Archive for the ‘Sanctification’ Category

Reflecting Jesus

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

  Pastor Brian Henderson, Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
“And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.”(Mark 9:8)
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This morning, the Holy Spirit of the Lord comes to us in His transfigured glory!  He comes to us in His Word so that we will know true freedom and peace with God.  Through His Word, He wants to remove any obstacles that might prevent us from seeing Him as He is-a loving champion and Savior.  He is asking us to gaze deeply upon all of His glory and continue to be transformed into His very image.  In short, God wants to deepen His relationship of love with you so that when the storms of life come, and they will, you will see no one but Jesus only.  And He does this by leading you deeper and deeper into fellowship with Him; deeper than you ever imagined.  He wants to impact your life in such a way that you will never be the same again-so that you will never want to be the same again.  He wants to bring real change into your life; a change of heart and mind.  In other words, God wants you to see only Jesus!  When doubt creeps in, see only Jesus.  When your friends question your faith, see only Jesus.  And when you find it hard to see how God could forgive you, it is God’s will that you see only Jesus!  How?  Well let’s turn to our epistle lesson for some answers.  St. Paul says that we can experience this deep and abiding relationship with God by being bold!  When we focus our self- worth on who we are or what we do, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment, discouragement, and guilt.  Why?  Because on our own, we are not perfect…we will sin, and we will disappoint God and our neighbor.  This is the fate common to all of us.  By looking to only our own self righteousness God’s Law becomes a righteous hammer with only one thing in mind…DESTROY!  But when we find our self worth in what Jesus has done for us, when we focus on His grace, His self-sacrifice for us, then the accusations of the Law and our own inadequacies lose their power to intimidate us and cause fear.  With Jesus alone as our focus, then we can be bold!Friends, we who have experienced the saving grace of Jesus Christ through the waters of Holy Baptism have already seen the full work of God’s Law in our lives…it is what drove you to the cross of Jesus Christ and His saving grace.  “You have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer you who live, but Christ who lives in you.  And the life you now live in the flesh you live by faith in the Son of God, who loved you and gave himself for you.” (Gal. 2:20).  You now find comfort in God’s Word that promises that He loves every man, woman, and child and that He doesn’t want anyone to perish, but instead it is His will that all would be saved and receive eternal life.  So when the devil whispers in your ear and attempts to introduce you once again to the terrors of God’s Law, you can say to Him, “Thank you Mr. Law for your work in my life, but you no longer terrify me.  You have already driven me to the cross and there I have found forgiveness and new life through my Savior Jesus Christ, and He alone is my Lord.  I shall live to please Him alone.  I no longer see your terrors, but instead I see Jesus only.”

Sadly, some remain in unbelief.  They remain captivated by the Law because they refuse to see God’s love and mercy through Jesus Christ.  They can’t accept a reality that says God came to us in our own flesh to suffer and die, and conquer death for us.  They cannot receive the truth of God’s Law which says that their sins deserve punishment and death.  “I am a good person” they say.  “I try my best to please God.  Surely that must count for something?”  The unbeliever cannot see the need for God’s mercy because his vision has been obscured and his thinking is clouded by his own pride.  And so it was in Paul’s day.  That is why he wrote in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 4:3) that the gospel was veiled to those who are dying in their sins.  But why is it veiled?  Because the god of this world, the devil, has grabbed hold of the pride of the unbeliever and used it as a tool to blind their minds so that they will not see the glory of God-the light of the gospel which gives everyone the glory of Jesus Christ, who is the very image of God for us.

Do you understand the tragedy of the unbeliever?  Can you put yourself in their place and feel the hopelessness of this tragedy?  Many of you will answer yes to this question, but then do very little to help.  You know that right outside the doors of this sanctuary in our own community there are people dying without Jesus.  If you are honest with yourself, you have let many opportunities to witness God’s love to unbelievers pass you by.  In the past you’ve felt the working of God’s Spirit urging you to share your witness about Jesus love and forgiveness with them, but you found other things to be more pressing, more important.  Dear friends, I am not relating this to you in order to drive you back into the captivity of God’s Law, rather I am telling you this so that you will confidently go back to the same source of love and forgiveness that gave you life and hope so that you can go out to your unbelieving neighbor with the very same message.

For us to be bold once again in our relationship with God, we must go back to the Spirit of the Lord who constantly brings us freedom; freedom form guilt and the power to love God with all of our hearts and minds.  Isn’t it true that the same things that seem to prevent our unbelieving friends and family from receiving Jesus as their Lord and Savior are the very same things that seem to get in the way with our relationship with God?  Don’t we, like our unbelieving neighbor tend to live our lives centered on our own accomplishments rather than what God is doing in us and through us?  Don’t we tend to care more about what others think about us instead of what God wants from us?  And what does God want from us?  God wants the very thing that His Holy Spirit gives to us-the ability to relate to God in love and not fear; the ability to love Him as He deserves to be loved, and the ability to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Friends, do you want to experience God’s love and peace more deeply?  Then learn to trust in the completed work of God through Jesus Christ.  It is that work which first saved you and it is His work that continually changes you and keeps you secure in a relationship of love and forgiveness with Him.

Do you want boldness in your life?  Do you want to have God’s vision for you come alive? Do you want the ability to be an effective witness to Jesus Christ?  If so, then you must stay connected to Him through His Word, prayer, and service.  Now being in His Word is kind of a no brainer.  You’re in His Word right now at Divine Worship.  Each time you gather for the preaching and teaching of His Word you are hearing God speak to you in a very intimate fashion.  Each time you confess your sins and hear your pastor pronounce the absolution, God is speaking directly to your heart, and he is reminding you of the time in your life when the water and His Word were combined at your baptism so that you could have confidence that because of Jesus Christ all of your sins have been forgiven.  And each time you gather at His Holy table you are fed in a miraculous way.  Somehow His Word joins with the bread and wine and it becomes also the very body and blood of your Savior.  And at this meal, God not only calls you to eat and drink, but also to see, smell, and touch His forgiveness of all of your sins!  Now for some this may seem like enough to carry you through the week, but dear friends, God wants to give you so much more exposure to His Word!  He wants you to read His Word every day, even for just 5 minutes of your time, and then simply meditate on it-think about what you have just read.  Why?  Because dear friends, faith comes by hearing the Word of God…the message of Jesus Christ!  Do you want to be bold in your faith?  Then stay in the Word! 

But God does not just leave it there.  He does not want a one way relationship where He talks and you listen; He wants you to talk to Him!  He wants to hear what you are thankful for; He wants to hear what makes you afraid; He wants you to tell Him what tempts you to sin and He wants to know what worries you.  He wants to know what makes you angry and He wants to know what makes you glad.  He wants you to tell Him what you need and what you want.  And all of this is done in a miraculous conversation with God, a conversation called prayer.  St. James said that you have not because you ask not!  How much difficulty do we have in our lives simply because we have discounted the miraculous; simply because we have excluded God!  Oh dear friends, pray away…pray away and pour out your heart to your heavenly father.  You can be bold in prayer because Jesus promised you that His Holy Spirit is with you making sure that you know that every Word you speak in prayer is precious to your Heavenly Father.

I want to close with one last way that God strengthens His relationship with you and draws you even deeper into His heart, and that is your service to Him and your neighbor.  Now certainly there is enough work at Trinity to keep even the most eager busy for a life time.  God is not asking you to do it all; no instead he is asking you to look around this house of worship and find one or two ways, one or two ministries that you can join or start in order to serve Him.  He is asking you also to pitch in and keep His house clean and in working order.  He is asking you to grow in your relationship of love with Him and then simply share your experiences with your neighbor.  Go where God leads you and simply be prepared to always give a witness to your neighbor about what God means to you.  Be prepared to share with anyone God puts in your way, what having a Savior who calls you by name means to you.  Be prepared to be the love of Christ in the life of a person who may no nothing at all about forgiveness and unconditional love.

Now I know this might sound strange to some here this morning, but when we get involved with serving God and our neighbor, something wonderful happens, something we may never have prepared for; He allows you to go even deeper in experiencing His love!  Don’t ask me to explain how this is; because I don’t know the answer, I only know that it is true.  Friends, His Word promises that you too will experience the very same thing: “Taste and see that the Lord is good!” Just like the morning rain opens the petals of a rose, so God desires to abide in you with His glory and transform you!

Can simply hearing and believing God’s Word really change you?  Can a conversation with God and service to Him and our neighbor really do all of this?  Yes, because each time we enter into these specific callings in life, God allows us to see more and more of His glory.  And each time we are allowed to see more of God’s glory active in our lives, we begin to realize that we no longer are captivated by things like worry and fear, want or need, instead we begin to look around and realize that all we see is Jesus.  And when all that we see is Jesus and His incredible love for us, then we can truly begin to reflect Jesus and His glory in all that we say and all that we do!  May God grant this truth be realized in each of our lives…in Jesus name…AMEN!

Living Between the Mountaintop Experiences

Saturday, February 2nd, 2008

  Transfiguration Sunday; Epiphany; Sanctification; Exodus 24:8-18; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9

Transfiguration of our Lord-February 3, 2008
Vicar Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church
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“Rise, and have no fear.”

 

You may be familiar with the movie Forrest Gump, but what you may not know is that the movie was really a parody on the adventures of Peter Jenkins, the author of the best-seller “Walk Across America.” In the 1970’s, Peter decided to walk across the U.S. to find out what life was all about.  
     Something great happened to him during his travels, something he never anticipated, he was given faith!  While traveling through Alabama he came across a huge revival. He decided to attend, and at some point, God’s Word grabbed him. When the invitation was given to become a Christian, Jenkins walked down the aisle.
    He heard a lot of people trying to explain to him what just happened.   He heard words like: “Born again…,” “Saved…,” “The Lord led you here tonight…,” “Praise the Lord…,” “Ain’t God good?”  

    Mary, the woman who first spoke to him, said “Peter, this great elation that you’re feeling now – You are feeling great elation, aren’t you?” “Yes,” Peter replied.  (Well), “at this moment it may seem like these great feelings are going to last forever, but they won’t,” she told him. “Being a Christian is not based on feelings. You’re on a mountain top now, but someday, sooner or later, you’ll be far away from these great feelings. You may even wonder if all this ever happened.
    “Your Christian walk is based on faith, not feelings,” Mary explained. Peter had never thought about that. As he put it, “I was so thrilled that there could be good feelings mixed in with faith that I really didn’t care about her opinions.”
    More than twenty years have passed since that revival. “I was on a mountain top that night,” Peter reflected. “The feelings lasted a long time, but that mountain top hasn’t lasted all these years. Maybe I’ve been on more mountain tops than some, but I’ve also climbed, sometimes crawled, out of some awfully steep valleys, too.”

Most of us have had mountaintop experiences, perhaps not just like Peter Jenkins, but similar in that we were invigorated by an encounter with something historic that clearly demonstrated God’s presence working in our world. Let’s try a few historical mountain top experiences, that some of us were around for: I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” (MLKJ)   “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you-ask what you can do for your country.”  (JFK) “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” (Neil Armstrong); “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” (Ronald Regan) Can you remember these great moments in history?  It’s possible, you even remember them vividly.  Are you the very same person, today, as the person who witnessed these moments in history?  I don’t think so; you see in addition to these great mountaintop experiences you have also spent some low times in the valley.  As our friends in the south might say, “You’ve been rode hard and put away wet a time or two.” 

Today, two of our scripture readings are centered upon wonderfully spiritual mountaintop experiences that were nothing short of miraculous.  In our Exodus reading, Moses, and a select few were allowed to climb the mountain of God and they saw God, and had a party that included food and drink!  In our gospel reading, we meet up with six men on a mountaintop, two of them long since dead, one who was revealed to be the Son of God and three others who were scared out of their wits!

Before Peter, John and James ascended to the mountaintop with Jesus, they heard some very alarming news from Him.  He had just told them for the first time that in the not too distant future his fate included being rejected, beaten, and killed in the very city that they were slowly making their way towards, Jerusalem.  Now this terrified and confused them.  What kind of Messiah would be beaten and put to death by the very people He came to save?  How can Jesus save us if He is dead?  God knew the confusion and fear that was in their hearts, and as a loving Father He sought to give them peace and confidence in His Son, who was in fact their long awaited Savior.  So Jesus led Peter, James, and John to the top of a mountain to pray and find clarity, peace and strength for what lay ahead of them.  There on that mountain, God allowed them to see two important figures of Biblical history meeting and talking with Jesus. 

There was Moses who represented God’s Holy Law, and Elijah, who represented all of the prophets that God had ever used to foretell the coming of the Messiah.  Even though the apostles couldn’t hear what was being discussed, this meeting confirmed everything that Jesus had been telling them, mainly that He had come to fulfill the demands of the Law and bring the promise of God’s forgiveness, mercy and peace for the world.  From all around them, God’s glory beamed, making the words of the discussion unimportant.  But what if this mountaintop experience was nothing more than a passing dream, a wisp of smoke that would soon vanish, as the emotion faded?  Well God provided for that contingency as well, when He said, “This is my Son, my chosen one; listen to Him.”  Here in these 10 words, we along with the apostles are ensured that Jesus ministry to seek and save the lost was not just the mission of a well-intentioned man, but the mission of the God the Son, a mission that is empowered by God’s Spirit, and finds its source from the very heart of God the Father.

Peter, James and John needed to hear these words, not only to confirm that what they had just experienced was true, but also so that they could by faith, trust in Jesus leadership and follow Him where ever He led them.  We too need too need to hear these words.  We need to experience the realization that Jesus wasn’t just a cute baby born in Bethlehem destined for greatness, but rather He is the very essence of God who took on human flesh so that we could know Him as a brother and as a friend; so that we could know His Father as our Father.  We too need to experience the realization that God loves us enough to come to us; that He not only knows us as no other could, but that He calls us to His side by name. 

The apostles were amazed by what they had just experienced there on the mountaintop.  Who of us would not be?  Can you recall a time in your life when you felt that God’s presence was surrounding you?  Maybe you felt as Peter, James, and John must have felt, as if heaven had enveloped you. These experiences are what we might call the ultimate mountaintop experience.  Who would want something like that to end?!  Peter didn’t!  Always the fast talker, Peter blurted out, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah!”  Peter was trying to delay the inevitable; he did not want his out of this world experience to end.  Friends, we are not so different from him; we too love our “mountaintop experiences”.  We love to live in the moment where it seems heaven and earth meets, but eventually we must leave because…. 

There is little growth up on the mountaintop.  As beautiful and majestic as a mountain top vista can be, we are quickly reminded that the air gets thinner up there and the plants get scarcer.  On mountain tops, you find mostly rock and dirt. For growth, we have to come down the mountain and go into the valleys, where there is an abundance of water, which produces lush greenery and rich colors. But to do this we like Peter, James, and John must by faith respond to the command of God which orders us to trust, listen and follow Jesus.  We must follow Him where ever He leads us, even if we know where He leads will be painful and difficult.  Friends, the greatest growth in the apostle’s lives did not take place on the mountaintop, but instead it took place on the way to a garden and a rocky hill.  The vision of Moses and Elijah is not what shaped the three, but instead it was the three years they spent with Jesus listening to His Word; the very Word that would predict His own betrayal and death; it would lead them to the Garden of Gethsemane where He was arrested and then to Golgotha where they witnessed their Savior’s death upon a cross.  It was not Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration that impacted them eternally but instead, it was His death, resurrection and ascension into heaven, which confirmed that “truly He was the Son of God” for them and for the world.  The day Jesus was crucified, that hill where they planted His cross became the highest mountain in the world, because it reached heaven for us.  Jesus did not go up that hill to pray, but he did pray, he prayed for you: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”  You see friends; the experience at the Mt. of Transfiguration is inferior to the experience at Calvary’s holy hill, because it is only at Calvary where you receive forgiveness of sins.

Oh we love our mountain top experiences, where it seems life is good.  We like the days of peace and happiness to be strung together like a beautiful set pearls, but we know this too will pass.  We know that we can’t live in a moment, and we know that life, sometimes hard life is just around the corner; but our human nature fights to make those moments last.  But Christ taps us on the shoulder and says, “Rise and have no fear.”

Dear friends, when God’s Word call us to leave this place and go out into our communities, communities where there is often feelings of fear, anger, and worry, we must be confident that like the apostles, when we look up, we will see no one except Jesus leading us out and empowering us with His presence to demonstrate God’s love and forgiveness. (Mat. 17:7-8)  Yes dear saints, like the apostles, we too must go out into our communities because that is where Jesus leads us. 

When we go out from here, we must remember that Jesus is with us.  He is with us in His Word, a Word which promises that through Jesus, God is for us and not against us.  He is with us in the remembering of our Holy Baptism, the day He claimed us as His own; He is with us in His Holy Supper where He nourishes us with His own body and blood, promising nothing less than the completed forgiveness of sins.  At His table, we see the very veil separating heaven and earth part as we feast with all the company of heaven, eternally praising God and saying “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabbath rest; heaven and earth are full of your glory!” And finally he is here with us through His Holy Spirit who continually carries our prayers, even the ones that we can’t seem to find words for, and when those prayers reaches the thrown of Heaven, God hears the voice of one who is perfectly pleasing to Him; one whom He has loved with an eternal and everlasting love; He hears you! 

Let’s pray…Heavenly Father, as we leave the season of Epiphany and begin our slow Lenten walk towards Jerusalem, waken us afresh to your goodness, to the reality of evil, the pain of suffering and the beauty of your creation.  Then may we serve you with urgency, knowing full well the necessity of your saving love working through us in this fallen world.  In Jesus name… AMEN!