Archive for May, 2019

On Mission With Jesus

Sunday, May 26th, 2019

Easter 6-C
May 26, 2019
Rev. Brian T. Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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We are on a mission with Jesus, the Son of God—a mission that comes directly from the heart of God the Father—a mission that is empowered by the Spirit of God! We ourselves have been rescued and saved by this very same mission. Our mission is to share God’s love and forgiveness, first through Word and Sacrament and then through our actions!  The words Jesus spoke to his first disciples still apply today; Listen: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” [Jn. 20:21 and Jn. 17:18]  The universal church, that is every local congregation and every Christian in it, is sent into the world to fulfill a definite, defined task. Jesus, the church’s Lord, has issued marching orders. Individually and corporately, all God’s people are now in the kingdom building business… we are to seek and save the lost!  We are to pass on the love of God!

This mission from God has three directives.  First and foremost, we have been called into the work of giving a worldwide witness, making disciples, and planting churches. [Matt. 24:14; 28:19-20; Mark 13:10; Luke 24:47-48]  We have been told that Jesus Christ is to be proclaimed everywhere as God in human flesh, Lord, and Savior  We are to make it clear that this is God’s only invitation to eternal life, and it can only be received by turning to Jesus in repentance and faith. [Matt. 22:1-10; Luke 14:16-24]  This message is to be delivered to the entire world. This morning, in our first reading (Acts 16:9-15), the ministry of church-planter Paul the evangelist models this primary commitment.

The second directive that all Christians, and therefore every Christian on earth, are called to practice is sacrificial love; acts of mercy and compassion.  We are to model a form of neighbor-love that responds willingly to all forms of human need as they present themselves. [Luke 10:25-27; Acts 16:15; Rom. 12:20-21] 

The third directive is to ask God the Father in the name of Jesus to give us both the means and the will to do these very things.  Well that’s a lot to receive this morning, so let’s get right into it!

In our first reading (Acts 16:9–15) we are immediately asked to consider a vision, St. Paul’s vision.  Now even though it comes to him at night, we are told that it is not a dream, but a vision from God!  What does God show him?  A man in Macedonia standing in front of him urging and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” [Acts 16:9 

Now one thing we need to be clear on right away; this vision was not a surprise for Paul and his three companions.  You see, they had been praying and planning on a vision from God for quite some time, but this is the first time that God actually made it clear to them where they needed to go!

Does this sound familiar to anyone this morning?  Have you ever had the Lord make something absolutely clear to you after praying and searching His Word for direction?  Certainly we as a congregation have experienced this!  Ten years ago before we began our outreach into our community, we began it with 40 days of prayer; we didn’t need to ask where we must go, because God had already established us at 7210 Lisbon St., right in the middle of the communities of Jamacha and Encanto!  So, that’s a no brainer, but then again so was the vision that Paul had.  They were asking “Where should we go and what should we do?”  And the answer was, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!”  Help you do what?  “Help us obtain God’s love and mercy.  Help us receive salvation and then joy and peace!”

What’s interesting about this part of our reading is that in the Greek presentation of the first verse we would really read it like this: “A man of Macedonia was continually standing there, and he kept on urging him and saying,  “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” [Acts 16:9]  Do you see the difference?  In a vision, Paul was told that first it was urgent that he and his friends go to Macedonia, and second that their work there had to be continuous.

Friends, that is God’s call to us as well with the vision that He has given us.  We are to continually bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to our neighbors with a long term strategy.  We aren’t to say, “Well, we’ll give it a try, and if it doesn’t seem to be working will just give up.”  No, remember, God has made it clear to us that our call to bring the gospel is urgent and continuous.

Now let’s go back to our reading to see how Paul responded to the vision.  Starting in the 13th verse we read, 

“And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.  And after she was baptized”. [Acts 16:13-15a]

The first thing we see in Paul is obedience.  He heard God’s call and he responded.  Once in Macedonia, he did three things—he searched for a place where spiritually minded people gathered, he looked for a person of peace that God had already been working within, and finally he shared the gospel.  

Now, let’s look at our circumstances here at Trinity and see how we compare.  First, we as well have responded obediently to God’s vision.  We have continued to reach out to our community with various ministries over the years, with our Pantry, Community Breakfast, Christian Martial Art’s Ministry, and our Recording Studio, which are still actively serving our neighbor’s Christ’s Word and Love. It is our prayer that people will continue to come to Trinity because first it is already known as a spiritual gathering place and second because we are willing to “sit down and talk with them” about things that are meaningful to them!

Another thing we see in our reading is God’s work because of Paul’s obedience.  We are told that one of the women that were present to hear Paul speak was a woman named Lydia.  She was a non-Jew who was already familiar with and worshiping the One True God.  Now remember when I pointed out the difference in the Greek language compared to the English in regards to the vision of the Macedonian?  Well we have something similar happening again.  In vs. 14, we simply read, “One who heard us was a woman named Lydia”, but in the Greek language it reads more like this, “One who kept on hearing us was a woman named Lydia”.  What’s the difference?  Well from this we learn that Paul did not just spend one Sabbath day with them and “presto-chango” she’s a Christian.  No he invested time in developing a relationship.  She probably heard many messages from Paul over a period of several weeks, but eventually in God’s time and power Lydia came to know Jesus Christ as “her” Lord and Savior.  Through the continued Word of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ she wanted God’s salvation to come to not just her alone but to her entire family.  And how did it come…. Through the washing of the water and the Word… through Holy Baptism!  Imagine that, her and all of her children were forgiven and born again.  Why?  Because God was faithful and Paul was obedient!

Paul could have passed by that little group of women as being insignificant.   But he didn’t.  He saw their needs and through the leading of the Holy Spirit he was moved to have compassion on them.  Lydia was baptized… born again unto eternal life.  She could have simply thanked Paul and dismissed him and his friends while she got back to her normal daily business routine, but she didn’t.  Instead, moved by the same Holy Spirit, she had compassion on Paul and his missionary friends, and asked them to not just live with her and her family, but to make her family’s home their missionary headquarters.  It only took a spark from the Holy Spirit’s presence to get a fire of Christian love and service going within the heart of the born-again Lydia!

Friends, consider this for a moment—hasn’t God already asked us here at Trinity to open up our worship home to new neighbors who are seeking a relationship of love and peace with God?  Haven’t we already been convinced that He is asking us to bring in new people who need to know about Jesus in a personal way?  When you stop and think about it, God is asking us to be simultaneously both like Paul and Lydia.  

We are like Paul in that we are asked to be on a mission from God and with Jesus, a mission to seek and save the lost.  And we do that by both proclaiming and teaching the gospel.  Some of the people we meet will have no idea about our faith or our Savior Jesus Christ.  Some, like Lydia will be familiar with God, even worshiping Him, but they aren’t yet experiencing His forgiving and unconditional love, which is theirs through Jesus Christ. 

But we do know, and because we know, our lives have been changed, and because of that change God has given us a heart that responds both to His Word and His living presence within us.  With our new hearts, God is asking us us to respond to The leading of the Holy Spirit with our time, talents, and even our treasure.  But that can be a scary thing because you see it requires faith!  

Lydia must have been a little hesitant about opening her home up to strangers, even strangers that brought her eternal life through the gospel.  Like Lydia, we have God’s Word; we know His will and yet we begin to be uncertain.  So where do we go with our fears and worries?  We go to the Lord!  And what do we do?  We pray!

In our gospel reading (John 16:22-33) Jesus is speaking once again in that upper room just before His death and resurrection.  

He knows His disciples are worried and afraid, so He speaks to calm their fears and prepare them for the joy and confidence that will come after His resurrection and ascension, on the day of Pentecost.  After that day, the Holy Spirit will come and live within every Christian as a result of their baptism.  And His presence within them will lead them to ask for all things that are centered in the name of Jesus.  Listen once again to His Words of assurance: “Whatever you ask of the Father in my name, He will give it to you.  Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (vs. 23,24)   “In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” (vs. 26, 27)

Dear friends, Jesus tells His disciples, He tells us to ask “in (His) name.” And he seals this directive with a promise, “you shall receive” what you ask in my name. Why such a promise?  Well friends, so that our “joy may be fulfilled.”  By remembering that the Father loves us because we love His Son Jesus Christ our joy becomes fulfilled.  And as we experience this joy we begin to experience obedience as Jesus leads us out and  onto the mission field that is our community.  As we go out on our Heavenly Father’s mission with Jesus… to seek and save the lost, we remember Jesus Words, so we ask the Father, in Jesus name to open the doors and hearts of our neighbors to our gospel message, so that they too may know Jesus Christ unto salvation!

Do you want to find true joy in your life?  Stay close to Jesus and ask for the things He has promised to give you!  Walk where He leads you and let Him sacrificially love your neighbor through you.  And as you walk with Jesus, He will allow you to see a transformation in the people He loves through you.  After the people you witness to become disciples through faith, you will see them being transformed through daily contact with their Lord.  Through God’s Word and the power of the Holy Spirit, they will develop such a strong and abiding love for the Father that nothing can ever move them.  So don’t grow weary from doing well friends.  Keep trusting and following your Lord, even when you have doubts.  Remember, even though you’re on a mission from God, you are with Jesus, His Son. And always remember, “in this world you will have tribulations (and trials).  But take heart (Jesus) has overcome the world! [John 16:33]

Such Joy!

Sunday, May 19th, 2019

Easter 5-C
May 19, 2019
Rev. Brian T. Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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“So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” (John 16:22)

This morning, God’s Word teaches us about sorrow and joy.  We all know the bitter tears of sorrow.  What is sorrow?  Is it the absence of joy?  Well maybe; or just maybe it’s the feeling of being helpless and alone; the feeling that it’s you against the world!  But what happens when someone steps in to help us shoulder the burden were under?  We begin to feel a sense of relief… a sense of joy!  That’s what Jesus wants you to experience when He says, “Come unto me, all you who are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”  If you’ve experienced true forgiveness of sins through God’s Word and His Sacraments, then you know both rest and joy.

Friends, God doesn’t want you to feel like it’s you against the world, and He doesn’t want you to feel like it’s just you and Him against the world.  That’s why He’s called you into fellowship with other saints who have been saved by grace, through faith because of the living Word of God, Jesus Christ.  God the Father has called  you to be a part of the body of His Son, so that the other saints in His body can help you carry your burden and sorrows, as you help them carry theirs. 

But God doesn’t want you to think that it’s us against the world either.  He wants you to remember that your real enemy is the devil, not sinful people.  And to make this truth clear to you, think about where He sends you after you’ve been given both rest and joy;  He sends you right back out into the same sinful world that looks down upon you and your Lord.  He asks you to love those who belittle and demean you, even harm you, and He asks you to pray for them; He wants you to invite them to become part of His kingdom. 

In our gospel reading for today (John 16:12-22), we are shown a picture of confusion, worry and fear.   It’s the perfect illustration of “us against the world”!  

The disciples are gathered together in the upper room, just hours before our Lord’s arrest and crucifixion.  Jesus has washed their feet and said they must be servants.  He has revealed once and for all that He is God.  He has taught that He and the Father and the Holy Spirit are together God.  Three persons, yet one God.    Then He began talking about the world’s hatred towards Him and by proxy, for them.  But now comes the crushing blow; one of them will betray Him unto death and another will disown Him.  “How can this be?” they wondered.  “What am I going to do now?”

And to these fears, Jesus says: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” [v.12]   ‘Many things?  Oh Lord, if there anything like these other things, I don’t really care to hear them.’  But He continues, “A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me.  Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.”   In a little while, the disciples indeed shall feel alone in their grief.  They will be drowning in their own tears.  Their beloved Lord and master will die the death of a criminal upon a cross!  But the world… well that’s another thing.  It will rejoice and be glad in it!  

The devil, has worked his murderous plan upon the Author of Life and the world celebrates with unholy glee!  This is the “little while of sorrow” that Jesus spoke of.  But He also says “again a little while, and you will see me.”  Your sorrow will become joy!  And what was the source of their joy?  It was the Easter morning Resurrection!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  But in just a few short weeks He would leave them again when He ascends into heaven.  That’s why He reminded them and us that the Holy Spirit of God remains with us as our counselor, advocate and friend.  He reminds us that He has not left us as orphans.  No, we must never think that we are alone, because Jesus assures us that He remains with us in His Word and Sacraments through the power of the Holy Spirit.  And, He is within us and He is all around us through this  fellowship we have with each other!  “Lo, I am with you always” He says!

Dear friends Christ promises us that in this world we will experience both sorrow and joy; but He also assures us that He is still with us!  He comforts us with His Holy Word which is empowered by the Holy Spirit who lives within us!  He has washed us clean in the waters of our baptism… we are born again!  And He feeds us His very body and blood, through the bread and wine so that we may be continuously reminded that we are forgiven.  But He wants us to remember that we aren’t in this alone!  You see he has called us into His body, the church!  And together we learn to submit to His will, suffer and bear more than all other people.  We learn to take anything and everything the devil and this world can throw at us, because Jesus is still with us!  Who of us could have ever guessed in our youth that we would have gone through what we have gone through and are going through, with our faith in-tack?  

Let’s be honest friends, there is simply no way we could have made it through the troubles we’ve seen unless the Holy Spirit was guiding us!  He is called “the Spirit of truth” because in spite of what your sorrow and fears tell you, His message is always the same: “You are not alone!”  Through the work of the Holy Spirit, the promises of the gospel breaks through our fears and feelings of defeat and abandonment, and He assures us that He is within us and around us!  Jesus lives within you and you are his child, his friend, and his brother.  What a joy to know that we are not alone!  God is with us and we are with Him together as His Church.  Can you see what a great joy it is to be part of His body, the Church?  Isn’t it a blessing to call the person next to you brother or sister?

But we still have sorrow, fears, and worry to contend with.  

So what do we do when trouble and sorrows surround us?  Well our sinful tendency is to huddle together and protect what we have instead of sharing it!  

Were a little bit like porcupines.  You know, the colder it gets outside, and the more we feel threatened, the more we huddle together; but the problem with that is, the closer we get to each other, the more we hurt one another with our sharp quills.  So the deeper our sorrows and fears become the more we begin to drift apart and wander out on our own in to the freezing cold.  If we aren’t mindful of this, we could freeze to death in our loneliness!  That’s how congregations eventually die out.  Why does this happen?  Because we forget to let the Living Word of God and the presence of the Holy Spirit lead us and change us!

Dear friends, when we develop this “us against the world” mentality we have forgotten that God’s Spirit is ever with us and sending us out into the world.  Instead of seeing ourselves as a missional outpost that raises up, equips, and sends out ambassadors to seek and save the lost, we can become more like a fortress; digging in and protecting what God says we must share.  If a congregation remains in this fortress mentality they will become unresponsive to the working of the Holy Spirit.  They become so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good!  It’s as if they’ve draw a line in the sand and said, “This is us and that’s them!”  But who is them?  Well, “them” becomes anyone who doesn’t think, act, talk, or worship like us!  In our first reading this morning [Acts 11:1-18] Peter along with all of us, have been warned by the Holy Spirit not to look upon as unclean what God has both declared and made clean.  

Like Peter, when we put up our walls of protection thinking that we are fulfilling God’s will, we may just find ourselves fighting against the work of the Holy Spirit.  Now don’t get me wrong, certainly like St. Peter, each of us are called to protect God’s Holy Word and Sacraments.  We must preach, teach, and confess both the Law and the Gospel in its proper form.  Our doctrine is pure, and we must fight to keep it that way.  Our Sacraments are precious and we must never let anyone rob us of God’s work that is given to us through them.  And our liturgical form of worship is a gift from God, which finds its origin in the very first days of worship that were centered on God’s Divine Service through His living Word.  Certainly there is no reason to abandon it now.  But what about those things that are not central to our faith?  

May God protect us from becoming so fixated on our historical Western heritage that we block out all other cultures and heritages.  God forbid we call unclean and unholy what the Holy Spirit has sanctified and called clean!

So what is the only way to ensure that we are working with the Holy Spirit and not against Him?  

By keeping our hearts centered on the gospel.  If we remember that God so loved the world, even you and me, that He gave His only Son that so that we all who believe might have eternal life, we will easily move from worry, fear, and sorrow into the joy of salvation and eternal life!

Dear friends, God wants each of us to leave here this morning knowing that there is the promise of joy even in the middle of sorrow, fear, worry and pain. And until our hour comes to leave this veil of tears, I pray that we will not only rejoice in the hope of salvation, but that we will also learn to rejoice in God Himself and each of us who comprise the body of Christ.  If we will simply rest in Christ, then through His Word and the presence of the Holy Spirit we will learn that Jesus’ love and presence are greater than any circumstance in our lives.  That he is fully adequate for every situation in our lives, and that just as He has promised, He is with us guiding us through all the adverse circumstances, all the crushing disappointments, and all the heartaches of life, giving us the very thing He is after, faith, forgiveness and joy in His gift of salvation and eternal life!

So hold on dear saints!  The day is coming soon when God will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things will have passed away. [Revelation 21:3-4]  Amen and Amen!

Pay Careful Attention!

Monday, May 13th, 2019

Easter 4-C
May 12, 2019
Rev. Brian T. Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers,

to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. (Acts 20:28)

Dear friends, I am not the Good Shepherd, I am just a called and equipped sheep from within the flock.  St. Paul is not the Good Shepherd, he is simply a called and inspired sheep from within the flock.  But Jesus is “the Good Shepherd,” [Jn. 10:11], because He alone is “the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.” [I Pet. 2:25]

This Sunday we celebrate “Good Shepherd” Sunday.  Today we remember that Jesus as our Good Shepherd is the author and perfecter of our faith.  We remember that Jesus is still very much in control of His church, even our own little congregation that we call Trinity.  In all of our readings we are reminded of this.  In our Epistle reading we are comforted with these Words: “The Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” [Rev. 7:17] And in our Gospel reading Jesus Himself reassures us with the words: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” [Jn. 10:27-28]

Friends, we are Christ’s flock; the sheep of His pasture.  We are His church, a united flock, who both hear and recognize our Good Shepherds voice. We are a fellowship of sheep who hear our Good Shepherd proclaim forgiveness of sins and we believe that our many sins are forgiven. As His sheep we also share in other spiritual and mutual gifts. God creates this common fellowship by calling us into a relationship of faith with His Son so that we share in all of Christ’s works, blessings, glory, and goods. This fellowship, this flock is a union of believers in Christ, and it transcends race, politics, social status, and even death.  And it is a fellowship that is to be ever growing and expanding as God wills and equips it.

In our first reading (Acts 20:17-35), Paul speaks Christ’s Words for all of His flock, His Church, but they are especially meant to be a warning to all of us sheep who are called to be pastors with these Words, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” [Acts 20:28]

Dear friends, when you call a pastor to serve this congregation, you are calling him to serve with you and among you as another sheep who has been equipped and well trained.  It is another of our Lord’s great mysteries; a sheep equipped by our Lord to shepherd other sheep.  My ministry as your pastor is in fact, your ministry… it is our ministry together following our Good Shepherd.

Paul’s ministry and our ministry here at Trinity, must be entirely open and known to all.  It must be subject to the judgment of friends and enemies alike. So like Paul, each pastor’s ministry must be transparent and centered on working tirelessly towards building up the saints within his own congregation and then together with the saints, focused on working towards gathering other lost sheep within the community.  Dear friends, each of you have been called to work beside me, Pastor Rick, and Pastor Shamburger within this ministry as God has equipped you.  

As your pastors, Paul challenges us and all pastors to lead the Lord’s flock “with humble-mindedness and tears and trials.”  These three traits marked Paul’s own “work for the Lord” and they should be the marks of every pastor who has been called to shepherd Christ’s flock!   But friends, don’t be fooled into thinking that the tears that Paul is talking about were tears related to his trials or the attacks of men.  Paul withstood these things without so much as a whimper! No these tears that Paul speaks of were the tears that were drawn out of a heart wrenched with pain over the repeated rejection of the grace of Jesus Christ! Just as Jesus wept over the sinful and continuous rejection of His grace by the people of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41), Paul also shed many tears for those from within his community who refused to be saved!  We, too, by the work of the Holy Spirit will also find ourselves moved to tears, by the continual rejection of God’s love and forgiveness from those within our families and community, which we have been sent to seek and save.  

And yet we are continually moved as pastors and as a congregation to continue on with our best efforts, proclaiming God’s love and forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  Together we are moved to proclaim the gospel and support the ministry of its proclamation no matter the cost!  

The entire gospel, which we have been commissioned to proclaim is centered only in “the repentance of sins toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”  

Friends, you must never let anyone from within this congregation preach or teach any other message except Christ crucified and resurrected, because God’s favor and grace can come in no other way!  We must always teach that within the heart of every forgiven sinner is an actual turning away from a sinful life and a turning to a life of forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  Only then can God’s forgiveness and love come and save a person.  So, repentance includes all of God’s law, and faith includes His entire gospel.  

Now Paul adds one more trait of a true pastor who is being led by the Good Shepherd… he must not shrink from proclaiming the full counsel of God! (vs. 27)   

If Paul was looking for an easy ministry, he might have easily placed his best efforts on the rich and influential.  He might have focused his best efforts on activities that would serve his own personal needs.  He might have kept back some parts of his teaching, because they seemed to run against Jewish bigotry, accepted cultural practices or the ignorance and narrow mindedness of fellow Christians. But Paul always remembered who he must give an account to on the last day. So he proclaimed “the full counsel of God,” the entire will of Jesus Christ.  

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

Now, in verse 28, Paul moves from using his ministry as an example for future ministries, to addressing current and future threats that each congregation must contend with.  Listen…

“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” [v. 28] 

Pastors who have been tasked with caring for others must first be mindful of their own sinfulness.  Paul is telling those of us who are pastors to be clean ourselves before we try to cleanse others. We must remember that we too are sheep who are prone to wonder.  And because we are sheep we must remember that we have also been justified by grace–God’s  own blood. The blood of Christ was and is the price of our salvation.  Pastors along with all of the Lord’s sheep have been bought with a great price.  Because of this price we have truly become His own! 

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

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

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

Dear friends, if we keep our hearts and minds centered on God and His means of Grace, then our Good Shepherd promises that we will not only be a congregation centered in Christ’s heart, but we will also be a healthy and growing congregation.  Here is a divine truth: Heavenly-mindedness does away with earthly-mindedness. It is the thought of our heavenly inheritance that waits for us, which continually leads us along with Paul to regard all material things as simply a tool to build God’s kingdom of grace here within our community.  With this common heart and mind, we will regard our time, talents, and treasure as a means to take care of the weak and the poor, and seek and save the lost!  And in order to help us remember this truth Paul shares with us the Words of our Lord Jesus Christ which are only found in this address of Paul: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

Dear saints, through God’s work among us and within us, these Words amazingly become our heart’s desire; the desire of a congregation that is diligently working within the Lord’s kingdom.  Do you want to be truly blessed?  Then God says give!  Whatever the Lord has equipped and moved you to do for Him, that is your ministry! Are you a prayer warrior?  We all can pray, but some have that ability as a special gift.  If so, then give.  Be continually in the spirit of prayer for our ministry!  Do you have time and talents that would benefit our ministry?  Then give!  But what about your treasure?  Certainly God moves us to dedicate our money to ministry here in this church!  Do you see what a great calling you have in the ministry of this church? 

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

FOLLOW ME

Monday, May 13th, 2019

Easter 3-C
May 5, 2019
Rev. Richard Stark, Assoc. Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

When I was younger, when my older brother Ted was in high school, he had somehow come into possession of my grandfather’s old 1956 Chevy truck. It had been sitting in a relative’s yard and needed a lot of work to get it up and running.  I remember for a good amount of time, my dad and my brother spent every bit of their spare time, especially on Sundays after church, over at my uncle’s house working on that old truck. They had stripped the engine down to the blocks and completely rebuilt it by hand. Then one day, they were finally able to crank over the engine and start her up.  I’ll never forget the smiles on their faces as they pulled out of the driveway to take a test drive around the block. My brother loved that truck.

You know, that’s not a bad analogy for what we see happening in our Gospel lesson today. This passage is one of the most dramatic lessons of the post-Resurrection narratives. It captures the powerful restoration of the disciples that were present that morning. At the heart of the story is St. Peter, the bold and brash fisherman, who learned the hard way what it really means to love Jesus. Peter made wild and wonderful promises, only to fall short when the moment of truth came. On the night our Lord was betrayed, Peter claimed that he would “lay down [his] life for [Jesus].”  A short time later, when the chips were down, Peter’s self-confessed love failed and he would deny that he even knew Jesus. And we get to see Jesus, restoring his disciples by showering them with love, and care, and attention — restoring them to their former glory, and loving them throughout the process.

This was the third time that Jesus had revealed Himself to his disciples since the resurrection. The first time was in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, in the upper room, when Thomas wasn’t there. (This was the same room where they celebrated Passover with Jesus on the night one of the disciples betrayed Him and He was arrested.) The second time Jesus appeared to them was in the same room, eight days later, when Thomas was there and Jesus invited him to touch his wounds and place his hand in his side. And here, Jesus again reveals himself to the disciples, this time by the Sea of Tiberius, which is also known as the Sea of Galilee.

When Jesus appeared to his disciples, He was appearing to broken and vulnerable men who had possibly lost hope for the future. Disciples who, like us, were desperately in need of a fresh start with God, who were desperately in need of finding value, and worth, and a sense of identity, and they needed to know that they were still loved.

Our lesson begins with the scene of weary fishermen after an unsuccessful night of fishing. Suddenly, a stranger appears on the shore and He called out to them: “Children, do you have any fish?” 

Jesus called them “Children.” He didn’t call them ‘Men.’ or ‘Friends,’ or ‘Brothers,’ He called them ‘children’. What a beautiful and personal way to address His disciples.  He knows how weak and vulnerable they were feeling. He knows how confused they were. He knows how much they were hurting. And so He called them His children – an indication of the depth of love and sense of protection He has over them.

Jesus was restoring them.

Jesus told them to throw their nets off the right side of the boat. What he says does not make sense to them.  They sill don’t realize it’s Jesus. But for some reason they did it anyway.  And suddenly, their nets are full of fish; so full in fact that they couldn’t pull the net in.  And with this very act, Jesus showed them how much he loves them and wants to abundantly provide for them everything they would ever need. 

This story may remind you of another encounter, three years earlier, when Jesus is standing on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and He told a fisherman Simon, and his brother Andrew, to push out further into deeper water and let down the nets. Simon told Jesus that they had fished all night and had caught nothing. But they put down the nets anyway. And when they did, they caught so many fish their nets where beginning to break. They called for James and John to come help them. When all was said and done they had filled both boats so full of fish, they were on the brink of sinking. Simon was in such awe he bowed at Jesus’ feet. Simon said, “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid. Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” And the Bible tells us they left their boats and everything they had and they followed Jesus. (Luke 5:1-10; Matthew 4:18-22)

Here is Jesus coming to the disciples, after all their failures since they celebrated Passover together, after they had run away, after they had denied knowing Him, after they had given up hope and went back to their old lives…

Here is Jesus greeting them the same way he greeted them on that first day, doing the same thing that introduced them to Him as their Lord in the beginning. And it’s as if Jesus was saying, “Do you remember how it was before all this mess happened? It will be like that again. Let’s start anew. I love you, I forgive you, and I am still calling you. You will always be my children.” This is such a beautiful act of grace and mercy.

Jesus was restoring them.

And it is at this point in time that John recognizes Jesus and proclaims, “It is the Lord!” 

Peter, ever the impetuous disciple, grabs his clothes and swims to shore, leaving the other disciples with the hard work of getting the boat and the net full of fish back to shore.

When they get back to land, they find Jesus and Peter sitting together near a charcoal fire. And yet again, another beautiful detail that shows the depth of Jesus’ love. The last time that Jesus and Peter had been together near a charcoal fire was in the courtyard of the High Priest, Caiaphas on the night that Jesus was being tried. 

That night, Peter sat by a fire in the courtyard while Jesus is being interrogated and when he was asked if he was with Jesus, Peter denied even knowing Jesus and immediately the rooster crowed, and at that very moment Jesus turned and locked eyes with Peter. The Bible tells us Peter remembered Jesus telling him that he would deny him, and Peter responded, “Not me Lord! I could never do that!” It must have been the worst feeling in the world for Peter because he ran away and he wept bitterly.

But here they are now, sitting together by a fire and Jesus, again, is looking straight at Peter. There is no judgment in His eyes; Jesus looks at Peter with nothing but mercy, compassion and loving kindness.

Jesus was restoring him. 

And as they sit down to eat breakfast together ‘Jesus gave them bread and fish’. How reminiscent that would have been for the disciples of the last time that Jesus gave them bread at the Last Supper, before the betrayals, before the cowardice, and before the denials all began. But here is Jesus sitting with them and sharing bread with them. Jesus was still offering them hospitality, Jesus was still serving them, and Jesus still loved them.

Jesus was restoring them.

But the critical moment is not the disciples’ breakfast on the beach with Jesus, but rather the dialogue between Jesus and Peter that followed.

Jesus asked Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” OK, Jesus just called Peter by his true, by his full name and title – Simon, son of John. In my experience, full names are used in one of two circumstances. The most common is when we are in trouble. Growing up, our sons knew when they were in trouble when either my wife or I would call out, ‘Corey Michael (or Adam Christopher) come here!” Usually our full names are used when we are in trouble. Maybe Peter thought he was in trouble when Jesus looked at him and called him, ‘Simon, son of John…’ 

But the other circumstance where we are called by our full name is when we are about to make a covenant type contract or vow… when an important relational commitment is about to be formed. When you sign a contract you sign with your full name. When you were baptized and when you were confirmed your full name was used.

But in this passage, by using his full name, ‘Simon, son of John’, Peter was not in trouble but Jesus was about to commission him for something special. 

Peter had nothing to fear, Jesus was restoring him.

It’s important to look at the details of these questions when Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” To understand what’s really happening here, we need to know that in English, we only have the one word for “love” but in Greek, there are different words for the different kinds of love. And, in this passage, in the original Greek, there are two different words used. One is “agape,” which is an unconditional love, like the love God has for us; it’s the deepest and most profound type of love there is. The second word used is “phileo,” which indicates a brotherly type of love found in a deep friendship.

The first question Jesus asked Peter was, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” And the word Jesus uses is “agape”: “Do you love me unconditionally, with a total and utter commitment? Do you love me more than these men? Do you love me more than these things? More than your boat and your nets?  Peter replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” But the word Peter replied with was “phileo.”  Kind of like he was saying, “Jesus, I love you. But to be honest, the way I betrayed you, the way I ran away shows that I only love you like a brother – and not as I should.”  Jesus looked at Peter and said, “[That’s OK.] Feed my lambs.”

Jesus was restoring him.

Then again, Jesus asked, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Again, He asked using “agape” type of love. — “Aren’t you the one who promised you’d never leave me? Aren’t you the one who promised to live and die for me? Are you saying that you don’t have “agape” love for me?” Peter is again confronted by his own weaknesses and failures, and again, he answers Jesus, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” – again, “phileo” type love – brotherly type love. “I’m sorry, Lord. I tried and I failed. I do love you, I really do. But I can’t live up to those words. I know I bragged about my loyalty. I know I thought I was the greatest of the disciples, but at the end of the day, I can’t live up to that.”  Jesus said, “[That’s OK, do the best you can.] Tend my sheep.”

Jesus was restoring him.

The third time, Jesus asked Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” But this time, Jesus used the word “phileo.” “Simon, you say you have brotherly love for me. But what kind of a man betrays his brother? What kind of a brother denies even knowing him? And what kind of a brother runs away to save his own skin? Peter, do you even have “phileo” brotherly love for me?” And it says that Peter was sad because he knew deep in his heart that he could not even claim to have brotherly love for Jesus, as such was the depth of his sin and his betrayal. Peter replied, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” And it is “phileo” love, which Peter used here. And again, Jesus said, “[That’s OK.] Feed my sheep.”

Three times Peter had denied Jesus; three times Jesus forgave Peter; three times Jesus restored Peter.

Each and every one of us, when we search our own hearts, we can empathize with Peter; we can put ourselves in his place. We can look at Jesus, and we can sense him looking at us, and we say, “Lord, I love you. I want to serve you. I really want to do what is right. My intentions are good… but I am weak and I am frail and I get it wrong so often. Lord, I let you down, I betray you, at times I run away from you. Sometimes I feel my best just isn’t good enough. But Lord, you know everything; you know that despite my behavior, I really do love you to the best of my ability. The love I have for you is not what you deserve, but sometimes it’s the best that I can offer.”

And Jesus looks back at us; He looks you in the eye and He looks me in the eye and He says to us: “That’s OK. Do your best, I can work with that. I love you. I forgive you. You are my children and you will always be my children.”

Jesus restores us.

And, as Jesus restores us, he asks only one thing of us: ‘Take care of my sheep’.

  • Take care of one another.
  • Forgive one another.
  • Have compassion on one another.
  • Show kindness and tolerance and patience towards one another.
  • More importantly, love one another.

That is all that Jesus asks of us.

After all our sin and betrayal. After all our denying him in our thoughts and with our words and with our actions, after all the apathy we have shown in our faith, after all our cowardice we have shown in our discipleship — after all that — Jesus continues to restore us and says, “It’s OK. I still love you. You will always be my children, just love one another as I have loved you.”

And so we come to the end of this incredible encounter on the shore of the Sea of Galilee; an encounter through which Jesus restored the disciples, an encounter through which Jesus restored Peter, an encounter that give us the assurance that Jesus restores us. And the closing words are this: Then Jesus said to him, “Follow me!” 

Now, after all that has happened – the ups and downs, the highs, the lows, the crowds, the healings, the raising of people from the dead, the adventures of faith and missions, — the torture, the betrayal, the death, and the resurrection — after all this, Jesus was back on the same shore. He was looking at the same fisherman named Simon, now called Peter, and Jesus re-commissioned him with the same words, “Follow me.”

Jesus has restored him. All has been made right in this moment of reconciliation and restoration.

The same is true for us today. Jesus has reconciled Himself to us He has restored us. Jesus is with us every day. He continues to reconcile and restore us, every day.  All our failings and all our sins have been forgiven and forgotten. This is a new moment, a new beginning.

Jesus has restored us. Such is the grace, and mercy, the “agape” love and compassion of our God.

Everyday Jesus calls to each and every one of us, “Follow me.”