Posts Tagged ‘Mission’

You Are My Witnesses!

Sunday, November 10th, 2013

Proclaimer: Mark Kunkee—Deacon, Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA, November 10, 2013
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In the Name of Jesus

INTRODUCTION: You are my witnesses, Jesus says. Christ is the faithful witness as His life is a confession of the true faith that reveals our compassionate Father’s ever-giving heart. A witness to Christ confesses the true faith. By the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, our Lord has called us His witnesses as people who share what He has given to us so that all would know the Father’s saving love. You are my witnesses, then, is Christ’s call to our real identity for the true confession of the faith in words and actions that inspire works of mercy in our life together.
I. Christ Jesus our Lord speaks to us so that we are His witnesses.

He sends His Holy Spirit so that His people may be witnesses as repentance and forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all nations. You are my witnesses. When Christ speaks to us today. He speaks to us through  pastors, deacons/deaconesses and anyone who believes in the word no matter what the season is to preach the Word. How are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?

Pastors are sent by God to preach and teach the Law, proclaiming what God expects of His people according to His divine goodness. That Word of Law shows us our sin, our blatant and rebellious disregard for Christ’s life and teaching and our ego-driven rejection of His promises. It shows how deaf we are to Christ’s  compassionate voice of forgiveness, life and salvation as we reject our identity as His witnesses. The Good News that Christ came into the world as the great witness to the Father’s abounding love to suffer and die for our sin and rise again so that we may live releases us from the bondage of suffering and death. As repentance and forgiveness of sins is proclaimed in His Name, the promised Holy Spirit continues to call, gather, enlighten and sanctify people in the one true faith. Commissioned servants also work in our church body as teachers, deacons /deaconesses, directors of  education, parish music, nurses and others witnessing the living Christ.

You are my witnesses, Christ says to us today. Christ Jesus has spoken to the women of the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League so that they may be His Lutheran Women in Mission. Throughout the ages, the Lutheran Woman’s Quarterly has included Bible studies that have been used by people all over the world. Through the Word, our Lord engages people for lives of witnessing. Stories of faith in those pages of the Lutheran Woman’s Quarterly exhibit the mutual conversation and consolation of the saints that we believe, teach, and confess in the Smalcald Articles of our Lutheran Confessions. Mustard Seed devotions from the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League left in hotel rooms, restaurants and greeting cards show how the witness of Christ continues to permeate the world. You are my witnesses, Christ says through His servants in the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League.


II. Christ not only speaks to us so that we are His witnesses; Christ leads us out so that we are His witnesses.

How does he do this?  He does this when He brings us to the waters of Holy Baptism where we die to our sin and rise to newness of life. Buried with Him in our baptism, we are united with Him in His resurrection witness. As He gathers His people at His altar to receive His precious Body and Blood, Christ leads His people out from the altar into the world. As the Divine Service concludes inside the church building, divine service continues in the world as the people of God are sent forth as witnesses. There is no need to fear; the resurrected Christ has gone before us to prepare the way for us. Christ has led the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League out to be Lutheran Women in Mission. The pledge of the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League is centered in Christ’s initiative. We consecrate to our Savior our hands to work for Him, our feet to go on His errands, our voice to sing His praises, our lips to proclaim His redeeming love, our silver and our gold to extend His Kingdom, our will to do His will, and every power of our life to the great task of bringing the lost and the erring into eternal fellowship with Him. Amen.” By the power of the Holy Spirit given in the Means of the Spirit, Christ has led Lutheran Women in Mission out from their individual homes and local congregations to cities and countries far away. With money collected in mites, the women of the Lutheran Women Missionary League have been led out by Christ to every continent on earth sharing His redeeming love as they have heard the voice of Christ saying, You are my witnesses.


III. Christ speaks to us and leads us as His witnesses and Christ blesses us to be His witnesses.

Even today, Christ opens His nail-pierced hands in love to satisfy the desire of every living thing as He blesses us for His service in the world through our various vocations. Today, we especially celebrate how Christ blesses the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League to be Lutheran Women in Mission. We celebrate God’s goodness shown to us in Jesus Christ by celebrating witness, mercy, and life together in the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League.

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and many others have been blessed through the hands of women who have shared the gifts that God has given for the extension of His Kingdom as congregations have been founded, schools have been supported, outreach centers have been funded, and lives have been transformed as Lutheran Women in Mission have confessed the truth of the Gospel by bearing witness to Christ It continues in worship as Christ speaks through us, leads through us, and blesses others through us. And it will culminate in endless worship as we look to the Day of His return when we who have been spoken to by Christ and who have been led out by Him are blessed to be raised from the dead and in our flesh to live in the joy of being His people forever. You are my witnesses, Christ our Lord says. Confessing the truth in love and serving the Lord with gladness, we rejoice that Christ speaks to us, leads us out and blesses us as He graciously entrusts us with the Gospel in our ears, eyes, hands, and mouths saying, You are my witnesses.

CONCLUSION: And as we today hear God’s word we also recognize the birth of our founding father Martin Luther.  It was Luther who God chose to use as a tool to free His Word so that it could empower His people to once again be His witnesses.  He empowers us with this brief slogan that Luther lived and died by; a slogan we too should embrace and celebrate as we live to give witness to God’s presence and forgiving love in our lives, and in our community.  The slogan is simply this: We live by faith alone, grace alone, and scripture alone.  I pray that this word you have received will help you to do just that, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Gathering the Scattered!

Sunday, July 22nd, 2012

Eighth Sunday in Pentecost B, July 22, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were
like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.
[Mark 6:34]

Do you know what happens to sheep when they don’t have a true shepherd?  That’s right, they scatter!   And once they scatter they can get into all kinds of  trouble; trouble that usually ends in their death.  Why even sheep who have a shepherd can get themselves into a whole lot of trouble; that’s why the  shepherd will leave the 99 to search for the one who has wandered off.

An American, traveling in Syria, saw three native shepherds bring their flocks to the same brook, and the flocks drank there together. After a few minutes, one  of the shepherds got up and called out, “Men-ah! men-ah! ,” the Arabic word for “follow me.” His sheep came out of the mixed herd and followed him up the  hillside. The next shepherd did the same, and his sheep went away with him, and neither shepherd even stopped to count them.

The traveler said to the remaining shepherd, “Give me your turban and staff, and let’s see if they’ll follow me like they follow you.” So he put on the shepherd’s  dress and called out, “Men-ah! men-ah!” Not a single sheep moved.  “Will your flock never follow anybody but you?” inquired the gentleman. The Syrian  shepherd replied, “Only if their sick, then they will follow any one.”

This morning I want to talk about two distinct kinds of sheep; those with a shepherd and those without.  You could also call them Christians and non-  Christians, or the righteous and the unrighteous.  St. Paul, in our Epistle lesson called them Jew and gentile.  But he also pointed out that that old classification  no longer existed, because the True Shepherd had come and taken down the wall or fence that separated them.  That separation of course was the Law of God  that shepherded the Jews, and condemned sinners like you and me.  In Paul’s time, many well-meaning Jewish Christians were insisting that gentiles had to  first become Jews before they could become Christians, or in other words, they had to be Jewish sheep before they could be Jesus’ sheep.  Paul’s goal was to show them that this was not only incorrect thinking, but dangerous thinking; it would serve to scatter and divide God’s people of faith, rather than gathering them into one family, one body, one sanctuary, which is the body of Christ, His church.

So let’s look at the two groups of people that live all around us today, Christians and non-Christians.  But before we do, let me share another story with you.

A newspaper in Camden, Maine, ran two photos on the front page; one showed the city council of Camden gathered together at a meeting, and the other picture was of a flock of sheep. The editor mistakenly reversed the captions of the two photos. Under the picture of the sheep, the caption identified them, left to right, as town officials; under the other photo of the city council, the caption read, “The Sheep Fold—naive and vulnerable, they huddle for security against the uncertainties of the outside world.”

Now as funny as that story is, I think that it describes both Christian and non-Christian alike; we are naïve and vulnerable.  And like the sick sheep in my other story, we Christians when we are tired, lonely, sick, or afraid might follow any old voice that seems sympathetic and able to help.  That is why we all need to learn, know, and follow our true Shepherd’s voice.  We all need the gift of faith to hear Jesus’ voice and to grow in that faith so that we will never follow another.

In our gospel reading, the contrast between the two groups of people is evident; the over-worked, under-appreciated, and tired disciples, who were ready for a break, and those who were lost, “like sheep without a shepherd.”  We might also call them people with a mission and vision and the people without a vision who were wandering in life aimlessly.  This morning, in our gospel lesson, Jesus spoke to them both.  This morning Jesus speaks to both of those classes of people who are gathered here at Trinity.

A. This morning there are some of you who are just plain tired. You have been active in your Lord’s church for most of your life, and some have in the last four years given the best of your time, talent, and treasure, to help make Trinity a city on a hill, a bright light here in Southeast San Diego, Southwest Spring Valley, and Southeast Lemmon Grove.  You have done so much and gone so far, that now you are just plain tired.  Many of you along with me have the feeling of always being “on-call,” with more demands on your time than you could ever hope to meet.  I know your heart, because it is centered in God’s love for the wandering sheep; you are afraid of letting people down, and so you push yourselves past the limits.  You dream of getting away from it all and you pray that there would be more people to help shoulder the burden.

Well this morning Jesus, who is your Sabbath rest, knows your fatigue; He sees it and He speaks to you as He spoke to His disciples in our gospel reading. [Mark 6:30-44]  “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” [v. 31]

Many of you know the need for rest and you have been intentional on setting aside vacation time; you have had your rest already, and some of you have scheduled your vacation for a future date.  But the truth is, even when we are on vacation, we are never really away from it all.  It seems that the troubles of this world follow us every-where we go.  Even the best planned vacations don’t work out as planned.  There are always more demands for our time, and more needs to meet.  Sometimes we don’t even have time to eat!

So where do we go for true rest; for real peace?  It isn’t found in our vacations; it doesn’t happen when we try to get away from it all; no it only is found when we get back to Jesus; back to the true Shepherd of our souls.  Our refreshment and new energy will not be found simply by going to a desolate place, but instead it is found in Him who takes us to that place.  The disciples weren’t able to get away from it all because the crowds found them; but they were able to be close to Jesus and His miraculous presence, which stands ready in all situations to help them and us.

For the non-Christians, those who are counted among the sheep without a shepherd, their days are spent in endless hours of useless activity meant to fill each day with meaning.  Whether its sports, politics, careers, partying, or just staring out a window they find little fulfillment and joy in the gift of life.  They feel like “aliens and strangers” [Ephesians 2:12] separated from the joy of really knowing God and His will for them.

Like sheep without a shepherd, their wandering sinful nature looks for meaning through self-pleasing activities, but eventually all of their attempts to find happiness end in failure.  So they set out on an endless search looking for meaning.  Some end up in cults and false religions.  Others find themselves in a church, which speaks the Word of the true Shepherd, but clouds that Word in philosophy, legalism, or liberalism.  Undoubtedly, these were some of the things that Jesus also saw as He looked out on that great crowd of people who were like “sheep without a shepherd.”

And Jesus had compassion on them.  He looked at them not as “no good” sinners, but as part of His scattered flock.  He claimed them as His own, and He taught them.  They were always His own, His purpose for coming; He came to bring them into His flock.  He came so that the scattered and the gathered together might know peace; peace with God, and peace with each other.  He came to give us all rest!

This morning, Jesus speaks to both groups and calls us together as one.  He shows us that each of us have a common reconciliation… Himself!  Through His work alone upon the cross He makes all men and women right; He makes us righteous with His Father.  You who were at one time separated from God because of your sins are now gathered into His forgiving heart through Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  By His blood He has purchased you, redeemed you from a commonwealth of judgment and eternal punishment, and transferred you into His Kingdom of grace and forgiving love.

You who were once separated from God are now part of His body, the church.  You are one of many countless living stones set upon the Rock of Ages, the Cornerstone of God’s Eternal Sanctuary.  You are set upon Jesus Christ along with many other saints and together you are a living and ever-growing sanctuary.  How does the sanctuary, the body of Christ grow?  By the very same means that you were converted into a living stone; through the Word of Jesus Christ, the message of His gospel.

And this is the message that God would have you hear today.  You are forgiven through Jesus Christ.  In that message alone, God really gives you rest, fulfillment and joy.  But in that message, God also wants your life to have meaning and purpose.  You are here to live under and work out the will of God in your life.  And what is His will?  That you would rest in His Kingdom of grace and see it grow, one forgiven sinner at a time.

Jesus’ disciples and the scattered hungry were all fed by the very same Word.  Christ’s own personal preaching was full of peace for both Gentiles and Jews.  But what about now; do we still have that same care and concern?  Yes!  What we must always remember is that when Christ sent his message out into the world, he told His messengers: “I am with you always, even to the end of the world,” (Matt. 28:20). He assured them and He assures us that “He who hears you also hears me,” Luke 10:16; “Truly, truly, I say to you,” He said, “whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me” John 13:20.

So congratulations to all of you here today; you who are tired may find rest in the same Jesus who invigorated the apostles.  He is here with you now!  You who were once scattered and lost, are now gathered and found, by Jesus Himself.  He has gathered you into the kingdom of God through the message of His cross; He has washed you clean in the waters of baptism and recreated you to live a life of peace. He himself is your peace and rest, now go and share that same peace, share that same rest with those who are still counted as scattered!

Now, may the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Kingdom Building Through God’s Word

Sunday, October 3rd, 2010

Lutheran Women’s Missionary League Sunday, October 3, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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“Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light to my path.” [Psalm 119:105]  There are many ways to get lost.  People get lost driving from point A to point B all the time on our local roads and freeways.  But contrary to what my wife may tell you, I am never lost while driving, just a little confused.  “Honey” she says, “why don’t you stop and ask for directions?”  “What for” is always my response, “I’m not lost; I know where we are!  I’ll get us there; don’t worry!”  She was greatly relieved when I finally broke down and bought at Garmin Street Navigator. 

But we can also become lost in a world that hates our faith in Jesus Christ and our love for God’s World.  I want to tell you a wonderful story about a man who found himself lost in just this type of situation.  He didn’t need a Garmin or a Tom-Tom to find his way; instead it was God’s Holy Word that ended his confusion.

Shortly after Vietnam fell to the Communists, Hien Pham, a committed Christian and translator for American missionaries was arrested. He was accused of aiding and abetting the Americans; he was in and out of prison for several years. During one long jail term, the sole purpose of his jailers was to indoctrinate him against the West – and especially against the Christian faith. He was cut off from reading anything in English… especially his Bible! After months of brain-washing, Hien began to buckle under the pressure. MAYBE, he thought, God doesn’t exist. Finally, he made up his mind; he would no longer pray or ever think of his Christian faith again.

The next morning, he was assigned to clean the latrines of the prison. It was the most dreaded chore, shunned by everyone, and so with much distress he began the awful task. As he cleaned out a 50 gallon cans filled with waste and toilet paper, his eye caught what he thought was English printed on a piece of paper. He quickly grabbed it, washed it off and slipped it into his pocket, planning to read that night.  Later, after his roommates had fallen asleep, he pulled out a small flashlight and began to read the top corner of the paper, “Romans, Chapter 8.” Literally trembling with shock, he began to read: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” [Rom. 8:28, 31, 32, 35, 37-39]

Hien wept. He knew there was not a more relevant passage of conviction and strength for one on the verge of surrendering to the threat of evil. He cried out to Jesus, asking for forgiveness, because that next morning would have been the day that he had determined not to pray or recall scripture. Evidently the Lord had other plans.
The day came when Hien was released. He promptly began to make plans to escape from the country. After several unsuccessful attempts he began to build a boat in secret. About fifty-three other people planned to escape with him, and Hien was taking the lead. All was going according to plan until a short while before the date of their departure four Vietcong soldiers knocked on Hien’s door. When he opened it, they accosted him and said they had heard he was trying to escape. “Is it true?” they demanded.  With great fear but greater faith, Hien resignedly gave his answer, “Yes, I am, with fifty-three others. Are you going to imprison me again?” There was a pronounced pause. And then they leaned forward and whispered, “No. We want to escape with you!”  And they did!  Eventually Hien arrived on American soil where today he is a businessman – forever grateful to God and His saving Word!  Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path!

Does God still miraculously intervene in our lives today?  According to our Lord’s promise in our gospel lesson, the answer is a resounding YES…ABSOLUTELY!  Listen to His prayer for His apostles and His prayer for you: “(Father) I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.  I have given them Your Word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  Sanctify them in the truth; Your Word is truth.  As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world… I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their Word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” [John 17:13-16, 18-21]

What is it that Jesus prays that we will have?  His joy!  Not just any joy, but His joy!  When you are confused and afraid, and think that you’ve lost your way in this dark world, remember that Jesus has prayed for you and He is right there beside you, praying for you; He’s praying that you would not loose His joy.  And what are we to have as the source of our joy?  His Word!  Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path!

The next thing that we learn from Jesus prayer is that we are not of this world!  We’ll what’s so bad about this world?  Well for starters it is ruled by Satan and his devils.  They are the princes of this world.  Second this world is so dark and lost in sin that people hate God’s light; they hate his only means of salvation… His Word!  Now this is where things get a little dicey for us.  We are each called to be a light, God’s light in this world of dark sin.  Remember you are not above your master Jesus.  The world hated and crucified Him, and they still hate Him because He is the living Word of God; He is the only light in this dark evil world that can’t be extinguished.  So if they hate Him they will also hate you!   The prophet Isaiah proclaimed this long ago when he wrote: “Lord who has believed what he has heard from us?”  As I said, this can be a little dicey, in fact this hatred of the world and the devils is the very thing that causes some Christians to be silent and avoid speaking about repentance and turning to Jesus for forgiveness.  Some have even abandoned their faith completely and become eternally lost in the darkness and confusion of sin.  For this reason Jesus prays something incredible for us and in this prayer we have a promise. 

What is it that Jesus prays and promises?  Jesus prays that the Father will protect us from the evil one and the sin of this world; He prays that the Father will continually set us apart as His holy ones!  And what does He promise?  He promises that He, God the Father, God the Son Jesus, and God the Holy Spirit who began the good work of salvation in us will continue this work and keep it safe until it is complete.  He is telling you that He promises that He will complete this work if… oh yes there’s always an if; if we stay in His Word.  Why His Word?  Because His Word is truth!  It is the very thing that has saved you, is saving you, and will save you, so we must not leave the Word.  Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path!

Think of the Word this way.  In a world pitch dark with sin, you can’t count on your eyes you need a source of light.  Have you ever been in a dark place with very little or no light?  Isn’t it true that your eyes can play tricks on you?  Well that is the way it is in this sinful world.  We need to quit trusting in experience, that is in sight and we must learn to walk by faith; we need to learn to trust Jesus and be led by God’s Word alone.  God wants us to use His Word as a lamp for our feet and a light for our path.  He wants us to let the Word alone guide our way; it alone must lead not just our feet but also our hearts.  Jesus is asking us to remember that it is the lamp of God’s Word that creates faith, but not necessarily understanding.  We don’t always need to understand, but we do always need to have faith and trust in Jesus prayer for us and God’s will.  Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path!

With God’s Word as our lamp and light, Jesus prays that we will have faith to do what we do not know how to do, go where we do not know the way, perform what we don’t understand, and follow the Word even when it seems we risk becoming stupid and foolish in the eyes of our community.  When we follow the light and path of the Word we will by faith also follow the path of obedience.  And what is that path of obedience?  Well let’s get back to Jesus prayer and let Him answer that: “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world… I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their Word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” [Vs. 20, 21]

Dear friends you have been saved by the Word because God is love… because through Jesus Christ, God has not only shown you His love like a bright light, but He has also made that love yours.  In His Word He promises you that no one and nothing can ever separate you from His love which is your through Christ Jesus!  But He has saved you for a purpose.  He has given you the light of His Word so that you can remain in this dark and sinful world for a reason.  What is that purpose and what is the reason?  The purpose is so that in the darkness you can seek and save other who are lost in sin.  The reason you are to seek and save the lost is because “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son Jesus Christ, so that whosoever believes in Him through the illumination of the Word of God shall not perish in darkness but have everlasting life!  God’s Word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our paths.  God’s Word alone keeps us on the path of salvation while it also acts as a search light to find lost sinners.  God’s Word alone is how God builds His kingdom.  Kingdom building then is living in God’s Word and reflecting the light of that Word into the darkness of this sinful world.  You reflect that gospel when you share God’s Word and love with whoever you meet on the gospel path.  The kingdom of God is built one heart at a time. 

What is the kingdom of God?  It is God’s Word which teaches us that God sent His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, into the world to redeem and deliver all sinners out of the power and kingdom of sin, death, and the devil, and to bring us to Himself so that He may rule us as a King of righteousness, delivering us into a new world of righteousness, eternal joy, and peace.  On this path, many are led by the Holy Spirit through the Word into the Father’s kingdom of grace so that together with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit we will each become joint heirs with Jesus and eternally remain in God’s kingdom of grace and light, a kingdom that has already begun and was given to you through His Word!  Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path!

May we forever stay in that light, God’s Holy Word and we ask this in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost… AMEN!

Help Us!

Sunday, May 9th, 2010

Sixth Sunday after Easter, May 9, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church
Click here for audio of this message
 

We are on a mission—a mission from God! We are to share God’s love, first through the Word and then through our actions!  The words Jesus spoke to his first disciples still apply today; Listen: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” [Jn. 20:21 and Jn. 17:18]  The universal church, every local congregation and every Christian in it, is sent into the world to fulfill a definite, defined task. Jesus, the church’s Lord, has issued marching orders. Individually and corporately, all God’s people are now in the kingdom building business… we are to seek and save the lost!  We are to pass on the love of God!

 This mission from God has three directives.  First and foremost, we have been called into the work of giving a worldwide witness, making disciples, and planting churches. [Matt. 24:14; 28:19-20; Mark 13:10; Luke 24:47-48]  We have been told that Jesus Christ is to be proclaimed everywhere as God in human flesh, Lord, and Savior  We are to make it clear that this is God’s only invitation to eternal life, and it can only be received by turning to Jesus in repentance and faith. [Matt. 22:1-10; Luke 14:16-24]  This message is to be delivered to the entire world. This morning, in our first reading (Acts 16:9-15), the ministry of church-planter Paul the evangelist models this primary commitment.  

The second directive that all Christians, and therefore every Christian on earth, are called to practice is sacrificial love; acts of mercy and compassion.  We are to model a form of neighbor-love that responds willingly to all forms of human need as they present themselves. [Luke 10:25-27; Acts 16:15; Rom. 12:20-21] 

The third directive is to ask God the Father in the name of Jesus to give us both the means and the will to do these very things.  Well that’s a lot to receive this morning, so let’s get right into it!

 In our first reading we are immediately asked to consider a vision, St. Paul’s vision.  Now even though it comes to him at night, we are told that it is not a dream, but a vision from God!  What does God show him?  A man in Macedonia standing in front of him urging and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” [Acts 16:9]  Now one thing we need to be clear on right away; this vision was not a surprise for Paul and his three companions.  You see, they had been praying and planning on a vision from God for quite some time, but this is the first time that God actually made it clear to them where they needed to go!

 Does this sound familiar to anyone this morning?  Have you ever had the Lord make something absolutely clear to you after praying and searching His Word for direction?  Certainly we as a congregation have experienced this!  Now, we didn’t need to ask where we must go, because God has already established us at 7210 Lisbon St., right in the middle of the communities of Jamacha and Encanto!  So, that’s a no brainer, but then again so was the vision that Paul had.  They were asking “Where should we go and what should we do?”  And the answer was, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!”  Help you do what?  “Help us obtain God’s love and mercy.  Help us receive salvation and then joy and peace!”

 What’s interesting about this part of our reading is that in the Greek presentation of the first verse we would really read it like this: “A man of Macedonia was continually standing there, and he kept on urging him and saying,  “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” [Acts 16:9]  Do you see the difference?  In a vision, Paul was told that first it was urgent that he and his friends go to Macedonia, and second their work there had to be continuous.

 Friends, that is God’s call to us as well with the vision that He has given us.  We are to continually bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to our neighbors with a long term strategy.  We aren’t to say, “Well, we’ll give it a try, and if it doesn’t seem to be working will just give up.”  No, remember, God has made it clear to us that our call to bring the gospel is urgent and continuous.

 Now let’s go back to our reading to see how Paul responded to the vision.  Starting in the 13th verse we read, “And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.  And after she was baptized”. [vs. 13-15a]

 The first thing we see in Paul is obedience.  He heard God’s call and he responded.  Once in Macedonia, he did three things—he searched for a place where spiritually minded people gathered, he looked for a person of peace that God had already been working within, and finally he shared the gospel.  Now, let’s look at our circumstances here at Trinity and see how we compare.  First, we as well have responded obediently to God’s vision.  We are very close to opening our Ministry School where media, music, and the arts will be taught, and we have also now added a Wednesday evening gospel service where gospel music that is meaningful to the community is offered along with prayer and a gospel message.  People will come to Trinity because first it is already know as a spiritual gathering place and second because we are willing to “sit down and talk with them” about things that are meaningful to them!

 Another thing we see in our reading is God’s work because of Paul’s obedience.  We are told that one of the women that were present to hear Paul speak was a woman named Lydia.  She was a non-Jew who was already familiar with and worshiping Jehovah God.  Now remember when I pointed out the difference in the Greek language compared to the English in regards to the vision of the Macedonian?  Well we have something similar happening again.  In vs. 14, we simply read, “One who heard us was a woman named Lydia”, but in the Greek language it reads more like this, “One who kept on hearing us was a woman named Lydia”.  What’s the difference?  Well from this we learn that Paul did not just spend one Sabbath day with them and “presto-chango” she’s a Christian.  No he invested time in developing a relationship.  She probably heard many messages from Paul over a period of several weeks, but eventually in God’s time and power Lydia came to know Jesus Christ as HER Lord and Savior.  Through the Word of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ she wanted God’s salvation to come to not to just her alone but to her entire family.  And how did it come…. Through the washing of the water and the Word… through Holy Baptism!  Imagine that, her and all of her children were born again.  Why?  Because God was faithful and Paul was obedient!

 Paul could have passed by that little group of woman as being insignificant.   But he didn’t.  He saw their needs and through the leading of the Holy Spirit he was moved to have compassion on them.  Lydia was baptized… born again unto eternal life.  She could have simply thanked Paul and dismissed him and his friends while she got back to her normal daily business routine, but she didn’t.  Instead, moved by the same Holy Spirit, she had compassion on Paul and his missionary friends, and asked them to not just live with her and her family, but to make her family’s home their missionary headquarters.  It only took a spark from the Holy Spirit’s presence to get a fire of Christian love and service going within the heart of the born-again Lydia!

 Friends, consider this for a moment—hasn’t God already asked us here at Trinity to open up our worship home to new neighbors who are seeking a relationship of love peace with God?  Haven’t already been convinced that He is asking us to bring in new people who need to know about Jesus in a personal way?  When you stop and think about it, God is asking us to be simultaneously both like Paul and Lydia.  We are like Paul in that we are asked to be on a mission from God, a mission to seek and save the lost.  And we do that by both proclaiming and teaching the gospel.  Some of the people we meet will have no idea about our faith or our Savior Jesus Christ.  Some, like Lydia will be familiar with God, even worshiping Him, but they do not know about His grace, mercy, peace, and joy He brings once you know Him unto salvation.  But, we are also like Lydia.  We who have been born again in the waters of Holy Baptism have been recreated.  We have been changed, and because of that change God has given us a heart that responds both to His Word and His living presence within us.  He asks us to respond with our time, talents, and even our treasure.  But that can be a scary thing; you see it requires faith!  Lydia must have been a little hesitant about opening her home up to strangers, even strangers that brought her eternal life through the gospel.  Like Lydia, we have God’s Word; we know His will and yet we begin to be uncertain.  So where do we go with our fears and worries?  We go to the Lord!  And what do we do?  We pray!

 In our gospel reading (Jn. 16:22-33) Jesus is speaking once again in that upper room just before His death and resurrection.  He knows His disciples are worried and afraid, so He speaks to calm their fears and prepare them for the joy and confidence that will come after His resurrection and ascension, on the day of Pentecost.  After that day, the Holy Spirit will come and live within every Christian as a result of their baptism.  And His presence within them will lead them to ask for all things that are centered in the name of Jesus.  Listen once again to His Words of assurance: “Whatever you ask of the Father in my name, He will give it to you.  Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (vs. 23,24)   “In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” (vs. 26, 27)

 Dear friends, Jesus tells His disciples, He tells us to ask “in (His) name.” And he seals this directive with a promise, “you shall receive” what you ask in my name. Why such a promise?  Well friends, so that our “joy may be fulfilled.”  By remembering that the Father loves us because we love His Son Jesus Christ our joy becomes fulfilled.  And as we experience this joy we begin to experience obedience as Jesus sends us out and leads us onto the mission field that is our community.  As we go out on our Heavenly Father’s mission… to seek and save the lost, we remember Jesus Words, so we ask the Father, in Jesus name to open the doors and hearts of our neighbors to our gospel message, so that they too may know Jesus Christ unto salvation! 

 Well, let me close with this short story:  There once was a man who refused to sell his home to a bank.  His house and property sat adjacent to a tract of land that the bank wanted to build on.  The bank wanted to buy his home and knock it down.  But the man refused!  The bank offered to pay top dollar, but again… no deal!  Ninety years old, the man had live in his house for most of his life.  He didn’t have to sell so he decided he wouldn’t!  But the bank wanted to build, so they decided they would!  The result of this failure to compromise is a new bank building shaped like a horseshoe around the man’s house.  An automatic teller machine dispenses cash fifteen feet from where he sleeps.  The cars drive through and idle in front of his kitchen window.  These two parties may be next to one another, but we certainly wouldn’t call them neighbors. 

 Do you want to find true joy in your life?  Stay close to Jesus and ask for the things He has promised to give you!  Walk where He leads you and let Him sacrificially love your neighbor through you.  And as you walk with Jesus, He will allow you to see a transformation in the people He loves through you.  After the people you witness to become disciples through faith, you will see them being transformed through daily contact with their Lord.  Through God’s Word and the power of the Holy Spirit, they will develop such a strong and abiding love for the Father that nothing can ever move them.  So don’t grow weary from doing well friends.  Keep trusting and following your Lord, even when you have doubts.  Remember, even though you’re on a mission from God, “in this world you will have tribulations (and trials).  But take heart (Jesus) has overcome the world! [Jn. 16:33b]

Don’t Be Araid to Ask!

Sunday, September 20th, 2009

16th Sunday after Pentecost, September 20, 2009
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

 Our text this morning is verses 31 and 32 of our Gospel lesson.  “He was teaching his disciples and saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him.  And when He is killed, after three days He will rise.”  But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask Him. [Mark 9:31, 32]

Why were the disciples afraid to ask Jesus what He meant when He said that He would be killed and after three days He would rise?  Well, for three reasons: First, because they did not understand.  Think about it, why would anyone want to continually predict their own death and not do anything to prevent it?  I mean, if you know what actions or activities are a threat to your personal safety then change your behavior, right?  But they didn’t understand that the Son of man is also the Son of God.  When God speaks it isn’t something to be discussed and analyzed as to its merits and faults, no, it’s something to be obeyed. 

 The second reason they were afraid to ask Jesus what He meant, was because they would not understand.  They had big plans for Jesus and His church.  Jesus was going to be their political savior, who would right all the wrongs in their world, and they would be there right along with Him in this new utopia as His most trusted allies.  No, what He was predicting wouldn’t mean victory, power and prestige, but instead, in their way of thinking, it would clearly mean defeat, weakness, and shame; no that wouldn’t do at all! 

 The third reason they were afraid to ask Him what He meant was the simple truth that they could not understand it until they experienced the cross.  Without the cross, all of God’s other plans could never make sense.  Without the sacrifice of His Son, there could be no forgiveness for the sins of the world.  Without the cross, there could be no resurrection, and without the resurrection, there could be no victory over sin, death, and the devil.

 Clearly, God’s way of thinking was not their way of thinking.  They needed to be adjusted.  They needed to be recreated in their spirit and mind, so that they could be part of God’s plan with confidence and excitement.  They needed the cross, and so do we.

 We need the cross because without the cross we can have no victory.  Without the cross we could never have confidence that our sins, our many sins have been forgiven.  Without the cross, we could never put to death our self-centered sinful nature.  Without the cross, God’s baptismal promise of new life in Christ could never be fulfilled.  Without the cross, the love of God and the power of the Holy Spirit could not change us.  Without the cross, we would still be held prisoner by things like envy, pride, bitter jealousy, and selfish ambition.  You see friends; we really do need the cross because it is the power, God’s power to save us.  But like the disciples we too are many times afraid of the cross because the cross ALWAYS comes with a price.

 The disciples were afraid to ask because they were afraid of what it would mean for them.  They were afraid of how the cross would dramatically change their lives.  We also are afraid to ask God what the cross means for our lives, because we know that it will also mean change… real change; it will mean self sacrifice.  This is what we Lutherans have always called the Theology of the Cross, or simply living under the cross.

 This life under the cross is communicated and lived out in all aspects of our lives.  Through the cross we can sincerely ask a family member or close friend if we can help with some chore or task their doing and not be afraid that they will say yes, and then we are tied up for most of the day.  Through the cross, we aren’t afraid to ask our neighbor who’s lost his job if we can help them get by through providing for some of their food or clothing needs, and we aren’t afraid if they say yes!  Through the cross, you can boldly ask your pastor if there is some way you can serve in the ministry of the church, without fear of him saying yes.  And it is this same cross that moves you to boldly respond to one of the needs that he makes known to you.

 How can you have a happy life?  Go to the cross!  How can you be freed from worry and fear?  Go to the cross!  How can your life really make a difference to others?  Go to the cross.  But going to the cross frightens us, because we know that the cross requires us to surrender our own self interests and by faith live every day with a heart and mind that wants to be doing the things God wants done.  St. James teaches about this life under the cross in our epistle lesson this morning, “Who is wise and understanding among you?  By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.  But if you have bitter jealously and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.  This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but it is earthly, unspiritual, (it is) demonic. [James 3:13-16]  “The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, (it is) impartial and sincere.” [vs. 17] 

 Dear friends, God made peace with us by sending His Son Jesus Christ to die for us.  Through the cross, Jesus death nailed every one of our sins to the cross… now and for eternity.  But that is not the end of the power of the cross, because with the cross comes life.  Through His death on the cross Jesus rose from the dead, proving that sin, death, and the devil had no power over Him nor over us.  Through the cross and then Christ’s resurrection came our promise of new life—A life without the worry of God’s judgment.  And through the cross came the fulfillment of God’s baptismal promise to us that He would give us a new heart.  A heart that freely and without fear asks God to give a cross. 

 Because of the Jesus’ cross friends, God has guaranteed us that we need never be afraid to ask Him for anything.  We can come to Him with all of our needs and know for certain that He always hears and answers us, but the first request we should always be bringing before Him is one for forgiveness. 

 We must confess to Him that we have been living a self-centered life.  We have been following selfish ambition instead of an ambition to do the things God wants done.  “But pastor” you say, “I do confess these things.  Why am I still living a life that seems to lack victory?”  Well friend, “You do not have, because you do not ask.  You ask and do not receive from God, because you are asking for the wrong things.”  Friends, instead of asking God to allow you to experience joy and happiness in your present life, why not ask for joy and happiness in a changed life—a life changed by the cross?  Many times we do not have joy and happiness because we are afraid to ask for our own cross. 

 Next time friends, when you confess your sins to God, instead of simply hearing the words of forgiveness in the absolution and then going about your happy way, ask yourself this question: “What does it mean to be forgiven?  How does this forgiveness impact my life?  Does it change my life?”  If the answer is no, then confess that also.  Be truthful with God, but don’t be happy just admitting that you fall short, ask Him to change you.  Ask Him to give you a servant’s heart.  Ask Him to give you a heart that gladly sacrifices its own self interest for God and for others.  Ask Him to show you your own cross.

 Finally fiends, we as a congregation also need to ask for forgiveness.  We need to ask for a cross too.  We need to ask collectively for a servant’s heart.  We need to be doing the things that God wants done.  What has God called us at Trinity to do?  “Simple” you say, “we’re to seek and save the lost!”  But what does that really mean?  Friends it means that we must be actively demonstrating the cross of Christ to everyone in all ways.  The cross is the very reason that we exist as a congregation.  We’ve been marked by the cross of Christ forever.  It is the very answer to the question that every church should be asking themselves: “Why do we exist?”  Why is Trinity here at 7210 Lisbon Street?  Friends, we are here to demonstrate the power of the cross.

 We are not here to serve ourselves, but rather to serve God and our neighbor.  We don’t have our own mission but instead we have been created, gathered, and sent to participate in God’s mission.  God’s mission sends us out into our community as His agents of healing and reconciliation in a broken world; we are sent out to share the love of God through Jesus Christ with everyone, everywhere, especially those who are right outside the doors of this church!  Friends, Trinity Lutheran Church is to bear witness to the redemptive reign of God in the world by becoming and being a community that demonstrates in life and ministry God’s grace, mercy, and peace in everything we do!

 Let me close with a story that I think demonstrates this point.  It’s a story about a lighthouse that was built on a cliff above a treacherous stretch of coastline.  Many ships crashed upon the rocks and many lives were lost at sea.  Eventually, it was decided to form a lighthouse society whose sole purpose was to tend to the light in order to warn sailors of the pending danger and save lives.  Very soon, the society became so effective that their stretch of the coast became known as the safest around.  After a while however, those who were members of the society became distracted with other tasks.  Some of them formed a social club so that members could enjoy one another’s company.  Others were involved in fund-raising in order to help finance the social gatherings.  And so they grew happy and content with their little society, until one day someone forgot to check on the fuel for the light in the lighthouse and the light went out.  Because the light was no longer warning the ships and only darkness remained on THEIR section of the coastline, several ships were lost at sea, and hundreds of sailors lost their lives.

 Dear friends, we as individuals and as a congregation need to always be reminded that we have been saved by the cross so that we can take part in the mission of the cross.  We need to be reminded that we have been saved, gathered, and feed so that we can be sent.  We need to remember that we have been sent with a mission—a mission to bear witness to God’s presence and to His wonderful work of reconciliation—being made right with God through the death of Jesus Christ upon the cross.  We need to be reminded that we are all called to participate in making God’s redemption—His work of forgiveness and love available to everyone, everywhere, while we lead a life that demonstrates that same redemption.

 If God’s mission to seek and save the lost, even you and me is what God is up to in our community, then each of us as individuals and as a congregation need to be asking, “What am I doing, and what are we doing to participate in a meaningful way in God’s mission?”  As we pray about this…as we think about it and discuss it, let us always remember that it is through the cross that we are saved and it is through the cross that we are always sent. 

Let’s pray now, and ask the Lord to do that work in us right now.  “Lord help us to remember that there is true freedom in asking for and living out a sacrificial faith.  Help us to always live through your cross and embrace our own, in Jesus name….AMEN!”