young people today are hurting and aching for that gospel comfort, but they will unlikely find it by simply paging through their Bibles or listening to a 20-minute sermon.  They want to see that gospel hope in action; they want a guide or mentor who will teach them the personal truths of proclaiming and believing in the mystery of eternal life as it is revealed within the name of Jesus.

The voice of the gospel is a living voice, and it lives through each of us.  A sermon on Sunday is a great God ordained example of that Living voice of the Gospel, but if that is the only voice that young people are hearing, I am afraid that with what they face every day in this world darkened by sin, it may not be enough for them to over come the trials they are facing.  They need something more; they need you!

Young people need to be mentored; they need to be reminded by us that they are important to both God and the church.  Young people need mentors, surrogate Christian parents and Grandparents to come alongside them and remind them that what they know and believe of God matters.  They need to know that we older Christians are not that much different than them.  We too, have been moved from sinner to saint and we too struggle to live out the life of Christian while also fighting to put to death our old sinful natures.

While it is true that young people think, talk, and dress differently than we do, they have one thing that is the same: They desire to know God’s love and mercy.  They desire to know the mysteries of salvation that the church declares are theirs through faith in the name of Jesus Christ.  Will you please be that man or woman for the next young person that comes into our midst?

It is my prayer that we will all be aware through the help of God that He has called each of us to be conversing with others, even young people, and consoling them with God’s good news in Christ.  It is you God has chosen to teach these young people He brings into our midst about the abundant love He has lavished upon them through His means of grace that He so freely gives out right here at Trinity Lutheran Church.  I pray we will do this both as individuals and as a congregation for the glory of God and saving grace that calls us out of this lesser world of sin, into the greater glory of eternal life.  I ask this in Jesus name, Amen!

Our Vocation is Clear

Sunday, May 3rd, 2015

Easter 5B, May 3, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” [John 15:5]

Some of you know that I love Cowboy movies, or as they are more properly called, Westerns.  I love the simplicity of the narrative and the development of the characters.  You have the good guys, the bad guys, and what I like to call the confused guys.  They are the ones, usually the town folks who don’t seem to be committed to anything other than survival, who show great potential, but they always seem inadequate for the task at hand.  And that task almost always in the best westerns is to standup to the bad guys; bad guys who today we might call bullies.

The bad guys in accordance with western genera, are inevitably made up of the rough and crude working class, but there always seems to be an upper class elite who is pulling the strings; intimidating the townsfolk into cowering and ignoring their criminal behavior, all so that the bad guys can have their way.  And within this tension enters the role of the good guy; the hero!

You know that the hero is ready to jump into action, when he says the magic words: “I can’t abide by that!”  What he is actually saying, is that to ignore the evil that is being done in front of him is contrary to his nature.  Or we might say that it is not in keeping with the good guy’s calling.  And what is that calling?  To abide in his nature… to be the good guy!

This morning, God’s Word reminds each of us what our calling or vocation is; we are called to abide in Jesus Christ, the true vine or source of life.  It reminds us that above all our other callings or stations in life, we are Christians; we are the good guys and gals of this world.  We are good, not because of anything that is unique to ourselves, but simply because we have been grafted as branches into the vine, the body of Christ.

Jesus says this in another way that perhaps we can understand: “Already you are clean because of the Word that I have spoken to you.” [Vs. 3]  You have been born again, created anew, cleansed and remade by the washing of the water and the Word.  These two cry out to you as the instruments of your salvation: The blood of Christ shed upon the cross for the sins of the world, and the water of your own baptism which made this gift truly yours personally in a way that ensures that you can and will abide within the body of Christ, His church.

In our first reading (Acts 8:26-40), we encounter one of the best demonstrations on how God ensures that all who desire to abide in Him, will do that very thing.  We meet an unnamed Ethiopian eunuch who is returning from his trip to Jerusalem.  Even though he remains unnamed, God wants you to understand that He was an important man within the nation of Ethiopia, because he was the queen’s own minister of finance.  And because he worked so closely with the queen and her family, as was the tradition back then he also voluntarily became a eunuch; that is through surgery, he became sexless.  But this important man was also something so much more in God’s eyes; he was a person being called unto salvation.  Just as he was surgically altered to serve the queen, God desired to spiritually alter him so that he could abide within the very body of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.

But there was a problem, the good folks who also were called by the same Prince of Peace and who were the authority within the temple of God, were still locked into the old covenant of Moses.  It was this covenant that attempted to bind a gentile into fear and punishment by denying him the very thing that the Jews refused themselves when they crucified Jesus Christ, a relationship of grace and mercy with the Creator.

Now, on his way back from worshiping the One true God as a 2nd class citizen, with an expensive scroll in his possession, this man of faith who is seeking to know the One true God, is introduced to Him in a miraculous way.  As he is reading his scroll, God sends Philipp by order of an angel to meet this Ethiopian seeker and answer all of his questions; questions that should have been answered within the temple but were not.

Through the explanation of the Word of God and the introduction of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, this Ethiopian seeker is moved to plead for the greatest gift he would ever receive: ““See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” [Vs. 37]  And just like that, this eunuch who through the old covenant of Moses was barred from abiding in God’s love was translated immediately into that love by being brought as a branch into the vine, the holy Christian church where he will continue to receive nurturing and teaching through the Word and Sacraments of Christ’s church.  In fact, the history of this ancient nation of Ethiopia teaches us that it was this eunuch who brought the gospel to their great nation.  He first shared that gospel with the Candace or the Queen, who was also baptized and from that point on the church began to flourish and grow, all because one man was called by God to abide in the body of Christ.

It is here in Christ’s church where we are nurtured and strengthened and told to abide.  It is here that we are forever reminded that we too are called to be good guys.  We are called to be loved and to love each other in return.  We are called to hear the truth and to speak the truth.  And this is the truth, Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God took on our real flesh, He became one of us in order to save us; in order to die for this sins of the world, but most importantly He died for your sins personally, you dear saints who have been baptized.

Like the Ethiopian eunuch, you too were called and saved solely through the miraculous work of God’s Spirit; you were saved through the washing of the water and the word.  And you too were called to abide and grow, to learn and then go.  You go out back into the world of darkness and sin, just as the Ethiopian did.  But you are not of this world; you are a child of light and you too confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh! [1 John 4:2]  You are part of the Vine, the Body of Christ, because you have been cleansed, but you must be careful because you are going out into a world and kingdom of darkness.

Like the Ethiopian eunuch and like the early Christians that St. John speaks to in our epistle lesson (1 John 4:1-11) you will most certainly encounter the spirit of the antichrist.  You can find his unholy spirit everywhere.  He is the one who insist that either your abiding faith in Jesus Christ is false or it is insufficient to give you a full life.  They will preach and teach to you a different message that denies you salvation in Christ alone.  Whether it is science alone or Jesus plus works, make no mistake the false teachers are everywhere.  And also do not be misled, whether they admit it or not they are all tools of Satan, that great lion, that ravenous wolf, who only desires to take away your faith and claim you as his own!

The answer to this threat is simple… we must come out of them and gather together with other branches that are abiding in the vine.  Within the vine, the body of Christ His church we find both the love of God and the love of each other.  St. John says it this way: “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the (payment) for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

Beloved, the world can not love you because it is not part of the vine; it does not have the nourishing sap of the Son of God sent out to the branches that abide, that rest in God’s love.  They have not because they can not abide by this God who comes to us and dies for us!

But you can and you will abide in Him.  And because you abide in Him, you cannot abide within the evil of this world.  You can not remain indifferent like the confused and fearful town folks in some Western story.  You must be the good guy because you abide in Him.  But take warning, from Jesus own words, “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” [John 15:2]

Are you nervous about the sufficiency of your fruit?  Do you wonder if you will be taken away due to lack of fruit?  Then hear again the Word of Jesus the True Vine and abide and thrive: “Already you are clean because of the Word that I have spoken to you.”  So continue to abide in me and I will abide in you.

To abide in Christ is to be a fruit producer.  You cannot abide in Him and have no fruit, because His very life blood, the sap of the indwelling Holy Spirit resides in you.  And where the Holy Spirit is, is also His fruit.  What is this fruit?  Well God’s Word plainly tells us that “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance,” (Gal. 5:22, 23); “goodness and righteousness and truth” (Eph. 5:9); These are “the peaceable fruit of righteousness,” (Heb. 12:11).

Dear saints as you abide here in God’s love, He alone is working through His Word and Sacraments to ensure that your love will abide in Jesus and grow more and more in the knowing that you are forgiven and protected from the judgment that awaits the world that will not abide in His Son.  It is here that you are taught and filled with the forgiving love of God through Christ Jesus so that you seek out and approve all things that are excellent; that you may be sincere and without offense to others until the day of Christ; being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are already yours through Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God” (Phil. 1:9–11).

Are you still worried that you do not have enough fruit?  Do not allow that worry to separate you from the nourishment found only in the vine, because it is there alone that fruit may come.  A branch may have only a small amount of fruit, but as long as it draws life from the vine, some of the fruit will be found, and God will bless it and multiply it.

Dear friends, you are one of the good guys, and because you abide within the True Vine you can not abide within the things of this world.  Even when the world overwhelms you, you must not allow your fears, worries, or doubts to sever you from Christ and His Church.  It is precisely at times such as these when you need the nourishment of the vine and the love of other branches the most.  AMEN!