Posts Tagged ‘Holy Spirit’

What Is This Living Water?

Sunday, June 4th, 2017

Pentecost SundayA, June 4, 2017

Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church,San Diego, CA
http://www.ORLCSD.org

Click here for audio of this message

“On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” [John 7:37, 38]

Why does the church set aside and remember the Pentecost experience, which is so beautifully presented in all three of our readings? Is it because God wants to create in Christians a desire to speak in strange tongues? Is it because God wants us to notice that there are everyday Christians and then there are super Christians who have these miraculous gifts of the Spirit? Or maybe God wants to remind us how far the church has fallen from the position that He desires it to be in? Well, the answer to all three of those questions is a resounding “No!” The true reason for remembering the Pentecost experience can be found in our gospel reading in Jesus own Words. Listen: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ” [Jn 7:37b, 38] Let’s look at these Words a little closer and allow God to teach us what we are both to remember and celebrate during these next 23 weeks of Pentecost.

What we learn first is that if any of us are ever to experience the presence of the Holy Spirit, we must first perceive a need for Him; we must have a thirst for His presence and His power!

How are we to be given such a thirst? Through the power of God’s Word, specifically His Law that shows us how much we need His forgiving love! This is a forgiveness that we can never earn or achieve through our own efforts.

Sadly, many preachers today are simply leading their congregations deeper and deeper into thirst by telling them what they need to do, in order to know happiness, peace, and success. You see, telling someone what they need to do doesn’t ever give them the ability to do it! And to confront this truth, along comes Jesus with a teaching that is completely different. The truth is, Jesus actually does offer you a way to quench your spiritual thirst; a way to know God’s loving and kind heart! And where do you think He directs you to find this thirst-quenching drink? To Himself that’s where!

Jesus is telling us that all other sermons that preachers preach are simply the fancies of a sinful mind. He is telling us that there really is no way to be right with God except by coming to Him! Except by coming to Jesus through faith, there really is no way to bring peace to a conscience that knows it sins every day against God! Our sinful consciences long for one thing more than anything else; they long to hear, “Your sin is forgiven!” When we can hear these Words and believe them, then and only then will our spiritual thirst be quenched!
“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” In these words Jesus is telling us that outside of His message of gospel peace we will not find even one single drop of comfort, comfort that can satisfy our thirst! Outside of this invitation to come to Him and drink and rest there is only more thirsting and tormenting of our guilty conscience; a conscience that is really dying of thirst!

But what happens after we drink? What happens after we simply receive the forgiveness of Jesus Christ? Well Jesus says that “Whoever believes in Him, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ” You see, because you have turned to Jesus, He assures you that as long as you keep coming to Him and His Words of life, you will have streams of living water coming out of you! He is assuring you that because you come to Him, He will equip you to not only have your thirst quenched but to also help bring others to the same living water so that they too can be satisfied! And now we are beginning to see the true miracle of Pentecost!

Through the Living Word of God, Jesus is promising to you that not only will He satisfy your own thirst, but He will use you to help satisfy the thirst for forgiveness that others have! And all of this is done through the Word of God, through the gospel! The longer the gospel is preached and shared, the more effectively it goes out satisfying your thirst and the thirst of others.

How can simply sharing God’s Word and forgiveness of sins do all of this? Because behind the Word is the power of the Holy Spirit! When Jesus was speaking these Word’s the Holy Spirit hadn’t yet been poured out on all those who believed in Him. Certainly the Holy Spirit was present, but His power to build the church and propel it out into a sinful world hadn’t yet been demonstrated. But make no mistake, where God’s Word is there is also His power; but it is His power, and we must remember that He uses it when, where, and how He determines. As Jesus spoke that day, the people whose hearts were prepared by the Holy Spirit began to experience a great quenching of their spiritual thirst! And as we are listening this morning, our thirst for God’s forgiveness is also being quenched! But how can this great work of quenching spiritual thirst, of forgiving sins be continued in a mighty way throughout history and across the entire face of the earth? Only through the power of God’s Holy Spirit. And that is the reason the great day of Pentecost is worth remembering and observing!

In our reading from Acts [2:1-21], we can make a couple of noteworthy observations.

First we see that everyone was equally filled with the Holy Spirit. That means men, women, and children; each was equally filled and equipped for the task that was given to them. There was no need for one person to desire the gifts of the other; they were equal. So the prayer of Moses in our Old Testament reading, that asked “that all the Lord’s people (would be) prophets, that the Lord would put His Spirit on them” was answered! [Numbers 11:29] Second, we see that the Spirit gave them utterance, or maybe a better way to say this is that the Spirit gave them the Words they were to speak! And now the real question is not how did they speak, but what did they speak!

You see, if you let your focus be only on the fact that they were able to speak in foreign tongues, well then you are missing the whole desire and will of God! And what is the will and desire of God? That all sinful men and women would repent, turn to Jesus Christ and be saved! That all of us would come to Jesus and drink of His life giving waters! That was the message that each one of the disciples were speaking that day and that is the message that God would have you share with your neighbors within this very community as He gives you the opportunity. And how are you to speak and what are you to say? Should you have some scripture memorized? What if your nervous; what if, what if, what if!

Look, if you let your worries and fears get in the way, then you are actually taking the focus off of the giver of the gift and looking at what kind of gift you want instead. Remember, God fills each of us equally. The Spirit fills every single believer in the church and He uses every one of us according to His desire and not ours. Our Heavenly Father is inviting you to simply rest in the truth that the day of Pentecost has raised each of us to the same level. Just as the Holy Spirit loosened the tongues of the disciples to praise God in the way He desired on that day, so He does for us today! Like them, our hearts shall overflow with grace and power, and our tongues will speak of that grace and power! Each of us have been equipped by the same Spirit to confess our faith, to pray and praise God’s name… Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! This is our testimony to Christ’s thirst quenching and life giving waters!

So why don’t you and I have the ability like the early disciples to speak in strange tongues? Well I suppose it’s simply because the Holy Spirit doesn’t desire us to! Back then, He determined that great signs and wonders were needed to propel the church throughout the world, all so that everyone who was dying of spiritual thirst could be quenched! I would say that He’s done a pretty good job of growing the church. Can you think of a single country where Jesus has not been preached? I can’t! But just because the Holy Spirit has changed the external way He works, doesn’t mean that He isn’t working!

In Holy Baptism, where you received the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, you too have been given the gift of faith so that you can understand the teachings of Jesus, teachings that have been handed down to you by the Apostles through the work of that same Spirit.

By the Holy Spirit, you’ve been given faith that clings to the promises of Jesus; promises, which assure you that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life. By the same Spirit you are given boldness to confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, the One who was crucified carrying the burden of your sins and the sins of your neighbor!

You have been given boldness to declare the He is the One who rose again, bringing you to life again with Him. By this faith which is yours from the Holy Spirit, you receive the very body and blood of Jesus Christ-a gift that also gives you forgiveness for all of your sins and the strengthening of your faith.

What is your message that God the Holy Sprit had equipped you to proclaim this Pentecost season?

Simply this, through Christ God has provided the only way for the entire sinful world to know true and complete forgiveness of sins. This is the life giving water that Jesus first gave to you, and it is the very thing He desires to give to your neighbor through you! When each of us gathers to hear the Word of forgiveness and receive the sacraments which both give faith in this forgiveness and then strengthen that faith, we are being given the power of the Holy Spirit to go out and share these very same things. And when we do this, we see the body of Christ growing; this is the true miracle of Pentecost! It is a symphony of confession, testimony, prayer and praise that rises up to the Holy throne of Jesus Christ in every language across this sinful world. This is the desire and will of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and it is the very mission that He has equipped you for! May God continue to do His Pentecost work within each of our hearts by the power of His Holy Spirit, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Witnessing Jesus Part 2

Sunday, May 15th, 2016

Pentecost Sunday-HL, May 15th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” [Acts 2:21]

That dear friends was the whole purpose of the miraculous gift of the Holy Spirit on the first Pentecost of the New Testament church… so that all would be moved to call upon the name of the Lord and be saved.  But everyone does not call upon the name of the Lord, and here is why…

Because we are fallen, sinful creatures separated from the Creator with no true desire if left on our own, to ever get back to Him on His terms and be right with Him.

In our Old Testament lesson (Genesis 11:1-9) we see just how true that statement is.  These people who are building a name for themselves are just a few centuries old after the flood.  We are told that the whole world had a single language. Since all people came from the family of Noah, it makes sense that their vocabulary would be the same. While it was true that their language hadn’t changed, their attitudes towards God certainly had—and not for the better.

Noah’s descendants started out well. From Armenia, where many believe the ark had come to rest, they journeyed down into the Tigris-Euphrates valley, often referred to as Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq). The direction of their migration was to the southeast; in the Bible it’s described as “eastward,” because the Hebrew language only had expressions for the four points of the compass.

“They found a plain in Shinar and settled there.” A well-watered plain would naturally look good to farmers, and in disobedience to God, they decided to stop their migration and settle down. It didn’t matter to them that God had said, “Be fruitful and multiply.  Fill the earth!” They answered: “Why should we? It doesn’t get any better than this spot!”  They had forgotten that even that spot belonged to God.

The settlement they planned to establish was not a temporary one either. Remember they said, “Let us build ourselves a city,” that sounds pretty permanent. And the materials they chose also make it pretty clear that this settlement was meant to last for a long time. Instead of sun-dried clay, they chose fire-hardened brick for their building project, with tar for mortar instead of the customary mud. And look at the stated purpose of their building project: “so that we may make a name for ourselves.”

“Glory to man in the highest!” They turning God’s plan for us upside-down. They rejected his goal for their lives (to glorify God), and substituted it with a goal of ther own. Sustenance (food and shelter), security, status—these were the life goals the descendants of Noah had adopted to replace God’s call to glorify Him alone as provider and sustainer of all these things and indeed, their very lives.

It shouldn’t surprise us that God through the Holy Spirit intervened in judgment to stop their building project.  “I am the Lord”, He has told us.  “I will not give my glory to another.” [Isaiah 42:8]  And to prove it, the Holy Spirit worked to confuse their languages and through that work cause division and strife, making the completion of their building project impossible.  But on the first Pentecost for the new church, God the Holy Spirit would physically, for a moment in time, undo that work and bring clarity in His message of repentance to His fallen people.

So Who is the Holy Spirit? The immediate answer is that, “He is God!”  He always has been God and He always shall be.

First perhaps it ought to be said that the Holy Spirit is not and invention of the church and it’s theologians.  Among the many lies that unbelievers love to spread is the assertion that Jesus Himself never taught anything about the Holy Spirit.  Oh, is that right?  No it isn’t!

Jesus has a great deal to say about the Holy Spirit.  As we discussed last week, when Jesus was about to leave the disciples and ascend into heaven, He promised them that the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, would come to them.  That’s why they were to remain in Jerusalem until they were clothed with power from on high.  The Spirit would make it possible for them to continue the work of Christ.  He would give them wisdom to be able to speak before governors and kings.  He would teach them all things and lead them into the whole truth.  He would witness to them about Christ.

But then how are we to think about the Holy Spirit?  Well, we should actually not “think” of the Holy Spirit at all.  He is not a product of our intellectual abilities and He can’t be comprehended by our minds alone.  We can learn to know Him only through the work that He has done and is doing among us.  And His work is not to reveal Himself, but to glorify Christ.  He doesn’t seek to describe a likeness of Himself to us, but instead He causes the picture of Christ to come alive before our eyes of faith when the Spirit is at work.

And how does He do this?

The means, which He uses, is the Word of God.  He teaches all that Jesus taught and reminds us of what Jesus said.  It is the work of the Spirit that moves us to perceive the presence of Christ in Holy Scripture.  Through the work of the Holy Spirit, Scripture  becomes the living Word so that we can be confident that Jesus speaks and deals with us still today in the Word and by the power of the Spirit.

As I said earlier, one of the most important things the Holy Spirit does for us is to convince us that we are sinners.  The Holy Spirit is ever working to move our hearts and minds to understand just how twisted and out of balance with God our lives are.

But we also learn through the Word what Christ has done and given to us, which makes all the difference’ it makes us right with God.

In our gospel lesson Jesus tells us that “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” [John 14:23-31]

If you do not read this with the understanding that Jesus is giving the wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit, then you might receive this Word as just another Law of God.  Love me or else!  But that is far from what Jesus is saying.  Just a little further on in His dialogue, Jesus promises that this ability to love Him, to love God will find its origin outside of our selves; He says that it will be a gift from God.  Listen: “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.”

Do you understand now?  Can you see that this is all a work of God the Holy Spirit who is your Helper, your comforter, and friend.  Once you hear these Words of Jesus as good news, the Holy Spirit brings peace.  “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

The work of the Spirit then is to lead us to the assurance of faith that now rests in our hearts through Christ alone.  So we can agree that “the Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”  Christ has given us “His Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.”  It is through the Spirit that we learn to say “Aba Father” or dear Father in Heaven.

You know the truth is, we won’t always feel the great power and assurance of the Spirit’s presence.  But even when we are overwhelmed with worry and fear, and even at the lowest and weakest times of our lives, the Spirit is at work in our hearts. The sign that He has not forsaken us is the fact that we have not forsaken His Word and that Word is constantly awakening repentance and faith within us.

The Holy Spirit cannot be known or possessed unless we have been brought to faith in Christ by the Word.  This is the precise reason why some people cannot possibly understand the meaning of the Holy Spirit.  He is “the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him, nor knows Him.”  But you know Him dear saints, and that makes all the difference!

On the day of Pentecost the disciples were moved by the Holy Spirit to remember all of Jesus Words of Comfort.  And on that day, we could say the agape love of God, as demonstrated through the Passion of Christ the Son of God became the most powerful gift they would ever receive.

Christ did what He said He would do; He made all things right between God and men.  He empowered His church with the love of God and the Holy Spirit to go out into a world of confusion, division, and sin, and speak the need for all men to repent and be baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Why?  So that through Christ’s Word and Sacraments empowered by the Holy Spirit we could once again be united in the love of God unto eternal life.  May this be our truth now and forever more… AMEN!

Witnessing Jesus

Sunday, May 8th, 2016

Easter 7-HL, May 8th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

Here’s a truth that each of us must understand this morning before a single word of gospel hope is declared: Living out our Christian faith, let alone witnessing to it, would be impossible unless God the Holy Spirit was powerfully working within us and among us through His chosen means of grace.  But once the Holy Spirit enters our lives and our hearts, living out our lives becomes a whole different experience.  With the Holy Spirit, the church armed with the Word of God and Christ’s Sacraments (Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper), is equipped as a body and as individuals who are part of that body are sent forth to witness to God’s presence in both our lives and indeed the entire world.

This last Wednesday the universal church celebrated the high and holy day of Christ’s Ascension. As we think about that day this Sunday, we also can’t help but put our selves in the shoes of the disciples.

In addition to awe and wonder as the they witnessed their Lord ascend into heaven from the Mt. of Olives, they also must have been dealing with a sense of fear and worry: “Now what are we suppose to do?”

When the disciples went back to the upper room, back to their normal lives, they perhaps knew more about Jesus than any other people in the whole world would ever know.  So it is fair to say that if Christianity had simply been a matter of knowing Jesus and His teachings and then living by that knowledge, then they could have started to preach and witness about His Kingdom of Grace immediately.  But instead, they were instructed by Jesus to wait patiently in an attitude of prayer and supplication until the gift of the Holy Spirit was given.

So what was it they were lacking?

The disciples lacked the very thing that Jesus promised to give them… the power and comfort of the Holy Spirit.

Let’s think about that for a moment; think about the work that God had prepared for them to accomplish.  They had been given the responsibility to witness about Jesus.  They’d been with Him from the beginning.  They had seen it all and had been taught by the Lord Himself.  Above all, they were witnesses to both His resurrection and His ascension.  But the truth they were to proclaim was also an insurmountable challenge for mere followers of Jesus.  You see…

The man they were to bear witness to had been executed as a blasphemer and a troublemaker.  And what’s more, they too, were promised by Jesus Himself that they could expect to be met with the same violent resistance.  Hadn’t Jesus told them many times that they would be persecuted; that the disciple was not above his teacher? Jesus even said that if they had called the master Beelzebub, what would they do to the servants?  But along with these truths of coming trial and tribulation, Jesus also implied that when the time of testing arrived they were to confidently stand their ground and not fear those who can destroy the body but not their souls.  By now, they must have been thinking, “Easier said than done!”

So now safe and secure in the upper room, their task must have seemed to be impossible.  They were to go out amongst the same people who crucified Jesus and preach and witness that the Man they killed was not only the Messiah but in fact, He was their only hope for eternal life.  And so we can see why the disciples must have felt alone and afraid; their task was to break through the wall of impenitence and hatred that even the Lord’s own words would not shatter.

But there’s still more they had to consider.  Through out all of their living out and proclaiming Christ, they were also called to preserve the purity of the message.  They had to preserve the unity of the church, stick together even when there was no Master among them, and they must preach the gospel even though there was no one with them physically to counsel with.  All of this demanded more than mere human powers could supply.  But Jesus had never expected them to fulfill their responsibilities alone.  God Himself would fulfill the task with them.  He would clothe them with power from on high.  He would open the way for the Word by convicting men of sin and of righteousness.  He would give His messengers a power and a wisdom, which would overcome their enemies.  He would lead them in all of God’s own truth.  He would preserve the vision of Christ living and untarnished.  He would Himself speak through their tongues and words.  And …

To accomplish this miraculous task, Christ would gather is little lambs into one body, His body the church, and He would do it all through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Through the church, God would gather His eternal and spiritual Israel, His faithful saints.  He would gather them from all the nations and ethnicities throughout the world and bring each of them into their own country the church, which would be for them a foretaste of their eternal Home in Paradise, a place that had been prepared for them by Jesus Himself.

Through the preaching of the Gospel of hope, the washing of Holy Baptism, and the sustenance of  spiritual food and drink received at the Lord’s Holy Table, Christ through the work and power of the Holy Spirit would create and sustain His dear saints.  That is by the grace of God and the gift of the Holy Spirit that comes from God through the Word of God Jesus Christ, God the Father would created, gather and send out His children of faith through the power and direction of God the Holy Spirit to speak to and gather even more redeemed sinners into the Christian faith.

All of this is taking place even today by God through you and me, by the power and work of the Holy Spirit.  You see…

Christianity is not simply knowing about Jesus and following Him.

Our Christian faith, and indeed our entire lives is something that can only be experienced where God is at work in the presence and person of the Holy Spirit.  For the disciples this was a daily experience.  That’s why they spoke of witnessing together with one heart and mind through the Holy Spirit; that’s why they could insist that they and the Holy Spirit acted together, as they walked in the Spirit and by the Spirit.

God the Holy Spirit promises us today just as He promised the disciples who witnessed Jesus ascension long ago, that as He has changed our hard and unbelieving hearts and sustains new life and faith within us, He desires to do the very same thing with those we come in contact with as we share with them the story of Jesus and His victory over sin, death, and the devil.  A victory that was accomplished through His passion and death upon the cross, the empty tomb of His resurrection, and His return to the right hand of the Father through His ascension.

Dear friends, Christ did not want you to be trapped by ignorance of the hard times that lay ahead for the church, His church.  He clearly described the resistance that we would face as together we witness to the “one thing needful” for salvation… faith in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.  If we try to go about the calling of Jesus to seek and save the lost on our own with a different message, we will only discover failure and misery.  But if we go out living our lives within the various vocations we find ourselves in, we will find both success and joy in our calling to be witnesses to the love of God, which is ours through Christ Jesus.

Our task and calling today as both individuals and members of the universal body of Christ is to spread the knowledge of Jesus.  Not to declare a message that makes us comfortable or will make our neighbors comfortable, but the truth that Christ died for sinners of which you and I are the chiefs of, and so are they that we witness Christ to.  Not only does God want to be a part of our sometimes-mundane lives, but He wants to be a part of our neighbors’ lives too.  He wants to offer His gift of salvation to others through us.

No wonder we talk about joy in the Holy Spirit.  What a tremendous reason to be alive in this world today.  What a tremendous reason to look forward to what every tomorrow holds.  God wants to use you… He wants to work through you… He wants to show Himself to other people both here in this place of worship and in your life as you lead them only and always to Christ alone; as you declare the Easter message: “Christ has risen, indeed!  AMEN!”

It All Comes Down To This

Sunday, May 24th, 2015

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost B, May 28, 2015

Click here for audio of this message

It all comes down to this!  Down to what?  The coming, presence, and work of the Holy Spirit, of course!  Jesus said, “… I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.  And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.”

Now, I know the presence of the Holy Spirit is nothing new; His Work was essential, “In the beginning.. (when) the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.  And (He empowered the Word of God when) … God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” [Genesis 1:4]

The Spirit was there with Adam and Eve as they were repelled out of Paradise, and it was the Spirit Who constantly reminded them of the Promise of restoration through the coming Champion who would destroy sin, death, and the devil, and bring humanity back to Paradise.  The Holy Spirit was with Noah and the Animals as the Ark was built and the animals were compelled to enter the Ark in peace.  The Holy Spirit was with Moses as He parted the sea and led God’s people to dry land.  It was the Spirit who filled every one of the prophets of old and the Apostles of Jesus to speak Words of hope and new life, all once again centered around the Champion who has actually fulfilled the promise of Paradise restored.  And that champion is Jesus Christ, crucified, risen, and ascended!

Now this is all “good news” but it is not the only news on this day of Pentecost.  The news of Pentecost is that not only has Christ risen, but also that He has risen for you.  And here’s the best part of that proclamation, it is empowered by the Holy Spirit to actually bring you a new life with God, and take you back to Paradise; back to a right relationship with God!

So, the Good News for each of you today, is that through the fulfilled Word of God, you have been given faith to believe in each and every promise God makes regarding your sin and Christ’s Work upon the cross to take away your sin.  You have been given faith to know this truth as a certainty.  Just as the Spirit at creation hovered over the waters to empower the Word of God to create everything out of nothing, so too He has empowered God’s promise of forgiveness and restoration and the waters of your baptism.

But here’s another truth…

Life without faith is desperate. In our Old Testament lesson, we are given a graphic demonstration of this desperation through the vision God gave to His prophet Ezekiel.  The valley of dry bones is the ultimate expression of life overstepping its limits, which is the abandonment of hope in the Creator God.

Ezekiel’s vision is the reality of our world today.  Certainly the Christian martyrs in the middle east must feel dry, desolate and alone as they die one by one through the demonic power of ISIS.  But we do not have to go that far to know the feeling of emptiness and abandonment; how must the people of Detroit feel as they think back to better days when the economy was booming and neighborhoods and business were flourishing, but now all that stands are the burn out shells of homes and businesses that once were.

The Mexican artist, Jose Guadalupe Posada created a large body of art showing persons engaged in a wide variety of daily activities, but each were depicted as skeletons.  In one drawing he depicted a soldier riding through a valley of bones full of human skulls.  What was he trying to tell us?  Was he trying to say that hope in the government above or in place of our hope in God only leads to death?

Perhaps the most terrifying aspect of Ezekiel’s vision is after the bones became skeletons, and after the skeletons were fleshed, what filled the immense valley floor? Bodies of real people who are simply dead because they lack the touch of the Holy Spirit; they lack the breath of life!  This dear saints is the ultimate tragedy… not that people die, but that they refuse to live.  The flesh without spirit, not the dry bones is the most haunting aspect of Ezekiel’s vision.  A world of zombies, the walking dead if you will who are in that state and don’t know it, or worse yet they know but they do not seem to mind.  But…

Life with faith in Christ overcomes the curse of the walking dead; it overcomes despair! Jesus declared to the world and to you personally on the day of your baptism, “I came that (you) may have life and have it abundantly.” [John 10:10]  He is the only One who can not only speak hope, but deliver it.  He not only promises a restored and renewed hope, but His Word actually gives it.

Every Word that Jesus spoke and taught was to prepare each of you for that one moment in your life when you realize that there is something great and profound missing in life, and then receive it!  When your moment of despair comes, and sometimes they come frequently like the waves on the ocean shore, when it comes it is God’s will that you recall His promises of forgiveness and restoration, which you have heard declared, read, or even sung, and then remember.  Remember what?

Remember that although through His Word you have discovered that your sin is great, deadly, and terrifying, you must also remember that all of Christ’s righteousness has been given to you completely through His Work upon the cross and the declaration of the empty tomb.

But the Easter cry of “He is risen” is like a iPhone without a battery, if you can not or will not reply, “Indeed, He has risen for me!”  And this is now getting at the power of the abundant life that Jesus has promised to the church, and through the church , to the world.  This is where we discover that…

Life with Christ finds empowerment through the Holy Spirit in the church for the work of witness and missions! So it all comes down to this… The day of Pentecost is a demonstration of both the love and power of God, which takes the good news of forgiveness of sins and ensures that it will be declared throughout the world.

As Peter and the disciples gathered in the upper room right after their Lord Jesus ascended into heaven, they must have felt alone and afraid.  But they knew somehow they were not abandoned; they knew that Jesus would make good on His promise to send a helper, a counselor, and protector.  And my, did he ever…

Some may say rightly that until that day when the Spirit showed up in power, Christians were just playing the part of church; they were playing around with the idea of Christ, not yet allowing the resurrected and ascended Christ to come alive in their midst.  Again, they were like an iPhone without a battery, or better yet they were like a bus without an engine.  But then something happened on the Day of Pentecost… Jesus made good on His promise; He sent the Holy Spirit.

The entire account given to us in our second reading (Acts 2:1-21) can not help but excite us and invite us into the story of the church. The imagery of the event comes alive as it glows with tongues of fire and the bewilderment of other languages. People seem to be staggering and stammering like drunken men. But when Peter speaks and the air clears, that which is testified to, is nothing other than the mighty works of God.

Dear friends, the mighty works of the Holy Spirit are still being performed today.  We witness the same power as the dreams of the old and the visions of the young people refuse to play church, but actually become and behave as church through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.  And this mighty work is none other than the work of salvation; the translation of sinners into saints for “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved!”

When ever the Word is proclaimed, whether through the work of the sermon, Bible Study, personal witness, or when it is carried overseas to far way places, it is fulfilling the mission of Christ found in Matthew 28:”Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Vs. 19, 20) So Pentecost is really the birth of Missions or the empowerment of the church to fulfill Christ’s mission.

As you leave this place but not Christ’s presence, you leave reminded that you are on a mission to share the good news that sinners sins have been forgiven through the work of Christ alone. But you do not go alone; you have been empowered and you are protected by the Holy Spirit.  And as you share the good news, what will be the response that you will receive from friends, neighbors, and family?

Now we are at the very heart of sinful mankind’s response to the gospel.

Humanity’s situation without God is so desperate and their opportunities with Him are so big that almost any response seems inadequate and even a little ridiculous.  Do people fall to their knees and cry mercy or rise to their feet and cry glory; once they are converted by the Holy Spirit, do they spend a period of time in study and training or do they rise from the valley of dry bones in service to God and neighbor?

To dwell on questions like those can also be another way we play church and play with the mission of Christ.  Why not face the facts as we know them; anyone who has been struck by the Spirit of Pentecost has received the breath of life; they’ve been recreated through the waters of Holy Baptism.  In other words they have been reanimated.  And what they do next is the very same thing we do every day…

We repent! We believe and we become what God has already declared we are… Redeemed!  Repentance is the heart beat of the church.  It is the radical turning of the whole self from itself, to a right relationship with God through the cross of Jesus Christ.  To be baptized is to enter into the life and mission of the church.  To receive the Holy Spirit is to allow the Sprit to shape your life in obedient witness and service to Him who first loved us!  And yes, it may even mean making amends for past wrongs, selling or giving away what we don’t need and sharing the proceeds or other goods with the needy, sharing a common life with other Christians on days other than Sunday, worshiping daily and breaking bread in homes, the very transformation that marked the Christian community after the great day of Pentecost. [Acts 2:37-47]

SO IT ALL COMES DOWN TO THIS. The Holy Spirit is among us in great power, just as He was in the beginning, just as He was with Adam and Eve, just as He was with Noah, Moses, the prophets and apostles of old, and just as He was that first Pentecost Sunday.  In the past all who have made a difference within the building and growth of God’s Kingdom only did so because they were willingly being led by God’s Word and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.  So it all comes down to this.  Are you willing?  I pray in Jesus name that you are… Amen!

Rejoice, Pray, and Give Thanks!

Sunday, December 14th, 2014

Third Sunday in Advent-B, December 14, 2014

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message.

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” [Isaiah 61:1]

You dear Christians know these Words well, don’t you?  Of course you do; it was your Lord who read them in the synagogue and added these additional gospel Words: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” [Luke 4:21]  In other Words, Jesus is telling us that this prophecy spoken first by Isaiah is ultimately fulfilled by the work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  But do not diminish the importance of the prophet Isaiah, all other prophets, John the Baptist, the holy Apostles, and all faithful preachers and proclaimers of God’s Word, including this humble preacher who stands before you.

My earnest prayer is that God would train each of our hearts to hear His Word when faithfully proclaimed and know by faith that the preacher’s Words are really in fact God’s Word, and that the man addressing you is to be received as a scholar from God.  Speaking through the mouth of the preacher is not simply the voice of a thousand angels but Christ Himself declaring that God is present to bring into your hearts a message of true and lasting forgiveness of sins.  He is speaking to repair hearts that have been broken by other’s sin, to free you from the condemnation of the Law of God, and to free you from the accusations of guilt that come from your own conscience.  In other Words, this is your season of blessing and good favor from God Himself!

Isn’t this the one message that we sinners long to hear?  Isn’t it true that with out the work of Christ that sets us free from our sin and guilt, we in fact remain imprisoned by our own passions and lust for something that never seems to  complete us or fulfill us?  Don’t we all really just yearn to hear God say, “Your sins are forgiven”?  And this dear friends is exactly the message that God is bringing to you this morning.  You are forgiven!  If you will receive this message and work of Christ, then you will find that your ashes of failure have been replaced with the oil of gladness instead of mourning.  And instead of walking around like old “Sad Sack” in your dark and lonely attire, God has in fact clothed you in Christ’s own robe of righteousness, which for you is to be a garment of praise unto your God and Savior.

Now you may be wondering if all of this is true for you, and if so how it can be true.  And simply put, your answer is this: “It is the Lord Jesus work and it is marvelous in our sight!”  In your baptism, Christ planted you within His garden, within His kingdom to be a mighty oak of praise unto your God.  All who see you are to acknowledge you as the very offspring of God, a child who is highly favored and blessed.

You are here to rejoice in the Lord so that others will also be drawn into His year of favor and Kingdom of Grace.  But how?  The answer is in our Epistle reading (1 Thessalonians 5:16-24).

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit.”

Now, at first this might sound like just another demand of the Law of God; a demand that like all others is outside of our ability to complete.  You might hear it like this: Rejoice, don’t ever stop praying… ever, and don’t ever forget to say “thank you” to the Lord, or else!  But remember, God has sent me this morning to proclaim good news and to set you free from your fears of failure to measure up.  He has sent me to point out to you this part of the reading: “For this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  Do you hear that?  It is God’s will, His desire that you be in a continuous spirit of prayer, that you offer up praise and rejoice in His presence, and that you be thankful in all things, and because it is His will for you He will make sure that you are able.  This morning it is my duty and privilege to proclaim to you that it is “He who began the good work in you  (who) will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” [Philippians 1:6]

Do you understand dear saints that it is not your responsibility to complete you in God’s holiness, but instead, it is the Lord’s work that completes you?  It is the work of the Holy Spirit, which since your baptism has dwelt in you richly in order to complete what was begun in your baptism.  And it is also the Holy Spirit’s work to ensure that you are in fact bearing the fruit of Christ’s cross.

From Christ’s passion upon the cross, your heart has been taken to the Font where you received that holy cleansing of the water and the Word, and from the Font, your hearts have been given the faith necessary to receive the Word of God as it comes directly from His heart and into yours.  And as this Word continues to sanctify, that is preserve you in faith and eternal life, you experience the work of the Holy Spirit, which gives you a spirit of joy.

Rejoicing in the Lord is a natural and consistent expression of one who has been forgiven much through Christ.  And because it is a work of the Holy Spirit, and not your own, it causes you to be filled with joy, a glad confidence in knowing that all things will work together for your good.  But the ugliness of this sinful world does its best to take our eyes of faith off of God’s own goodness through Christ, and for this reason, God has commanded you to call out to Him in prayer.

Prayer, that is the ability to speak directly to God at any given time, is a privilege given only to those who see a need for a Savior.   Those who scoff at the infant lowly, born in a manger and crucified upon the cross for the sins of the world, obviously see no need for a Savior; they have neither God’s ear nor heart when they pray.  Why?  Because prayer is a privilege given only to those who know that without Jesus, they are helpless and hopeless.  You see it is your ability to call out to God in prayer knowing that in Christ, you are never helpless and vulnerable, which empowers you to naturally produce another trait that God wills we Christians to have… a spirit of thankfulness.

Be thankful in all circumstances.  In other words be thankful in all things.  This does not mean that we are to be thankful for all things, because as we all no there is much evil in this world, but in the midst of the evil, we can be thankful that in Christ, all of God is right there with us. (Cancer, Illness, Addiction?)

One of the most difficult things that God’s Word asks us to do is to adjust to the many changes that happen in our lives.  But it becomes so much easier when we remember that He is right there with us in the midst of those changes.  And this is another reason why we must gather often to hear His Word proclaimed; we must be reminded constantly that because the God who delivered me from my sins through Christ is ever and always at work throughout life’s changes, then at the very least I can by faith be thankful to Him for the work He is doing to preserve me in the one true faith.

Thanksgiving, prayer, and rejoicing are God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  These three crisp words jump out at us not as a command, but as a description of the desire of God’s heart.  They are gifts of the Holy Spirit, that keep our hearts centered on the work of Christ’s cross and the promise of the resurrection, which is proclaimed through Christ’s empty tomb.  We must remind each other that because we are adopted children of God through Christ, we have been enable by God to live out holy lives and embrace the fullness of live that is ours by grace.  But even this too is a work of God, performed so that we might never quench the work of the Holy Spirit that sanctifies us until the day of Jesus Christ.

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; that is may no nook or cranny of your life be left without the peace of God.  May He reign undisturbed in every portion of your being, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it, and it can be done in no other way.  AMEN!

Living Pentecost Water

Sunday, June 8th, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost A, June 8, 2014

Click here for audio of this message

Why does the church set aside and remember the Pentecost experience, which is so beautifully presented in all three of our readings (Numbers 11:24–30, Acts 2:1–21, John 7:37–39)? Is it done to create in Christians a desire to speak in strange tongues?  Is it set aside to show that there are everyday Christians and then there are super Christians who have these miraculous gifts of the Spirit?  Maybe we remember this day to remind us how far the church has fallen from the position that God desires us to be in?  Well, the answer to all three of those questions is a resounding “No!”

The true reason for remembering the  Pentecost experience is that it was a physical illustration for what Jesus spoke of in our gospel reading. Listen: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ” [Jn 7:37b, 38]  Let’s look at these Words a little closer and allow God to teach us what we are to remember during these next 23 weeks of Pentecost; a period where we are invited to meditate on the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, in our church, and in our community!

What we learn first is that if any of us are ever to experience the presence of the Holy Spirit, we must first perceive a need for Him; we must have a thirst for His holy presence and power!  How are we to be given such a thirst?  Through the power of God’s Word, specifically His Law and that portion of His Word that promises to give forgiveness of sins.  It is the Law of God that shows us our sins and how badly we need His forgiving love!  And it is His Gospel that actually gives us that forgiveness of sins.  He gives this forgiveness to us as a wonderful gift of God, a gift that can never be earned or achieved through our own efforts.

Too many preachers today are simply leading their congregations deeper into thirst by telling them what they need to do in order to know happiness, peace, and success.  But telling someone what they need to do doesn’t ever give them the ability to do it!  And to this, along comes Jesus, and He comes with a teaching that is completely different; He actually does offer a way to quench their spiritual thirst; a way to know God’s loving and kind heart!  And where does He send them to find this spiritually thirst-quenching drink?  To Himself, that’s where!

Jesus is telling us that all other sermons that preachers preach are simply the fancies of a sinful mind.  He is telling us that there really is no way to be right with God except by coming to Him!  Except by coming to Jesus through faith, there really is no way to bring peace to a conscience that knows it daily sins against God!  Our sinful consciences long for one thing more than anything else; they long to hear, “Your sin is forgiven!”  When we can hear these Words and believe them, then and only then will our spiritual thirst be quenched!

“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.”  In these words Jesus is telling us that outside of His message of gospel peace we wont find one single drop of comfort, comfort that can satisfy our thirst!  Outside of this invitation to come to Him and drink and rest, there is only more thirsting and tormenting of our terrified conscience; a conscience that is really dying of thirst!

But what happens after we drink?  What happens after we simply receive the forgiveness of Jesus Christ?  Well Jesus says that “Whoever believes in Him, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ”

You see, because you have turned to Jesus, He assures you that as long as you keep coming to Him and His Words of life, you will have streams of living water coming out of you!  He is assuring you that because you come to Him, He will equip you to not only have your thirst quenched but to also help bring others to the same living water so that they too can be satisfied!  And now we are beginning to see the true miracle of Pentecost!

Through the Living Word of God, Jesus is promising you that not only will He satisfy your own thirst, but He will use you to help satisfy the thirst for forgiveness that others have!  And all of this is done through the Word of God, through the gospel!  The longer the gospel is preached and shared, the more effectively it goes out satisfying your thirst and the thirst of others. But how can simply sharing God’s Word and forgiveness of sins do all of this?  Because behind the Word is the power of the Holy Spirit!

When Jesus was speaking these Word’s the Holy Spirit hadn’t yet been poured out on all those who believed in Him.  Certainly the Holy Spirit was present, but His power to build the church and propel it out into a sinful world hadn’t yet been demonstrated.  But make no mistake, where God’s Word is there is also His power; but it is His power, and we must remember that He uses it when, where, and how He determines.  As Jesus spoke that day, the people whose hearts were prepared by the Holy Spirit began to experience a great quenching of their spiritual thirst!  And as we are listening this morning, our thirst for God’s forgiveness is also being quenched!  But how can this great work of quenching spiritual thirst, of forgiving sins be continued in a mighty way throughout history and across the entire face of the earth?  Only through the power of God’s Holy Spirit.  And that is the reason the great day of Pentecost is worth remembering and observing!

In our reading from Acts [2:1-21], we can make a couple of noteworthy observations.  First we see that everyone was equally filled with the Holy Spirit.  That means men, women, and children; each was equally filled and equipped for the task that was given to them.  There is no need for one to desire the gifts of the other; they were equal.  So the prayer of Moses in our Old Testament reading, that asked “that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put His Spirit on them” was answered! [Numbers 11:29]

Second, we see that the Spirit gave them utterance, or maybe a better way to say this is that the Spirit gave them the Words they were to speak!  And now the real question is not how did they speak, but what did they speak!

You see, if you let your focus be only on the fact that they were able to speak in foreign tongues, well  then you are missing the whole desire and will of God!  And what is the will and desire of God?  That all sinful men and women would hear the gospel and repent, that is turn to Jesus Christ and be saved!  That all of us would come to Jesus and drink of His life giving waters!  That was the message that each one of the disciples were speaking that day and that is the message that God would have you share with your neighbors within this very community as He gives you the opportunity.  And how are you to speak and what are you to say?  Should you have some scripture memorized?  What if your nervous; what if, what if, what if!

You see, if you let your worries and fears get in the way, then you are once again taking the focus off of the giver of the gift and looking at what kind of gift you want.  Remember, God fills each of us equally.  The Spirit fills every single believer in the church and He uses every one of us according to His desire not ours.  We must simply rest in the fact that the day of Pentecost raised each of us to the same level.  Just as the Holy Spirit loosened the tongues of the disciples to praise God in the way He desired on that day, so He does for us today!  Like them, our hearts shall overflow with grace and power, and our tongues will speak of that grace and power!  Each of us have been equipped by the same Spirit to confess our faith, to pray and praise!  This is our testimony to Christ’s thirst quenching and life giving waters!

So why don’t you and I have the ability like the early disciples to speak in foreign languages?  Well I suppose it’s simply because the Holy Spirit doesn’t need us to!  Back then, He determined that great signs and wonders were needed to propel the church throughout the world, all so that everyone who was dying of spiritual thirst could be quenched!  I would say that He’s done a pretty good job of growing the church.  Can you think of a single country where Jesus has not been preached?  I can’t!  But just because the Holy Spirit has changed the external way He works, doesn’t mean that He isn’t working!

In Holy Baptism, where you received the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, you too have been given the gift of faith so that you can understand the teachings of Jesus, teachings that have been handed down to you by the Apostles through the work of that same Spirit.  By the Holy Spirit, you’ve been given faith, faith that clings to the promises of Jesus; promises, which assure you that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.  By the same Spirit you are given boldness to confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, the One who was crucified carrying the burden of your sins and the sins of your neighbor!  You have been given boldness to declare that He is the One who rose again, bringing you to life again with Him.  By this faith which is yours from the Holy Spirit, you receive the very body and blood of Jesus Christ-a gift that also gives you forgiveness for all of your sins and the strengthening of your faith.

This is your testimony!  This is the life giving water that Jesus gave first to you and it is the very thing He desires to give to your neighbor through you!  When each of us gathers to hear the Word and receive the sacraments we are being given the power of the Holy Spirit to go out and share these things.  And when we do this, we see the body of Christ growing; this is the true miracle of Pentecost!  It is a symphony of confession, testimony, prayer and praise that rises up to the Holy throne of Jesus Christ in every language across this sinful world.  This is the desire and will of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and it is the very mission that He has equipped you for!  May God continue to do His Pentecost work within each of our hearts by the power of His Holy Spirit, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

What Makes You Come Alive?

Sunday, May 19th, 2013

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

Click here for audio of this message

“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!

What is this Living Water?

Sunday, June 12th, 2011

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost A, June 12, 2011
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Why does the church set aside and remember the Pentecost experience, which is so beautifully presented in all three of our readings?  Is it done to create in all converted Christians a desire to speak in strange tongues?  Is it set aside to show that there are everyday Christians and then there are super Christians who have these miraculous gifts of the Spirit?  Maybe we remember this day to remind us how far the church has fallen from the position that God desires us to be in?  Well, the answer to all three of these questions is a resounding “No!”  The true reason for remembering the  Pentecost experience can be found in our gospel reading in Jesus own Words.  Listen: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ” [Jn 7:37b, 38]  Let’s look at these Words a little closer and allow God to teach us what we are to remember  during these next 23 weeks of Pentecost; a period where we are invited to meditate on the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, in our church, and in our community!

What we learn first is that if any of us are ever to experience the presence of the Holy Spirit, we must first perceive a need for Him; we must have a thirst for His presence and His power!  How are we to be given such a thirst?  Through the power of God’s Word, specifically His Law that shows us how much we need His forgiving love!  This is a forgiveness that can never be earned or achieved through our own efforts.  So many preachers today are simply leading their congregations deeper into thirst by telling them what they need to do, in order to know happiness, peace, and success.  But telling someone what they need to do doesn’t ever give them the ability to do it!  And to this, along comes Jesus, and He comes with a teaching that is completely different; He actually does offer a way to quench their spiritual thirst; a way to now God’s loving and kind heart!  And where does He send them to find a thirst-quenching drink?  To Himself that’s where!

Jesus is telling us that all other sermons that preachers preach are simply the fancies of a sinful mind.  He is telling us that there really is no way to be right with God except by coming to Him!  Except by coming to Jesus through faith, there really is no way to bring peace to a conscience that knows it daily sins against God!  Our sinful consciences long for one thing more than anything else; they long to hear, “Your sin is forgiven!”  When we can hear these Words and believe them then and only then will our spiritual thirst be quenched! 

“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.”  In these words Jesus is telling us that outside of His message of gospel peace we will not find even one single drop of comfort, comfort that can satisfy our thirst!  Outside of this invitation to come to Him and drink and rest there is only more thristing and tormenting of our terrified conscience; a conscience that is really dying of thirst! 

But what happens after we drink?  What happens after we simply receive the forgiveness of Jesus Christ?  Well Jesus says that “Whoever believes in Him, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ”  You see, because you have turned to Jesus, He assures you that as long as you keep coming to Him and His Words of life, you will have streams of living water coming out of you!  He is assuring you that because you come to Him, He will equip you to not only have your thirst quenched but to also help bring others to the same living water so that they too can be satisfied!  And now we are beginning to see the true miracle of Pentecost!  Through the Living Word of God, Jesus is promising you that not only will He satisfy your own thirst, but He will use you to help satisfy the thirst for forgiveness that others have!  And all of this is done through the Word of God, through the gospel!  The longer the gospel is preached and shared, the more effectively it goes out satisfying your thirst and the thirst of others.

How can simply sharing God’s Word and forgiveness of sins do all of this?  Because behind the Word is the power of the Holy Spirit!  When Jesus was speaking these Word’s the Holy Spirit hadn’t yet been poured out on all those who believed in Him.  Certainly the Holy Spirit was present, but His power to build the church and propel it out into a sinful world hadn’t yet been demonstrated.  But make no mistake, where God’s Word is there is also His power; but it is His power, and we must remember that He uses it when, where, and how He determines.  As Jesus spoke that day, the people whose hearts were prepared by the Holy Spirit began to experience a great quenching of their spiritual thirst!  And as we are listening this morning, our thirst for God’s forgiveness is also being quenched!  But how can this great work of quenching spiritual thirst, of forgiving sins be continued in a mighty way throughout history and across the entire face of the earth?  Only through the power of God’s Holy Spirit.  And that is the reason the great day of Pentecost is worth remembering and observing!

In our reading from Acts [2:1-21], we can make a couple of noteworthy observations.  First we see that everyone was equally filled with the Holy Spirit.  That means men, women, and children; each was equally filled and equipped for the task that was given to them.  There is no need for one to desire the gifts of the other; they were equal.  So the prayer of Moses in our Old Testament reading, that asked “that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put His Spirit on them” was answered! [Numbers 11:29]   Second, we see that the Spirit gave them utterance, or maybe a better way to say this is that the Spirit gave them the Words they were to speak!  And now the real question is not how did they speak, but what did they speak! 

You see, if you let your focus be only on the fact that they were able to speak in foreign tongues, well  then you are missing the whole desire and will of God!  And what is the will and desire of God?  That all sinful men and women would repent, turn to Jesus Christ and be saved!  That all of us would come to Jesus and drink of His life giving waters!  That was the message that each one of the disciples were speaking that day and that is the message that God would have you share with your neighbors within this very community as He gives you the opportunity.  And how are you to speak and what are you to say?  Should you have some scripture memorized?  What if your nervous; what if, what if, what if!

You see, if you let your worries and fears get in the way, then you are once again taking the focus off of the giver of the gift and looking at what kind of gift you want.  Remember, God fills each of us equally.  The Spirit fills every single believer in the church and He uses every one of us according to His desire not ours.  We must simply rest in the fact that the day of Pentecost raised each of us to the same level.  Just as the Holy Spirit loosened the tongues of the disciples to praise God in the way He desired on that day, so He does for us today!  Like them, our hearts shall overflow with grace and power, and our tongues will speak of that grace and power!  Each of us have been equipped by the same Spirit to confess our faith, to pray and praise!  This is our testimony to Christ’s thirst quenching and life giving waters!

So why don’t you and I have the ability like the early disciples to speak in strange tongues?  Well I suppose it’s simply because the Holy Spirit doesn’t need us to!  Back then, He determined that great signs and wonders were needed to propel the church throughout the world, all so that everyone who was dying of spiritual thirst could be quenched!  I would say that He’s done a pretty good job of growing the church.  Can you think of a single country where Jesus has not been preached?  I can’t!  But just because the Holy Spirit has changed the external way He works, doesn’t mean that He isn’t working!

In Holy Baptism, where you received the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, you too have given the gift of faith so that you can understand the teachings of Jesus, teachings that have been handed down to you by the Apostles through the work of that same Spirit.  By the Holy Spirit, you’ve been given faith that clings to the promises of Jesus; promises, which assure you that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.  By the same Spirit you are given boldness to confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, the One who was crucified carrying the burden of your sins and the sins of your neighbor!  You have been given boldness to declare the He is the One who rose again, bringing you to life again with Him.  By this faith which is yours from the Holy Spirit, you receive the very body and blood of Jesus Christ-a gift that also gives you forgiveness for all of your sins and the strengthening of your faith.  This is your testimony!  This is the life giving water that Jesus gave first to you and it is the very thing He desires to give to your neighbor through you!  When each of us gathers to hear the Word and receive the sacraments we are being given the power of the Holy Spirit to go out and share these things.  And when we do this, we see the body of Christ growing; this is the true miracle of Pentecost!  It is a symphony of confession, testimony, prayer and praise that rises up to the Holy throne of Jesus Christ in every language across this sinful world.  This is the desire and will of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and it is the very mission that He has equipped you for!  May God continue to do His Pentecost work within each of our hearts by the power of His Holy Spirit, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!