Archive for the ‘John 14:15-21’ Category

Are You Prepared to Witness?

Sunday, May 25th, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
Easter 6A, May 25, 2014

Click here for audio of this message

“(B)ut in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).

Are you prepared to make a defense, that is to give a witness to Christ?  What are we called to witness to?  Well, how about this for starters, “Christ is risen!  He is risen in deed!”

This morning the question is not could you witness to someone your faith in Christ, but would you?  Yes, with the help of God.  The help of God?  Is there really something like that happening today?  And the answer is yes, but I don’t want to give away the end of the sermon so you will just have to have patience, and I promise that not only will you learn what that powerful help is, but you will in fact receive it.

In our first reading (Acts 17:16-31) we join St. Paul after he has taken a tour of the city of Athens, Greece.  During his walk-about, he learned an awful lot about the city and its people.  For one thing, he discovered that they loved art and philosophy, but he also discovered that they were very religious.  It was this devotion to religion that motivated Paul to strike up conversations with the people he met concerning their religion.  Well, actually it was the Holy Spirit of God that moved him to do that.  You see, God’s Spirit caused Paul to understand and communicate a message, which is central throughout Holy Scripture, and it is this: God is a jealous God, and He will not share His gory with anything or anyone.  In the past, like during the time of Noah and before, He overlooked their sin of false worship, but now, now He is calling the people to repent; that is, he calls all people to turn to His Son, Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins, and then worship Him alone and no other.”

And how did Paul speak this truth in love and respect?  He did it by becoming one with them.  How so?  With these words: “And (God) made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward Him and find Him.  Yet He is actually not far from each one of us, for “’In Him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “’For we are indeed His offspring.’ Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone (that is he is not like some of your religious statues that you worship), (because that is) an image formed by the art and imagination of man.  The times of ignorance God overlooked (that is before the flood during Noah’s time), but now He (this one who is very near to you and desires you to be near to you), commands all people everywhere to repent (that is turn to Him and experience His presence and love), because He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a man (who is also God’s very Son in human flesh) who He has appointed; and of this He has given assurance to all by raising Him from the dead.” [Acts 17:26-31]

Today, you have this same power and opportunity that Paul had long ago; an opportunity to witness to the people in our community the very same message.  You will encounter these people in your various stations of life; that is the people you have built a relationship of friendship with.  It may be at your place of work, at a shopping center, school, senior center, or even within your own family.  The point is, God has placed you there for a reason, and the reason is so that you can make a defense, or give a witness to His real presence in your life and in theirs.  But, I suppose this still leaves the question of “how does God do this work through me” begging to be answered.  So let’s look at “where” God does this work, before we answer the question of “how” he does it.

God equips you and empowers you to do this work at His Son’s church; even here at little Trinity Lutheran Church.  But how?  And the answer is, “Through His Word.”  Now, I have notice that many of you follow our liturgy, that is our order of worship by looking at the screens, and that’s ok, but remember that the screens simply are an aid for tired eyes; the actual liturgy is taken right out of our hymnals.  This morning, we are following Divine Service-Setting 4, which begins on page 203 in the Lutheran Service Book.  Humor me for just a minute, and take the hymnal out of the pew rack, and then look at page 203, and then the following pages.  As you do, you will notice that almost every word we speak has a scripture reference.  That means that our liturgy is nothing less than the very Word of God.  So, if you have been coming to church for any length of time, you will discover that you have a whole lot of God’s Word memorized.

So why is that important?  Because it is that very same Word that empowered St. Paul to give his witness.  Now, just memorizing the Word of God is a good start, but you should also have an on-going way to internalize it and make it real and personal to you.  And so you are doing right now as you hear the Word proclaimed in this message and as you did during Bible study and catechism classes.  God is preparing you right here at little Trinity to give a witness to anyone who may ask you the reason for the hope that you hold onto, and is so important to you.

Today as we live our lives, God is giving us many opportunities to share our faith.  I suppose the best and most productive way to share with people, is to be prepared to answer them when they ask: “Why do you go to church so much?”  And now, you have learned that “We go to church to hear from God in His Word, that through His Son Jesus we are forgiven of all our sins, and now we must live out that forgiveness within our community and share it with others.”

Of course this only applies to those of us who really do make Christ and His church a priority in our lives.  It applies to us who see a need for God’s continued voice and guidance in not just our lives but the lives of our family.  It only applies when God’s Word has moved you to repent and receive not just the complete forgiveness of sins, but daily strength to follow and trust His Word.

Now some of you may be getting uncomfortable right now because the Word has struck close to home.  Let me first say to you… good!  That is what you should be feeling; that is God’s will.  He wants you, like the people in Athens who Paul shared with to simply turn to Him alone; that is He wants you to reject anything in your life that has replaced God and His church as first place in your life.  It won’t be easy, because you will not just be fighting your own desires but also the entire way our society has been programed.  Let me show you what I mean.

If you are single and alone, society would have you think that getting out and having fun is the best way to find someone to share your life with.  If you are married and have a family, society will tell you that working hard to support your family and then spending quality time with them is what you should be most concerned with.  But this morning, God is telling you that you have it all wrong.  He is telling you that He wants to be first place.  Come to Him and allow Him to heal you, strengthen you, and fill you first, and then go out into the world and work hard and have fun.  Let Him bring you to Mr. or Misses right and then you will know real happiness.  Let Him provide employment that will then provide for your family.

And as these things take place, be sure to let others know the reason for the hope that you have.  And that reason is Jesus Christ and His church; His church where He gives to you all of His gifts of grace that sustain you and make you into the “good” person that you are.  His church that is His very means to give you the answer to our long awaited question: “What is the power that God gives to me so that I can witness my faith to others?”

Dear friends the power that God gives to you is His very Son; His Son who also gives to you Himself.  But He does not give just His death, but also His resurrection.  You see, you don’t just believe that Jesus died for the sins of the world, and that His resurrection proved that there is the hope of eternal life, but you also believe that Jesus died for you; for your sins, and His resurrection proves that you too will have eternal life.  And how do you know this?  Because Jesus has given you another Helper, the Spirit of truth who forever dwells with you and within you.

How do you know this gift is really yours?  Because like Noah and his family, eight souls in all, you have been called by the power of God’s Spirit out of the darkness of sin and you listened.  And because you entered into the ark of your salvation, the church, you do not fear the day of judgment that is coming.  But how did you enter the church?  That is, where and when did this great work take place that saved you?  St. Peter gives us the answer in our epistle reading, listen: “Baptism, which corresponds to (how Noah and his family were saved from God’s judgment and the flood), now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.” [1 Peter3:21, 22]

So Holy Baptism is not just what saves you, but is the very source of both God’s continued presence in your life and His power that equips you with the ability to live that life in a way that both glorifies Him and blesses your neighbor.

So how does baptism save you?  Didn’t Jesus save us on the cross?  Yes, of course He did; He paid for all sins on the cross, and baptism is that promise coming to you personally as part of the church now.  So, baptism now saves you, not by removing the dirt or the stain of all of your sin, but by the promise or the covenant from God to you that you are in fact clean of sin in God’s sight.  This is why you are always taught that you are saved by grace alone by faith alone.  So in baptism, God has given you a promise that your sins are removed by the blood of Jesus shed for you upon the cross.   And so in God’s sight your conscience can be entirely clean because you know that you don’t have to stand before Him, on the day of judgment by yourself; you know that through Christ you will not be judged guilty as a sinner.  That’s how baptism saves you; by giving you a promise that you can believe in, and He gives you the means to believe in it through His Word, which you receive right here at church.

Baptism gives you something to have faith in… it gives you Jesus.  Baptism equals Jesus promise.  You have the promise of a free covenantal grace, because of the resurrection of Jesus who now is at the right hand of the Father, Who subjected all things to Himself, including angels, authorities, and all powers.

Now, since Christ suffered because of your sinful flesh, to save you, then arm yourself with the same mindset, and expect that you too may have to suffer because of your own sinful flesh as you wait for His return; as you give a defense to anyone who should ask you why you go to church so much.  And even if you have to suffer at the hands of others for giving that defense, for insisting that church is important to you, God will continue filling you with faith and power as you trust in His promised blessings.  AMEN!