Archive for the ‘John 3:1-17’ Category

God So Loved You!

Monday, March 13th, 2017

Lent 2 (A), March 12, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.ORLCSD.org

Click here for audio of this message

john-3-16-christianity-12464028-461-405In the last few weeks we’ve learned that the purpose of all of God’s Word is that we would know Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Last week we learned that this was the case, even in the very first Words of Genesis… in the beginning! Well, this morning we shall see that God is love; God is love for you!

Now, don’t tune out this message simply because you can quote John 3:16; everyone who attended Sunday school for more than a year can do that. No, you need to understand the depth of God’s love for you, and that is exactly what this message will declare to us this morning.

“There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.” [John 3:1]

Uh, oh! Another Pharisee out to get Jesus? No not this one; this Pharisee was known by all to be a good man. He was on a real journey to live a God-pleasing life. He’s highly educated and very moral and religious. He is what others would call an upright man; he is not a hypocrite like many of the other Pharisees; he actually tries to please God! In verse 10 we are told that he is Israel’s teacher, so we know that he is trying to help others please God as well. So this man, Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night. Why? Well because he doesn’t want the other Pharisees to know that he is seeking out their enemy. But why is he seeking out Jesus? Because, he has seen the miracles and he has probably heard some of Jesus’ sermons and the Word of God is beginning to work within his heart. In essence he wants to know more!

So he approaches Jesus and he starts a conversation in the usual way, he pays Jesus a compliment: “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with Him.” [vs. 2b] Now if you or I were in Jesus position we would probably repay the compliment; but Jesus is not you or I! Jesus is instead the Great Physician, and He must get right to work on the soul of Nicodemus. “Jesus answered him (and said), “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”” [vs. 3]

Now that is strange, and Nicodemus thought so too; that’s why he asked, “How can a man be born (again) when he is old (like me)?” Poor Nicodemus’ mind must have been spinning out of control. All of his education and religious training had taught him that he was doing everything he could to please God and now Jesus is telling him that he will never get into heaven as he is! Nicodemus didn’t understand yet, and neither does our world today. Why? Because their focus is on what they do and not on what God does!

Now Jesus must adjust the focus of Nicodemus and He must adjust our focus as well! Listen: “Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” [Vs. 5-6] Jesus is actually saying that if we keep our focus on what we can do in our flesh, that is on our own we will never get beyond the flesh; that is we will never enter the kingdom of God; we will never inherit eternal life. He is saying we need a new focus, a new life; we need to have spiritual eyes if we are to understand the work of God’s Spirit!

“But how?” That’s the question of Nicodemus and the question of this unbelieving world!

They ask how because they still have eyes and a heart of flesh! “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” [vs. 8] What is this wind? It is the Holy Spirit! And what is its sound? It is the spoken Word of God; it is the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ. It’s He who was speaking to Nicodemus, and He who is speaking to you this morning! Listen to the wind. You believe in the wind because you can feel it and hear it; you can even see the effect it has around you right? Well the sound of the wind is also heard in the Word of God. “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” You hear the Wind of God in these Words as well: “As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn back from their ways and live.” [Ezekiel 33:11] “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but have eternal life.” [Jn. 3:16]

In His love for the world God provides the sound of His Holy Wind, the public proclamation of His Word so that we can see His Son, Jesus Christ as our only means of salvation. Through this means, God wants to call all people to eternal life; He wants to draw all of us unto Himself and to give us new birth. He does this only through His Holy Wind, the Word of God. “Since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save (through rebirth) those who believe.” [Acts 11:14] “So faith comes through the proclamation, and proclamation comes through God’s Word.” [Jn. 17:17, 20] And it is God’s will that all people should hear this proclamation and come to Jesus Christ. And Jesus will never push anyone away from Himself, just as the Word of God declares: “Anyone who comes to me I will never drive away.” [Jn. 6:37]

So now we see that our salvation is entirely a work of God’s Holy Spirit which He uses to cleanse us and blow new life into us. It is God alone who “saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” [Titus 3:5]

Jesus told Nicodemus not to marvel at this teaching about this washing of new birth that comes through the Word of God and He is telling you not to be surprised by it as well.

Where does this washing and rebirth happen? Where are we brought to be cleansed from all of our impurities and saved from our sin? First to the cross and then to the font; the fountain of Holy Baptism. Let me show you this in scripture. Listen to God speak through the prophet Zechariah: “On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.” [Zechariah 13:1] Do you hear the wind of God blowing and promising a source of salvation outside of the power of sinful men? Do you hear how God Himself would provide a fountain of cleansing and do you notice that it would do two very specific things? What are those things? It will cleanse from sin and impurity! What is this fountain? First it is the cross and second it is the font!

What did Jesus say to Nicodemus about God’s means of providing eternal life? He said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” [Jn. 3:14-15] Now why did Jesus feel the need to bring up Moses? Because Moses and His Law were the very things that Nicodemus was trusting in to please God. But Jesus wanted Nicodemus and everyone else to see that everything that Moses said and did was done by God so that we would look to a prophet much greater than Moses; so that we would look to Jesus alone as our only source of hope. The people with Moses had sinned greatly against God with their grumbling and lack of faith, so God had to get their focus off of their flesh and back to Him; He had to give them eyes of faith; they needed spiritual eyes. They were being attacked by snakes and they were dying by the thousands; so God had Moses craft a bronze serpent and lift it on a pole. If they would look to this bronze snake on a poll and trust in God’s means they would live!

What does this have to do with anything? Well let’s allow the prophet Zechariah to speak once again: “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who stands next to me,” declares the Lord of hosts. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered; I will turn my hand against the little ones.” [Zechariah 13:7] Now remember, in the earlier reading from Zechariah God promised to open a fountain that would cleanse the people of their sins, right? Well this is the day that the fountain would be opened; the day that the Shepherd would be struck! On that day there would be cleansing for all sinners, and it would come from a fountain that God would open! Jesus Christ dear friends is the Good Shepherd! He was the Shepherd who was struck down on the cross. He is the final provision of salvation that the bronze serpent on the poll of Moses represented! Remember on the day of our Lord’s death a Roman soldier pierced Jesus side with a spear? What was the result? A fountain of water and blood; a fountain of cleansing!

Dear Saints, we must stay there at the cross and see Jesus dying in our place; we must go to the cross and see God’s means of cleansing us from all of our sin and uncleanness! This is how much God loves you! The Son of God died for the world so that the world would not have to die! “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For (you see) God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” [Jn. 3:16-17] But in order for this finished work of Jesus Christ to become yours you must travel by faith from the cross and then to the waters of your own baptism!

It is in baptism, your baptism that God made His love for the world His love for you!

In the waters of your baptism God gave you His gift of forgiveness and cleansed you from all of your sins. In your baptism God delivered you from death and the devil and gave you eternal life! In your baptism God made you a disciple and part of the body of Jesus Christ.

Through your baptism you put on Jesus Christ, that is all of His righteousness was made yours through faith in the Gospel that assures you that God so loved YOU that He gave His Son up to death for YOU! In the waters of your baptism you were buried with Christ into death, so that you would rise with Him into a new and eternal life. That which IS Spirit has given birth to a new spirit!

How can a person be born again when he is old?

Only by the work of the Spirit, the wind of God which gives eyes of faith and turns simple water in to a spiritual means of rebirth! Simple water yes, but when it is combined with the powerful Word of God, it becomes God’s means of showing and giving you Jesus Christ. First that Word shows you Christ high and lifted up upon the cross and then it shows you Christ high and lifted up, ascended and reining with the Father and Spirit in Heaven.

Yes friends, that is how God so loves you! I pray that He continues to give to you eyes of faith that look to Jesus Christ alone as your only means of God’s love and grace… AMEN!

God Is Love!

Sunday, May 31st, 2015

Trinity Sunday, May 30, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

“Whoever desires to be saved must above all, hold the “universal” Christian faith.  And the “universal” Christian faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance.” [vs. 1-3 of the Athanasian Creed]

God is one.  There is only one God.  The one God exists from eternity as one God.  God alone is eternal.  Would it surprise you to know that there are many other religions that will agree with you?  In fact, they will appeal to this very truth in an attempt to draw you away from your own Christian faith.

You see, in addition to confessing that God is one, we Christians also confess that God is love, in fact we say that love is the very essence of God.  Now these other religions will never deny that God loves but they won’t agree that love is the essence of who God is.  They will argue that although God loves, love can’t be His essence, because that would make Him dependent on someone, and God depends on no one.  But this kind of argument is false because it ignores the very essence of God.

The true God is indeed one, but just believing in this fact doesn’t mean a person is worshiping the true God; for you see, the one true God is also united within Trinity, and within His Triune nature God is love.  The only God who exists is the Triune God.  Any god who isn’t triune isn’t God because a god who isn’t triune can’t be love, and God is love.  Dear friends, please don’t ever let anyone lead you away from this truth because it is crucial to your very salvation.  If God wasn’t love then he wouldn’t have sent His only begotten Son to suffer and die upon the cross for you!

God’s love isn’t an attribute that makes Him dependent on us, but rather it’s an attribute that defines His very essence as God in regards to the relationship shared between the three persons within the One Godhead.

When we say God is love we are also saying that God could not be love unless He was Triune.  You see, there’s an eternal unity of love between the Father who begets and generates the Son who is begotten.  This eternal unity of divine love exists as well between the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit who is sent from the two of them.  But as I told the children, this is far too high for us to grasp.  After all, He is the Creator and we are the creature!

Dear friends, while completely understanding God is far above us, we can know about Him by paying attention to what He has already revealed about Himself.  We know from scripture that the Father has generated or begotten the Son on many occasions.  It was the Son and two angels who visited Abraham outside of Sodom and Gomorra to warn Abraham of the pending destruction of the two cities, so that his nephew Lot might be saved.  It was God the Son generated by the Father who took on the form of a burning bush so that Moses might behold some of the Lord’s glory and receive God’s Law that would teach Israel how to relate rightly to a Holy and loving God.  And it was God the Son who appeared to Isaiah in heaven and out of love sent Him to preach repentance to Judah.

There are many more instances throughout scripture that demonstrate that God the Father generates or begets the Son in order to accomplish the purpose of God, but for us, the best example is found in John 1:And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” [John 1:14]

Do you hear in those words how the Son is now forever generated or begotten in human flesh yet He still eternally possesses eternal glory, grace, and truth.  And together the Father and the Son send the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit.

It was God the Spirit who was hovering over the face of the waters in the very beginning of creation. He was sent by the Father and the Son, and together they created the heavens and the earth—He was with these Words: ““Let there be light,” and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good. [Genesis 1:1-4]  Like a marvelous symphony God’s Word’s of Love spoke forth creation and goodness.  It was an eternal love generated and sent from the heart of the One true God who has revealed Himself in three persons.  But we must not divide the person’s from the One True God or we will loose His essence, which is love.  What do I mean by this?  Well think of it this way: While it is the Father who generates or begets, and it is the Son who is begotten but not made, and it is the Holy Spirit who is sent together by the Father and the Son, there are not three God’s but One. As One, the three persons created everything that there is together.  The divine mystery of God’s triune nature is this: As One they have always existed, and since God does not change they will always be One in glory and majesty.  When we pray to our Lord in heaven we do not pray to three Lords, but rather we pray to one Lord because the Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, and the Holy Spirit is Lord.  Three persons united eternally in One essence of love, which is God!  So why am I talking about an eternal relationship of love into which you and I could never find our way into?

Because friends, God has created a way—He has brought His love to us!  In so doing He has established fellowship with us.  But in order to enjoy all of the benefits of this relationship (eternal grace, mercy, and peace with God and each other), we must also faithfully believe that God the Son took on human flesh.  God did this not because He needed to, but rather He did it because He is love.  We are the ones in need!  We need God to come to us.

Although God’s voice declared that all that He had made in the beginning was good, it was our own sinfulness that forever turned good into evil.  In our natural condition, there is not a single thing that we can do to save ourselves…we need God’s mercy, pardon, and forgiveness.  And yet the punishment for our own sin is death, eternal separation from God’s love.  But as a true champion, our saving God came to us in our own human flesh and paid for our sins Himself.  In Jesus Christ, all of God came to us.  Our Creator, out of His love for us, wrapped Himself in creation, because only He could remedy our hopeless situation.  Why do I say all of God came to us?  Because, remember, we can never divide the essence of God.  God always acts as one because He is one.

Friends, it was this same Jesus who lived a sinless life on our behalf.  It was this same Jesus who allowed Himself to be put to death by sinful men.  He did not have to do this but rather He chose to suffer and die for us, because God is love.  Please hear me, “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men,(because it was your sins that compelled God out of love to suffer and die for you.  But be of good cheer), God (has) raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” [Acts 2:23-24]  By His stripes you have been healed.  By His suffering and death you have been released from the eternal punishment for your many sins!  By God’s love you have been saved!

At the baptismal font God’s work of re-creation was activated for you; there at the font, you were “Born Again!”  All of the benefits of Jesus’ suffering and death were given to you.  The old sinful man and woman that was your identity at birth has now been put to death through His same Word of creation that was spoken “In The Beginning.” This re-creation of life from death is now yours because of God’s own suffering and death through Christ Jesus!

Dear friends, do you see what a wonderful gift of love is now yours?  You have been freed from your former body of death and you have been given a new life.  Please, don’t take lightly what God has done for you.  Rather, embrace it and cherish this gift.  Live out this new life with certainty that it is yours.  We must not doubt that this gift is ours, because it was given out of God’s love.  And yet when the troubles of life creep in, we do doubt, and that is why Jesus has not left us alone in this life as orphans.  He promises that He and the Father are still with us in love, because He has sent us the gift of the Holy Spirit, and where the Holy Spirit is, there also are the Father and the Son, because God is One!

It is the Holy Spirit who moves our hearts to hunger for hearing and studying God’s Word.  It is the Holy Spirit that causes us to remember God’s saving love when we remember our own baptism.  It is the Holy Spirit that creates a hunger within us to gather at the Lord’s Table where we receive His very body and blood when we eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins.  It is the Holy Spirit that creates in us a clean heart when we hear the sweet words of absolution, which in turn continually moves us to come to God in prayer, knowing by faith that He hears our confession and will always forgive and love us.

Dear friends, because God is One and God is love, and because we are called into fellowship with Him by love, then we are also called into the fellowship of His Mission to seek and save those that are lost and dying, separated from His love because of sin.  When we cry out in confession like Isaiah, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a sinner, and I live in the midst of a society of sinners,” God in His love for us, through His Holy Spirit, touches our hearts with the Gospel, and says, “Behold, your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” [Is. 6:4-8]  And by the work of the same Spirit, God speaks to our hearts and asks: “Whom shall I send, and who will go out to the world for us?”  And by the work of the same Spirit we are moved to respond, “Here am I!  Send me!” [Is. 6:8]

Note two remarkable truths. First, the Lord wants to send someone to speak for him. The question asked, “Whom shall I send?” is for the benefit of Isaiah. God wants to send a human to speak for him. God could have sent the seraphs who sang in the heavenly temple, but that isn’t His choice. Instead, God desires to send a creature limited not only by flesh and blood but also by sin. Isaiah had just confessed his sinfulness just as you have done, yet God wanted to send him.

The next amazing truth is the willingness of Isaiah. He responds without hesitation, “Here I am. Send me!” The same person who just a moment ago was terrified because of his sin is now exhibiting courage, and he gladly in embraces his call to go for the Holy One of Israel. What caused this transformation? The very same work that God wants to do in your heart; forgiveness and the realization that God wants to use us like He used Isaiah, produces the reply. Forgiveness has worked a miracle inside the prophet. Courage replaced fear. Willingness replaced a sense of unworthiness. God has worked this miracle “to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13). And Isaiah volunteered without knowing anything about his call. He simply expressed his willingness to go no matter what tasks the Lord had in store for him.

Friends, the mission of the church is your mission!  It comes from the heart of the Father, and from the Son who is the very message of the mission. This message, which you have been given is nothing less than the good news about the incarnation, suffering and death of Jesus Christ for everyone.  The message is that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  [John 3:16]

If the source of mission is God the Father and the message of the mission is God the Son, then what part does God the Holy Spirit play?  Dear friends, the Holy Spirit is the very power of God’s mission.  MISSION IS HOLY SPIRIT POWERED!

What this means for us is that God’s mission can’t fail because He is the very source, message and power of that mission.  God has invited you to work with Him in His mission.  For you see, God desires to use simple means to perform mighty miracles in order to confound the supposed wisdom of the devil and sinful men.

Along with His Word, God uses simple water, bread, and wine, and He chooses to use you and me!  He uses us when we speak His Word and give our witness to our neighbor.  And who is our neighbor?  Anyone that God puts in our daily lives!  Won’t you give it a try?  Won’t you tell others about your love for your One True God who exists in both Trinity and Unity?  Tell them how you were saved at the baptismal font.  Tell them how you grow in His Word every day, and how your faith is nourished here at His Holy table!  Why not invite a friend to come with you to church.  Don’t worry, you won’t be alone when you do these things…remember, you’re on a mission with the rest of us, and that mission is powered by the Holy Spirit!

Well this morning dear friends, we have learned that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are united together as one in love; in love for each other and their love for us, and together they lead us by faith so that they may strengthen and grow God’s Church which is centered in His love.  And to this truth let’s bow our heads and pray:  “Teach us to love our neighbor dear Lord as you love us, and lead on O Lord, and let us be one in missionary zeal as you are always One—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  …AMEN!

The Holy Trinity is a Mystery… Get Over It!

Sunday, June 3rd, 2012

Holy Trinity Sunday-B, June 3, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

Someone once told me that they thought the church ought to stop trying to teach the doctrine of the Holy Trinity for a little while, and just  stand in awe of God and worship Him for Who He Is.  And you know, there is a lot to be said for backing off from our western approach of  conceptualizing the Trinity, because it really can be an injustice to God. Isn’t it enough to simply say that God exists in three persons, Father,  Son, and Holy Spirit, and then just leave it at that? Well, yes and no.  While it is sheer folly to try to confine the reality of God into an airtight  doctrinal box it is also dangerous when we, the church, that means you and me, remain silent when we should be repeating who God says He  is in scripture. What kind of danger?  Well how about this.  I received this email from someone who said that the church and myself  specifically, must repent of what we teach about Jesus and God.  Listen:“(Pastor), Jesus did not intend to be worshiped; He wanted to be  followed. It is certainly easier to worship Him than to follow His teachings. He taught that we could become one with God and all his creation  (everything and everybody). That means that we should deny the world and focus primarily on God and forgiveness. It means letting go of  the ego’s need to be separate and right. It means loving everyone unconditionally. It means giving up judgment, righteousness, resentments,  greed, competition, envy, and hatred. It means joining with your fellow man and making his interest your own. It means setting aside the carnal pleasures of this world for something better. It means taking the log out of your own eye instead of the speck out of your brother’s. It means being generous with your time, talents, and energy (including money). Jesus summed it up by saying, Love God, yourself and everyone with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your soul. He taught to live life with an open and pure heart as He did.”

What you just heard read is a concise description of perfection, the kind of perfection that God demands both in His 10 commandments and throughout scripture.  The only problem with this ideal is that none of us can meet it, and no one ever will.  If this one dimensional understanding of who God is, was all that we knew about Him, then life would be pretty dark and hopeless, wouldn’t it?  But God has another message for us; a message of hope and security, and that message was communicated to Isaiah in our Old Testament Lesson. [Isaiah 6:1-8]

Isaiah was taken to the very throne of Heaven, the temple of God and He saw something that no sinful man or woman could have or should have seen.  He saw the perfect and all powerful God seated on the throne.  He saw an all present God who filled everything, and He was not struck down dead; he was allowed to live!  Now that’s amazing because even the chief angels called seraphim wouldn’t look upon God.  They covered their eyes with their wings and simply cried out to each other, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord!”

So why was Isaiah allowed to see God and still live?  Was it because he was able to please God with his righteous living?  Well let’s allow Isaiah to answer that himself.  Listen: “And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” [Isaiah 6:4-5]  Now Isaiah does not sound like a man who is content with the way he’s lived his life to me; in fact he even describes why he feels he is doomed; he is a man of unclean lips living with people who are unclean.  In other words, brother Isaiah is saying flat out, ‘I’m a dirty no good sinner and I live with a bunch of other dirty no good sinners.  I am doomed!”

And yet Isaiah was allowed to see God and live; why?  Because God Himself intervened, and saved him!  In the vision, it was a hot coal that touched Isaiah’s lips that saved him.  In the wilderness, when the sinful Jews were wandering, they were attacked by poisonous snakes; it was a bronze sculpture of a serpent that God had made, which saved every sinful Jew who looked to it, and today God still saves dirty no good sinners; sinners like Isaiah, and sinners like you and me!  How?  Well let’s go to our gospel lesson [John 3:1-17] and let Jesus explain it Himself.

Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews goes out to find Jesus by night.  Why night?  Well, he was trying to protect his reputation as a leader.  He who was supposed to be able to provide all of the answers had many questions about life and God that were just eating away at him. Society thinks that doubts and questions in a leader are a sign of weakness, so Nicodemus had to make sure that neither his peers nor the people knew that he was going to Jesus for answers.  They must not find out that his entire life had been consumed by these doubts and questions.  He wanted to know why he woke up in the middle of the night feeling empty and afraid.  The meaning of life itself had eluded him.  “There must be more to it” he thought, and it’s this questioning of things that caused him to seek out Jesus for answers!

When he found Jesus he started out the introduction with a compliment, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” [John 3:2]  And in effect, Jesus answered him like this, “Oh come off of your high and mighty view of yourself and your ignorant view of God Nicodemus.  You just want me to jump into the comfortable little box you’ve made so that you can make sense of life and God according to your terms.  What you really want to do is go back to your cushy mansion and get a good night’s sleep by placing your religion on the shelf like one of your trophies.  But it doesn’t work like that!  “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  You can’t fit God’s kingdom into your life, your life and all of your misconceptions has to fit into it!  You gotta be born again!

Nicodemus didn’t understand.  He didn’t understand and neither does the world today.  They don’t understand because Jesus is speaking spiritual, and they are thinking physical.  So Jesus restates his teaching in another way: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” [John 3:5,6]  In other words, quit trying to put my teaching into your sinful box.  You cannot understand, because you have not been begotten by the Father.  But there is a way for you to be begotten… reborn, and it is by the water and the Holy Spirit!  Repent and be baptized.  Repent of your sinful physical way of seeing the world and receive new life and new sight in the water and the Word!

Today, we poor sinners don’t find Jesus’ Words any easier to understand or accept.  We are caught up in the material world, but there is a spiritual wind that is blowing through our lives; it is the presence and work of the Holy Spirit.  It is impossible for us to keep it out.  It blows and blows until it either knocks down our house of self-righteousness or until we leave this temporary material existence and enter into our eternal reality; a reality that will either be eternal judgment or eternal peace with the source of the Holy Wind, the Holy one of Israel; the same Holy One Who caused Isaiah to say that he was doomed because he saw God!

The only hope for Isaiah, Nicodemus, or any of us, is if we can see the Son of God, Jesus Christ as the only way to enter into God’s eternal heavenly kingdom.  Jesus alone is the red hot coal that touches our lips.  Jesus alone is the serpent lifted on the pole in the wilderness of our sin.  And Jesus Himself makes that clear with these words: “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, (I who speak to you) the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. [John 3:13-15]

But is it really that simple?  Can an angry and perfect God really be approached simply by being baptized and believing in Jesus as the Son of God who came down to us in our flesh, to save us?  Yes, it is that simple, but people find it hard to believe because this is a spiritual truth that is breaking into our physical reality.  It is a work entirely of God; a work that we play no part in fulfilling.  But why; why would a holy, holy, holy God do that for no good sinners like us?  Well, again let’s let Jesus answer that: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” [John 3:16-17]. And there it is… God is not angry with us at all; in fact He loves us, but He is also holy and righteous.  He created us to be holy and righteous as well, but sin, death, and the devil entered into our physical reality and ruined that.  And now, the only way He can save us is by coming to us and removing our sin Himself!

What we’ve learned this morning is that God is far too holy and mighty for us to ever understand; after all He is the Creator and we are just the creatures.  But what we’ve also learned are four truths.  First, we know that God does love us.  He loves us just as we are, but He loves us to much to leave us that way.  Second, we’ve learned that our One God exists in three persons, and He has broken into our sinful reality and saved us by the Father’s sending of His Son to die for us.  And He continues to save us and keep us holy through the power of His Holy Spirit.  Third, the Holy Lord invites us all into a relationship of stewardship with Him; He wants to send us, whom He has saved to speak for Him.  Isaiah writes: “Then I heard the voice of the LORD saying, “Whom shall I send?  And who will go for us?”  The fourth truth we discover is that once God intervenes by taking our sins away, by recreating us through the power of the gospel, we are able to respond to any request of God with the words, “Here am I send me!”  Like Isaiah, we once were no good sinners separated from God by sin and living in fear, but in our baptism, God has spoken new life and new obedience into us, so that we can exhibit courage and embrace His call to go out into a sinful world for the Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord!

What causes this transformation in us is the very thing that changed Isaiah and eventually Nicodemus too; It is the realization that we have been saved and forgiven by the Holy and One true God who exists in three persons.  How that can be we may never understand completely, but it is enough to know that He is our God.  And once we have surrendered to the mysterious presence and work of our God, He wants to use us to bring this same message of forgiveness to no good sinners.  Yes, most of this message depends on the mystery that is God, get over it and simply live for Him who has saved you!  May God the Father who created you, may God the Son who has redeemed you, and may God the Holy Spirit who sanctifies you, empower you to live a life of wonder and worship until He calls you home!  In Jesus name… AMEN!

God So Loved You!

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

The Second Sunday in Lent (A), March 21, 2011
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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In last the last few weeks we’ve learned that the purpose of all of God’s Word is that we would know Jesus as our Lord and Savior.  Last week we learned that this was the case, even in the very first Words of Genesis… in the beginning!  Well, this morning we shall see that God is love; God is love for you!

 Now, don’t tune out this message simply because you can quote John 3:16; everyone who attended Sunday school for more than a year can do that.  No, you need to understand how God so loves you and that is exactly what this message will declare to us this morning.

I. “There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.” [John 3:1]  Uh, oh!  Another Pharisee out to get Jesus?  No not this one; this Pharisee was known by all to be a good man.  He was on a real journey to live a God-pleasing life.  He’s highly educated and very moral and religious.  He is what others would call an upright man; he is not a hypocrite like many of the other Pharisees; he actually tries to please God!  In verse 10 we are told that he is Israel’s teacher, so we know that he is trying to help others please God as well.  So this man, Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night.  Why?  Well because he doesn’t want the other Pharisees to know that he is seeking out their enemy.  But why is he seeking out Jesus?  Because, he has seen the miracles and he has probably heard some of Jesus’ sermons and the Word of God is beginning to work within his heart.  In essence he wants to know more!

So he approaches Jesus and he starts a conversation in the usual way, he pays Jesus a compliment: “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with Him.” [vs. 2b]  Now if you or I were in Jesus position we would probably repay the compliment; but Jesus is not you or I!  Jesus is instead the Great Physician, and He must get right to work on the soul of Nicodemus.  “Jesus answered him (and said), “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”” [vs. 3] 

 Now that is strange, and Nicodemus thought so too; that’s why he asked, “How can a man be born when he is old (like me)?”  Poor Nicodemus’ mind must have been spinning out of control.  All of his education and religious training had taught him that he was doing everything he could to please God and now Jesus is telling him that he will never get into heaven as he is!  Nicodemus didn’t understand yet, and neither does our world today.  Why?  Because their focus is on what they do and not on what God does!

 So Jesus must adjust the focus of Nicodemus and He must adjust our focus as well!  Listen: “Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” [Vs. 5-6]  Jesus is actually saying that if we keep our focus on what we can do in our flesh, that is on our own we will never get beyond the flesh; that is we will never enter the kingdom of God; we will never inherit eternal life.  He is saying we need a new focus, a new life; we need to have spiritual eyes if we are to understand the work of God’s Spirit! 

 “But how?”  That’s the question of Nicodemus and the question of this unbelieving world!  They ask how because they still have eyes and a heart of flesh!  “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.  So it is with everyone who is born of the Sprit.” [vs. 8]  What is this wind?  It is the Holy Spirit!  And what is its sound?  It is the spoken Word of God; it is the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ.  It’s He who was speaking to Nicodemus, and He who is speaking to you this morning!  Listen to the wind.  You believe in the wind because you can feel it and hear it; you can even see the effect it has around you right?  Well the sound of the wind is also heard in the Word of God.  “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  You hear the Wind of God in these Words as well: “As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn back from their ways and live.” [Ezekiel 33:11]  “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but have eternal life.” [Jn. 3:16]

 In His love for the world God provides the sound of His Holy Wind, the public proclamation of His Word so that we can see His Son, Jesus Christ as our only means of salvation.  Through this means, God wants to call all people to eternal life; He wants to draw all of us unto Himself and to give us new birth.  He does this only through His Holy Wind, the Word of God.  “Since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save (through rebirth) those who believe.” [Acts 11:14]  “So faith comes through the proclamation, and proclamation comes through God’s Word.” [Jn. 17:17, 20]  And it is God’s will that all people should hear this proclamation and come to Jesus Christ.  And Jesus will never push anyone away from Himself, just as the Word of God declares: “Anyone who comes to me I will never drive away.” [Jn. 6:37]  So we see that our salvation is entirely a work of God’s Holy Spirit which He uses to cleanse us and blow new life into us.  It is God alone who “saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” [Titus 3:5]

 II. Jesus told Nicodemus not to marvel at this teaching about this washing of new birth that comes through the Word of God and He is telling you not to be surprised by it as well. Where does this washing and rebirth happen?  Where are we brought to be cleaned from all of our impurities and saved from our sin?  First to the cross and then to the fount; the fountain of Holy Baptism.  Let me show you this in scripture.  Listen to God speak through the prophet Zechariah: “On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.” [Zechariah 13:1]  Do you hear the wind of God blowing and promising a source of salvation outside of the power of sinful men?  Do you hear how God Himself would provide a fountain of cleansing and do you notice that it would do two very specific things?  What are those things?  It will cleanse from sin and impurity!  What is this fountain?  First it is the cross and second it is the font! 

What did Jesus say to Nicodemus about God’s means of providing eternal life?  He said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” [Jn. 3:14-15]  Now why did Jesus feel the need to bring up Moses?  Because Moses and His Law were the very things that Nicodemus was trusting in to please God.  But Jesus wanted Nicodemus and everyone else to see that everything that Moses said and did was done by God so that we would look to  a prophet much greater than Moses; so that we would look to Jesus alone as our only source of hope.  The people with Moses had sinned greatly against God with their grumbling and lack of faith, so God had to get their focus off of their flesh and back to Him; He had to give them eyes of faith; they needed spiritual eyes.  They were being attacked by snakes and they were dying by the thousands; so God had Moses craft a bronze serpent and lift it on a pole.  It they would look to this bronze snake on a poll and trust in God’s means they would live!

So what does this have to do with anything?  Well let’s allow the prophet Zechariah to speak once again: “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who stands next to me,” declares the Lord of hosts. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered; I will turn my hand against the little ones.” [Zechariah 13:7]  Now remember, in the earlier reading from Zechariah God promised to open a fountain that would cleanse the people of their sins, right?  Well this is the day that the fountain would be opened; the day that the Shepherd would be struck!  On that day there would be cleansing for all sinners, and it would come from a fountain that God would open!  Jesus Christ dear friends is the Good Shepherd!  He was the Shepherd who was struck down on the cross.  He is the final provision of salvation that the bronze serpent on the poll of Moses represented!  Remember on the day of our Lord’s death a Roman soldier pierced Jesus side with a spear?  What was the result?  A fountain of water and blood; a fountain of cleansing!  Now we must go to the cross and see Jesus dying in our place; we must go to the cross and see God’s means of cleansing us from all of our sin and uncleanness!  This is love!  The Son of God died for the world so that the world would not have to die!  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For (you see) God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” [Jn. 3:16-17]  But in order for this finished work of Jesus Christ to become yours you must travel by faith to the cross and then to the waters of your own baptism!

 III. It is in baptism, your baptism that God made His love for the world His love for you!  In the waters of your baptism God gave you His gift of forgiveness and cleansed you from all of your sins.  In your baptism God delivered you from death and the devil and gave you eternal life!  In your baptism God made you a disciple and part of the body of Jesus Christ.  Through your baptism you put on Jesus Christ, that is all of His righteousness was made yours through faith in the Gospel that assures you that God so loved YOU that He gave His Son up to death for YOU!  In the waters of your baptism you were buried with Christ into death, so that you would rise with Him into a new and eternal life.  That which IS Spirit has given birth to a new spirit!

 CONCLUSION: How can a person be born again when he is old?  Only by the work of the Spirit, the wind of God which gives eyes of faith and turns simple water in to a spiritual means of rebirth!  Simple water yes, but when it is combined with the powerful Word of God, it becomes God’s means of showing and giving you Jesus Christ.  First that Word shows you Christ high and lifted up upon the cross and then it shows you Christ high and lifted up, ascended and reining with the Father and Spirit in Heaven. 

 Yes friends, that is how God so loves you!  I pray that He continues to give to you eyes of faith that look to Jesus Christ alone as your only means of God’s love and grace… AMEN!

A TRADITION THAT CONTINUES TODAY!

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

A Christian Funeral
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Rev. Brian T. Henderson, Pastor Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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A Song of Ascents. Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord! 2 O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy! 3 If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? 4 But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. 5 I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; 6 my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. 7 O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. 8 And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

Grace, Mercy and Peace to you, from God our Father and our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Long ago, a family tradition was started in a small Wisconsin town called Wild Rose, but the one who helped start it has left us; the tradition was helping the Sorenson family find peace and confidence in God’s Word, specifically with the familiar John 3:16 passage: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son, so that whoever believes and trusts in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life.”  That tradition continued on to other towns with names like Wisconsin Rapids, and Steven’s Pointe.  Oh it was a marvelous tradition of demonstrating exuberant love for God, family, church, and neighbor—the very same love that continues on through all of you who remain here still centered in God’s Word and the forgiving love of Jesus Christ.  A love, which the Sorenson children learned as their mother demonstrated it in a self-giving way; much like the description of the “Proverbs Woman” that we heard described in our Old Testament Lesson.  Yes it is quite a tradition, but the Christian woman, the loving mother who helped start that tradition has left us.   

God’s peace to you, children of Jeanette Louise Sorenson, to you Judy and Dale.  And God’s peace to you Patricia Sorenson, loving and devoted Sister-in-law.

God’s peace to all of you who are part of Jeanette’s Trinity family.  God’s peace to all the rest of you who are Jeanette’s friends, and that peace comes to all of us through the Word of the Lord.  If you, God, kept records on wrongdoings, who would stand a chance?  As it turns out, forgiveness is your habit, and that’s why you’re worshiped.” (Psalm 130:3-4 NLT)

Thank God for that! Because if God kept a record of our wrong doings, if He counted our sins, if He judged our hearts, who would stand a chance? No one would!  We would all be doomed. We cannot stand against the holy and perfect Law of God, because all of us have sinned and fallen short. No one has obeyed his conscience. But there is forgiveness through Jesus Christ. There is reconciliation to the Father, a cleansing of souls in grace, a bestowal of mercy through the death and resurrection of the Son.  Death has been put to the death. The devil has been trounced and Heaven is open, because there is forgiveness in Jesus Christ.

And so it is that Jeanette and so many others, who have gone before her can say that whatever mistakes they may have made, whatever weaknesses they may have struggled with, whatever they may have been guilty of, they have now found peace and grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  You see, it is only with our Lord that any of us—no all of us can finally find God’s undeserved kindness and love. Thank God for that! For without that, there would be no hope for any of us.

This forgiveness, won and paid for by Jesus, is complete for all of us who believe in Him. It is valid, true and its real and Jeanette knew this to be so beyond any doubt, and God wants us to know and believe in this as well.  God’s Word assures us that no matter what sins may have entrapped us in this life, eventually there will be peace and forgiveness because of what Jesus did for everyone. 

You can take great comfort today knowing that Jeanette was rescued by God’s work of forgiveness in a font much like this one, in a little church called Immanuel Lutheran Church of Grand Rapids, Wisconsin.  In 1922, when she was just an infant, Jeanette Louise Sorenson was put to death in the waters of Holy Baptism, and from those Holy waters, through the power of His Word, God raised up a new Jeanette; a person that would forever be loved and who could love Him and all of you in return.

While it is true that Jeanette was a woman loved by God and changed by His grace through Jesus Christ, she would not want you to think that she was some kind of angelic presence.  You see, like the rest of us here today, she also struggled with putting to death her old sinful nature, but it is also true that  she never forgot just what God had done for her at that font in that little church back in 1922.  How do I know this?  Because she told me so many times!  You see I am her pastor, and it was my privilege to minister to her as she courageously fought her battle with brain cancer.  Each day that I would visit her, we would always celebrate some sort of divine service.  And in each meeting, before we heard the Word of God, before we prayed or celebrated Holy Communion, we would enter together into confessions before God.    

At first, before her illness began to really debilitate her, she would recite the confession by memory.  You know it, don’t you?  “O almighty God, merciful Father, I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment.”  But after a couple weeks, as the disease began to advance, it became harder for her to remember things that earlier came so naturally from her lips.  So to compensate, I used the question and answer form of our confession, and it was in these moments that Jeanette Louise Sorenson began to truly teach me just what a strong and steadfast faith and tradition she really passed down to her children.  “Jeanette, do you confess to almighty God that you are a poor, miserable sinner?”  “Well sure.  We better all admit that or we’re in big trouble.”  “Do you confess to our merciful Father that you have sinned against Him in thought, word, and deed?”  “Oh my, yes!”  “Do you believe that our Lord Jesus Christ died for you and shed His blood for you on the cross for the forgiveness of all your sins?”  “I should say so!  Can you believe it?  Isn’t that a wonderful gift!  That’s just what I’ve always taught my children!”  At this point, I would start to fight a little chuckle that was bubbling up, because I wasn’t quite use to a running dialogue during confession, but she tolerated my hesitation as I found my place in rite and continued.  “Do you believe that our Lord Jesus Christ died for you and shed His blood for you on the cross for the forgiveness of all your sins?”  “Oh sure”, she would say.  “What a mess we’ve all made of our lives.  We all have.”  “Yes Jeanette,” I would reply, “all of us have”.  “Well that’s what I always taught my children!”  “OK sister, do you pray God, for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of His beloved Son, to be gracious to you?”  “Oh my, that is exactly what I pray for every day.”  “Finally sister, do you believe that my forgiveness is God’s forgiveness?”  “Well of course!”  “Then let it be done for you as you believe. In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  “Amen.  Can you believe it?  Just like that.  Isn’t God’s love something pastor?”  Yes sister, it sure is!”  “Honestly” she replied, “I don’t know how some people can even live without that kind of good news!”

That was Jeanette; a faith so simple yet so strong; a faith so childlike and yet so mature.  What a wonderful question she poses to us this morning.  “Honestly, how can anyone even live without believing in that kind of good news?”  Dear friends, on this side of glory we all live in the midst of temptation and sorrow. Like King David before us, we all must learn to live with our past, but also like King David we must learn to look to the future and proclaim, “As it turns out (O Lord), forgiveness is your habit, and that’s why you’re worshiped.” We need God’s forgiveness, his undeserved kindness every day, every hour, and every minute. And without fail, God is always ready to give it. His forgiveness is constant and unchanging. He gives us all that we need for this faith. He calls us to hear His Word and receive His Holy Supper right here in this very church, and churches throughout this World, so that like Jeanette, we too may come to know His peace. 

Long ago, a tradition was started in the ancient church, through the work of God the Son alone.  And the one who started that tradition still lives with us and reigns as almighty God today; and that tradition was to announce and provide God’s peace to all of you who believe in Him.  To all of you who have come to mourn the loss of Jeanette Louise Sorenson, –your Mother, your Sister,  and your Friend: God the Father’s peace be upon you to enlighten your heart to His Word of truth about eternal life for His children–even for His beloved Jeanette. Christ’s gracious peace shine upon you to bring the light of everlasting gladness to break up the gloom of your sadness over the peace that Jeanette has now received from her Savior. The Holy Spirit of God dwell within you, that you may know the peace that He brings to you on this day and for all of your days–and even forevermore.   In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

God Is Love!

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

Trinity Sunday, June 7, 2009

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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“Whoever desires to be saved must above all, hold the “universal” Christian faith.  And the “universal” Christian faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance.” [vs. 1-3 of the Athanasian Creed]

God is one.  There is only one God.  The one God exists from eternity as one God.  God alone is eternal.  Would it surprise you to know that there are many other religions that will agree with you?  In fact, they will appeal to this very truth in an attempt to draw you away from your own Christian faith?  You see, in addition to confessing that God is one, we Christians also confess that God is love, in fact we say that love is the very essence of God.  Now these other religions will never deny that God loves but they won’t agree that love is the essence of who God is.  They will argue that although God loves, love can’t be His essence, because that would make Him dependent on someone, and God depends on no one.  But this kind of argument is false because it ignores the very essence of God.  The true God is indeed one, but just believing in this fact doesn’t mean a person is worshiping the true God; for you see, the one true God is also united within Trinity, and within His Triune nature God is love.  The only God who exists is the Triune God.  Any god who isn’t triune isn’t God because a god who isn’t triune can’t be love, and God is love.  Dear friends, please don’t ever let anyone lead you away from this truth because it is crucial to your very salvation.  If God wasn’t love then he wouldn’t have suffered and died upon the cross for you! [1] 

 

I. God’s love isn’t an attribute that makes Him dependent on us, but rather it’s an attribute that defines His very essence as God in regards to the relationship shared between the three persons within the One Godhead.  When we say God is love we are also saying that God could not be love unless He was Triune.  You see, there’s an eternal unity of love between the Father who begets and generates the Son who is begotten.  This eternal unity of divine love exists as well between the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit who is sent from the two of them.  But as I told the children, this is far too high for us to grasp.  After all, He is the Creator and we are the creature!

 

Dear friends, while completely understanding God is far above us, we can know about Him by paying attention to what He has already revealed about Himself.  We know from scripture that the Father has generated or begotten the Son on many occasions.  It was the Son and two angels who visited Abraham outside of Sodom and Gomorra to warn Abraham of the pending destruction of the two cities, so that his nephew Lot might be saved.  It was God the Son generated by the Father who took on the form of a burning bush so that Moses might behold some of the Lord’s glory and receive God’s Law that would teach Israel how to relate rightly to a Holy and loving God.  There are many more instances throughout scripture that demonstrate that God the Father generates or begets the Son in order to accomplish the purpose of God, but for us, the best example is found in John 1:And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” [John 1:14]

Do you hear in those words how the Son is now forever generated or begotten in human flesh yet He still eternally possesses eternal glory, grace and truth.  Together the Father and the Son send the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit.  It was God the Spirit who was hovering over the face of the waters in the very beginning of creation. He was sent by the Father and the Son, and together they created the heavens and the earth—He was sent by these Words: ““Let there be light,” and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good. [Genesis 1:1-4]  Like a marvelous symphony God’s Word’s of Love spoke forth creation and goodness.  It was an eternal love generated and sent from the heart of the One true God who has revealed Himself in three persons.  But we must not divide the person’s from the One True God or we will loose His essence, which is love.  What do I mean by this?

 

You see, while it is the Father who generates or begets, and it is the Son who is begotten but not made, and it is the Holy Spirit who is sent together by the Father and the Son, there are not three God’s but One. As One, the three persons created everything that there is together.  The divine mystery of God’s triune nature is this: As One they have always existed and since God does not change they will always be One in glory and majesty.  When we pray to our Lord in heaven we do not pray to three Lords, but rather we pray to one Lord because the Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, and the Holy Spirit is Lord.  Three persons united eternally in One essence of love, which is God!  So why am I talking about an eternal relationship of love into which you and I could never find our way?  

II. Because friends, God has created a way—He has brought His love to us!  In so doing He has established fellowship with us.  But in order to enjoy all of the benefits of this relationship (eternal grace, mercy, and peace with God and each other), we must also faithfully believe that God the Son took on human flesh.  God did this not because He needed to, but rather He did it because He is love.  We are the ones in need!  We need God to come to us.  Although God’s voice declared that all that He had made in the beginning was good, it was our own sinfulness that forever turned good into evil.  In our natural condition, there is not a single thing that we can do to save ourselves…we need God’s mercy, pardon, and forgiveness.  And yet the punishment for our own sin is death, eternal separation from God’s love.  But as a true champion, our saving God came to us in our own human flesh and paid for our sins Himself.  In Jesus Christ, the entire God came to us.  Our Creator wrapped Himself in creation, because only He could remedy our hopeless situation.  Why do I say the entire God came to us?  Because, remember, we can never divide the essence of God.  God always acts as one because He is one.   

Friends, it was this same Jesus who lived a sinless life on our behalf.  It was this same Jesus who allowed Himself to be put to death by sinful men.  He did not have to do this but rather He chose to suffer and die for us, because God is love.  Please hear me, “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men,(because it was your sins that compelled God out of love to suffer and die for you.  But be of good cheer), God (has) raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” [Acts 2:23-24]  By His stripes you have been healed.  By His suffering and death you have been released from the eternal punishment for your many sins!  By God’s love you have been saved! 

At the baptismal font God’s work of re-creation was activated for you; there at the font, you were “Born Again!”  All of the benefits of Jesus’ suffering and death were given to you.  The old sinful man and woman that was your identify at birth has now been put to death through His same Word of creation that was spoken “In The Beginning.” This re-creation of life from death is now yours because of God’s own suffering and death through Christ Jesus! [Jn 3]  Dear friends, do you see what a wonderful gift of love is now yours?  You have been freed from your former body of death and you have been given a new life.  Please, don’t take lightly what God has done for you.  Rather, embrace it and cherish this gift.  Live out this new life with certainty that it is yours.  We must not doubt that this gift is ours, because it was given out of God’s love.  And yet when the troubles of life creep in, we do doubt, and that is why Jesus has not left us alone in this life as orphans.  He promises that He and the Father are still with us in love, because He has sent us the gift of the Holy Spirit, and where the Holy Spirit is, there also are the Father and the Son, because God is One! 

 

It is the Holy Spirit who moves our hearts to hunger for hearing and studying God’s Word.  It is the Holy Spirit that causes us to remember God’s saving love when we remember our own baptism.  It is the Holy Sprit that creates a hunger within us to gather at the Lord’s Table where we receive His very body and blood when we eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins.  It is the Holy Spirit that creates in us a clean heart when we hear the sweet words of absolution, which in turn continually moves us to come to God in prayer, knowing by faith that He hears our confession and will always forgive and love us.

 

III. Dear friends, because God is One and God is love, and because we are called into fellowship with Him by love, then we are also called into the fellowship of His Mission to seek and save those that are lost and dying, separated from His love because of sin.  When we cry out in confession, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a sinner, and I live in the midst of a society of sinners,” God in His love for us, through His Holy Spirit, touches our hearts with the Gospel, and says, “Behold, your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” [Is. 6:4-8]  And by the work of the same Spirit, God speaks to our hearts and asks: “Whom shall I send, and who will go out to the world for us?”  And by the work of the same Spirit we are moved to respond, “Here am I!  Send me!” [Is. 6:8]

 

 Friends, the mission of the church is your mission!  It comes from the heart of the Father, and from the Son who is the very message of the mission. This message, which you have been given is nothing less than the good news about the incarnation, suffering and death of Jesus Christ for everyone.  The message is that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  [John 3:16]

If the source of mission is God the Father and the message of the mission is God the Son, then what part does God the Holy Spirit play?  Dear friends, the Holy Spirit is the very power of God’s mission.  MISSION IS HOLY SPIRIT POWERED! 

What this means for us is that God’s mission can’t fail because He is the very source, message and power of that mission.  God has invited us to work with Him in His mission.  For you see, God desires to use simple means to perform mighty miracles in order to confound the supposed wisdom of the devil and sinful men.  Along with His Word, God uses simple water, bread, and wine, and He chooses to use you and me!  He uses us when we speak His Word and give our witness to our neighbor.  And who is our neighbor?  Anyone that God puts in our daily lives!  Won’t you give it a try?  Won’t you tell others about your love for God?  Tell them how you were saved at the baptismal font.  Tell them how you grow in His Word and how your faith is nourished at His Holy table!  Why not invite a friend to come with you to church.  Don’t worry, you won’t be alone when you do these things…remember, you’re on a mission that is powered by the Holy Spirit!

 

CONCLUSION: Well this morning dear friends, we have learned that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are united together as one in love; in love for each other and God’s love for us, and together we are led together by faith so that God may strengthen and grow His Church which is centered in His love.  And to this truth let’s bow our heads and pray:  “Teach us to love our neighbor dear Lord as you love us, and lead on O Lord, and let us be one in missionary zeal as you are always One—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  …AMEN!

 


A paraphrase of an idea expressed in a professional paper by Rev. Rolf Preus-ALC April 2003