Archive for the ‘Revelation 7:9-17’ Category

Are You Ready For Separation?

Sunday, November 1st, 2015

All Saints Sunday, November 1, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared;” [1 John 3:2a]

Think about those words for a moment; what do they mean to you?  Do we really understand what it means to call God our Father, and the Son of God our brother?  How will we think differently about those Words when we leave this world and see and speak to God face to face?  When we are living and praising God with “All Saints” who are arrayed in white?

I am reminded of my youth during the Apollo missions, watching in amazement as each one of the rockets were launched.  Each one started out like a tall building upon the launching pad, until those four words, that to a young boy seemed like magic were spoken: “Houston, we have ignition.”  And then, “Houston, we have lift off.”  And then the real magic took place; some how the cameras were able to follow that rocket being propelled by a continuous explosion of fire for miles into the sky, and when the camera on the ground was no longer able to detect the rocket, “Presto!”  Just like that, a camera attached to the space capsule began to report its images.  Now this is where, the part I especially liked came to happen; the first stage rocket was separated from the second stage with a small explosion, and still the rocket continued forward, until after a few minutes the second stage did the very same thing.  And then, the words I loved to hear were spoken, “Houston, we have separation.”

Are you ready for separation?  Are you ready to shed the things of this world so that you can finally realize perfectly, who God says you already are?

Living a life that leads to separation can be difficult and tumultuous; full of terrifying fire and explosions of emotions. It is both beautiful and frightening all at the same time. Our first reading (Revelation 7:9-11) calls life before separation a tribulation.  Here in this existence of flesh we live, just as untold millions of saints before and after us have lived; saints that make up the church, who have existed since the fall of Adam and Eve.  And each one of us in our own time have been buffeted and attacked by sin, the threat of death, and the devils, and the entire time we are asked by God to simply trust Him,  that our time of tribulation will end soon, and when it does, we will see that it was simply a stage of life that led us to where the saints before us had already passed… into eternity in Paradise.

But is there strength enough to wait?  Yes, in these words…

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” [1 John 3:1a]  Make no mistake friends, this little word love is not the kind of love that the world so easily gives out in all of its many sinful forms.  This love of God is not fickle, temporary, or conditional.  No, this kind of agape love, is the love of full comprehension and understanding, yet its propelled as unstoppable until it sees you through until your final separation.

What I mean by that, is that God loves you even though He knows your every sinful thought and action.

Jesus, the very Son of God came into our flesh and lived through the many tribulations of betrayal, and even death, so that you would be assured that God understands the many temptations you resist and sometimes fall to, and because He understands, He forgives.

God understands the harsh reality of this sinful world that we live in as strangers.  He loves you, and through His Word and sacraments He is sustaining you, just as He did for the saints who have gone before you.  Why?  Because through faith in the life and death of His Son Jesus Christ upon the cross, He has made a way for you to be His child, and through this same Jesus Christ, He has given you a way to know that for sure, He is your Father.

But then why must we experience so much pain, hardships, and tribulations in this stage of life if God loves us so?  Because…

You have not yet separated from this stage of existence.  You are still in this world where all of God’s Christians are called aliens and strangers.  Listen: “The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”[1 John 3:1b]  This is why the church is asked to not just preach the gospel hope for today, but the certainty of that hope for the eternal tomorrow; the time when God calls us to go to our new home in paradise restored.  And I hope, that we have been doing an acceptable job of it, but let’s put it to the test, shall we?  Please fill in the blank for both of these hymns:  “I’m but a stranger here, ________ is my home.” [LSB 748]  “Have no fear little flock, for the Father has chosen to give you ________;”  [LSB 740]  But these hymns would be pointless if they did not have the seal of authenticity of Jesus behind them.  Listen to Jesus’ words about where our trials and tribulations in this world are leading us, and allow them to speak faith into your hearts…

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.  Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” [Matthew 5:3-12]

Wonderful words of Comfort and Hope, are they not?

So why must we experience these tribulations of life? Because you have not yet separated into that final stage; we’re still in that 2nd stage of Living the new life under the reality and hope of Holy Baptism, where we have been given the promise of new and eternal life.  Maybe we can better understand this stage of life by thinking back to our first stage, before the first separation; I’m speaking about our prenatal nine month stage, before we were born.

No one here this morning, would regard that nine-month period as the whole meaning of life, where nothing else exists. By now we know better.  But let’s just say, by way of illustration, that during our pre-natal life we had the capacity to think, to hope or not hope, and so on. And let us add that while in our mother’s womb we got word that another life was waiting for us, a life that might last an incredibly long time of eighty or ninety years or more. The new world we would someday enter would contain light in which we could see things and vast reaches of space in which we could move around. It would contain towering skyscrapers, majestic mountains, strange looking creatures called animals, large plants called trees, four-wheeled vehicles traveling at shocking speeds; why we were told there were even towers that are propelled into space by an explosion of fire called rockets. Someday, we were assured, we would be able to do such impossible things as walk and talk. What’s more, we wouldn’t be alone in this vast new world; there would be millions of other creatures similar to our self. Yet strangest of all would be the mode of entering this new world, a rather perilous process called birth, involving pain, danger, doctors, and hospitals, a process we would never guess could thrust us into such a beautiful life as we live at presently.

Now what reaction might an unborn child have toward this talk of another and more abundant life, assuming that an unborn child can have reactions? In spite of the fact that the child couldn’t possibly understand what earthly life would be like, that child could still believe in it and look forward to it. And doing that, would make the child’s nine-month existence much more pleasant. Or conversely, the child could be a realist and assume that the dark, warm, and enveloping womb that is home, is all that there is to life, and beyond that dreaded process called birth there is nothing more but the end. All this talk about another life is just wishful thinking, and one might better make the most of what they’ve got.

Then comes the day—the day of birth. It turns out true, after all, gloriously true! There is another life. You can live eighty or ninety years, or more! There are such things as light and space and skyscrapers and mountains and animals and plants and fast-moving vehicles and rockets!  You can walk and talk. And this dreaded process called birth, in spite of appearances, turns out, after all, to be the gateway to this new and wonderful world.

I’m sure you see where we’re going with this illustration. Our present life is not the climax of life; it is but a phase in our journey, until our final separation. In relation to the heavenly life, we might call it a pre-natal stage. We have it on good word—God’s word— that there is another life, another world ahead of us called heaven. In it we shall live unbelievably long—forever! It is a world without space or time. Angels will share mansions with us. We shall behold the face of God. We shall see him as he is. In fact, we shall be like him. All the ills and inconveniences of this present life, chief of which is sin, will have vanished. We’ll be with all those who have gone ahead of us, even the ones we love and miss who went to sleep in Jesus before us!

Dear friends, it will be a great day when Jesus calls us home to glory.  We will behold the Lamb of God, and along with the host arrayed in white, we will behold His nail scared hands, and simply stand before His throne of grace and call out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord.”  But that great day has not yet come for us who are called children of God, and yet are still sojourners in this sinful world.  We know that because God calls us His children, we are!  And we also know that there is no stage of existence beyond that final state of separation.  And in this knowledge we not only wait in hope for this final stage of separation, but in this hope we are being purified just as Christ is pure. [1 John 3:3]

Listen, the world will give you all kinds of things that they claim you should hope in.  They will offer you the brother and sisterhood of man and claim that there is no greater calling than to work towards that hope.  They will offer you the hope of science, world order, and the proper disbursement of wealth as the solution to our many ills.  But this morning God assures us, that kind of hope is simply sinking sand, because it’s foundation is not centered on Christ and His cross; the place where God made He and man right with each other.

Are you ready for that final stage of separation, where God shows you that His Son, your Savior has indeed made all things new?  I pray that you are, and I ask God to continue doing this very thing within you and around you, in Jesus  name… AMEN!

You Can Hear Him!

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Easter 4C, April 20th, 2013

Click here for audio of this message

My Sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. [John 10:27]

As our nation gathers together to morn and sort out the events surrounding the terrorist attack against those gathered at the Boston Marathon, as our fellow country men, there and across this  great  nation gather for moments of silence and combined “all-faith” worship services, you have instead come here; to God’s house.  For most of you, this is not unusual, because you do the very  same thing most every Sunday.  For some who are visitors this morning at Trinity, or visitors to my website, you may be listening to or reading this sermon with the intent of trying to find some  comfort or perhaps find a higher purpose to all of the fear and suffering, let me repeat the Words of Jesus again: “My Sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”

Can you hear Jesus speaking to you in those Words?  If so, good!  Continue hearing; listen to His Words and you will find strength and comfort.  To those of you who may answer, “No” or  “I’m  not sure,” that is alright; you should continue to listen as well, because you see, it is only by listening to the Word of God that you will find faith and be able to hear the voice of Jesus’ speaking to  you.

A truth that is even sadder than the Boston carnage is the fact that there are many people in this world who will not not hear Jesus speaking to them.  They demand new proofs and evidence all  while dismissing the great proofs that have already been recorded for them.  It is as if they are calling out with unbelievers in our gospel lesson (John 10:22-30): “If you are the Christ, tell us  plainly.”  And as Jesus answered the unbelievers then, so He answers them today: “I (have) told you, and you do not believe.  The works I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep.” [John 10:25, 26]

Why don’t they believe?  Because they are not among Jesus sheep, so they don’t hear His voice.  But their lack of hearing; their lack of believing isn’t Jesus’ fault, it is their own.  Jesus speaks to them; He desires them to hear, but they will not.  They choose instead to hear many other voices that call out to us through out the world.  For instance…

They will hear the voice of Hedonism.  A voice that discourages higher learning and critical thinking, and instead encourages a generation of Reality T.V. to “Party on… eat, drink, and be merry!”  Or…

Then there is the voice of Materialism, which constantly pressures us to buy things.  “Buy, buy, buy” it says, “until you find contentment.  You deserve to be happy and experience the good life.”  And as we follow that voice, we become so caught up in acquiring more possessions, that those left in need, suffering in poverty go without, and finally die because we would not help.  And …

Then there is the voice of Narcissism—Self-centeredness that constantly encourages us to join in singing the hymn of all fallen and sinful creation: “It’s all about me; it’s all about I; it’s all about me oh my, oh my!”  Within this voice, are the various word of faith leaders and “possibility thinking” hucksters and philosophers who want us to “Tap into the great potential that is you!”  This voice really makes the voice of Christ unneeded, because if you believe their message, you can be your own savior!

And finally, there are the voices of the religious fanatics.  Their voice is perhaps the most dangerous, as they teach that change, their kind of change, must come from outside of a society, and it must come by force, fear, intimidation, and death if necessary.

So what voice are you really hearing?  Which voice has won your attention; has peeked your interest?  If it isn’t Jesus’ voice, then again I repeat, it is not Jesus’ fault.  He has spoken to you repeatedly, but you will not hear; you will not believe.  His works, His suffering and death upon the cross and His resurrection from the dead verify that He is the very Son of God.  The lives of Christians living in peace and seeking peace from others, with no fear of death is also proof that this Jesus is the risen Son of God.  He truly is the Good Shepherd who can provide mysterious gifts of comfort and security in times of turmoil.  The lives of Jesus’ little lambs proves that He really does care for His sheep.  All of this proves that…

His sheep really do hear His voice.  Jesus tells you this morning that: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” [Vs. 27]  Jesus sheep always hear Him speak.  While it is true that they don’t always listen, or follow, they do always hear.  And when they wander, for we sheep of Jesus are prone to wander, He leaves the secure and safe 99 sheep to bring His lost little lamb back into the fold, which is His church.  He brings us back in the same means that He first saved us, with His voice.  And within that voice, we sheep hear the content of that voice, we hear the gospel Word, you are forgiven; come home.

To those this morning, who are not His sheep, either because they never have been or have chosen to wander away, Jesus speaks the gospel call this morning to become one of His little lambs.  This morning Jesus tells them who and what they really are without Him, “You are not my sheep.  You have not been saved from the coming judgment.”  But He also tells them who they will become if they listen; if they allow the Words and the voice to give them faith.  To those sheep who are caught up in the sound of another voice, Jesus promises that if they will hear Him speak forgiveness of sins and new life, “I (will) give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.  My Father who has given them to me, is greater than all (other teachings and voices), and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” [Vs. 28, 29]

“But how can this be true,” some may ask?  And to this Jesus speaks Words of mystery, but Word’s that also give faith: “I and the Father are one.” [Vs. 30]

Do you hear the mystery that is God?  God exist as One, yet in a very intimate and close relationship of persons—Father, Jesus the Son of God, and Spirit, and you have been or are invited to be brought into that relationship through baptism.  If you have wandered away, you are invited back into the church.

Through Jesus Christ, the Son of God you are guaranteed that not only does God the Father know you but He loves you; He becomes your Father.  You are recognized and you will always recognize Him because you will know the voice of your Good shepherd when He calls.  You need never be alone or afraid in this world, because God is with you.  And with the rod and staff of His Word, He leads and protects you.  With that same Word He gives you cool drink and green secure pasture.

In His Word He invites you to His banquet table, where you feast on His very body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine, where he satisfies a hunger and thirst that can only be satiated at His table; it is a feast of complete forgiveness and strong faith in your God Who alone is your Good Shepherd.

Imagine that you are walking on a street within our community and there in the driveway of a home are three little children getting ready to climb inside the family’s mini-van.  The van is packed with luggage and coolers.  The father is just about to close the rear door for departure and the mother is locking the front door of the home.  Obviously, they are going on a trip.

You walk up to the little children and you ask: “Where are you going?”  Wide eyed they stare back at you, silent.  They don’t know.  “What highway will you take?”  Again, no answer.  Where are you going to have dinner tonight?”  No response.  Then you ask what in their minds is the only question that matters: “Who are you going with?”  Now there eyes light up, their faces break into smiles.  “With Mommy and Daddy!” they exclaim.

Dear friends, your life lies ahead of you.  There are many unknowns, even many dangers that are ahead of you.  For many of the questions you have in life, like the whys and how comes, you for now, will get no answers.  But you do have “The Answer” with you always.  Jesus is with you and He has already called out to you with the Words “Follow Me!”  He has promised to be by your side every step of the way.  And because of this truth, for you His little lambs, eternal life isn’t something you enter when you die; no, you are in it right now!  And His means of grace, His Word and Sacraments are what sustain you every day in this world of uncertainty.

The sign of the cross at the beginning of our service helped us recall our baptism, which is a “spring of living water” for us.  Therefore we “hunger and thirst no more.” [Revelation 7:16]  And at His Holy Supper you again will receive life giving food, which for us, is a foretaste of the feast to come.  Therefore, we join in with all of the company in heaven robed in white praising our God around His throne.

You are forgiven.  God has raised Jesus from the dead and your redemption is assured.  Now Christ calls you—His sheep and His witnesses—to follow Him.  You do hear Him!  Now, what shall you do?  AMEN!