Posts Tagged ‘Power’

Prophecy and Pentecost

Sunday, May 20th, 2018

Pentecost-B, May 20, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message


I can’t help but think that before the Holy Spirit showed up on that first Pentecost Sunday, the disciples were just plain tired.  Think of all they’d been through; they saw their Lord crucified, and then He rose from the dead.  After that, for forty days He just kept appearing and disappearing in the most unusual places.  To cap it all off, they saw Him ascend into heaven before their very eyes, but before He did, He told them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” [Acts 1:4-5] In other words, Jesus was saying, “Do nothing until you hear from me.”

So there they sat in that upper room, tired, worried, and afraid.  I can’t help but wonder what they would have done if Peter or one of the other twelve would have said, “Come on guys there’s a lot of work to do.  Quit hiding out in here; let’s go out and spread the news.”  I think they would have grumbled, and said, “But were tired.  We’ve been through a lot.  Let someone else go out.  We just don’t have it in us!”  But I don’t think that discussion ever happened because as promised, Jesus by way of the Holy Spirit showed up in a powerful way!  And that is what we are celebrating today, Jesus kept His promise and empowered the church with the presence of the Holy Ghost!   Don’t we need that power too?  Don’t we get tired also?  Sometimes, don’t we feel like we just can’t do another thing; like maybe we’ve already done and experienced enough?  

Today, God wants you to know that you need a faith lift.  

 No, I didn’t say facelift, I said faith-lift!  God wants you to know that life without faith, or life with little or weak faith is a desperate life!  That is what the Jews were feeling when God visited Ezekiel in a vision, in our Old Testament lesson.  They were desperate because they lost hope; they lost faith in their saving God.  They had been conquered and enslaved by the Babylonians for many years and their homeland of Israel and Judea was destroyed.  When they first arrived in Babylon as slaves they were humiliated in their defeat, but at least they still had the love of their God!  But after several generations of life as slaves, they began to lose their faith.  First they began to doubt God’s forgiving love for them, and then after a while they must have begun to doubt His very existence!  They felt abandoned and alone.

Do you ever feel that way?  Do you ever feel like God has forgotten you, or is punishing you?  Maybe you’ve even began to wonder if He’s even real?  If so, then let God speak to you.  Hear the story of “dem old dry bones” because Ezekiel’s vision is a prophecy that was fulfilled on Pentecost and it is our reality today.  The valley of dry bones is as real as the battle fields of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam.  It’s as real as the run-down buildings of skid row and the shattered dreams of the poor, unemployed and underemployed.  It’s as real as the crack-house, the sick house, and the poor house.  It’s as real as families broken by addiction and abuse.  It’s a vision of lost dreams and shattered lives!  

As terrible as these battlefields were and are, they pale in comparison to the vision God gave to Ezekiel.  

God told Ezekiel to speak the first message, and the bones were animated with flesh and blood, they were whole bodies, but they were still dead!  Flesh that appears alive but lacks a soul or spirit; I don’t know about you, but to me that sounds like zombies!  

Do we have people like that today?  Yes!  It is everyone who thinks that they can please God by being good; by living a virtuous life.  They may think they’re alive, and they may even look alive, but the truth is they are really dead!  They are dead because they lack God’s breath of new life.  “Then God said to (Ezekiel), “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” [Ezekiel 37:9]  

This was the message of prophecy for ancient Israel during their captivity and it is God’s message for all of us today; it is prophecy fulfilled!  It is the promise of His forgiving love; a Word of forgiveness that brings restoration and peace with God through the cross and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  We first receive this Word in our baptism, and then we hear it every Sunday.  It is the gospel, the good news that assures us that through Jesus Christ we are forgiven.  Please hear it again today and become rejuvenated… alive in Christ!

It was this Word of promise, or forgiveness and restoration that brought hope to the hopeless captives in Babylon, and it is the very same message that God speaks to us who struggle to live our lives in a sinful broken world while not being of the world.  It is a Word that directs us to find our identity not in how the world sees us or treats us but in God’s work of recreation and restoration.  

When we feel alone, and think that we’ve lost our way, God’s Word reminds us that He has never left us; it reminds us that He is right there with us.  His Word takes our eyes off of our circumstances, off of our sin and the sin of others, and He redirects our gaze to the cross of Jesus and the waters of our own baptism.  In His Word, in the vision of Ezekiel and the rebirth of dry, dead bones, God shows us that our salvation, our lives and our future are all in His loving hands.  All we need do is keep turning our hearts and minds to Jesus; call out to Him for forgiveness and strength and receive the Word, His Word that promises that He will never leave nor forsake us.

So we wait.  

But what are we waiting for?  Do we wait as dry bones waiting to be given flesh and spirit?  No, that was already done for us.  Then what are we waiting for?  We are waiting to hear the gospel; the only Word that can dispel fear and bring power from heaven.  What kind of power?  How about this kind: “And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” [Acts 2:2-4]  Dear friends, this mighty power of God wasn’t given only to the early church; it is given to each of you.  You were first given that power in your baptism, and you are continuously strengthened in that same power each time you hear or read God’s Word of repentance and forgiveness.  

Why are some of you living as if you do not have that power?  Because you confuse the individual gifts with the power behind the gift!  What greater power could you need other than God’s power to overcome death?  What greater gift could there be than God’s forgiveness; His ability to recreate you and continually remove your sins, the consequence of your sins from you?  

Can you see that you lack nothing?  Can you see that when God works, when He saves He always does it in a way that is all powerful, complete, and effective?  Then why do we still feel tired, alone, and sometimes even rejected by God?  Maybe it’s because we are still waiting for God to speak!  But He has already spoken.  He spoke in your baptism; He speaks in His Supper!  In His Word He tells you that all has been completed so that you may have life abundantly.  Do you hear that?  You are not a zombie… you have life!  You have life right here in this sinful world!  But your life is to be used for a purpose.  You are to use the gifts that God has given you to go out and speak life to those who are dead in their trespasses.

Unlike the hit AMC television series, “The Walking Dead” we aren’t going out to destroy the zombies before they destroy us, we are going out to bring them back to life.  We are sent out with the only Word that can bring them life, abundant life.  Like Ezekiel, God has empowered us with the ability to speak the breath of life into the walking dead.  And here is how it works.  The problem with zombies is they don’t know they are zombies; they think they’re alive.  So God tells us to speak His law.  We must hold up the mirror of God’s Word and show our neighbors that they are sinners; just like we are.  We must share with them that they have no future unless they simply admit to God that they are dead in their sins and are helpless in changing that reality.  This confession of reality has now prepared them to hear the prophesy of life; the breath of forgiveness that will reanimate; recreate them into God’s image.  The Word they must hear to know forgiveness and new life is simply that Jesus Christ is Lord and He has brought them forgiveness of sins and new life!  He is Lord of life and eternity.  He is the conquering Lord who through His cross has defeated not just the sin of the world but even their sin.  What’s more, Jesus is the Lord who defeated the devil; He is the Lord who protects all that are baptized from ever losing their gift of new life!

Dear friends you are tired, because you are confused.  You’ve forgotten that not only have you been saved, but you’ve been saved, given power, and a mission.  You are to continue expanding the Kingdom of God one saved sinner at a time.  And as you go out in the power of God speaking His recreating Word of forgiveness, His Christian army gets bigger and bigger, and your work load gets easier and easier as many hands make the work of the kingdom light.

So, our time of waiting is over.  Jesus has spoken, and you have been baptized and given the promise and power of the Holy Spirit.   This is our invitation to become part of Christ’ mission to seek and save the lost.  Can we do it?  No, but God will.  He has spoken.  You are forgiven, and so is the world.  Now let’s go tell someone with our own little personal touch, and someone will tell someone else, until the day when Jesus comes to take us home.  AMEN!

The Holy Trinity is a Mystery… Get Over It!

Sunday, June 3rd, 2012

Holy Trinity Sunday-B, June 3, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

Someone once told me that they thought the church ought to stop trying to teach the doctrine of the Holy Trinity for a little while, and just  stand in awe of God and worship Him for Who He Is.  And you know, there is a lot to be said for backing off from our western approach of  conceptualizing the Trinity, because it really can be an injustice to God. Isn’t it enough to simply say that God exists in three persons, Father,  Son, and Holy Spirit, and then just leave it at that? Well, yes and no.  While it is sheer folly to try to confine the reality of God into an airtight  doctrinal box it is also dangerous when we, the church, that means you and me, remain silent when we should be repeating who God says He  is in scripture. What kind of danger?  Well how about this.  I received this email from someone who said that the church and myself  specifically, must repent of what we teach about Jesus and God.  Listen:“(Pastor), Jesus did not intend to be worshiped; He wanted to be  followed. It is certainly easier to worship Him than to follow His teachings. He taught that we could become one with God and all his creation  (everything and everybody). That means that we should deny the world and focus primarily on God and forgiveness. It means letting go of  the ego’s need to be separate and right. It means loving everyone unconditionally. It means giving up judgment, righteousness, resentments,  greed, competition, envy, and hatred. It means joining with your fellow man and making his interest your own. It means setting aside the carnal pleasures of this world for something better. It means taking the log out of your own eye instead of the speck out of your brother’s. It means being generous with your time, talents, and energy (including money). Jesus summed it up by saying, Love God, yourself and everyone with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your soul. He taught to live life with an open and pure heart as He did.”

What you just heard read is a concise description of perfection, the kind of perfection that God demands both in His 10 commandments and throughout scripture.  The only problem with this ideal is that none of us can meet it, and no one ever will.  If this one dimensional understanding of who God is, was all that we knew about Him, then life would be pretty dark and hopeless, wouldn’t it?  But God has another message for us; a message of hope and security, and that message was communicated to Isaiah in our Old Testament Lesson. [Isaiah 6:1-8]

Isaiah was taken to the very throne of Heaven, the temple of God and He saw something that no sinful man or woman could have or should have seen.  He saw the perfect and all powerful God seated on the throne.  He saw an all present God who filled everything, and He was not struck down dead; he was allowed to live!  Now that’s amazing because even the chief angels called seraphim wouldn’t look upon God.  They covered their eyes with their wings and simply cried out to each other, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord!”

So why was Isaiah allowed to see God and still live?  Was it because he was able to please God with his righteous living?  Well let’s allow Isaiah to answer that himself.  Listen: “And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” [Isaiah 6:4-5]  Now Isaiah does not sound like a man who is content with the way he’s lived his life to me; in fact he even describes why he feels he is doomed; he is a man of unclean lips living with people who are unclean.  In other words, brother Isaiah is saying flat out, ‘I’m a dirty no good sinner and I live with a bunch of other dirty no good sinners.  I am doomed!”

And yet Isaiah was allowed to see God and live; why?  Because God Himself intervened, and saved him!  In the vision, it was a hot coal that touched Isaiah’s lips that saved him.  In the wilderness, when the sinful Jews were wandering, they were attacked by poisonous snakes; it was a bronze sculpture of a serpent that God had made, which saved every sinful Jew who looked to it, and today God still saves dirty no good sinners; sinners like Isaiah, and sinners like you and me!  How?  Well let’s go to our gospel lesson [John 3:1-17] and let Jesus explain it Himself.

Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews goes out to find Jesus by night.  Why night?  Well, he was trying to protect his reputation as a leader.  He who was supposed to be able to provide all of the answers had many questions about life and God that were just eating away at him. Society thinks that doubts and questions in a leader are a sign of weakness, so Nicodemus had to make sure that neither his peers nor the people knew that he was going to Jesus for answers.  They must not find out that his entire life had been consumed by these doubts and questions.  He wanted to know why he woke up in the middle of the night feeling empty and afraid.  The meaning of life itself had eluded him.  “There must be more to it” he thought, and it’s this questioning of things that caused him to seek out Jesus for answers!

When he found Jesus he started out the introduction with a compliment, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” [John 3:2]  And in effect, Jesus answered him like this, “Oh come off of your high and mighty view of yourself and your ignorant view of God Nicodemus.  You just want me to jump into the comfortable little box you’ve made so that you can make sense of life and God according to your terms.  What you really want to do is go back to your cushy mansion and get a good night’s sleep by placing your religion on the shelf like one of your trophies.  But it doesn’t work like that!  “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  You can’t fit God’s kingdom into your life, your life and all of your misconceptions has to fit into it!  You gotta be born again!

Nicodemus didn’t understand.  He didn’t understand and neither does the world today.  They don’t understand because Jesus is speaking spiritual, and they are thinking physical.  So Jesus restates his teaching in another way: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” [John 3:5,6]  In other words, quit trying to put my teaching into your sinful box.  You cannot understand, because you have not been begotten by the Father.  But there is a way for you to be begotten… reborn, and it is by the water and the Holy Spirit!  Repent and be baptized.  Repent of your sinful physical way of seeing the world and receive new life and new sight in the water and the Word!

Today, we poor sinners don’t find Jesus’ Words any easier to understand or accept.  We are caught up in the material world, but there is a spiritual wind that is blowing through our lives; it is the presence and work of the Holy Spirit.  It is impossible for us to keep it out.  It blows and blows until it either knocks down our house of self-righteousness or until we leave this temporary material existence and enter into our eternal reality; a reality that will either be eternal judgment or eternal peace with the source of the Holy Wind, the Holy one of Israel; the same Holy One Who caused Isaiah to say that he was doomed because he saw God!

The only hope for Isaiah, Nicodemus, or any of us, is if we can see the Son of God, Jesus Christ as the only way to enter into God’s eternal heavenly kingdom.  Jesus alone is the red hot coal that touches our lips.  Jesus alone is the serpent lifted on the pole in the wilderness of our sin.  And Jesus Himself makes that clear with these words: “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, (I who speak to you) the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. [John 3:13-15]

But is it really that simple?  Can an angry and perfect God really be approached simply by being baptized and believing in Jesus as the Son of God who came down to us in our flesh, to save us?  Yes, it is that simple, but people find it hard to believe because this is a spiritual truth that is breaking into our physical reality.  It is a work entirely of God; a work that we play no part in fulfilling.  But why; why would a holy, holy, holy God do that for no good sinners like us?  Well, again let’s let Jesus answer that: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” [John 3:16-17]. And there it is… God is not angry with us at all; in fact He loves us, but He is also holy and righteous.  He created us to be holy and righteous as well, but sin, death, and the devil entered into our physical reality and ruined that.  And now, the only way He can save us is by coming to us and removing our sin Himself!

What we’ve learned this morning is that God is far too holy and mighty for us to ever understand; after all He is the Creator and we are just the creatures.  But what we’ve also learned are four truths.  First, we know that God does love us.  He loves us just as we are, but He loves us to much to leave us that way.  Second, we’ve learned that our One God exists in three persons, and He has broken into our sinful reality and saved us by the Father’s sending of His Son to die for us.  And He continues to save us and keep us holy through the power of His Holy Spirit.  Third, the Holy Lord invites us all into a relationship of stewardship with Him; He wants to send us, whom He has saved to speak for Him.  Isaiah writes: “Then I heard the voice of the LORD saying, “Whom shall I send?  And who will go for us?”  The fourth truth we discover is that once God intervenes by taking our sins away, by recreating us through the power of the gospel, we are able to respond to any request of God with the words, “Here am I send me!”  Like Isaiah, we once were no good sinners separated from God by sin and living in fear, but in our baptism, God has spoken new life and new obedience into us, so that we can exhibit courage and embrace His call to go out into a sinful world for the Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord!

What causes this transformation in us is the very thing that changed Isaiah and eventually Nicodemus too; It is the realization that we have been saved and forgiven by the Holy and One true God who exists in three persons.  How that can be we may never understand completely, but it is enough to know that He is our God.  And once we have surrendered to the mysterious presence and work of our God, He wants to use us to bring this same message of forgiveness to no good sinners.  Yes, most of this message depends on the mystery that is God, get over it and simply live for Him who has saved you!  May God the Father who created you, may God the Son who has redeemed you, and may God the Holy Spirit who sanctifies you, empower you to live a life of wonder and worship until He calls you home!  In Jesus name… AMEN!