Archive for the ‘Acts 11:1-18’ Category

It Was Love… A New Kind of Love!

Sunday, April 28th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Easter 5C, April 27th, 2013

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A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. [John 13:34, 35]

What was it that moved Christ to go from the upper room, to the garden, and then to His suffering and death upon the cross?  It was love; a new kind of love; a type of love that before was impossible for human flesh, sinful human flesh to express!  But Jesus is God—what does that have to do with us?  Simply this, Jesus said we must now have and express this kind of love.  “A new commandment I give to you that you love one another, as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

This means, we are to express a type of love that costs, even hurts at times.  We are to love each other with a sacrificial kind of love.

A grumpy old man called a church one-day and explained to the pastor that he was looking for a new church, as his old church no longer met his needs.  He said that he wanted to join a church that didn’t press him to get involved, a place where only the old hymns are sung, a church that didn’t keep calling him at home checking to see if he was alright, simply because he missed a few Sundays.  He wanted to be a member of a church that didn’t issue offering envelopes or keep track of his giving.  He then asked the pastor if his church fit the bill, and if not, could he recommend one.  The pastor was silent for a moment and then responded: “Well yes, I think I know just the place for you.  Do you have a pen and paper?”  The man said yes, and then wrote down the exact address of a local church that the pastor gave him.  The man got in his car and went out immediately, only to find a church that was boarded up, closed down and for sale.

That story is simply an illustration that points out the problem with each of us, if left on our own; we want life and all of it’s circumstances to meet our needs; we want everything to be done in a way that makes us happy.  It’s as if we are saying, “OK, I’ve been baptized and I have Jesus, now leave me alone and let me rest in His glory until He calls me to my mansion.”  Let’s call this way of thinking and living a theology of glory.  But that is not the love, the life that Christ calls us to live out.  He said, “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

This morning in our gospel lesson (John 13:31-35), Jesus teaches us a new theology; a theology of the cross.  His love took Him to the cross; the emblem of suffering and shame; a place where all mankind’s glory is destroyed and made empty and meaningless.  In the cross, God calls a thing what it is; He says that our sin, even our sinful flesh is vile and rotten and it must be destroyed.  But here is the amazing part; He doesn’t want to destroy our sinful flesh, but instead He destroyed the perfect flesh of His only begotten Son.  And even more amazing, the Son agrees that only this self-sacrificing love will save sinners like you and me.  And now from the cross, Christ calls out to each of us… follow Me!

Does this kind of love make you nervous or afraid?  If so, good; you should know what you are getting into.  Or, you should know what you’ve already signed up for.  This is love, not that we love God, but that He first loved us, and proved it upon the cross.

In our first lesson (Acts 11:118), some of the “holiness” brothers that were of the circumcision party, heard that Peter was hanging out with dirty gentiles, and even calling them brothers.  So they conveyed a board of inquiry to get to the bottom of this scandal.  But when Peter spoke of how even the gentiles were repenting and turning to Christ alone for salvation, they were quieted and then let go of their own agenda, and glorified God.

How were these Godless gentiles able to receive the Holy Spirit, the very Spirit of Jesus and be saved?  Well the same way every one does; through the Gospel message that Peter shared with them.  When they heard about their sins, and the penalty of death God imposes because of those sins, they were at first terrified.  But when they heard about the Son of God, Jesus Christ willingly taking upon their sins upon Himself, and suffering and dying for them, they were grieved, but then… once they realized that this meant peace with God, they were over joyed that God truly loved even them so much, that He gave His One and only Son, that if they believed and received Jesus’ gift of the cross, they would be forgiven.  And they were; and there after they too were baptized and renewed by the love of Christ.  They were remade to love as Christ loves.

How did all of this happen?  Through the gift of repentance and the gift of love.  Repentance is simply agreeing with God that He is right and we are wrong.  It is simply turning to the only means that God has made to save us from our own sins and the sins of others.  Contrition and faith, or Law and Gospel, which come through the Word of God, are the only means God chooses to turn our hearts from love of sin (love of self) and then turn them to the cross of Christ where we are all equally given full pardon and love for God and each other.  Where ever, when ever, and to whom ever God’s means speak to the heart of a sinner, new life is given.

Now what we must remember is that while this new life is invisible, because it exists in our soul, it is always expressed in how we live out our physical lives.  For those of us sinners who know how much we have been forgiven, we will certainly be able to demonstrate a love for Jesus that is empowered by this new kind of love.  And that new love will express itself first in our confession of faith, then our consistent worship of Him, next in our prayer life, and finally in our service to His church and each other.

But what about the good life; what about the glory of walking and talking in blessings with Jesus?  Now in that question is exactly where and how the enemy the devil tries to deceive us.  Nowhere did Jesus say that the life of faith is one without suffering and pain.  Nowhere does He say that once you’ve been baptized life will be easy; in fact He said the opposite.  Jesus said that, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” [John 16:33]  But Jesus does promise that there will come a day, perhaps sooner than we know when all of our suffering and pain will cease and then we will forever rest in glory.

Listen to this hope expressed in our Epistle reading (Revelation 21:1-7): “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Sounds good doesn’t it?  That is your promised inheritance, but for now, we must wait for that glorious day; but we aren’t waiting like a bunch of lost lambs bleating for their shepherd.  No, Jesus has sent us the Helper, the Holy Spirit who since the day of our baptism, continues to dwell richly within each of us.  Through this indwelling of the Spirit, we also have Jesus real presence, and together with the Father, Jesus truly has made all things new, even you.  It is a done deal; complete and finished, lacking nothing but the fulfillment of time.

To the thirsty, those who thirst for true love, Jesus as the Good Shepherd, calls us to drink in His Word and dine at His Holy Table.  We may fill ourselves with as much as we can hold, without cost, because Jesus has paid for it all with His very lifeblood.  And you will need every bit of this spiritual nourishment, because it alone gives you the strength to hold onto Jesus until the last day.

If you will remain in Him, through these God appointed means of grace, Jesus promises not just complete forgiveness, but also the ability to love others as He loves them; a love for even the unlovable; the kind of love that is willing to take risks and even receive injury.  On your own, you could never truly have or demonstrate that kind of love, but with God living and working within you, you will be able to watch in amazement how unexplainably it flows out of you.

How did the church go from a bunch of self-serving cowards to powerful and unafraid conquerors of sin, death, and the devil?  It was love!  It was the radical movement of love envisioned and empowered by our Lord, and today and everyday, it begins with us.  This morning, behind the closed doors of this church, God continues His campaign to save the world with His love through forgiven sinners like us.

Filled with the Holy Spirit of God, our relationship with one another becomes a strong witness to the world of just what true love is.  We are not just to open the church doors and shout out what love is, but we are also to open the doors and let the world look in and see what love is; let them see true love at work in us; changing and rearranging us.  We aren’t just to preach love, but we have been empowered to practice it, and not as the world knows love to be, but a new kind of love born out of Heaven that experiences being loved by the Lord of love.

Dear friends, we can testify about love until we’re hoarse, but until the world can see that love alive and lived out among us, and personally experience that love through us, all of our witnessing about love will be in vain.  As followers of Jesus, we live behind glass doors.  The world constantly looks into see what we are like.  If we show a new kind of love, the world will know it and investigate it.

Isn’t that an exciting challenge the Lord has left us?  Can we actually do it?  Yes, if we continue to follow Jesus and remember that it is He who works within us, forgiving, loving and teaching us how to do the very same thing.

Now, you who have been forgiven so much and loved so greatly go out and allow the Holy Spirit to do the same through you.  And if you should fall short this week, come back next Sunday to be forgiven and renewed for love!  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Such Joy!

Sunday, May 2nd, 2010

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 2, 2010
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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.” (Jn.16:22)

This morning, God’s Word teaches us about sorrow and joy.  Does anyone here know anything about sorrow?  I’m right there with you.  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 that rest through God’s Word and His Sacraments, give God glory right now and thank Him!  God is good isn’t that right?

 Friends, God doesn’t want you to feel like it’s just you and Him against the world.  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.  He wants you to be a part of the body of Christ so that the other saints in His body can help you carry your burden and sorrows, and then you can help them carry theirs.  Again, I say, God is good… Amen!

 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 people.  So where does He send you after you’ve tasted and seen that the Lord is good?  Well, 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 other words, God wants you to be kingdom builders!

 I. This morning, in our gospel reading we are given a picture of confusion, worry and fear.   It’s the perfect illustration of “me 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!  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.  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 the fellowship of other 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 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 still be walking with the Lord? 

 Dear friends, there is simply no way you could have made it through the troubles you’ve seen unless the Holy Spirit was guiding you!  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 break through and assure us that God’s dwelling place 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 in this together.  Isn’t it a great joy to be part of His body?  Isn’t it a blessing to call the person next to you brother or sister?

 II. 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.  We 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 when we forget 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 Epistle reading this morning Peter along with all of us have been warned by the Holy Spirit not to look upon as unclean what God has 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 Peter we must protect God’s Holy Word and the correct understanding of it.  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.  Our liturgical heritage is a gift from God and it finds its origin in the very first days of worship that were centered on God’s 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 a European heritage that we block out all other cultural heritages.  God forbid we call unclean and unholy what the Holy Spirit has sanctified and called clean!

 III. So what is the only way to ensure 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 WE ALL might have eternal life, we will easily move from worry, fear, and sorrow into the joy of our salvation!

 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 we will also learn to rejoice in God himself.  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 more than any circumstance in our life.  That he is greater than all his gifts.  That he is fully adequate for every situation in our lives.  You will learn that just as He promised, He is with us through the Holy Spirit guiding us through all the adverse circumstances, all the crushing disappointments, and all the heartaches.  And as you go through these things, you will learn that God is giving you the very thing He is after, faith and such joy in your salvation!

So hold on dear saints!
  Help isn’t on the way, it’s already here!  As one heart, God’s Spirit is inviting us to walk and work together with Him.  And remember, we are all serving and waiting together for the same goal—The day when each of us will be with God as His people, and He will be with us as our God.  He 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. [Rev. 21:3-4]