Posts Tagged ‘Easter 6B’

From Lesser to Greater

Sunday, May 10th, 2015

Easter 6B, May 10, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Sorry, no audio for this message is available

“Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” [Acts 10:47]

This morning, I want to start out our message with a word of encouragement from me your pastor, to each of you who make up this congregation we call Trinity Lutheran Church.  You truly are a welcoming and loving bunch of saints, and your diversity proves that.  You are made up of Asian, African, African American, Caucasian, Hispanic, Polynesian, wealthy, middle class, and poor.  You love each other equally and you are willing to offer up what you have to help each other when asked.  You seem to be following God’s example… you are not a respecter of persons.

All that being said, may I suggest that we take what our first reading (Acts 10:34-48) has to heart, and see if we might still have room to grow, both as individuals and as a congregation?  Good, let’s get started.

Another way to rephrase Peter’s question, would be like this: “Does anyone see what God is doing differently than me?  I see Him saying that He wants to save all people, regardless of who they are or what they are; regardless of what they’ve done or what they haven’t done?”

Did you notice that no one disagreed with Peter?  Now, don’t dismiss this fact because it is very relevant to what God is doing both in our reading and within our community today.  You see, prior to this day, God was seen as a national God, or a God of the Jews.  The Jews believed this, and it tended to steer them towards looking down on other folks; people who were not a part of their nation.  Peter was of this same mindset to an extent; he couldn’t help but be that way because he had been mistakenly taught this mindset from childhood.

But prior to our reading, in Acts 10:1-33, we discover that God had prepared Peter for a shift in his thinking through a vision.  In his vision from God, Peter was shown a great sheet that came out of heaven with all kinds of un-kosher creatures; you know creepy crawly things.  And in the vision, God said, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.  But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.”

Now prior to Peter’s vision, a gentile Roman Centurion who feared God but did not yet know him also had a vision.  And in his vision he was told by an angel to go to the home where Peter was staying and invite him to his home to share the gospel.  And obedient to God’s command, Cornelius sent his men to find Peter and ask him to come and speak.  The next day when Peter arrived at the home, Cornelius welcomed Peter, and Peter proclaimed these wonderful words: “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.”

And then Peter said a prayer, opened his moth and he began to preach this sermon: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.  And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

To those Jewish Christians who were accompanying Peter, and had not the privilege of the vision, this all must have seemed very odd, and out of order.  They must have been thinking, “These are Roman gentiles and not Jews; why is Peter preaching to them our gospel?”

Before they had time to object, and before Peter could even finish his sermon, the Holy Spirit acted in a way that would make God’s desire clear to everyone there and everyone who would hear about this day: “While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

No one that day attempted to prevent these people, who were foreign to God’s holy people from becoming part of Christ’s body; from becoming part of the church.  The gift of speaking in foreign languages was the same work of the Spirit that was done with the apostles and disciples earlier on that first Christian Pentecost.  In other words, God was telling Peter and all of the Jewish Christians that these gentiles, and all people of the earth are equal to the Jewish people; equal in their sins and equal in their need for a Savior.

The blood of Jesus was poured out for not just the sins of the Jews, but for the world, and the waters of Holy Baptism is for all sinners who have been crushed by God’s perfection as demonstrated through His Law and desire forgiveness of sins, and to be born anew, recreated through the washing of the water and the Word!

Would you look around this sanctuary please and tell me what is missing, or should I say who is missing? (Pause) Where are the young people?  Where are the children and young adults?  Oh, we have had plenty of the young people come to visit; we’ve even baptized at least a dozen of them in the last few years, but where have they gone to?  Do you know?  If you don’t know where they’ve gone to, do you know why they left?  Could it be that they left because they didn’t feel that there was a place for them here?  Could it be that we have been so impressed with our diversity in regards to race, ethnicity, and economic standard that we were beginning to feel like we have done all things well, and that there is no more room to grow?  Could it be that we have become a respecter of persons in regards to age?

The title of our message is, “From the lesser to the greater,” because that seems to always be how God works.  He takes the things that we may look down on and turns them into the very thing that brings His law to shame us with our sin of superiority and then shape us with the gospel, the forgiveness of that sin, with the challenge to go and sin no more.  In other words, God has taken that sin from us, so now we must identify it, mark it, and avoid it.

From the lesser to the greater for Peter meant, receiving a message from God about unclean food and then applying that message towards people he felt were unclean. For us today, from the lesser to the greater can be seen in our own lives and discovered within the lives of our neighbors, no matter their age.  We see this play out in our own salvation don’t we?  God moved each of us here this morning, at some time in our own lives from sinner to saint.  That is, within the waters of our own baptism He recreated us through the same word that created the universe, and He recreated us into His very own children.  But He didn’t stop there did He?  No, daily he moves us from repentance to forgiveness; from sin to salvation, and He does it through the same means that He uses to save others who are not yet a part of us; He does it through the proclamation of the gospel (the preached Word), Holy Baptism, and His Holy Communion where He feeds us His very body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine.

All of these things, along with our own witness and conversation with our neighbors, points our hearts and minds back to the very same thing which equally saved us and continues to save us; we are taken back to the Word of God.

Did you notice a moment ago when I was listing God’s means of grace, or His means of giving us faith to believe and confess in the name of Jesus, I also included your own witness and conversation with our neighbors?  This is because we the church are to grab onto and utilize the Word of God in all of its forms.  In both baptism and the Lord’s Supper, it is the Word of God along with the working of the Holy Spirit that brings faith to the one receiving these gifts.

There’s no magical power in any of these things that simply works by itself; it is all empowered by the Holy Spirit to bring faith to the one that is receiving.  The content of the Gospel contains and delivers God’s power for salvation as it creates faith and speaks to that faith.  Just as we struggle to avoid removing the speck from our neighbors eye while ignoring the log within our own, so too we often need a sermon, or a fellow believer to apply the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection to our own hurts and desires of comfort.

Young people today are hurting and aching for that gospel comfort, but they will unlikely find it by simply paging through their Bibles or listening to a 20-minute sermon.  They want to see that gospel hope in action; they want a guide or mentor who will teach them the personal truths of proclaiming and believing in the mystery of eternal life as it is revealed within the name of Jesus.

The voice of the gospel is a living voice, and it lives through each of us.  A sermon on Sunday is a great God ordained example of that Living voice of the Gospel, but if that is the only voice that young people are hearing, I am afraid that with what they face every day in this world darkened by sin, it may not be enough for them to over come the trials they are facing.  They need something more; they need you!

Young people need to be mentored; they need to be reminded by us that they are important to both God and the church.  Young people need mentors, surrogate Christian parents and Grandparents to come alongside them and remind them that what they know and believe of God matters.  They need to know that we older Christians are not that much different than them.  We too, have been moved from sinner to saint and we too struggle to live out the life of Christian while also fighting to put to death our old sinful natures.

While it is true that young people think, talk, and dress differently than we do, they have one thing that is the same: They desire to know God’s love and mercy.  They desire to know the mysteries of salvation that the church declares are theirs through faith in the name of Jesus Christ.  Will you please be that man or woman for the next young person that comes into our midst?

It is my prayer that we will all be aware through the help of God that He has called each of us to be conversing with others, even young people, and consoling them with God’s good news in Christ.  It is you God has chosen to teach these young people He brings into our midst about the abundant love He has lavished upon them through His means of grace that He so freely gives out right here at Trinity Lutheran Church.  I pray we will do this both as individuals and as a congregation for the glory of God and saving grace that calls us out of this lesser world of sin, into the greater glory of eternal life.  I ask this in Jesus name, Amen!

Love One Another… or Else!

Sunday, May 17th, 2009

Pastor Brian Henderson, Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego, CA
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“These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” [Jn. 15:9-17]

INTRODUCTION: These Words of Jesus may be hard Words for some here this morning.  In fact, you may find it easier to relate to this little ditty: “To live above with saints we love, that will be joy and glory; to live below with saints we know, now that’s a different story.” Sometimes, people can just be hard… no, they can be impossible to love.  And yet, that is exactly what we are commanded to do—love one another. 

I. If our gospel lesson is the first of a one-two punch, then the epistle gives us the knock-out blow.  Listen: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” [1 Jn. 5:3]  That’s God’s love?  Keep His commandments?  OK.  Do you think you can do it? Before you answer, let me put a little light on the challenge.  Luther sums up the fulfillment of the first three commandments this way: “We are to fear, love, and trust God above all things.”  And in regards to our neighbor, Jesus says that we should love our neighbor as we love our selves.”  Friends, within these Words we find the terrifying hammer of God; a hammer that smashes all of our “good deeds” along with our sinful behavior into an eternity of suffering, our suffering which can be the only payment for our sins.

In God’s commandments He demands far more from us than just doing our best or living a life that this world might judge as good and decent.  He demands perfection, which is something we all fall short of, and God’s Word makes sure that we know this, (for) it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” [Romans 3:10-12]We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” [Isaiah 64:6]  Now do you understand how hopelessly lost we are if we think we can keep God’s commandments?

II. In our reading this morning from the Book of Acts, we join up with Peter and his companions who were directed by God to look for a Roman citizen in Caesarea named Cornelius.  He was a man who we would call a seeker of the true religion…he wanted peace with God.  He was studying the Jewish religion, with a desire to know the true God.  In a dream, he was told that Peter would come to him and help him discover this very thing.  Now Peter also had a dream, and within his dream God told him three times to kill and eat unclean animals, and each time Peter argued with God and said that he would not eat food that was unclean.  But God put an end to Peter’s protests by declaring  that he should not declare unclean what God had declared clean.  Now while Peter was trying to make sense of this dream, a servant of Cornelius arrived at the home where Peter was staying and asked Peter to come and speak to his master.  Now under normal circumstances, a devout Jew like Peter would never enter the home of an unclean gentile.  But these were not normal circumstances and Peter was not about to argue with God again over what is clean and unclean.  So off Peter went, because he wanted to do the right thing…He wanted to go where God was sending him.  You see, even Peter had trouble obeying God.  Even Peter on his own could not do good.

Something that has become clear in our message so far this morning is that doing good is not the simple matter that many people like to make it. Let’s look at Cornelius! If his honest convictions to live a good life were all he needed to please God, then why was he seeking the true religion? If the Jewish religion had been enough, why was Peter sent to his home? No, God had made it clear to Cornelius that simply following a few moral rules of life apart from knowing the true God was a hopeless tragedy.  God was about to make it clear to Cornelius that He had to know the true God, He had to know Jesus, the Redeemer in order to find peace.

So that was Peter’s task to preach peace with God…he must preach the gospel.  Peter was to be the mouth of God.  He was to preach the good news.  The preacher is to preach only what he is ordered, no more, no less, and without alteration. And this remains the preacher’s task to this day.  Pastors are never allowed to preach their own ideas. Only one message has the Lord’s approval. Any change to that message, any substitution for it, is not only empty but, when it pretends to be the Lord’s true message, it makes the preacher who proclaims it a liar, a false prophet.  What is that message?  It is Law and Gospel.  First, in regards to the law, Peter declared that Jesus has been appointed to be the judge of the world.  All men, women, and children, living and dead will be judge.  They must stand before a perfect judge and be perfect themselves.  But this is only half of the message, for you see according to God’s love Jesus is also the savior of all those who now stand before God as being unclean and worthless.  Just as it was Peter’s privilege to declare the gospel to Cornelius, it is my privilege today to announce to you “that everyone who believes in Jesus receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” [Acts 10:43] Every one of you that believes that Jesus suffered and died for you, and every one of you that believes that He is YOUR Savior and your God, are forgiven and you like Cornelius truly have peace with God!  Without the name of Jesus, there can be no forgiveness of sins… there can be no peace with God, but through faith in his name, your heart is able to cling to Jesus and rely upon Him in life and in death.

Dear friends, it is the gospel that has brought you to God through Jesus who is your saving and loving Lord. His “gospel of peace” [Eph. 6:15], now rules your heart in a way that allows you to really enjoy the fullness of this peace. And it is the gospel that will carry you through for the rest of your days, moving you to trust in God’s kind heart.  Now we see that apart from Jesus and His name, there is indeed no one righteous, not even one, but by faith in the name of Jesus, through faith in God’s saving gospel, a miracle has happened in your heart… a sinner is made righteous.  Because of your faith in the gospel God declares you to be pleasing to Him, and because you please Him, He moves your heart to sorrowfully confess your sins and then turn to Him through Jesus for forgiveness.  Friends, we are pleasing to God and saved from our sins because we believe and accept His forgiveness through Christ.  And every day God miraculously renews our faith, over and over again!  And this is guaranteed to us as long as we abide in the love of Christ.  And how do we abide in His love?  By keeping His commandments! [Jn. 15:9-10] Will you fall short?  Yes!  But when you do you have friend in God who sees the sorrow in your heart, hears your confession, and forgives you because you have faith in the name of Jesus! 

III. Friends, God is looking for your love.  Love for Him and love for your neighbor.  It isn’t easy; in fact Jesus calls it the narrow or the hard way.  Maybe God will test you as He tested Peter.  Maybe right now God is asking you to love someone that is different from you; someone who makes you uncomfortable because of their race, color, creed, or social behavior.  Maybe He is asking you to forgive and love someone who has hurt you deeply.  If so, remember that He has said that we must not declare unclean what He has declared to be clean.  Remember 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] 

Listen friend, God knows it’s hard for us to love the unlovable… and yet He loves us and He calls us to walk with Him by faith.  Today, He wants you to confess your lack of love for Him and your neighbor and then to simply trust that because of your faith in Jesus God loves and forgives you.  But He won’t let it end right there, because you see,   He wants to change you.  He wants you to ask Him to change your heart and then let Him lead and guide you where He wants you to go, and to love who He wants you to love, just as He led Peter.  You see, this is love…that we keep His commandments.  It’s our love for Him demonstrated as we let Him change our hearts, and its His love for us when we turn to Him for forgiveness when we fail.  He forgives us and says ok, let’s try it again.  Follow me!  Maybe He will lead you right to the person or persons you can’t seem to love; if He does, it will be alright, because He will be with you and He will be working through you.  What work will He be doing?  Why He’ll be calling more sinners just like you into a saving relationship with Him—people who will receive forgiveness of sins because they too believe in the name of Jesus Christ.  This is how God’s church grows, and this is how we become more and more dependent on His love and forgiveness in our lives.  This is how we become people who love our neighbor, by letting God seek the lost through us.  When we do this as individuals we become more like Jesus.  When we do this as a congregation, we become a healthy church.  And a healthy church is a missionary church whose whole purpose is to impart the love of God and the joy of salvation to as many people as possible.  May God help us to do this through the name of Jesus Christ…AMEN!