Archive for June, 2019

Don’t Look Back

Sunday, June 30th, 2019

Pentecost 3-C
June 30, 2019
Written by Rev. Brian T. Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church San Diego, CA 92114 And
Proclaimed By Rev. Richard Stark
Assoc. Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church

Click here for audio of this message

I want to tell you a story about a man named Dave.  He works in one of those major high rise banks downtown.  Each day he walks the long twisting corridors, and uses the elevator to visit all 45 floors as he daily delivers and picks up mail.  “No big deal” we think, “it’s just a job!”  Well you would think that it’s only a job unless you stopped him and asked him, “What’s up?  How are you?”  Immediately you would hear his answer: “God is good and Jesus saves!”  This isn’t just a slogan for Dave; it’s his way of life!  Everyone that God puts in his path hears a word about God’s love through Jesus Christ.  If you watch him closely, you will hear him quoting scripture to himself as he pushes his mail cart along.  Some people rudely tell him to keep his Jesus talk to himself.  And after he passes by, some will even say pretty mean things about Dave.  Dave knows that this happens, but still he goes on with a smile on his face and in his heart, because he knows that he is really working for Jesus!  If you got to know Dave, you would find out that he even learned to speak Spanish so he could witness to his Latino neighbors.  While the rest of us fight to get on top of our world and make big money, Dave quietly lives out the mind and heart of Jesus through daily contact with others; whether he visits file clerks, corporate executives, or Spanish speaking neighbors, Dave loves to tell them about Jesus Christ.  Most of us would see him as one of the least of the community, but Jesus most likely places him amongst the greatest!

This morning let’s consider both God’s Word and His desired effect that His Word would have on us!  Our Old Testament reading asks us to consider the call of Elisha who left his family farm and followed God’s call with no regrets.  Our Epistle reading reminds us that we are living in the spirit and not according to the flesh.  We have been freed from the slavery of the Law and our fear of sin, death, and the devil.  And in our gospel reading, Jesus Himself tells us that “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God!”  In all three of these readings we are invited to do the same thing… we are invited to pick up our cross and follow Jesus!

In our gospel reading (Luke 9:51-62) we discover that James and John are angry at some people in a Samaritan village because they rejected Jesus.  

They wanted to call down fire upon that place and destroy it, but Jesus reminds them that He must go to Jerusalem.  Why?  Why is Jesus’ face set towards Jerusalem?  So that he could fulfill His mission, which is also His calling and His vocation.  Jesus must go to Jerusalem so that He could carry His cross and suffer and die for the world; even for the people in this little village that rejected Him and deserved punishment; even for you!

Just after this we read starting in verse 57, “Someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.””  What a strange thing to say.  What was Jesus trying to tell this man?  I believe that Jesus was telling him that he was too ready.  It was the same thing he saw in Peter, when Peter said, “Even if all the others leave you, I will never leave you.”  And to this Jesus warned Peter, “Before the rooster crows, you will have denied me three times.”  And he did!  Why?  For the same error this man was making; he failed to count the cost of what it means to be a true disciple of Jesus.  

I have a friend who was a US Marine recruiter.  He said that his job was to talk people out of becoming a Marine.  He said that many times people are enamored by the uniform and the excitement of serving, and they failed to see both the demand and the dangers that this high calling brings.  So he would tell them many truthful stories with just one purpose, to force them to see the cost of becoming a United States Marine.

Jesus neither accepted nor rejected this young man’s request to become a disciple; He simply informed him of the truth.  This man needed to see what his offer would involve, not in some idealistic world, but in a sober and sane sense of reality.  Jesus wasn’t merely asking the young man to exchange his easy life for a hard one, instead He was using His homelessness as a way to illustrate the path that every true believer must walk.  Each Christian must choose to live by faith and not by sight.  We must realize that by following Jesus we are choosing a spiritual reality instead of a physical one.  By following Jesus each disciple is asked to live a life with eternal purposes instead of temporary physical ones.  

Next in verse 59, Jesus initiates the conversation.  He says to another young man “Follow me.”   But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”  And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead.  But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”  What strange words these are, and we may even be thinking, “That was a cruel thing to say!”  But Jesus knows the man’s heart and He knows our hearts because He created them.  This man hesitated in following Jesus.  He had parents who were still living and he depended on them.  He would follow after they died; after he buried them.  He would commit to an uncertain future but not the present moment.  

Jesus’ answer probably shocked that man just as it shocks us.  “You aren’t responsible for the dead, but for the living.  People with no commitment to me—people who are dead spiritually—can bury those who die physically.  Leave the burying to them and follow me.  Commitment to me must take precedence over all of your other commitments, traditions, politics, and even your family!”

Finally, in verses 61 and 62 we read: “Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to those at home.  Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”  In all three of these conversations, God is asking each of us to truthfully ask ourselves how we would answer Jesus.  No, He is asking each of us this morning, “How DO you answer me?  I have heard your profession of faith.  I have invited to you to follow me.  What is your response?  Have you counted the cost of being a true disciple?  Are you willing to forsake all other concerns to follow me?  Are you willing to not look back on what you use to have, should have had, or could have without me?”  

This morning dear friends God is telling us not to look back.  

He is asking each of us to pick up the Words of St. Paul and say, “This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto the things which are before (me), I press on toward the mark of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” [Phil. 3:13-14]  What is that high calling?  It is the cross of Jesus Christ.  It is the sacrifice of self so that you can be one with Jesus Christ and one with your brothers and sisters who make up the universal church.

Friends, Christ is asking each of us to not just be committed to him but to live out the freedom that He gave us through His suffering, death, and resurrection.  This is the freedom that He gave to each of us in our blessed baptism.  But He also warns us not to take this freedom for granted.  Do not use your freedom to serve the desires of your flesh in this life.  Instead, remember that your high calling is to walk with Jesus in the spirit and to love your neighbor as yourself.  To remember that we must put our neighbor’s need of eternal life and happiness above our own needs.  

This morning God warns us that if we are not living out this spiritual reality, the result will be that we will bite and devour one another and eventually consume one another. [Ga. 5:15]  What is the only way to prevent this sinful behavior and protect the gift of salvation that we’ve been given?  To walk by the spirit!  To pick up our cross and follow Jesus!

In God’s Word we are ensured that by faith in Jesus Christ we do enjoy the full favor and approval of God.  

God is not against us but for us. [Rom 8:17]  But on the other hand, God has determined that our high dignity of being a Christian is that we should not become entangled in this life, but instead we should receive the same humility and character that the earthly life of Jesus portrayed. [1 Peter 4:1]  And this humble life that we are called to live, which conforms us to the image of Christ is called the cross of Christians.  The things that we Christians suffer because we are living out our faith in Christ in a sinful world is our cross!  If you follow Christ and confess the Gospel which is Him crucified, you will be stumbling block and an offense to this sinful world; you will receive the same treatment the world gave to Jesus.  But by your faith in Christ and His daily assurance that your sins are forgiven, you will no longer look at your suffering as a punishment but as the assurance of God that He loves you and is with you in your suffering.  

Friends, God is ever present with you through His Word assuring you not to fear the wrong judgment and ill treatment of this sinful world and the devil.  Because you hold fast to His Word in faith, put your hope in the Son of God, comfort yourself with His death and resurrection, fear God and desire to live according to His will, and sincerely desire to share your hope with others that God puts in your path, you can have confidence that nothing could ever separate you from God’s love which is yours through Christ Jesus!  But because our sinful flesh hungers and lusts for things that are by nature against God’s Word, will and order; and because our sinful flesh refuses to submit to suffering, and bearing crosses, God invites each of us into confession to admit that without His aid we are powerless to help ourselves.  He asks us daily to live out our baptisms by renouncing everything that interferes with our relationship with Jesus Christ and the building of His kingdom within our hearts and within this world, even at the expense of our own peace and tranquility, honor, possessions, affection of family members… even at the expense of our own lives!  Bearing our cross means that we must forsake all things that separate us from the love of God which is ours through Christ Jesus!  

Dear friends, you can do this because Jesus did it for you!  You can do it because He is working within you to do this very thing.  Stay in His Word… trust in His Word… and hunger for His Word.  Speak to Him in prayer and ask for His strength and protection… and believe that what He has said is a certainty.  He will never leave nor forsake you.  Believe and don’t look back!  May God give each of us the strength to do this very thing; I pray that you will believe this, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

“Away from us!” Cries Our Sinful Flesh!


Sunday, June 23rd, 2019

Pentecost 2-C
June 23, 2019
Rev. Brian T. Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

“Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear.” [Luke 8:37]

This morning, these words cause me to wonder how many people turn away from a real relationship with God because they are afraid of Jesus.  How many people are afraid of the change that they know will come once Jesus is truly Lord of their lives?  But I also wonder how many people are afraid to follow Jesus because they think that God is angry with them.  Maybe they received Him and His love, saw real change take place in their lives only to fall back into the same sinful behavior that He once freed them from.  

At this very moment, God’s Word declares to each of us who have been harassed, captivated, and even possessed by sin, that He is spreading out His hands “to a rebellious people”; people who aren’t even seeking Him or asking for Him.  He calls out to you with an invitation to come to Him in peace through His Living Word, Jesus Christ.  Will you listen?  Will you come?

In our gospel reading this morning we are taken to a rural area outside of Galilee, on the shore of Lake Galilee.  Jesus has just gotten out of a boat with his apostles when he’s immediately confronted by a man who’s been possessed by a demon.  Where did this guy come from and why is he confronting Jesus?

Well, he came from some vacant tombs near the shore of the lake.  Yes there were vacant tombs there and occupied ones as well, because you see, this was a cemetery.  In the Jewish mindset, this was unclean land, because it housed the dead.  Isn’t it fitting that an unclean spirit would be inhabiting an unclean… and unholy place?  But why has this demon possessed person there and why is it confronting Jesus?

We don’t know how this poor man came to be possessed by a demon; in fact we don’t know much about him other than he was most likely from one of the two towns close by.  We don’t know what his life was like before he became possessed, but we do know one thing… he wasn’t alone!  In Matthew and Mark’s accounts of this same incident, we know that there was still one more man living in the tombs with him who was also possessed.  We know that they demonstrated both supernatural strength and a foul disposition.  We know that they were naked!  But we also know that Jesus had come to set them free!

Ok, you would expect these things from someone who isn’t in their right minds… someone who’s possessed by an unclean spirit, but why confront Jesus?  Wouldn’t you think that the minute they saw Jesus from a distance they’d run away and hide from Him?  Why are these demons drawn to Him like a magnet?  They actually run up to Him and scream, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?  I beg you do not torment me.” [vs. 28]

Friends, isn’t it apparent that the very will and power of Jesus drew the demon to Him?  This shouldn’t surprise us at all, because you see, just as Jesus is the supreme master of the wind and waves, He is also the Supreme Master of even the demon world.  When and how He determines to summon anything in creation, that thing must respond, because He is the Creator, the Son of the Most High God!  The demons know this and they can only tremble in fear and acknowledge His control over them when He calls.  And so it was in this case as well.  But why did He think that Jesus would torment him?  Because that is the inevitable future of all evil spirits; each and every demon knows that they have no future other than eternal suffering and torment in the very pit of hell where their leader Satan is already bound!  So the demon begs not to be sent away before the appointed time of final judgment. 

And what is Jesus response?  He asks the demon his name.  And what is the demons response?  Legion!  The reading says that many demons had entered this poor man.  Legion is actually a Roman term.  It refers to a Roman Legion that signifies more than 6,000 soldiers.  Imagine, this poor guy had over 6,000 demons inside of him!  And now because they are being confronted by the very Living Word of God, they are in a panic wondering if this was in fact the end of them.  

And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.” [Vs. 31-32]  What a fitting place for these demons… they fled into an animal that God had designated for the Jews as being unclean!  These demons had no place living in a child of God, a man created after the very image of God.  The truth is, they possessed this poor man only to mock God.  And now, God mocks them; He places within their hearts, the desire to inhabit pigs.  “Done!”  Jesus says, then they left the man and entered the pigs, and everyone of them ran off a cliff and into the lake and were drowned!  But why?  Why destroy the only home they had left?  Because dear friends, it is in complete harmony with their nature.  They are self destructive.  They destroy anything that they possess, because anything they can possess is a creation of God, and remember, demons hate God and because they hate God they hate all of His creation; they hate you!

“When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country. Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. [vs. 34-35]  

Dear friends, that is you sitting at the feet of Jesus!  You have been clothed in the robe of Jesus own righteousness, washed clean in the waters of your baptism, given a new mind and a right spirit; you’ve been placed at the feet of Jesus here in this Holy house to hear Him speak to you and teach you with His Living Word!  Each one of us have been freed from the bondage of sin, death, and the devil.  Each one of us can and should give an account of just what evil we have faced in our lives; what evil spirit has harassed us and for some even possessed us!  But Christ has set us free!  By His stripes, by His suffering and death we have been healed.  And because of His resurrection and our own promised resurrection which He gives us within our baptism, He asks us to believe that He will never abandon us within the very pit where each and every demon and unclean spirit will inevitably be sent!  God does not want you in hell… that place was not meant for you!  Through Jesus, the very Son of God, He has freed you!

But some may say, “I know that Jesus loves me, and I know that He wants me to be free, but the demons that chase me are just too strong to resist!  I keep falling to the same temptations.  At some point He will just give up on me.  Maybe that point is now?!”  And to this, God answers, “No!”  I will never leave nor forsake you in that pit of hopelessness.  Whether the unclean spirit has moved you into addiction, lust, depression, anger or pride, God shall never abandon you because He has sealed you for eternity in the waters of your baptism as His very own!  All of us, with no exception, have been enslaved and driven mad by the attacks and accusations of the devil, and each of us have equally been set free by the Word of Jesus Christ!  He has drown and destroyed the old Adam within us and each day He brings out of that death a new creation, the new you that was born in the waters of Holy Baptism.  We are no longer living naked in our shame amongst the dead; instead we have been brought into the kingdom of God, the Lord’s house, fully clothed by Christ.  And all He asks us to do is to not give up; don’t lose hope! He asks us to daily put to death our old sinful nature and walk in his forgiveness and love.  He wants us to walk in His Gospel Word that ensures us that no matter how many times we sin, no matter how many times we fall, we are forgiven and He will always pick us up again!  But we are not just forgiven and lifted up again…

We are forgiven and lifted up with with a purpose!  

The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.” [vs. 38-39] 

Dear friends, when we come to church and hear the sweet words of the gospel and listen to the Holy Absolution, when we eat and drink the Lord’s body and blood at His table and taste forgiveness, we have a tendency to wish we could stay in this protective environment and be with Jesus.  We want to stay where we feel protected and loved.  But Jesus says, “Return to your home, and declare how much I have done for you.”  And to this command of Jesus we might respond, “But Lord, those are the same people that continually reject you and ask those of us who love you to shut up!” “Yes, that’s true.  But they only do that because they are afraid of Me.  That’s why I am sending you to them.  Through you, they will know about my love for them.  They will see Me in you, and they will hear your story, your witness about My love for you and then they will hunger for the same thing, and I will never turn away any of them who come to me.”  

Remember, just as your sinful flesh does not want to die, neither does your family and friends sinful identity!  Just as God works to kill the sin within you every day, He wants to do the same work within them.  So tell your story!  Proclaim it to anyone who will listen, and then watch Jesus give them freedom and a new life just as He gave it to you!  I pray that each of us will take on this calling and always declare how much God has done for us!  In Jesus name… AMEN!

The Triune God

Monday, June 17th, 2019

June 16, 2019
Rev. Richard Stark, Assoc. Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

In last week’s Old Testament lesson we heard the account of the Tower of Babel. In that account God made the point that humanity basically uses our imagination to think of more evil things to do.  One example would be the wide variety of gods and religions that man has created to take the place of the One True God.

Some religions teach that everything is god and god is everything.  If you take everything in the universe – all the humans, planets, stars, galaxies, alien creatures, dirt clods, etc., throw it all together and what you get is god. This is called pantheism,the belief that everything is just one, big, all-encompassing god. Some examples of this are American-Indian tribal beliefs, Pagan and Wiccan beliefs.

Then there is the belief that there are many gods who rule over the universe. This is called polytheism. There is a god for love and a god for war. There are gods in charge of the rain, the sun, the moon, the stars, and everything you can think of. Since there are lots of gods, sometimes they don’t always get along that well, so there is an opportunity for conflict between the gods. That is the reason that the mythologies of ancient civilizations provide us with so many interesting stories. Some examples of polytheism are Greek, Roman, and Viking mythology beliefs.

Monotheismis the belief that there is one and only one god who is separate from the universe, but who created it and still maintains it.  The monotheistic religions that come from mankind’s imagination all teach that God is one in substance AND one in person.  Islam is an excellent example of such a monotheistic religion.

Atheism, on the other hand, teaches that there is no god. In reality, the atheist has a god.  The atheist’s god is his or her own self.  In order to assert that there is no god the atheist must believe that there is no fact hidden anywhere in the entire universe that would lead him or her to believe that there is a god.  The atheist stands in judgment over the entire universe and declares that he or she knows enough about everything to conclude that god does not exist.

This idea that ‘I am the center of the universe and the rest of the universe is here to serve me’ is centered in our sinful human nature. The basic foundation of our sinful nature is our firm belief that we are the most important being here and in any other universe.

The only true religion, Christianity, is a considered by most a monotheistic religion, but Christianity is different from all other religions in the fact that Christianity is the only religion that teaches that God is one in substance, but three in person.

The early church spent a lot of time talking about the nature of God.  The Bible clearly teaches that God is a community of three persons in one substance.  Although the Bible teaches this, it does not give simple, easy terms for teaching or talking about this God who is three persons in one substance. The Bible does not even give us the terms personor substance.  It took a long time for the early Christians to wrap their heads around just what it was that Christ had taught them concerning the One True God. Eventually, someone came up with the words “triune” and “trinity” to describe the mystery of one God in three persons.

I don’t know who came up with the word “trinity” and what the exact circumstances were that caused that person to use the word, but the word “trinity”gives a name to a teaching that is found in the Bible.  So although the words “trinity”and “triune”are notfound inthe Bible, the teaching that they describe is a very important teaching ofthe Bible.  So, we Christians can now refer to the One True God as the Triune God.  And as traditional Christians, we set aside a Sunday each year to celebrate and focus on the idea that the one true God is Triune … we call it Trinity Sunday.  It is the namesake of our beloved church.

The Bible readings chosen for today are full of good teachings.  We don’t have time to cover them all, but today, on Trinity Sunday, we will concentrate on what it means when we teach that God is one substance, but three persons … the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  In order to understand today’s Gospel lesson more fully, we need to go back into the Old Testament and visit a bush – a burning bush to be more precise.

One of the events that we associate with Moses is his encounter with a burning bush, a bush that was on fire, but the fire did not consume it.  It turned out that God used this burning bush to call Moses to lead His people out of Egypt.  In the middle of this conversation, God told Moses His name.  It reads, Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am’ has sent me to you.’”(Exodus 3:13–14)

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus was debating with the Jewish authorities.  Jesus said,“Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”(John 8:58)  Jesus is not using bad grammar here.  Instead, He is saying, “I am the God who spoke to Moses through the burning bush.”  This is not the kind of thing you say in a crowd of devout Jewish men in first-century Israel; these are the kind of words that would get you killed.  The last verse of the Gospel lesson confirms this, “So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.”(John 8:59)The Jewish authorities were going to stone Jesus because he claimed to be God.

Now Jesus claimed to be God, but which person of God is He?  Jesus gave an answer to that as well, just a few verses earlier.  He said, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’(John 8:54)

Here Jesus identifies Himself as God, the Son of God, the Father.  So all we’re missing is the third person of the Triune God. Where can we learn about Him?

There are plenty of places in the Gospel accounts where Jesus taught about God, the Holy Spirit, but if we stick to the readings chosen for today, the clearest mention of the Holy Spirit is in Peter’s sermon on Pentecost.  Toward the end of the sermon, Peter said, “32God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. 33Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.” (Acts 2:32–33)Here we see the Father exalting the Son and the Son pouring out the Holy Spirit on His church.

From this, we learn that although no one person in the Trinity is before or after the others, they all have a role in our salvation.  The Father sends the Son into the world, the Son redeems the world, and the Holy Spirit gives that redemption to the world through the gift of faith.  The three persons of the One True God work together in perfect harmony to bring salvation to us.  The salvation that they provide is the other unique thing about the One True God.  Our salvation depends entirely on God, each and every person of the Triune God.

Without the salvation that the Triune God brings to us, we would all be lost. Each one of us sins daily in thought, word, and deed.  Instead of loving God above all things, we love ourselves above all things.  Instead of honoring God’s name with our mouths, we bring shame to it.  Instead of eagerly and joyfully hungering for His word, we despise its teaching. Instead of honoring those in authority, we find ways around authority.  While we may not draw blood, our unkind words and our hateful thoughts have murdered, never the less.  As we confessed earlier in this service, we all deserve God’s temporal and eternal punishment.

Fortunately, we are not without the salvation that the Triune God brings. God, the Father sent His only Son into the world to take on our mortal flesh.  God, the Son not only took our human flesh to Himself, but He also took all our sin upon Himself.  And the Son of God took our sin with Him to the cross, where He and the Father conducted a terrifying transaction.  In a way that we cannot ever understand, God, the Father turned away from our sins in disgust.  The result was so horrible that God, the Son cried out from the cross, “My God!  My God! Why have your forsaken Me?”(Matthew 27:46) What a terrible punishment that must have been that caused the Son to cry out that way.  How horrible it must have been for the Father to inflict that pain on His own beloved Son.

Thatis the punishment that our Savior, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, endured for us.  ByHimenduring that punishment for us, the Son of God made absolutely certain wewould never have to be punished in that way. God the Father gives us His grace for the sake of God the Son.  With Hissacrifice, God the Son earned salvation, forgiveness of sin, and eternal life for every man, woman, and child who has ever lived or ever will live.

That wonderful salvation, full of mercy and grace, does us absolutely no good if it is not delivered to us.  That is the role of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit brings God’s gifts to us.  The Holy Spirit works through the Word of God to create and sustain faith in us. He does this as we read, hear, and study God’s Word.  He also does that when we experience that mercy and grace in the waters of our Baptism… and when we receive it with the true body and blood of Jesus in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper.

Even people who do not believe have forgiveness set aside, waiting for them. It’s like it’s on lay-away, waiting for the day when the Holy Spirit brings them to life and works faith in them. When that happens, they too will experience the love of the Triune God.  They too, will look forward to the day when they see God face-to-face in eternity.

But for those who reject that faith and forgiveness, and continue to reject it until the day they die, they will never experience the sweet salvation that the Triune God has for us.  That salvation will remain unused.  They will not receive the benefits of the great love that our God has for them. Instead, they will experience the full, dreadful terror that caused the Son of God to cry out on the cross.  They will spend eternity paying for their sins, not because God does not love them, but because they simply refused to accept God’s love.  They rejected the only gift that cantruly save them.

We poor sinners who have been blessed with the gift of faith by the Holy Spirit will receive this gift that only the One True God, the Triune God can give – the gift of salvation, the gift of forgiveness of sin, and the gift of eternal life

We receive those gifts by:
God, the Father’s mercy and grace for:
God, the Son’s sake through:
God, the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith.

Amen.

 

 

 

Pentecost

Sunday, June 9th, 2019

June 9, 2019
Rev. Richard Stark, Assoc. Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

Have you ever noticed, no matter how often we read the Bible, or a specific passage within the Bible… no matter how familiar we are with the passage, there’s always something new for us to learn.

For the longest time I read Acts, chapter 2, believing it to be the story of the first Pentecost where the Holy Spirit was poured out on the apostles; how they received what Jesus had told them to wait for, and what Jesus had promised them to carry out their ministry.

What I didn’t know, and what most people don’t realize, is that although this day that we call Pentecost, was a very special day, it was not the first Pentecost.  The Lord instituted Pentecostabout the same time He instituted Passover back in the Old Testament. Pentecostwas originally called the Feast of Weeks.  Since the Feast of Weekscomes fifty days after Passover,people began calling it Pentecost based on the Greek word for the number fifty.Pentecostand the Feast of Weeksare the same festival, and the Jews have celebrated Pentecostsince the days of Moses.

Pentecost is also one of the three pilgrimage festivals that required all the men of Israel to gather together in Jerusalem. “Three times a year all your men must appear before the Lord your God at the place He will choose [referring to the Temple in Jerusalem], on the festivals of Pesach (also known as Passover or the Feast of Unleavened Bread), Shavuot (the Feast of Weeks), and Sukkot (the Festival of Booths). They shall not appear before the Lord empty handed. Each must bring a gift, appropriate to the blessing which the Lord your God has given you.” (Deuteronomy 16:16-17)

 

The Feast of Unleavened Breadis one week long and begins the day after Passover. TheFeast of Weeks or Pentecostoccurs fifty days after the Feast of the Firstfruits, which happens to be the first Sunday during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And, the Feast of Booths occurs about six months after theFeast of Unleavened Bread. 

Now, I know all this sounds confusing, but there is a method to my madness.

If we take these Jewish festivals and we look at them in relation to the life of Jesus, or more importantly, the death and resurrection of Jesus, we see that Jesus died on Passover, rose from the dead on the Feast of Firstfruits. And the Holy Spirit, as promised by Jesus, manifested Himself in a very special way fifty days later on Pentecost,or duringtheFeast of Booths. And all these things occurred in Jerusalem.

What’s important about this is that this means that the Jewish faithful who presented themselves in Jerusalem according to the instructions given in the law of Moses were there and they were witnesses to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus and the manifestation of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. It’s important to see that the Holy Spirit gathered His Old Testament Church to witness the mighty works of Godjust like Luke wrote in the Book of Acts.

This brings up something else that hadn’t occurred to me as I grew up in church hearing about Pentecost.  I always enjoyed hearing about the Holy Spirit being poured out on the Apostles at Pentecost and the wonderful gifts God gave them that day. But I discovered another giving of the Holy Spirit in the Bible.

It happened on the day Jesus rose from the dead; remember the Doubting Thomas passage?

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together with the doors locked [because they feared] the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.  21Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:19-23)

Did you hear that? Jesus said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit…”

Sometimes when we hear the passage about this Pentecost, we get so distracted by the “Wow factor” of “a sound like a mighty rushing wind… and by divided tongues like fire… [and, by the Apostles as] they began to speak in other tongues” that we don’t see or realize is the real miracle or the real work of the Holy Spirit that day. The real story wasn’t about what happened to the Apostles but what happened to the other people that were gathered there that day.

First, like we talked about before, the Holy Spirit brought all these faithful men to Jerusalem for the Feast of Booths, then He brought them together where the Apostles were, when they heard the mighty works of God, and then the Holy Spirit caused them to respond to what they saw.

Acts, chapter 2 goes on to say:

“Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you [too] will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41So those who received [Peter’s message] were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. (Acts 2:37–41)

This is the great miracle of Pentecost!  The Holy Spirit, working through the Apostles, added three thousand souls to His church that day. Pentecostis not about the work of the Apostles; Pentecostis about three thousand souls coming to faith through the work of the Holy Spirit.

In His explanation to the third Article of the Apostles’ Creed, Martin Luther wrote that [the Holy Spirit]calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.  The Holy Spirit’s work on Pentecost is an example of that.  1500 years earlier, the Holy Spirit worked through His servant Moses to establish feasts that would bring these witnesses together from the Old Testament Church to Jerusalem so that Luke the Evangelist could write,“Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven.”(Acts 2:5) It was not an accident that these men were in Jerusalem that day.  The Holy Spirit had called together the Old Testament Church to tell them that the long-awaited Messiah had come in the person of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit was getting ready to convert the faithful of the Old Testament Church into the faithful of the New Testament Church.

That is the real reason for the great signs that were described in today’s reading.  The Holy Spirit was gathering His church together so that they could hear the call of the Gospel.  As the people of the Old Testament church drew near to the Apostles, they encountered people who told them who Jesus was and what He had done for their salvation. These people did not speak in the lofty language of the Hebrew of the temple, they didn’t speak in Aramaic (the street language of the day), they weren’t speaking the commercial language of Greek, or even the legal language of Latin, but each individual heard the story of Jesus’ saving grace in his own native language… the language he learned from his mother and father in the home of his childhood.  Each one heard in his own languagethe mighty works of God. (Acts 2:11)

All of these great works, these amazing things, were simply the means by which the Holy Spirit used to accomplish the goal of gathering together His Old Testament church and telling her that the wait for the Messiah was over… and the New Testament has begun.  Those faithful people that had traveled to Jerusalem for the Feast of Booths, they were waiting and looking forward to the coming of the promised Messiah. They did their best to keep the ceremonial laws of circumcision, sacrifices, feast and festivals, and all the other customs as a reminder of God’s promise that one day the Messiah would come and fulfill the law and offer Himself up as a sacrifice, a sacrifice to end all sacrifices.  Now the Holy Spirit gathered the faithful together to tell them that the Messiah had come in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. He is the Messiah, the anointed one, the Christ.  On this particular Pentecostthe Holy Spirit called together the faithful of the Old Testament church and transformed them into the faithful of the New Testament church.

With all the amazing things that were going on that day, it’s easy for us to confuse God’s goal with the means He used to accomplish that goal.  After all, it’s easy to get distracted by [the] sound [of] a mighty rushing wind… the appearance of flames of fire… and the sudden ability to speak and understand a foreign language. It’s easy to get distracted and miss the Holy Spirit’s goal… the goal of creating faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ! That was the Holy Spirit’s goal on that day and that’s still the Holy Spirit’s goal today.

And amid all the signs and wonders of that day, there were still some who resisted. There were men in the crowd who mocked and yelled out, “[They’re drunk!] They are filled with new wine.”(Acts 2:13)There’s always a few in every crowd, and there’s always those who resist the call of the Gospel.

We can learn from this as well. This serves as a great comfort to us when we confess our faith to the people we meet in our lives. Sometimes they’ll be interested and want to know more. Other times they’ll reject our confession. And, when that rejection happens, we can take comfort in knowing that even when there was [the] sound [of] a mighty rushing wind… the appearance of flames of fire… and the Apostles speaking a foreign language, that there were some people who resisted and rejected their message. It helps us to leave up to God and continue to confess our faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins.

Remember, on the next day, on the day after that Pentecost, there was no more sound of a mighty rushing wind, the tongues of fire had gone away, and people simply spoke in their own languages, but never the less, the Holy Spirit was still at work.  The story goes on. Luke tells us in Acts 2:47, “And the Lord added to their number day by day [with] those who were being saved.”  The church still had God’s Word and the Holy Spirit continued to work through that Word.

Today, the Holy Spirit still works through the Word of God. It has always been that way and it will always be that way. The true sign of the Holy Spirit at work is the proclamation of God’s Word. The Holy Spirit gathers His people from all nations together into one holy and apostolic church. The Holy Spirit points us to Jesus, the Son of God, who was made man and saves us from all our sin with His suffering and death on the cross and promises us everlasting life through His resurrection. The Holy Spirit works through God’s Word when we hear it with our ears… when we read it with our eyes… when we experience that Word in the waters of our Baptism… and when we receive it with the true body and blood of Jesus in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper.  The Holy Spirit is at work when we confess our faith before each other and when we share our faith with those who do not know Jesus.

In today’s lesson, the Holy Spirit used light and sound to gather the church to hear the proclamation that the Messiah they had been waiting for had come in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  The Holy Spirit transformed the church from the Old Testament church to the New Testament church and the Holy Spirit continues to build His church to this very day.

The Holy Spirit still calls each of us by the Gospel, enlightens us with His gifts, sanctifies us and keeps us in the true faith. And, just as He call us into the church, He also calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and keeps her in one, true faith.

As Martin Luther tells us of the Holy Spirit:

In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.  On the Last Day, He will raise me, and all the dead, and He will give eternal life to me and all who believe in Christ Jesus. 

This is most certainly true.  Amen.

 

 

Shout Glory In The Night!

Sunday, June 2nd, 2019

Easter 7-C
June 2, 2019
Rev. Brian T. Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

“Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” [Jn. 17:24]

Do you want to see Christ’s glory with your physical eyes and not just your eyes of faith?  Are you sure?  Then pray… beg Him to come quickly, even right this second!  Are you praying for Jesus to come soon?  Are you ready for Him to end your existence in this world so that you can meet Him in His glory in paradise.  Are you really ready for that?  Are you assured by faith given through the Word of God that you will be met with a Holy kiss and welcomed into paradise or are you afraid that you will be met with admonishment and cast outside of the City with the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood? [Rev. 22:15]  Do you know what it is that determines your eternal destination? It’s what or Whom you place your trust in!

Our world is broken. Every day the violence, tragedy, illness, and hate of the day reminds us of this truth. No matter how badly we desire that love would rule and goodness reign, evil and hate break-into our lives like vicious home invaders.

Much is wrong with our society and even in our own lives. We can all make a list; broken homes, the increase in violence and dishonesty, the lack of integrity in public life, the slow slide of the church into adopting the ways of the world, the decay of sexual morality and the inability to speak boldly and consistently as God speaks regarding important things like marriage and the sanctity of life. And yet in the midst of the relentless attacks of hate and tragedy, God has made it both the obligation and duty of the church and every saint within the church to be His watchman on the wall who sound the alarm to simultaneously defend against evil and flee to God for protection!  And our only tool that God’s given to us for this task is His Word… the inerrant Words of Holy Scripture! This is the most important source of approval that we have, and at times it will be our only source.

Our gospel reading (John 17:20-26) for this morning is a prayer, Jesus’ prayer to be exact.  

His time to leave this world had come and He desired that His apostles would be encouraged to know that their master was praying for them and would continue to pray for them.  But we also discover that He is praying for us.  Listen: “I do not (pray) for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” [John 17:20, 21]

Who is Jesus praying for?  Well He is praying for you!  What is He praying for?  That you might have faith; that you might believe in Him unto salvation!  How does He say this faith, this ability to believe will come to us?  He says that it will be through God’s Word, which comes to us through the Words He has given the apostles. What will be the result of this faith that Jesus asks the Father to give to us?  Nothing other than complete unity in that faith and the desire to spread the Christian hope of the gospel, which is Jesus complete victory over all sin, death, even our sin and the total destruction of Satan and all his demons!  Just as the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit exist in unity in regards to this total victory, our Savior desires that we also be one with Him and with each other in this mission as well!  But He also asks that this unity be used for a purpose, so that the sinful dying world might know Him through God’s Word unto salvation as well.

Now there may be some of you here this morning that are right now at this very moment wondering, “But what about my salvation?  How can I know for sure that I am part of our Lord’s mission team? How can I know for certain that I will be welcomed into paradise and not admonished and thrown into the darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth?”  Friends, the only way you can be certain is as I’ve stated consistently to you all these years as your pastor, your personal Watchman On the Wall, you must hold onto God’s Word; trust and declare that even those parts of His Word that are hard to cling to because others find them offensive. It is especially those parts of Holy Scripture, which must be allowed to become your rock upon which you stand. You stand especially on those portions of Scripture because they are in fact God’s source of light and life, even if it seems that every one around you sees and declares them as backward, superstitious, and leading only to division and darkness.

Friends, God is so serious about us keeping His Word that He gives us grave warnings to protect that Word from anyone who would add to it or take away from it.  

You see, each Word is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit; the power to bring faith to sinners who without it are eternally damned to live in darkness.  Listen to the warning He gives us in our epistle lesson: “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” [Rev. 22:18-19]  Now some may say, “But that only refers to the prophecy found in the book of Revelations!”  And I must warn you that scripture can not be broken; it must be taken, all of it, together as a whole.  You can’t cherry pick some as true and reject other portions as false or culturally irrelevant.  All Holy Scripture is true and it has come to us by the Holy Breath of God!

You see, every word of Scripture must be seen as a sanctuary; a sanctuary which is just as infallible and unchangeable as God Himself. [Deut. 4:2; 12:32; Prov. 30:5–6; Rev. 22:18–19]. Every addition or false interpretation is a sacrilege, since it dilutes God’s Word with the words of men. In the book of Proverbs, God provides this warning to those of us who want to tamper with His Word: ‘Do not add to His words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar. [Proverbs 30:6]  Jesus Himself defends the completed Word of God this way: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” [Matthew 5:17–19]. 

All of God’s Word is ultimately given to us so that we may know God, know ourselves, and know Jesus the Son of God unto eternal life.

Dear friends, God does not want you to leave here today afraid and worried.  

He wants you to leave here assured that He has made a way for you to join Him in paradise, a way back to the tree of eternal life, and He did it through the fruit of another tree, the tree of woe… the blessed cross.  You see, to hang upon that tree is to be accursed, so Jesus hung on that tree for you!  He bore our curse and removed it from us.  That then is the fruit of eternal life that He gives to you, the fruit of His righteousness… righteousness unto eternal life! [Rev. 22:2, 3]  Friends, He’s given you this fruit within the waters of your baptism, where you have been washed by the water and the Word… both you and your robes have been washed clean in the blood of the lamb!  He promises you that although you may experience periods of night, doubt, and fear, it is not the same total darkness that awaits unbelievers. For those who have rejected the pure light of Holy Scripture, their darkness is true and it is terrifying; it is terrifying because it is without God and without His love. It is without God’s presence and love because it lacks His Word that speaks of God’s judgment and Christ’s passion and forgiveness of sin.

You dear saints are now the servants of Jesus Christ; you are allowed by faith to see the Only Begotten Son of the Father, the living Word of God, seated upon the throne.  You bear His name upon your foreheads because in your baptism you were sealed by the Holy Spirit and moved by that same Spirit through the Word to believe in God’s real presence in your life and His love for you!  You know by faith, that God has a plan for you; a path you must walk upon and trust in.  And the day will come when night for you will be no more; you will enter the Eternal City as both a king and a servant of the Most High God and King, Jesus Christ, and you will be infinitely blessed in that service, because as a servant of the Lamb of God you will no longer have to learn the will of God, because it will be part of your very nature.  And the Lord God will be your light, and you will reign with Him forever and ever! [Rev. 22:3-5]

You see, unlike the sinful world that fears their own death, you are assured that the end of this world isn’t something to be feared but anxiously awaited and celebrated when that day comes. Sure, Jesus may come at any moment to repay the entire world for what each individual has done, or he may also come at any time, like when you close your eyes for that last time in a natural death.  In either case, you dear saints have nothing to fear if you are trusting and resting in God’s Word.  Because in that Word you have been shown that through Jesus Christ you do not have an angry God but a God who loves you.  You have a God who has done all of the work Himself to ensure that you will be with Him, even today… this very moment in paradise!  

Is it your desire friends, to be with Jesus in paradise?  Then always remember this: We have no Christ, no God, and no salvation without His perfect and Holy Word.  And we have no unity with God and ourselves without that same Word.  But the more we have His Word, a Word that is always desiring and working to rule our hearts and lives by faith, then the more perfect our unity with Him and each other becomes.  And the deeper we are drawn into that unity the more we’re assured by God that we have nothing to fear!  

So friends, spend time in that Word.  Let it become for you the living presence of almighty God.  Let it change you and rearrange you.  Let it alone become your moral compass.  Pray over His Word and meditate on God’s will, and then listen to Him speak!  Can you hear Him whispering to you even now in the night of this sinful world?  He is saying, “I am coming soon.”  And what shall our response be?  Sometimes it may come in a whisper, sometimes it will be a strong voice, and sometimes… sometimes it might be a shout in the night of this sinful world, “Glory!  Amen!  Come, Lord Jesus, come!”  AMEN!