Archive for May, 2016

Holy, Holy, Holy Triune God

Sunday, May 22nd, 2016

Trinity Sunday-HL, May 22nd, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA

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“Whoever wants to be saved must, above all, hold the catholic faith. Whoever does not keep it whole and inviolate will doubtless perish eternally.  This, however, is the catholic faith: that we worship one God in trinity and the Trinity in unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance.” [Introduction to the Creed of Athanasius]

That dear friends is the truth that the historic Christian church has always declared and always defended.  There’s just one problem though, and it’s a big problem; by nature, we don’t like to hear God’s truth because…

We are people of unclean lips, and we dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips. And in the revelation of the One true God in Trinity and unity, we see the King, our King, the LORD of hosts and we know that because of our sin, we must die.

We know that we must die because unclean lips are only the symptom of the true disease… our hearts themselves are sinful and unclean.  We have done things we should not do and we fail to do the things we know we must do.  What we fail to do is to love God with our whole heart, soul, and mind, and we fail to love our neighbor as our self.

But God has sent His servants to you to declare a way out this sinful mess; a way out of no way.  His servants have been called to teach you of God’s solution; to repeat the solution over and over. But to receive the solution and live you must receive the God who gives this gift.  The solution is the hot coal of Holy Baptism that works to take away your sin; to wash you with simple water and the purifying flame of the Holy Spirit of God.  But our sinful nature scoffs at such a simple solution to our sin problem.  Simple?

God’s solution may seem simple to sinners such as ourselves; it may even seem to good and easy to be true, but behind the simple water and the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit is the life and death of the very Son of God, Jesus Christ.

This Jesus, whom you crucified with your sins, suffered and died for the sins of the world.  On Good Friday, God in human flesh, our flesh did something that is impossible for our created sinful minds to comprehend… He died.  God who is eternal, immortal, invincible, did the impossible… He died.  Now before you say, “No, it was only Jesus body that died” remember, Jesus’ two natures are forever connected; that is they can never and will never be disconnected.

So on Good Friday, because Jesus died, God died.

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”  [Romans 11:33-36]  Indeed, how unsearchable and inscrutable He is, unless He reveals Himself to us.  While we can never give a gift to God that would put Him in our debt, He has given us one; through the giving of His Son upon the cross, He also allows us to know Him as He is.

He is one God in trinity and the Trinity in unity.

Let’s get one thing stated from the beginning: The word “Trinity” won’t  be found in the Bible.  But the name of the Triune God is found in two of the most important passages of the New Testament.  The first one is the baptismal command of our Lord, which we have by command repeated for all when they are baptized in the “name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” [Matthew 28:19]  And the second is the apostolic benediction which has so many times been spoken to us: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” [1 Corinthians 13:13]

When we speak of the Trinity, we must first remember what the Bible so often insists, that God in His nature is inscrutable and incomprehensible.  No one comprehends the thought of God except the Spirit of God.  [1 Corinthians 2:11]  What we know about the Trinity of God is simply what He has revealed to us.  It is not a matter of logical deductions or deep philosophical thought.  The simple truth is that what we know about God is only a fragment.  About this fragmentary knowledge we must say, as of all such knowledge, that we cannot always fit it together into a logical and systematic doctrine that has no mysteries.  We neither can nor need to fill in the revelation with our own theories.  We can only confirm what God has already said about Himself.

God’s Word insists, first of all, that God is One.  This was the core of the creed of Israel: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is One Lord.” [Deuteronomy 6:4]  Jesus says that this is the first pillar of the law of God. [Mark 12:29]  The apostles claim the same as the most certain doctrine of all the faith, God is One.  We know that there is only One God.

But it is just as clear in the Scriptures that there is a triune nature in God’s being, which is so essential and so profound that it can only be expressed by our word “person.”  By person we mean, a being that possess both will and self-consciousness.  This is why Jesus speaks of His thoughts and His will, just as the Scriptures speak of the Word of the Spirit, His comfort and warning, His decisions and His intervention.  Both the Son and the Spirit speak with the Father.  And yet the Son and the Spirit are inseparably bound together with the Father.  They are One.  How this can be is one of the many mysteries of God, a mystery which we cannot possibly understand completely.

Both the Son and the Spirit are as eternal as the Father is eternal.  They were both present in the beginning and shared in the creation of the world.  They are just as divine as the Father Himself.  Therefore Christ has received the name of God, the Lord, and is worshiped as God by the disciples.  So, the Word of the Spirit is God’s Word, and when the Spirit witnesses, God Himself speaks.

People usually first know something of the being of God the Father.  He can be traced in the world of nature and in all the good gifts He gives to us.  Christ too can be describe as a tangible figure, without too much difficulty.  We understand that He is the Word that became flesh.  But in regards to the Holy Spirit, as we discussed for the last two weeks, things get a little harder for our small, created minds to understand.  The Spirit lives and is at work in the church, in Word and Sacrament; He works to point our hearts and minds to Christ.  Therefore it is in the New Testament that we find the clearest report of Him.  Yet still today, no one can truly know the Holy Spirit except as He lives in the life of the church and as He uses the means of grace to work upon our hearts.  It is then that we first learn to know the Triune God—in as far as it is possible to know Him from this side of glory.

And that is why you are here today; you are here to know who God is through the proclamation of His Word, a word about His Son Jesus Christ.

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness to save sinful Israel from the venom of vipers, which was God’s punishment for their willful disobedience and their stubborn sinful natures, so the Son of man was lifted up for you upon the cross, for the sins of the world. [John 3:1-16]

Unless you are born again in the washing of the water and the Word you cannot see the kingdom of God.  And even now, as your sinful nature is struggling with these truths of God because they are so beyond your comprehension, even now as that nature is silently asking, “How can these things be?” God is answering you with the next two verses that follow our gospel reading found in vs. 16 and 17: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

And now you know the rest of the story… God loves the world, He loves you, because He exists in a unified love for Himself.  The Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father, and together they love the Holy Spirit who because of divine love, desires to come to you and share God’s love with you.  But if it simply ended with you, where would the love of God be for the rest of the world that is lost in sin and death.  No, the love of God can not stop with us, it must proceed out of us and to our neighbor so they too may be born of water and the Spirit and recreated in love.

“Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.  To Him be glory forever.  AMEN!

Now, may “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”  AMEN!

Witnessing Jesus Part 2

Sunday, May 15th, 2016

Pentecost Sunday-HL, May 15th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA

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“And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” [Acts 2:21]

That dear friends was the whole purpose of the miraculous gift of the Holy Spirit on the first Pentecost of the New Testament church… so that all would be moved to call upon the name of the Lord and be saved.  But everyone does not call upon the name of the Lord, and here is why…

Because we are fallen, sinful creatures separated from the Creator with no true desire if left on our own, to ever get back to Him on His terms and be right with Him.

In our Old Testament lesson (Genesis 11:1-9) we see just how true that statement is.  These people who are building a name for themselves are just a few centuries old after the flood.  We are told that the whole world had a single language. Since all people came from the family of Noah, it makes sense that their vocabulary would be the same. While it was true that their language hadn’t changed, their attitudes towards God certainly had—and not for the better.

Noah’s descendants started out well. From Armenia, where many believe the ark had come to rest, they journeyed down into the Tigris-Euphrates valley, often referred to as Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq). The direction of their migration was to the southeast; in the Bible it’s described as “eastward,” because the Hebrew language only had expressions for the four points of the compass.

“They found a plain in Shinar and settled there.” A well-watered plain would naturally look good to farmers, and in disobedience to God, they decided to stop their migration and settle down. It didn’t matter to them that God had said, “Be fruitful and multiply.  Fill the earth!” They answered: “Why should we? It doesn’t get any better than this spot!”  They had forgotten that even that spot belonged to God.

The settlement they planned to establish was not a temporary one either. Remember they said, “Let us build ourselves a city,” that sounds pretty permanent. And the materials they chose also make it pretty clear that this settlement was meant to last for a long time. Instead of sun-dried clay, they chose fire-hardened brick for their building project, with tar for mortar instead of the customary mud. And look at the stated purpose of their building project: “so that we may make a name for ourselves.”

“Glory to man in the highest!” They turning God’s plan for us upside-down. They rejected his goal for their lives (to glorify God), and substituted it with a goal of ther own. Sustenance (food and shelter), security, status—these were the life goals the descendants of Noah had adopted to replace God’s call to glorify Him alone as provider and sustainer of all these things and indeed, their very lives.

It shouldn’t surprise us that God through the Holy Spirit intervened in judgment to stop their building project.  “I am the Lord”, He has told us.  “I will not give my glory to another.” [Isaiah 42:8]  And to prove it, the Holy Spirit worked to confuse their languages and through that work cause division and strife, making the completion of their building project impossible.  But on the first Pentecost for the new church, God the Holy Spirit would physically, for a moment in time, undo that work and bring clarity in His message of repentance to His fallen people.

So Who is the Holy Spirit? The immediate answer is that, “He is God!”  He always has been God and He always shall be.

First perhaps it ought to be said that the Holy Spirit is not and invention of the church and it’s theologians.  Among the many lies that unbelievers love to spread is the assertion that Jesus Himself never taught anything about the Holy Spirit.  Oh, is that right?  No it isn’t!

Jesus has a great deal to say about the Holy Spirit.  As we discussed last week, when Jesus was about to leave the disciples and ascend into heaven, He promised them that the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, would come to them.  That’s why they were to remain in Jerusalem until they were clothed with power from on high.  The Spirit would make it possible for them to continue the work of Christ.  He would give them wisdom to be able to speak before governors and kings.  He would teach them all things and lead them into the whole truth.  He would witness to them about Christ.

But then how are we to think about the Holy Spirit?  Well, we should actually not “think” of the Holy Spirit at all.  He is not a product of our intellectual abilities and He can’t be comprehended by our minds alone.  We can learn to know Him only through the work that He has done and is doing among us.  And His work is not to reveal Himself, but to glorify Christ.  He doesn’t seek to describe a likeness of Himself to us, but instead He causes the picture of Christ to come alive before our eyes of faith when the Spirit is at work.

And how does He do this?

The means, which He uses, is the Word of God.  He teaches all that Jesus taught and reminds us of what Jesus said.  It is the work of the Spirit that moves us to perceive the presence of Christ in Holy Scripture.  Through the work of the Holy Spirit, Scripture  becomes the living Word so that we can be confident that Jesus speaks and deals with us still today in the Word and by the power of the Spirit.

As I said earlier, one of the most important things the Holy Spirit does for us is to convince us that we are sinners.  The Holy Spirit is ever working to move our hearts and minds to understand just how twisted and out of balance with God our lives are.

But we also learn through the Word what Christ has done and given to us, which makes all the difference’ it makes us right with God.

In our gospel lesson Jesus tells us that “If anyone loves me, he will keep my Word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” [John 14:23-31]

If you do not read this with the understanding that Jesus is giving the wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit, then you might receive this Word as just another Law of God.  Love me or else!  But that is far from what Jesus is saying.  Just a little further on in His dialogue, Jesus promises that this ability to love Him, to love God will find its origin outside of our selves; He says that it will be a gift from God.  Listen: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, who the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

Do you understand now?  Can you see that this is all a work of God the Holy Spirit who is your Helper, your comforter, and friend.  Once you hear these Words of Jesus as good news, the Holy Spirit brings peace.  “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

The work of the Spirit then is to lead us to the assurance of faith that now rests in our hearts through Christ alone.  So we can agree that “the Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”  Christ has given us “His Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.”  It is through the Spirit that we learn to say “Aba Father” or dear Father in Heaven.

You know the truth is, we won’t always feel the great power and assurance of the Spirit’s presence.  But even when we are overwhelmed with worry and fear, and even at the lowest and weakest times of our lives, the Spirit is at work in our hearts. The sign that He has not forsaken us is the fact that we have not forsaken His Word and that Word is constantly awakening repentance and faith within us.

The Holy Spirit cannot be known or possessed unless we have been brought to faith in Christ by the Word.  This is the precise reason why some people cannot possibly understand the meaning of the Holy Spirit.  He is “the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him, nor knows Him.”  But you know Him dear saints, and that makes all the difference!

On the day of Pentecost the disciples were moved by the Holy Spirit to remember all of Jesus Words of Comfort.  And on that day, we could say the agape love of God, as demonstrated through the Passion of Christ the Son of God became the most powerful gift they would ever receive.

Christ did what He said He would do; He made all things right between God and men.  He empowered His church with the love of God and the Holy Spirit to go out into a world of confusion, division, and sin, and speak the need for all men to repent and be baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Why?  So that through Christ’s Word and Sacraments empowered by the Holy Spirit we could once again be united in the love of God unto eternal life.  May this be our truth now and forever more… AMEN!

Witnessing Jesus

Sunday, May 8th, 2016

Easter 7-HL, May 8th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA

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Here’s a truth that each of us must understand this morning before a single word of gospel hope is declared: Living out our Christian faith, let alone witnessing to it, would be impossible unless God the Holy Spirit was powerfully working within us and among us through His chosen means of grace.  But once the Holy Spirit enters our lives and our hearts, living out our lives becomes a whole different experience.  With the Holy Spirit, the church armed with the Word of God and Christ’s Sacraments (Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper), is equipped as a body and as individuals who are part of that body are sent forth to witness to God’s presence in both our lives and indeed the entire world.

This last Wednesday the universal church celebrated the high and holy day of Christ’s Ascension. As we think about that day this Sunday, we also can’t help but put our selves in the shoes of the disciples.

In addition to awe and wonder as the they witnessed their Lord ascend into heaven from the Mt. of Olives, they also must have been dealing with a sense of fear and worry: “Now what are we suppose to do?”

When the disciples went back to the upper room, back to their normal lives, they perhaps knew more about Jesus than any other people in the whole world would ever know.  So it is fair to say that if Christianity had simply been a matter of knowing Jesus and His teachings and then living by that knowledge, then they could have started to preach and witness about His Kingdom of Grace immediately.  But instead, they were instructed by Jesus to wait patiently in an attitude of prayer and supplication until the gift of the Holy Spirit was given.

So what was it they were lacking?

The disciples lacked the very thing that Jesus promised to give them… the power and comfort of the Holy Spirit.

Let’s think about that for a moment; think about the work that God had prepared for them to accomplish.  They had been given the responsibility to witness about Jesus.  They’d been with Him from the beginning.  They had seen it all and had been taught by the Lord Himself.  Above all, they were witnesses to both His resurrection and His ascension.  But the truth they were to proclaim was also an insurmountable challenge for mere followers of Jesus.  You see…

The man they were to bear witness to had been executed as a blasphemer and a troublemaker.  And what’s more, they too, were promised by Jesus Himself that they could expect to be met with the same violent resistance.  Hadn’t Jesus told them many times that they would be persecuted; that the disciple was not above his teacher? Jesus even said that if they had called the master Beelzebub, what would they do to the servants?  But along with these truths of coming trial and tribulation, Jesus also implied that when the time of testing arrived they were to confidently stand their ground and not fear those who can destroy the body but not their souls.  By now, they must have been thinking, “Easier said than done!”

So now safe and secure in the upper room, their task must have seemed to be impossible.  They were to go out amongst the same people who crucified Jesus and preach and witness that the Man they killed was not only the Messiah but in fact, He was their only hope for eternal life.  And so we can see why the disciples must have felt alone and afraid; their task was to break through the wall of impenitence and hatred that even the Lord’s own words would not shatter.

But there’s still more they had to consider.  Through out all of their living out and proclaiming Christ, they were also called to preserve the purity of the message.  They had to preserve the unity of the church, stick together even when there was no Master among them, and they must preach the gospel even though there was no one with them physically to counsel with.  All of this demanded more than mere human powers could supply.  But Jesus had never expected them to fulfill their responsibilities alone.  God Himself would fulfill the task with them.  He would clothe them with power from on high.  He would open the way for the Word by convicting men of sin and of righteousness.  He would give His messengers a power and a wisdom, which would overcome their enemies.  He would lead them in all of God’s own truth.  He would preserve the vision of Christ living and untarnished.  He would Himself speak through their tongues and words.  And …

To accomplish this miraculous task, Christ would gather is little lambs into one body, His body the church, and He would do it all through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Through the church, God would gather His eternal and spiritual Israel, His faithful saints.  He would gather them from all the nations and ethnicities throughout the world and bring each of them into their own country the church, which would be for them a foretaste of their eternal Home in Paradise, a place that had been prepared for them by Jesus Himself.

Through the preaching of the Gospel of hope, the washing of Holy Baptism, and the sustenance of  spiritual food and drink received at the Lord’s Holy Table, Christ through the work and power of the Holy Spirit would create and sustain His dear saints.  That is by the grace of God and the gift of the Holy Spirit that comes from God through the Word of God Jesus Christ, God the Father would created, gather and send out His children of faith through the power and direction of God the Holy Spirit to speak to and gather even more redeemed sinners into the Christian faith.

All of this is taking place even today by God through you and me, by the power and work of the Holy Spirit.  You see…

Christianity is not simply knowing about Jesus and following Him.

Our Christian faith, and indeed our entire lives is something that can only be experienced where God is at work in the presence and person of the Holy Spirit.  For the disciples this was a daily experience.  That’s why they spoke of witnessing together with one heart and mind through the Holy Spirit; that’s why they could insist that they and the Holy Spirit acted together, as they walked in the Spirit and by the Spirit.

God the Holy Spirit promises us today just as He promised the disciples who witnessed Jesus ascension long ago, that as He has changed our hard and unbelieving hearts and sustains new life and faith within us, He desires to do the very same thing with those we come in contact with as we share with them the story of Jesus and His victory over sin, death, and the devil.  A victory that was accomplished through His passion and death upon the cross, the empty tomb of His resurrection, and His return to the right hand of the Father through His ascension.

Dear friends, Christ did not want you to be trapped by ignorance of the hard times that lay ahead for the church, His church.  He clearly described the resistance that we would face as together we witness to the “one thing needful” for salvation… faith in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.  If we try to go about the calling of Jesus to seek and save the lost on our own with a different message, we will only discover failure and misery.  But if we go out living our lives within the various vocations we find ourselves in, we will find both success and joy in our calling to be witnesses to the love of God, which is ours through Christ Jesus.

Our task and calling today as both individuals and members of the universal body of Christ is to spread the knowledge of Jesus.  Not to declare a message that makes us comfortable or will make our neighbors comfortable, but the truth that Christ died for sinners of which you and I are the chiefs of, and so are they that we witness Christ to.  Not only does God want to be a part of our sometimes-mundane lives, but He wants to be a part of our neighbors’ lives too.  He wants to offer His gift of salvation to others through us.

No wonder we talk about joy in the Holy Spirit.  What a tremendous reason to be alive in this world today.  What a tremendous reason to look forward to what every tomorrow holds.  God wants to use you… He wants to work through you… He wants to show Himself to other people both here in this place of worship and in your life as you lead them only and always to Christ alone; as you declare the Easter message: “Christ has risen, indeed!  AMEN!”