Posts Tagged ‘Easter 5B’

Our Vocation is Clear

Sunday, May 3rd, 2015

Easter 5B, May 3, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“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]

Some of you know that I love Cowboy movies, or as they are more properly called, Westerns.  I love the simplicity of the narrative and the development of the characters.  You have the good guys, the bad guys, and what I like to call the confused guys.  They are the ones, usually the town folks who don’t seem to be committed to anything other than survival, who show great potential, but they always seem inadequate for the task at hand.  And that task almost always in the best westerns is to standup to the bad guys; bad guys who today we might call bullies.

The bad guys in accordance with western genera, are inevitably made up of the rough and crude working class, but there always seems to be an upper class elite who is pulling the strings; intimidating the townsfolk into cowering and ignoring their criminal behavior, all so that the bad guys can have their way.  And within this tension enters the role of the good guy; the hero!

You know that the hero is ready to jump into action, when he says the magic words: “I can’t abide by that!”  What he is actually saying, is that to ignore the evil that is being done in front of him is contrary to his nature.  Or we might say that it is not in keeping with the good guy’s calling.  And what is that calling?  To abide in his nature… to be the good guy!

This morning, God’s Word reminds each of us what our calling or vocation is; we are called to abide in Jesus Christ, the true vine or source of life.  It reminds us that above all our other callings or stations in life, we are Christians; we are the good guys and gals of this world.  We are good, not because of anything that is unique to ourselves, but simply because we have been grafted as branches into the vine, the body of Christ.

Jesus says this in another way that perhaps we can understand: “Already you are clean because of the Word that I have spoken to you.” [Vs. 3]  You have been born again, created anew, cleansed and remade by the washing of the water and the Word.  These two cry out to you as the instruments of your salvation: The blood of Christ shed upon the cross for the sins of the world, and the water of your own baptism which made this gift truly yours personally in a way that ensures that you can and will abide within the body of Christ, His church.

In our first reading (Acts 8:26-40), we encounter one of the best demonstrations on how God ensures that all who desire to abide in Him, will do that very thing.  We meet an unnamed Ethiopian eunuch who is returning from his trip to Jerusalem.  Even though he remains unnamed, God wants you to understand that He was an important man within the nation of Ethiopia, because he was the queen’s own minister of finance.  And because he worked so closely with the queen and her family, as was the tradition back then he also voluntarily became a eunuch; that is through surgery, he became sexless.  But this important man was also something so much more in God’s eyes; he was a person being called unto salvation.  Just as he was surgically altered to serve the queen, God desired to spiritually alter him so that he could abide within the very body of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.

But there was a problem, the good folks who also were called by the same Prince of Peace and who were the authority within the temple of God, were still locked into the old covenant of Moses.  It was this covenant that attempted to bind a gentile into fear and punishment by denying him the very thing that the Jews refused themselves when they crucified Jesus Christ, a relationship of grace and mercy with the Creator.

Now, on his way back from worshiping the One true God as a 2nd class citizen, with an expensive scroll in his possession, this man of faith who is seeking to know the One true God, is introduced to Him in a miraculous way.  As he is reading his scroll, God sends Philipp by order of an angel to meet this Ethiopian seeker and answer all of his questions; questions that should have been answered within the temple but were not.

Through the explanation of the Word of God and the introduction of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, this Ethiopian seeker is moved to plead for the greatest gift he would ever receive: ““See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” [Vs. 37]  And just like that, this eunuch who through the old covenant of Moses was barred from abiding in God’s love was translated immediately into that love by being brought as a branch into the vine, the holy Christian church where he will continue to receive nurturing and teaching through the Word and Sacraments of Christ’s church.  In fact, the history of this ancient nation of Ethiopia teaches us that it was this eunuch who brought the gospel to their great nation.  He first shared that gospel with the Candace or the Queen, who was also baptized and from that point on the church began to flourish and grow, all because one man was called by God to abide in the body of Christ.

It is here in Christ’s church where we are nurtured and strengthened and told to abide.  It is here that we are forever reminded that we too are called to be good guys.  We are called to be loved and to love each other in return.  We are called to hear the truth and to speak the truth.  And this is the truth, Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God took on our real flesh, He became one of us in order to save us; in order to die for this sins of the world, but most importantly He died for your sins personally, you dear saints who have been baptized.

Like the Ethiopian eunuch, you too were called and saved solely through the miraculous work of God’s Spirit; you were saved through the washing of the water and the word.  And you too were called to abide and grow, to learn and then go.  You go out back into the world of darkness and sin, just as the Ethiopian did.  But you are not of this world; you are a child of light and you too confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh! [1 John 4:2]  You are part of the Vine, the Body of Christ, because you have been cleansed, but you must be careful because you are going out into a world and kingdom of darkness.

Like the Ethiopian eunuch and like the early Christians that St. John speaks to in our epistle lesson (1 John 4:1-11) you will most certainly encounter the spirit of the antichrist.  You can find his unholy spirit everywhere.  He is the one who insist that either your abiding faith in Jesus Christ is false or it is insufficient to give you a full life.  They will preach and teach to you a different message that denies you salvation in Christ alone.  Whether it is science alone or Jesus plus works, make no mistake the false teachers are everywhere.  And also do not be misled, whether they admit it or not they are all tools of Satan, that great lion, that ravenous wolf, who only desires to take away your faith and claim you as his own!

The answer to this threat is simple… we must come out of them and gather together with other branches that are abiding in the vine.  Within the vine, the body of Christ His church we find both the love of God and the love of each other.  St. John says it this way: “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the (payment) for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

Beloved, the world can not love you because it is not part of the vine; it does not have the nourishing sap of the Son of God sent out to the branches that abide, that rest in God’s love.  They have not because they can not abide by this God who comes to us and dies for us!

But you can and you will abide in Him.  And because you abide in Him, you cannot abide within the evil of this world.  You can not remain indifferent like the confused and fearful town folks in some Western story.  You must be the good guy because you abide in Him.  But take warning, from Jesus own words, “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” [John 15:2]

Are you nervous about the sufficiency of your fruit?  Do you wonder if you will be taken away due to lack of fruit?  Then hear again the Word of Jesus the True Vine and abide and thrive: “Already you are clean because of the Word that I have spoken to you.”  So continue to abide in me and I will abide in you.

To abide in Christ is to be a fruit producer.  You cannot abide in Him and have no fruit, because His very life blood, the sap of the indwelling Holy Spirit resides in you.  And where the Holy Spirit is, is also His fruit.  What is this fruit?  Well God’s Word plainly tells us that “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance,” (Gal. 5:22, 23); “goodness and righteousness and truth” (Eph. 5:9); These are “the peaceable fruit of righteousness,” (Heb. 12:11).

Dear saints as you abide here in God’s love, He alone is working through His Word and Sacraments to ensure that your love will abide in Jesus and grow more and more in the knowing that you are forgiven and protected from the judgment that awaits the world that will not abide in His Son.  It is here that you are taught and filled with the forgiving love of God through Christ Jesus so that you seek out and approve all things that are excellent; that you may be sincere and without offense to others until the day of Christ; being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are already yours through Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God” (Phil. 1:9–11).

Are you still worried that you do not have enough fruit?  Do not allow that worry to separate you from the nourishment found only in the vine, because it is there alone that fruit may come.  A branch may have only a small amount of fruit, but as long as it draws life from the vine, some of the fruit will be found, and God will bless it and multiply it.

Dear friends, you are one of the good guys, and because you abide within the True Vine you can not abide within the things of this world.  Even when the world overwhelms you, you must not allow your fears, worries, or doubts to sever you from Christ and His Church.  It is precisely at times such as these when you need the nourishment of the vine and the love of other branches the most.  AMEN!

Baptized to be a blessing!

Sunday, May 6th, 2012

Easter Sunday 5B, May 6, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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The movie clip we just watched was from the animated Christmas movie, The Polar Express. In that scene, the train had just jumped off the tracks and ended up sliding across a frozen lake. With no track to guide it, the challenge for Tom Hanks’ character was to work with the engineer and get the engine and cars lined up at the point where the tracks reemerge from under the frozen lake on the other side.

As Christians, we have been put on God’s track; we call it our walk of faith.  We were first put on that track in our baptism, but our challenge is to stay on that track, as God guides us on our journey of faith. As we stay on that track, God promises to use us as a blessing to others; He does this as He gets them back on track just as He did for us.

In the beginning, each of us needed someone to guide us, and help us stay on track. In other words, we needed someone to help us understand God’s will as declared in Holy Scripture.  So, the very first thing God helped us with was our confession to Him that on our own, as little sinners, we were completely helpless unless God intervened.  As we matured in our faith, God continually enlightened our minds to receive and understand His Word, all so we could continually appreciate that we are forgiven; we are on the right track!  This principle becomes clear in our first reading this morning (Acts 8:26-40).

In verses 30-31, the Ethiopian is struggling to understand what He is reading in the book of Isaiah.  Now I think each of us can put ourselves in the Ethiopian’s shoes; who of us has not felt confused at times while reading our Bibles?  So it’s quite understandable that the Ethiopian could not understand what he was reading; no one can unless God allows it.  The Spirit must enlighten us through the Gospel; that is, we must be given faith!  You see, concerning salvation, the prophets who foretold the coming of God’s work of grace that was to be yours, searched and inquired carefully, wondering when Christ would come and suffer as God had predicted, and then be glorified as a result of that suffering. And they were shown by God that they weren’t just serving their own generation, but also every generation that came after them, including you!  They did this by proclaiming the gospel; a message of forgiveness, empowered by the Holy Spirit, as sent from heaven.  They knew that the things they wrote, which you hear proclaimed, were things that even the angels couldn’t truly understand. [1 Peter 1:10–12]  Why even the apostles didn’t understand until Jesus opened their minds (Luke 24:45).  The truth is, the natural mind, our sinful minds can never understand the things of God until He allows us to understand (1 Corinthians 2:14).

And that is precisely why the Holy Spirit sent Philip to the Ethiopian.  It was God’s desire that his mind would be opened through Philip’s preaching.  And how did God do this?  He gave the Ethiopian a new way to read scripture; He put Jesus Christ in the center of all of God’s Word (vv 31–33)!

This morning, we discover along with the Ethiopian that what Isaiah and all of the other prophets are writing, is a witness to us, about Jesus!  They are predicting the birth, life, death, and resurrection of our God who is with us, as one of us! Yet even the clearest truths about Jesus Christ in the Scriptures can only become evident through the work and guidance of the Holy Spirit.  This was true for the Ethiopian then and it is still true for us today!

The Spirit is still guiding the true Church’s proclamation about Jesus, Him crucified and resurrected; Him alone who has fulfilled each of the Old Testament Scriptures for us (vv 34–35)!

It was Jesus who must come to be the Suffering Servant in Isaiah’s prophecy who, even though He was deprived of justice, He was vindicated by God.  Listen: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth.   In his humiliation justice was denied him.

Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” What a vivid picture of the atoning work of Christ Jesus on the cross!  And  yet, as clear as this message about salvation through the work of Christ alone is, we ignorant sinners still fight to make salvation something we obtain through our own wisdom and effort!

But Isaiah’s own words declared long ago, make it clear to everyone, that salvation can come only through Jesus Christ, who willingly laid down his life for our salvation!  Without the work of God’s Spirit, we pitiful sinners could never receive this message!  And yet, you are here and you have heard!  You have heard and believed the message in the same way countless sinners have for thousands of years.  How?  By the same work the Spirit did long ago for the Ethiopian; God has sent you preachers, faithful pastors who have declared His Word in the power of the Holy Spirit!

And that same Spirit continues to send missionaries, evangelists, and pastors to bring light into hearts that have been held captive in the darkness of sin.  And when the message of forgiveness through Jesus Christ is not rejected, those same sinners discover God’s forgiving love; they discover that it’s true, God does not desire the death of the wicked, but instead, He desires that all of us who have gone astray would repent, turn to Jesus and have everlasting life!  He did this great work for you, by giving you the gift of faith, which in turn has brought you back on track.  Your life on track with God began the same way it did for the Ethiopian; you were baptized and filled with God’s message of forgiveness through Jesus Christ!  And like the Ethiopian, God saw to it that you heard and believed in his Son, so that your sins would be forgiven.

Because God loves you, he sent the Spirit of his Son into your heart, and He is determined to keep you firm in the only faith that saves. Because God has made you his child, his Spirit continues to equip you as you live out your calling as a Christian.  And what is that calling?  Simply this, God wants you to remember that you have been baptized to be a blessing to others; you are a blessing to others when you share your faith with your neighbors.  You are blessing when you demonstrate the same love and forgiveness that you received from God!

Now, I know, this is where many of us can get a little nervous.  You might be thinking that it all sounds so good now, in church while pastor is explaining it, but when you’re on your own, who’s gonna guide you and help you give a good witness about Jesus!

Well who guided Philip?  He was in the middle of the desert, and no help within miles; he was all alone, …but not really!  If it had not been for God’s Spirit, Philip wouldn’t have even found the Ethiopian, let alone been able to witness.  No, here God is reassuring each of us that all things, even distance, time, and fear, are under His control!  What we must remember is that God chooses who He will use to witness and He equips those He chooses.  We simply are to observe and respond when those “God” moments happen in our lives.  All we are asked to do is to honor Jesus as our Lord and Savior within our hearts, and always be prepared to give an explanation to anyone who asks us for the reason we have hope.  And when we give our witness to Jesus, through the work of the Spirit, we will do it with gentleness and respect.

Oh, and here’s another thing that we’ve learned about witnessing this morning; as Philip was led away from the safety of people that he knew and was comfortable with, in order to witness to a foreigner (v 27), so too God may be asking you to willingly step out of your comfort zone and get to know people you wouldn’t normally associate with.  But why?  So that you can be blessed with the knowledge that God really can use you; knowing that others are blessed as God uses you!

What is important for us to remember is this.  God doesn’t need us to help Him reach people lost in sin any more than He needed Philip to help!  If God wanted to, He could have used the same angel that spoke to Philip to bring the gospel to the Ethiopian.  But God chose to bless Philip by speaking through Philip, so that both Philip and the Ethiopian would be blessed together!

So remember, whether you are at work, at school, in the market, away on a trip, or at home in your community, God choses to bless you by using you.  Whether you respond or not has no bearing on the good news; it doesn’t change the fact that Jesus died for you and washed you clean by giving you new life in your baptism!  No, instead, God’s invitation to be His witness is an invitation to receive His blessings by being a blessing to others!

The Ethiopian may have thought at first that it was pure coincidence that Philip was traveling the same road that he was on.  But God wanted him to know the truth about Jesus, and so He brought the two of them together to achieve his glorious purpose. That same Spirit is working in you and among us; He is working through your life’s events to keep you on track and to help others get on the same track; the way to eternal life, through Jesus Christ! As he has guided you so far, let him continue to guide you to grow in faith and use the opportunities He creates to witness about Jesus.  I pray that we will do this as one in Jesus Christ… AMEN!