Archive for the ‘Pentecost C’ Category

What Makes You Come Alive?

Sunday, May 19th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost C, May 19th, 2013

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“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”  [John 14:26]

This is the answer to the how questions that we Christians so often ask of God, and it is the answer to the questions our unbelieving friends ask of us.  “How can I make it through this?”  “How can I find the strength to get up, and to go on?”  “How can you believe in an invisible God?”  The answer, of course, is that on our own, that is with out the help of God we can not, but because of the work of the Holy Spirit, we not only will make it through what ever this world and the devil throw at us, we will in fact thrive after we pass through it.  Not only do we find strength to get up and go, but we get up and go with a purpose.  Not only do we believe in what the sinful world calls an invisible God, but we also hear and follow Him everywhere He leads.

Now to this response, some may ask, “How can that be?”  And our answer is that we abide in Christ.  That is that through the work and gift of the Holy Spirit, who uses God’s Word and Sacraments to give faith, we not only believe that Jesus is with us, we abide in that truth!  This is what Jesus means in verse 23 of our Gospel reading (John 14:23–31) when He says, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”

Do you remember when Jesus used a vine as an illustration to describe what it means to love Him and trust Him?  He said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” [John 15:5]  On the screen is a picture of a grape vine my wife has been tending to for almost 20 years.  Do you see how thick and sturdy it is?  Its roots go down deep and wide.  But that is nothing compare to its many branches that grow and thrive above the ground.  Look at this other picture now; can you see how it’s branches are growing and thriving up above?

In our children’s message, I held up a branch of that vine and asked the children if they could guess how many grapes I would get off of that branch if I took care of it.  Of course they eventually understood that I wouldn’t get anything off of it, because apart from the vine, it was dead.  They understood that eventually that branch would dry up and be thrown away.  It was hopeless… without being part of the vine.  The branch lives because it is part of the vine.  When it abides in the vine, it is as if its life song is “Glory to the vine in the highest, and peace to the branches who abide!”

In our Old Testament lesson (Genesis 11:1–9), this is the very thing that God wanted the people to understand.  After the world was destroyed by the flood, God kept for Himself faithful Noah and his family as a way to restart fallen creation.  He wanted them to continue to be faithful and go throughout the earth and multiply.  He wanted their ancestors to remember that apart from living a life centered in Him, in His glorious presence with them, they would not have life.  He wanted them by faith to be obedient to His call to repopulate the earth with a people who knew Him and loved Him.  But something terrible happened… the subsequent generations began to forget about their God.  They became full of pride and no longer wished to venture out populating the earth, so they attempted to detach themselves from God’s presence.  They no longer gathered around His Word, which told them to go.  They thought that like the branch I showed the children, they could sprout roots and live; thrive with out the God who created them.  “Glory to man in the highest, and peace to their children who build!”

But what should we expect from a branch?  Not only can they not live outside of the vine, they can’t even no what’s best for them.  And this is the very message that God communicated to them when He came down and confused their language.  Now, instead of acting as one sinful heart and mind, they would be force into an obedience that God wanted to come out of them willingly, by faith.  When God confused their language He was punishing them for acting as if they were the vine; as if they were God!  “I am the LORD,” He has told us.  “I will not give my glory to another (Isaiah 42:8).”  It is as if He is saying, “In Me only do you have life and move and have your being.” [Acts 17:28]

Has anything really changed today?  Yes, I know, man did go forth and multiply; the earth is full of people, but what kind of people?  Don’t we still, each of us deep down inside, like to have things are own way?  Don’t nations still go to war against each other because we do not abide in the God who created us?  Isn’t there an abundance of resources available controlled by a few; enough to feed, clothe, and house the worlds poorest and yet we do not share?  So what’s the answer?  Is it politics?  Is it war?  Civil unrest? Communism or socialism?  No, it is none of those things.  The answer to these problems is you… or rather you who are abiding in Christ… you who love Him because He first loved you… you who keep His Word and are loved by the Heavenly Father.

It is you and the rest of us who make up the church, who are fed and nourished by God’s own Word and Sacraments; you who have heard the message of the cross, the emblem of not just suffering and shame, but God’s love for the entire world.  It is you who are a product of God’s mighty work of rebirth through the water and His life giving and life sustaining Word, who are then equipped to allow God to do even more mighty deeds through you.  You love Jesus, because you know that through His atoning suffering and death you have been forgiven of so much.  It is you alone who can love Jesus and please God by singing “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to His people on earth.”

But what about those who don’t love Jesus; those who won’t abide in Him by keeping His Word?  Well that is where the mighty work of God is continued through those of us who do!  We are a branch of the vine for a reason.  We abide in Him and He has made His home in us as individuals and as a church for a purpose.  We are to share His Word with those who still want to make a name for themselves, apart from resting in God’s glory.

In our epistle reading (Acts 2:1-21), we see God’s solution to both our problem of wandering and the problems of those who will not abide, or receive and rest in His real presence in their lives; it is the Word of God and the Spirit of God that is received in that Word.

Prior to that first day of Pentecost, God’s Spirit was thought to be almost the exclusive possession of the Jews.  Through their own selfish sin of pride, they forgot once again that they were to go forth and multiply; that is they were to share God’s desire of restoration with all humankind.  But just as God acted in a mighty way at the tower of Babel, so He acted on Pentecost.  In St. Peter’s sermon, His text came from the prophet of Joel, listen: “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.”  Who does God want to save?  All sinful human flesh!  “For 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]

And now, witness dynamic proof, once and for all that God is serious about not sharing His glory with anyone or anything.  Witness the explanation mark upon Jesus declaration of “It is finished” before He gave His last life breath upon the cross for all sinful creation.  The Holy Spirit was in the house; like tongues of fire He appeared and He was saying that He is getting ready to make all things right.  He is going to make sure that all of those sinful branches that are disconnected from the vine understand that apart from Jesus there is no hope of life.

But the Holy Spirit is not just in the house, He’s out in the streets like a locomotive; like a tornado, tearing down strongholds, powers, and principalities, all so that God’s people can speak the gospel to their neighbors, just as Peter did!  Wouldn’t it have been a shame if the disciples never left the upper-room of that building?  Over 3000 people would not have heard the gospel Word, and would not have been returned to the vine that gives them life.

Isn’t it a shame if we refuse to go out into our community and speak gospel words of life to our neighbors who are also dying?

This morning God wants you to know that He still pours out His Spirit on all flesh; He wants His people who are separated from Him by sin to know that He still is coming to them.  We who believe in Jesus—are those whom the Spirit has called and gathered.  We are being enlightened and sanctified by God’s means for a purpose.  We are to prove to our neighbors that there is a God who loves them.  When we meet them, we are to invite them to come to the same vine that nourishes and strengthens us.  We are to invite them to come to church, even our little church and simply abide; to love Jesus who first loved them.  This morning Jesus wants us to know that through the Holy Spirit, He and the Father are targeting everyone with the same message of forgiveness.  While it is true that we may encounter closed doors, or broken branches that refuse to abide, who refuse to hear our testimony about God’s forgiving love, the Spirit of the Lord, the Holy Spirit, is still going about His work and will continue to do so without pause, until the very last day.

What makes you come alive?  Abiding in the vine; being obedient to go forth and multiply.  I pray that you will remember that without being a part of Christ’s church, that is apart from His Word and Sacraments, you can do nothing, but wither and die.  But by resting in Christ, receiving His means of grace, through the mighty power of the Holy Spirit, you will not only abide, you will thrive.  I ask you then to both abide and thrive, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Prophecy Fulfilled at Pentecost

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

Pentecost Sunday, May 23, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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“We all need a little good news once in a while,” so goes the old saying.  But if we pay attention to our Bible, and especially to this morning’s scripture readings we would say rather, “We always need good news—all of the time.”  The good news of course is the gospel, and we need to hear the Gospel all of the time because we sin daily.  Our second lesson this morning is the fulfillment of our Gospel reading where Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you.  But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, who the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. [John 14:25,26]  This is the “Gospel Promise” that Jesus left the Church just before His ascension.  It is His promise he gives to you today.  It is “good news” for you, if you will only believe.

The first time God shared the gospel with us was immediately after the very first sin.  When Adam and Eve were encouraged by the devil to do the only thing God said they could not do, eat from the tree of knowledge.  When they did this, they committed the first sin.  In one bite they exchanged God’s truth and love for a lie (You will be like God.  You will become wise).  Instead of finding wisdom they found misery; instead of becoming like God they became separated from Him.  But God in His love would not let mankind suffer in this state; in His love God demonstrated His mercy by immediately proclaiming the Gospel.  Speaking directly to the devil, but for the benefit of mankind, God said: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” [Gen. 3]  In these words, God promised that the savior of mankind would come as a descendant of Adam and Eve, and it was in the work of this Savior that God would restore mankind into a right relationship with Him. 

 Now, many years after this, God examined the earth and He found that evil had completely overtaken the face of the earth and according to His judgment all that was evil must be removed from the face of the earth through the means of a flood; but God was able to find one family that still wanted to walk with Him by faith; Noah and his family alone placed their faith in God’s gospel of hope; a gospel that proclaimed the coming of a Savior who would make it possible for all people to once again relate to God in love.  Once saved from the flood, Noah’s sons and their families were told to go out into the new world and spread throughout the land and repopulate it with people who like them wanted to relate to God in this spirit of repentance and hope in the coming Savior.  But, as is always the case, they soon ignored God’s command and they gathered as one people in one place.  They went no farther than Mesopotamia, an area today we would call Iraq. 

 The descendants of Ham, a son of Noah who became a powerful people and they began to oppress the other descendants of Noah.  They wanted to make a name for themselves; they wanted to rule over all others in the place of God.  They built a tower; a tower that seemed to reach up to the very heavens screaming at God, “Look at us!  Look at what we have done without you!”  Now the other descendants of Noah wanted to fit in; they did not want to be different, so they went along with this strange building project, and when they joined in, they chose the way of man over the ways of God.  Once again, mankind traded God’s truth and mercy for a lie.  They wanted to live as if God did not matter, as if He didn’t notice their sin!  But God did take notice: “And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.” [Gen. 11:6] 

Their sin was like that of Adam and Eve; they wanted to be independent of God.  And like Adam and Eve, they too would be banished from their land and forced to do what God had commanded through Noah, to inhabit the earth. “Come, let us go down and there and confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.” [vs. 7-8]  Here God was saying essentially, “In their prideful condition they no longer desire to know me, they no longer realize that they need me.  I must dissolve their pride, and remind them of their need for my love and mercy.  They must again look to the coming of the promised Savior.”

In our New Testament reading (Acts 2), we see how God ensured that His message of grace, the good-news that was first proclaimed in the Garden of Eden, would be proclaimed to all people on the face of the earth.  It was the day of Pentecost, or the Jewish Harvest festival; a one day event where Jews from all over the earth were invited back to Jerusalem, to give a Thank Offering to God for His goodness in providing an abundant harvest.  There were people from all over the known world in and around the temple area; each with their own national language, yet all were Jews who fluently spoke and read Hebrew.  And then there were the apostles and disciples of Jesus, about 150 of them, including women and children.  They were gathered somewhere in a large building near the temple; something similar to our fellowship hall.  It was about 9:00 a.m., and they were seated on the floor listening to one of the Apostles (probably Peter); most likely they were trying to figure out what Jesus great commission meant to them; for these were the last words He spoke to them just before He ascended into heaven.  The disciples must have been asking the apostles questions like, “What did Jesus mean when He said he was with us even until the end of time?  He has left us to be with the Father, so how is He with us?”

Peter would not have time to formulate an answer, because out of no where, a very loud noise, like tornado approached their building, and filled the room.  It was the sound of wind, without the wind.  ILLUST: I am a witness to a tornado, and it sounds just like a very loud train is bearing down on you.  IT IS FRIGHTENING!  Now that God had their attention, He was about to remind them, in a miraculous way that Jesus ALWAYS keeps His Word!  The promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit was about to be fulfilled!  Somewhere in the center of the room appeared a large flame; I would imagine that it was similar to the burning bush that Moses saw on Mt. Sinai.  That alone must have frightened the group, but then it did something very new, God’s Holy Spirit became very personal; it divided into many parts, and the parts spread out and began to hover over each person’s head.  Now, fear was replaced with awe, as each one stood on their feet and being led by the Holy Spirit, they began to make their way outside of the building, and into the street.

They were probably in a public square somewhere near the temple because a huge crowd had gathered outside of their building, most likely because of the great sound of the wind that passed from the street into their meeting room.  Now as each disciple, being led by the Spirit of God proceeded outside, they began praising God in a new language that was foreign to them; it was a language that exactly matched the languages of the foreign Jews who gathered at the temple for Pentecost.  Each one heard something like a hymn of praise, in their own native language.  The majority of the people stood in awe.  Someone in the crowd must have known that the disciples were those who had been with Jesus; that they were simple people from Galilee that “should not” have been able to speak these languages so fluently, because the comment was made, “Aren’t all of these people who are speaking Galileans?  So, how is it that we hear, each of us in his own language?  ”  [Vs. 7, 8]

 What a wonderful demonstration of God’s miraculous power!  This was the first recorded miracle God performed after Jesus ascension into heaven, but it certainly would not be the last, in fact, the book of Acts is loaded with miracle after miracle.  God used these miracles starting with this gift of tongues to propel the church throughout the world in such a way as to ensure its growth, very much like how God used the confusion of languages to compel men and woman to spread throughout the earth.  Now God was ensuring that each and every person would hear the praise of God in their own “heart” language.  Through the gift of tongues God demonstrated that His mighty Spirit was leading His church at a time when such a witness was needed.   

Back to our story, Peter now takes his place among the disciples, and he hears some from the crowd proclaim that the disciples praising God are probably drunk!  With this word, the devil once again attempted to take the focus of attention off of the Creator and place it instead on the creature.  But God would not be silent; He could not!  At this very moment Peter’s gift of the Holy Spirit was activated—the gift of prophecy!  Filled with the Spirit, Peter recalled Jesus’ own Words: “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you.  But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, who the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” [John 14:25,26]  Praise God, the Helper had come in a mighty way.  And now led by the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ real presence went out to his people from the mouth of Peter.  Peter continued God’s plan from the beginning, he preached the Gospel.

Dear friends, Peter’s sermon makes it clear that God’s Spirit will be poured out on the last days.  When are the last days?  They are now!  The last days are every day after Jesus suffered, died, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven and sent in his place the Helper, the Holy Spirit, who causes our hearts to respond to God’s call of repentance: “Turn away from your sin and turn towards Jesus Christ.  Confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that Jesus is your Lord and Savior, and you will be saved.”  Yes, the last days are today.  Today, Jesus calls out to us through the Holy Spirit, to turn away from a life that has us our desires as the most important thing, and turn towards Him. And by His Holy Spirit, our hearts are moved to confess our sinfulness to Him and then turn towards Jesus as our only source of help.  Only faith in Jesus Christ, the living Word of God can transform you, renew you, and bring meaning to your life.  In vs. 17 He promises this very thing to you: “And in the last days it shall be, declares the Lord, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams.” [vs. 17]

 Dear saints, you are those sons and daughters that will prophesy and see visions.  Young people, God’s Word specifically mentions you.  There are none too young or too old to receive God’s Spirit, because that Spirit was first given to you at your Baptism.  Do you believe it?  Then live this truth and allow God’s Spirit to keep hold of it and  cherish it.  Call out to Him and He sill save you!  “To call upon the Lord’s name” means to call out to him for the forgiveness of sins and it means to believe that you have been forgiven.  To call upon His name is to call upon God’s mercy as proclaimed in His gospel; it is a gift that you neither earned nor deserved, yet it is yours!  It is the same gospel that God first proclaimed to Adam and Eve, and the one you first received at your Baptism.  And when we are changed by this gospel, the result will be that we will prophesy.  We will share the good news, the saving and blessed will of God to people everywhere.  With God as the center of your world, your vision is his vision—He uses your talents and abilities in a way that is sure to astound you.  Think of it—He will use you to impact the world, the people around you, in a way that will both glorify Him and lead others to know Him also.   

Dear friends, Jesus said to Peter and the other apostles just before his death, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. [John 14:27]  Through the work of the Holy Spirit and His means of grace, Jesus actually gives and leaves His peace to each of you this morning and for eternity.  It is this very peace that all people since the first sin of Adam and Eve have been hoping to receive; trusting in God by faith that the Messiah would come.  He has come and he suffered, died, rose, and ascended for you!  HE IS RISEN!  And all God’s people say, “HE IS RISEN INDEED!”  AMEN!