Posts Tagged ‘Preaching of the Word’

We Stand Upon Christ and the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles

Sunday, May 28th, 2017

Easter 7A, May 28, 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

“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.  Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you.  For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.” [John 17:6-8]

What is it that identifies the church as something different; something special that’s not of this world? I suppose another way to ask this is, what is it that brings so much comfort and peace to the lives of so many Christians that others in this world simply do not understand. Do we really have something special, or are we too, doomed to find truth in these words of William Shakespeare’s 5th Act of the play Macbeth. Listen: “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and signifying nothing.”

Is Shakespeare right? Is life nothing but a shadow having no substance, no meaning? What is the meaning of life? This morning on this Lord’s Day, we speak the meaning of life in these words, “Christ has risen. Christ has risen indeed.” And because Jesus has been raised from the dead, so shall we, we redeemed sinners who simply trust in Christ alone, along with the Word He gives us through Holy Scripture alone, and the gifts that Word gives us… Grace alone and Faith alone. And that dear friends, is precisely that “something special” that we have, which not only brings us comfort and peace, but it also unites us as one around the promised hope of forgiveness of sins and eternal life. And all of this comes to us only through God’s Word, that is it comes through…

Scripture Alone.

In our first reading this morning (Acts 1:12-26), we join the eleven apostles and many disciples of Jesus as they are leaving the mount called Olivet, where for the last time, they physically saw their Savior, Jesus Christ, the very Son of God as He ascended into Heaven to be seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty. After they witnessed Jesus going up into heaven, they returned and stayed in Jerusalem, just as Jesus had commanded them. But it was the way that they were waiting, which has significance to our message this morning; they were waiting “with one accord, devoting themselves to prayer.” That is, they were devoted to worship and the study and declaration of God’s Word!

What was it that united them? Scripture alone, the Words of God that Jesus gives us as He declared in our gospel lesson this morning! It was through scripture that the work of the Holy Spirit moved Peter to make a motion to the assembled congregation, that the apostolic office once occupied by Judas should be filled. Judas Iscariot, the one who not only betrayed Jesus Christ and the Christian faith, but took his own life to boot!

Peter, filled with the Spirit of God, and moved by the Spirit, stands before the assembly and begins to apply scripture to their situation. How so? Well in this way, as the Spirit worked within Peter, he was reminded of two portions of Holy Scripture from the Psalms of David, which prophesied the betrayal of the Messiah, and the punishment and replacement of the betrayer. First, led by the Words spoken in Psalm 69, Peter proclaims, “May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it.” In other words, God is assuring His church, that the betrayer will be punished, and his betrayal of the faith will not be repeated again by the other apostles. The next Psalm that was brought before the heart of Peter was Psalm 109, when Peter declares, “Let another take his office.” That its let another apostle be called.

Now this is where we must pause for a moment and discuss just what the Word apostle means, and who the apostles were. The English word apostle, finds it’s origin in the Greek word apostolos, which means one who acts as an envoy, an ambassador, or messenger who is commissioned to carry out the instructions of the commissioning agent. If we were simply to take this dictionary meaning of the word, we might be tempted to say that we are all apostles, with pastors being the head apostles of a church and the members being subordinate apostles. But language is living and it’s meaning is defined by the one who is speaking. In other words, context is everything!

If we continue reading our text, we will discover that in verses 21 and 22, Peter defines the type of candidate that can rightly be called an apostle. This person must be a male, for Peter says that he must come from “one of the men who have accompanied us” and he must have been with Jesus “during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us (that is he must have been present to see Jesus ascend into heaven).” But perhaps the most important qualification for an apostle sent out to preach, teach and confess the saving message of the gospel to a world that is dying of sin is laid out in these words, “One of these men must become with us a witness to His resurrection.” In other words, the one who is chosen to replace Judas must have been a witness to Christ’s resurrection, and he must be able to declare with confidence as a material fact, that “Christ is risen indeed!”

The motion having been made and seconded was accepted in one accord. And what do we hear next? Was there a call for the question, or a lengthy discussion as to who the candidates would be? Was there an election of the voters’ assembly? No, instead, being that there were only two candidates who had the qualifications to be considered for the office, they brought them before the assembly and prayed, saying: “You Lord (that is Christ alone), know the hearts of all (people), show (us) which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place. And they cast lots for (Justus and Matthias) and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven” that is, he became the twelfth apostle.

So what we learn from this is that it is Christ alone who chose His apostles. It is by the unmerited favor of God, that is by grace alone that any were chosen, and it is by faith alone that they will continue stead fast in this high call of God. Neither you or I, nor any other person who is living today can claim to be, under Peter’s definition, an apostle of Jesus Christ. But, what we can claim with certainty is that we are not just his disciples and servants, but his brothers, and a child of Almighty God the Father. We can claim this truth because in our baptism and the continued reception and use of God’s means of Grace, we are daily called by grace through faith into this relationship. And it is a faith that continues to come to us through God’s chief means of Grace, His Holy Word. You will need this Word every day, because like Judas we too can only be saved by…

Grace Alone.

And like Judas, we too are subject to fall from our call as Christians and betray our Lord, choosing the rewards of this sinful world over the grace of God. In fact, it has already begun in your life, hasn’t it? Wasn’t it your sins, like the sins of Judas that caused Jesus to obediently make that painful walk to the cross? Quickly, don’t deny it; simply say “Yes, Christ died for my sins.” Because if you cannot say that Jesus died for your sins, that it was your sins that led Him to the cross, then you cannot receive the forgiveness of sins that His death brings. That is, you cannot receive His grace, which is the undeserved gift of God’s forgiving love. This is a gift from God through Christ, which completely removes your sins, gives a new and eternal life that can never be earned. Yes, it is true that you do not deserve this gift but it is your’s through Christ none the less.

The story is told about a man from England who put his Rolls-Royce on a boat and went across to the continent to go on a holiday. While he was driving around Europe, something happened to the motor of his car. He phoned the Rolls-Royce people back in England and said, “I’m having trouble with my car; what do you suggest I do?” Well, the Rolls-Royce people flew a mechanic over! The mechanic repaired the car and flew back to England and left the man to continue his holiday. As you can imagine, the Englishman was wondering, “How much is this going to cost me?” So when he got back to England, he wrote a letter to the Rolls-Royce Corporation and asked how much he owed them. He received a letter from the office that read: “Dear Sir: There is no record anywhere in our files that anything ever went wrong with a Rolls-Royce.”
That is an example of grace.

Did Christ finish His work upon the cross? Did His death pay for the sins of the world, and is it enough for you to find peace? Can you see how dangerous it is to include anything you do with the righteousness of Christ, in order to appear justified, that is saved in the eyes of God? Jesus Christ will not allow you to add your works upon His in regards to your salvation. He must be all, or nothing, in regards to our salvation. If He has finished the work, what need is there of our additions? Did Christ finish the work of or salvation, and do you think He would ever share His glory and praise with us? No, no; Christ is no half-Savior. It is a hard thing to bring proud hearts to rest upon Christ for righteousness. God humbles the proud by calling sinners completely out from their own righteousness and into Christ for their salvation.

Listen friends, I know that it can be a hard thing to bring our proud hearts to rest completely upon Christ, but it is the way of God; He insist that proud sinners such as us surrender everything to Him and trust in the work of Christ alone. And to enable us to do this very thing, God calls us to gather together in Christ’s church and receive the gifts He freely gives. And these gifts, which come to us through Scripture alone, by grace alone, save us by creating and sustaining faith alone.

Faith Alone is that very thing, which allows you to receive and believe through the eyewitness testimony of the twelve apostles, that not only has Christ died to save the World, but also He died to save you!

By faith alone, you are able to say along with the entire church, “He is risen, indeed,” but you can also say with the certainty of faith, “He has risen for me.” That is, through Holy Scripture, the ancient teaching of the apostles of Christ’s church, I can say for certain that because He lives I too shall live with Him forever. Because he died to save sinners, He died to save me, and in my baptism, He has given all of this to me. In the washing of the water and the Word of God, I shall stand with confidence upon the work of Jesus Christ and the teaching of the twelve apostles, which alone not only promises, but gives eternal life.

Martin Luther, in one of his conflicts with Satan, was asked by the devil if he felt his sins forgiven. “No,” said the great Luther, “I don’t feel that they are forgiven, but I know they are, because God says so in His Word.” Paul did not say, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall feel saved”; but, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved.”

You see, Luther knew what we must know also, faith is simply the empty hand of a beggar, which has nothing of its own, but simply waits to be filled by God Almighty.

Dear friends, the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, the Son of God is not a cleverly devised myth perpetuated by the types of false teachers we see today, proclaiming to be “apostles” of Christ. But rather, it was testified by the official eyewitnesses of Jesus’s public ministry, by people such as Matthias. That is good news for you; it is a promise and guarantee that you too will inherit the eternal kingdom of God in a new body created by God, and brought home by God. And where you go when this promise of God is fulfilled, just may be the best news of all… you see, you are going to an eternal place prepared just for you by Jesus Himself. Christ is risen… indeed, and so shall we. AMEN!

Are You Prepared to Witness?

Sunday, May 21st, 2017

Easter 6A, May 21, 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

“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).

Are you prepared to make a defense, that is to be a witness, to give witness to Christ? What is it that we are called to witness to? Well, how about this for starters, “Christ is risen! He is risen in deed!”

This morning the question is not could you witness to someone about your faith in Christ, but would you? Yes, with the help of God. The help of God? Is there really something like that happening today? And the answer is yes, but I don’t want to give away the end of the sermon so you will just have to have patience, and I promise that not only will you learn what that powerful help is, but you will in fact know that you have received it.

In our first reading (Acts 17:16-31) we join St. Paul after he has taken a tour of the city of Athens, Greece.

During his walk-about, he learned an awful lot about the city and its people. For one thing, he discovered that they loved art and philosophy, but he also discovered that they were very religious. It was this devotion to religion that motivated Paul to strike up conversations with the people he met concerning their religion. Well, actually it was the Holy Spirit of God that moved him to do that. You see, God’s Spirit caused Paul to understand and communicate a message, which is central throughout Holy Scripture, and it is this: God is a jealous God, and He will not share His glory with anything or anyone. In the past, like during the time of Noah and before, He overlooked their sin of false worship, but now, now He is calling the people to repent; that is, he calls all people to return to Him through His Son, Jesus Christ. He calls them to receive that one thing needful by all people… the forgiveness of their sins and new life through the cross of Christ; it is then and only then that that they will be able to “worship Him alone and no other.”

And how did Paul speak this truth? He did it with the love of Christ and respect. He did it by becoming one with them. How so? With these words: “And (God) made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward Him and find Him. Yet He is actually not far from each one of us, for “’In Him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “’For we are indeed His offspring.’ Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone (that is he is not like some of the religious statues that some people worship), (because that is) an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked (that is before the flood during Noah’s time), but now He (this One true God who is very near to you and desires you to be near to Him), commands all people everywhere to repent (that is turn to Him and experience His presence and love), because He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a man (who is also God’s very Son in human flesh) who He has appointed; and of this He has given assurance to all by raising Him from the dead.” [Acts 17:26-31]

Today, you have this same power and opportunity that Paul had long ago; an opportunity to witness to the people in our community the very same message. You will encounter these people in your various stations of life; that is the people you have built a relationship of friendship with. It may be at your place of work, at a shopping center, school, senior center, or even within your own family. The point is, God has placed you there for a reason, and the reason is so that you can make a defense, or give a witness to His real presence in your life and in theirs. But, I suppose this still leaves the question of “how does God do this work through me” begging to be answered. So let’s first look at “where” God does this work, before we answer the question of “how” he does it.

God equips you and empowers you to do this work at His Son’s church.

But where? And the answer is, “Through His Word.” Humor me for just a minute, and take the hymnal out of the pew rack, and then look at page 203, and then the following pages. As you do, you will notice that almost every word we speak or sing in our liturgy has a scripture reference. That means that our liturgy is nothing less than the very Word of God. So, if you have been coming to church for any length of time, you will discover that you have a whole lot of God’s Word memorized.

So why is that important? Because it is that very same Word that empowered St. Paul to give his witness. Now, just memorizing the Word of God is a good start, but you should also have an on-going way to internalize it and make it real and personal to you. And so you are doing right now as you hear the Word proclaimed in this message and as you do during Bible study and catechism classes. God is preparing you right here at this little church to give a witness to anyone who may ask you the reason for the hope that you hold onto, and is so important to you.

Today as we live our lives, God is giving us many opportunities to share our faith. I suppose the best and most productive way to share with people, is to be prepared to answer them when they ask: “Why do you go to church so much?” And now, you have learned that “We go to church to hear from God in His Word, that through His Son Jesus we are forgiven of all our sins, and now we must live out that forgiveness within our community and share it with others.”

Of course this only applies to those of us who really do make Christ and His church a priority in our lives. It applies to those of you who see a need for God’s continued voice and guidance in not just your lives but the lives of your family too. But it only applies when God’s Word has moved you to repent and receive not just the complete forgiveness of sins, but daily strength to follow and trust His Word.

Now some of you may be getting uncomfortable right now because the Word has struck close to home.

Let me first say to you… good! If that is what you are feeling then that is what God probably wants you to feel; that is the work of His law and it is His will. He wants you, like the people in Athens who Paul shared the Word with to simply turn to Him alone; that is He wants you to reject anything in your life that has replaced Him and His church as first place in your life. It won’t be easy, because you will not just be fighting your own desires but also the entire way our society has been programed. Let me show you what I mean.

If you are single and alone, society would have you think that getting out and having fun is the best way to find someone to share your life with. If you are married and have a family, society will tell you that working hard to support your family and then spending quality time with them is what you should be most concerned with. But this morning, God is telling you that you have it all wrong. He is telling you that He wants to be first place. Come to Him and allow Him to heal you, strengthen you, and fill you first, and then go out into the world and work hard and have fun. Let Him bring you to Mr. or Misses right and then you will know real happiness. Let Him provide employment that will then provide for your family.

And as these things take place, be sure to let others know the reason for the hope that you have. And that reason is Jesus Christ and His church; His church where He gives to you all of His gifts of grace that sustain you and make you into the “good” person that you are becoming by God’s grace. His church is His very means to give you the answer to our long awaited question: “What is the power that God gives to me so that I can witness my faith to others?”

Dear friends the power that God gives to you is His very Son; His Son who also gives to you Himself. But He does not give just His atoning death upon the cross, but He also gives you His resurrection. You see, you don’t just believe that Jesus died for the sins of the world, you also believe that Jesus died for you; for your sins, and His resurrection proves that you too will have eternal life. And how do you know this? Because Jesus has given you another Helper, the Holy Spirit of truth who forever dwells with you and within you.

And how do you know this gift is really yours?

Because like Noah and his family, eight souls in all, you have been called by the power of God’s Spirit out of the darkness of sin and you listened; you got into the ark that is His church, and because you entered into the ark of your salvation, the church, you do not fear the day of judgment that is coming. But how did you enter the church? That is, where and when did this great work take place that saved you? St. Peter gives us the answer in our epistle reading, listen: “Baptism, which corresponds to (how Noah and his family were saved from God’s judgment and the flood), now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.” [1 Peter 3:21, 22] (Talk about the baptism we just had).

So Holy Baptism is not just what saves you, but is the very source of both God’s continued presence in your life and His power that equips you with the ability to live that life in a way that both glorifies Him and blesses your family, friends and neighbors.

So how does baptism save you? Didn’t Jesus save us on the cross? Yes, of course He did; He paid for all sins on the cross, and baptism is that promise coming to you personally as part of the church now. So, baptism now saves you, not by removing the dirt or the stain of this world, but by the promise or the covenant from God to you that you are in fact clean of sin in His sight. This is why you are always taught that you are saved by grace alone and by faith alone. So in baptism, God has given you a promise that your sins are removed by the blood of Jesus, shed for you upon the cross. And now in God’s sight, your conscience can be entirely clean because you know that you don’t have to stand before Him, on the day of judgment by yourself; you know that Jesus stands with you, and that through Him alone you will not be judged guilty as a sinner. That’s how baptism saves you; by giving you a promise that you can believe in, and He gives you the means to believe in it through Scripture alone, right here in His church.

Baptism gives you something to have faith in… it gives you Jesus. Baptism equals Jesus promise. You have the promise of free grace, because of the resurrection of Jesus who now is at the right hand of the Father, and who has subjected all things to Himself.

Now, since Christ suffered because of your sinful flesh, to save you, then arm yourself with the same mindset, and expect that you too may have to suffer because of the attacks of the devils and your own sinful flesh. But as you wait for Christ’s return; as you are prepared to give a defense to anyone who should ask you why you go to church so much, remember it is God who gives you the Words to speak. And even if you have to suffer at the hands of others for giving that defense, for insisting that Christ’s church is important to you, God will continue filling you with faith and power as you trust in His promised blessings, which come with this declaration, “Christ has risen, Christ has risen indeed.” AMEN!

We Stand Upon Christ and the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles

Sunday, June 1st, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Easter 7A, June 1, 2014

Click here for audio of this message

“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.” [John 17:6-8]

What is it that identifies the church as something different; something special and not of this world?  Another way to say this is, what is it that brings so much comfort and peace to the lives of so many Christians that others in this world do not understand.  Do we really have something special, or are we too, doomed to find truth in these words of William Shakespeare’s 5th Act of the play Macbeth.  Listen: “Tomorrows, and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time.  And all our yesterdays have lighted fools, the way to dusty death.  Out, out, brief candle; life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more.  It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and signifying nothing.”

Is Shakespeare right?  Is life nothing but a shadow having no substance, no meaning?  What is the meaning of life?  This morning on this Lord’s Day, we speak the meaning of life in these words, “He has risen.  He has risen indeed.”  And because Jesus has been raised from the dead, so shall we who trust in Christ alone, along with Holy Scripture alone, Grace alone and Faith alone.  And that dear friends, is precisely that “something special” that we have, which not only brings us comfort and peace, but is also unites us as one, around the promised hope of forgiveness of sins and eternal life.  And all of this comes to us only through God’s Word, that is it comes through…

I. Scripture Alone: In our first reading this morning (Acts 1:12-26), we join the eleven apostles and many disciples of Jesus as they are leaving the mount called Olivet, where for the last time, they physically saw their Savior, Jesus Christ, the very Son of God as He ascended into Heaven to be seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.  After they witnessed Jesus going up into heaven, they returned and stayed in Jerusalem, just as Jesus had commanded them.  But it was the way that they were waiting, which has significance to our message this morning; they were waiting “with one accord, devoting themselves to prayer.”  That is, they were devoted to worship and the study and declaration of God’s Word!

What was it that united them?  Scripture alone!  It was through scripture that the work of the Holy Spirit moved Peter to make a motion to the assembled congregation, that the apostolic office once occupied by Judas should be filled.  Judas Iscariot, the one who not only betrayed Jesus Christ and the Christian faith, but took his own life to boot!

Peter, filled with the Spirit of God, and moved by the Spirit, stands before the assembly and begins to apply scripture to their situation.  How so?  Well in this way, as the Spirit worked within Peter, he was reminded of two portions of Holy Scripture from the Psalms of David, which prophesied the betrayal of the Messiah, and the punishment and replacement of the betrayer. First, led by the Words spoken in Psalm 69, Peter proclaims, “May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it.”  In other words, God is assuring His church, that the betrayer will be punished, and his betrayal of the faith will not be repeated again by the other apostles.  The next Psalm brought before the heart of Peter was Psalm 109, when Peter declares, “Let another take his office.”  That its let another apostle be called.

Now this is where we must pause for a moment and discuss just what the Word apostle means, and who the apostles were.  The English word apostle, finds it’s origin in the Greek word apostolos, which means one who acts as an envoy, an ambassador, or messenger who is commissioned to carry out the instructions of the commissioning agent.  If we were simply to take this dictionary meaning of the word, we might be tempted to say that we are all apostles, with pastors being the head apostles of a church and the members being subordinate apostles.  But language is living and it’s meaning is defined by the one who is speaking.  In other words, context is everything!  If we continue reading our text, we will discover that in verses 21 and 22, Peter defines the type of candidate that can rightly be called an apostle.  This person must be a male, for Peter says that he must come from “one of the men who have accompanied us” and he must have been with Jesus “during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us (that is he must have been present to see Jesus ascend into heaven).”  But perhaps the most important qualification for an apostle sent out to preach, teach and confess the saving message of the gospel to a world that is dying of sin is laid out in these words, “One of these men must become with us a witness to His resurrection.”  In other words, the one who is chosen to replace Judas must have been a witness to Christ’s resurrection, and he must  be able to declare with confidence as a material fact, that “He is risen indeed!”

The motion having been made and seconded was accepted in one accord.  And what do we hear next?  Was there a call for the question, or a lengthy discussion as to who the candidates would be?  Was there an election of the voters’ assembly?  No, instead, being that there were only two candidates who had the qualifications to be considered for the office, they brought them before the assembly and prayed, saying: “You Lord (that is Christ alone), know the hearts of all (people), show (us) which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.  And they cast lots for (Justus and Matthias) and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven” that is, he became the twelfth apostle.

So what we learn from this is that it is Christ alone who chose His apostles.  It is by the unmerited favor of God, that is by grace alone that any were chosen, and it is by faith alone that they will continue stead fast in this high call of God.  Neither you or I, nor any other person who is living today can claim to be, under Peter’s definition, an apostle of Jesus Christ.  But, what we can claim with certainty is that we are not just his disciples and servants, but his brothers, and a child of Almighty God the Father.  We can claim this truth because in our baptism and the continued reception and use of God’s means of Grace, we are daily called by grace through faith into this relationship.  And it is a faith that continues to come to us through God’s chief means of Grace, His Holy Word.  You will need this Word every day, because like Judas we too can only be saved by…

II. Grace Alone: And like Judas, we too are subject to fall from our call as Christians and betray our Lord, choosing the rewards of this sinful world over the grace of God.  In fact, it has already begun in your life, hasn’t it?  Wasn’t it your sins, like the sins of Judas that caused Jesus to obediently make that painful walk to the cross?  Quickly, don’t deny it; simply say “Yes, Christ died for my sins.”  Because if you cannot say that Jesus died for your sins, that it was your sins that led Him to the cross, then you cannot receive the forgiveness of sins that His death brings.  That is, you cannot receive His grace, which is the undeserved gift of God’s forgiving love.

Last Sunday, in both our message and my little talk at our pot-luck and congregational meeting, I implored each of you to understand how important it is for you to not just be present here at church, but also active so that God’s grace through His gifts, that is His means of grace will be active, life changing and life sustaining among us, so that we can be of “one accord.”  That is, when you are in Christ’s church, when you are gathered around the Word and Sacraments, you are receiving Jesus gifts, which come through Scripture alone, by grace alone, and which save you by both creating and sustaining faith alone.

III. Faith Alone– It is that very thing, which alone allows you to receive and believe through the eyewitness testimony of the twelve apostles, that not only has Christ died to save the World, but also He died to save you!  By faith alone, you are able to say along with the entire church, “He is risen, indeed,” but you can also say with the certainty of faith,  “He has risen for me.”  That is, through Holy Scripture, the ancient teaching of the apostles of Christ’s church, I can say for certain that because He lives I too shall live with Him forever.  Because he died to save sinners, He died to save me, and in my baptism, He has given all of this to me.  In the washing of the water and the Word of God, I stand with confidence upon the work of Jesus Christ and the teaching of the twelve apostles, which alone not only promises, but gives eternal life.

So faith is simply the empty hand of a beggar, which has nothing on its own, but simply waits to be filled by God Almighty.

Dear friends, the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, the Son of God is not a cleverly devised myth perpetuated by the teachers we see today, proclaiming to be “apostles” of Christ.  But rather, it was testified by the official eyewitnesses of Jesus’s public ministry, by people such as Matthias.  That is good news for you; it is a promise and guarantee that you too will inherit the eternal kingdom of God in a new body created by God, and brought home by God.  And where you go when this promise of God is fulfilled, will be the best news of all… you are going to an eternal place prepared just for you by Jesus Himself.  He is risen… indeed, and so shall we.  AMEN!

Are You Prepared to Witness?

Sunday, May 25th, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Easter 6A, May 25, 2014

Click here for audio of this message

“(B)ut in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).

Are you prepared to make a defense, that is to give a witness to Christ?  What are we called to witness to?  Well, how about this for starters, “Christ is risen!  He is risen in deed!”

This morning the question is not could you witness to someone your faith in Christ, but would you?  Yes, with the help of God.  The help of God?  Is there really something like that happening today?  And the answer is yes, but I don’t want to give away the end of the sermon so you will just have to have patience, and I promise that not only will you learn what that powerful help is, but you will in fact receive it.

In our first reading (Acts 17:16-31) we join St. Paul after he has taken a tour of the city of Athens, Greece.  During his walk-about, he learned an awful lot about the city and its people.  For one thing, he discovered that they loved art and philosophy, but he also discovered that they were very religious.  It was this devotion to religion that motivated Paul to strike up conversations with the people he met concerning their religion.  Well, actually it was the Holy Spirit of God that moved him to do that.  You see, God’s Spirit caused Paul to understand and communicate a message, which is central throughout Holy Scripture, and it is this: God is a jealous God, and He will not share His gory with anything or anyone.  In the past, like during the time of Noah and before, He overlooked their sin of false worship, but now, now He is calling the people to repent; that is, he calls all people to turn to His Son, Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins, and then worship Him alone and no other.”

And how did Paul speak this truth in love and respect?  He did it by becoming one with them.  How so?  With these words: “And (God) made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward Him and find Him.  Yet He is actually not far from each one of us, for “’In Him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “’For we are indeed His offspring.’ Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone (that is he is not like some of your religious statues that you worship), (because that is) an image formed by the art and imagination of man.  The times of ignorance God overlooked (that is before the flood during Noah’s time), but now He (this one who is very near to you and desires you to be near to you), commands all people everywhere to repent (that is turn to Him and experience His presence and love), because He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a man (who is also God’s very Son in human flesh) who He has appointed; and of this He has given assurance to all by raising Him from the dead.” [Acts 17:26-31]

Today, you have this same power and opportunity that Paul had long ago; an opportunity to witness to the people in our community the very same message.  You will encounter these people in your various stations of life; that is the people you have built a relationship of friendship with.  It may be at your place of work, at a shopping center, school, senior center, or even within your own family.  The point is, God has placed you there for a reason, and the reason is so that you can make a defense, or give a witness to His real presence in your life and in theirs.  But, I suppose this still leaves the question of “how does God do this work through me” begging to be answered.  So let’s look at “where” God does this work, before we answer the question of “how” he does it.

God equips you and empowers you to do this work at His Son’s church; even here at little Trinity Lutheran Church.  But how?  And the answer is, “Through His Word.”  Now, I have notice that many of you follow our liturgy, that is our order of worship by looking at the screens, and that’s ok, but remember that the screens simply are an aid for tired eyes; the actual liturgy is taken right out of our hymnals.  This morning, we are following Divine Service-Setting 4, which begins on page 203 in the Lutheran Service Book.  Humor me for just a minute, and take the hymnal out of the pew rack, and then look at page 203, and then the following pages.  As you do, you will notice that almost every word we speak has a scripture reference.  That means that our liturgy is nothing less than the very Word of God.  So, if you have been coming to church for any length of time, you will discover that you have a whole lot of God’s Word memorized.

So why is that important?  Because it is that very same Word that empowered St. Paul to give his witness.  Now, just memorizing the Word of God is a good start, but you should also have an on-going way to internalize it and make it real and personal to you.  And so you are doing right now as you hear the Word proclaimed in this message and as you did during Bible study and catechism classes.  God is preparing you right here at little Trinity to give a witness to anyone who may ask you the reason for the hope that you hold onto, and is so important to you.

Today as we live our lives, God is giving us many opportunities to share our faith.  I suppose the best and most productive way to share with people, is to be prepared to answer them when they ask: “Why do you go to church so much?”  And now, you have learned that “We go to church to hear from God in His Word, that through His Son Jesus we are forgiven of all our sins, and now we must live out that forgiveness within our community and share it with others.”

Of course this only applies to those of us who really do make Christ and His church a priority in our lives.  It applies to us who see a need for God’s continued voice and guidance in not just our lives but the lives of our family.  It only applies when God’s Word has moved you to repent and receive not just the complete forgiveness of sins, but daily strength to follow and trust His Word.

Now some of you may be getting uncomfortable right now because the Word has struck close to home.  Let me first say to you… good!  That is what you should be feeling; that is God’s will.  He wants you, like the people in Athens who Paul shared with to simply turn to Him alone; that is He wants you to reject anything in your life that has replaced God and His church as first place in your life.  It won’t be easy, because you will not just be fighting your own desires but also the entire way our society has been programed.  Let me show you what I mean.

If you are single and alone, society would have you think that getting out and having fun is the best way to find someone to share your life with.  If you are married and have a family, society will tell you that working hard to support your family and then spending quality time with them is what you should be most concerned with.  But this morning, God is telling you that you have it all wrong.  He is telling you that He wants to be first place.  Come to Him and allow Him to heal you, strengthen you, and fill you first, and then go out into the world and work hard and have fun.  Let Him bring you to Mr. or Misses right and then you will know real happiness.  Let Him provide employment that will then provide for your family.

And as these things take place, be sure to let others know the reason for the hope that you have.  And that reason is Jesus Christ and His church; His church where He gives to you all of His gifts of grace that sustain you and make you into the “good” person that you are.  His church that is His very means to give you the answer to our long awaited question: “What is the power that God gives to me so that I can witness my faith to others?”

Dear friends the power that God gives to you is His very Son; His Son who also gives to you Himself.  But He does not give just His death, but also His resurrection.  You see, you don’t just believe that Jesus died for the sins of the world, and that His resurrection proved that there is the hope of eternal life, but you also believe that Jesus died for you; for your sins, and His resurrection proves that you too will have eternal life.  And how do you know this?  Because Jesus has given you another Helper, the Spirit of truth who forever dwells with you and within you.

How do you know this gift is really yours?  Because like Noah and his family, eight souls in all, you have been called by the power of God’s Spirit out of the darkness of sin and you listened.  And because you entered into the ark of your salvation, the church, you do not fear the day of judgment that is coming.  But how did you enter the church?  That is, where and when did this great work take place that saved you?  St. Peter gives us the answer in our epistle reading, listen: “Baptism, which corresponds to (how Noah and his family were saved from God’s judgment and the flood), now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.” [1 Peter3:21, 22]

So Holy Baptism is not just what saves you, but is the very source of both God’s continued presence in your life and His power that equips you with the ability to live that life in a way that both glorifies Him and blesses your neighbor.

So how does baptism save you?  Didn’t Jesus save us on the cross?  Yes, of course He did; He paid for all sins on the cross, and baptism is that promise coming to you personally as part of the church now.  So, baptism now saves you, not by removing the dirt or the stain of all of your sin, but by the promise or the covenant from God to you that you are in fact clean of sin in God’s sight.  This is why you are always taught that you are saved by grace alone by faith alone.  So in baptism, God has given you a promise that your sins are removed by the blood of Jesus shed for you upon the cross.   And so in God’s sight your conscience can be entirely clean because you know that you don’t have to stand before Him, on the day of judgment by yourself; you know that through Christ you will not be judged guilty as a sinner.  That’s how baptism saves you; by giving you a promise that you can believe in, and He gives you the means to believe in it through His Word, which you receive right here at church.

Baptism gives you something to have faith in… it gives you Jesus.  Baptism equals Jesus promise.  You have the promise of a free covenantal grace, because of the resurrection of Jesus who now is at the right hand of the Father, Who subjected all things to Himself, including angels, authorities, and all powers.

Now, since Christ suffered because of your sinful flesh, to save you, then arm yourself with the same mindset, and expect that you too may have to suffer because of your own sinful flesh as you wait for His return; as you give a defense to anyone who should ask you why you go to church so much.  And even if you have to suffer at the hands of others for giving that defense, for insisting that church is important to you, God will continue filling you with faith and power as you trust in His promised blessings.  AMEN!

You Need God’s Strong Word

Sunday, May 18th, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Easter 5A, May 18, 2014

Click here for audio of this message

“And the twelve (Apostles) summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.” [Acts 6:2]

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed! You know that He has risen because His Word has told you so; you know that this Word is true because His Word is strong in deed; full of grace and the very power of God.  It is this Word alone that saves sinners and brings them new life, and that is why the Apostles said that they should not be distracted from the study, preparation, and the declaration of God’s strong Word.  The Sunday proclamation of God’s Word is the source of God’s grace and power, but you dear saints, like Stephen are the result of that grace and power when it is active in the life of a redeemed and sanctified saint of God.  And like Stephen, you need God’s strong Word so that you will know both God’s heart regarding your sin, indeed all sin, and so that you will not only know God’s solution to your sin, but also so that you will embrace His solution with all of your heart.

God’s heart concerning your sin is hate.  God hates sin because sin is the very thing that separates you from Him, and God loves you.  Sin is that thing which refuses to die, and with great obstinacy, clings to your flesh and cries out “There is no God.  But if there is a Creator, He can’t possibly be interested in my sin.”  Therefore, sin is that thing which either elevates you as your own god, or it allows you to define who or what your god is.  The sainted Dr. Martin Luther once said that a god is anything you turn to in times of trouble or turmoil.  God’s strong Word tells us today, that not only is He powerfully present in your life, He is also powerfully active, bringing you grace (that is the undeserved kindness and mercy of God) and power (that is God’s power, which takes away your sins, and then gives you a peace with Him that surpasses all understanding).

You need God’s Word today because there are very many “false teachers” who take God’s strong Word, which is to be for Christians, as pure “breast” milk is to infants (1 Peter 2:2), and they either dilute it or replace it all together.  But how do they do this?  When they confuse the Law of God with the Gospel of God.  But why do they do this?  Well for the very same reason the Sanhedrin whom Stephen confronted in our first reading (Acts 7:51-60) abused the law of God then; they are by nature stiff necked people and uncircumcised in (their) hearts and ears; (they) always resist the (grace and power) of the Holy Spirit, just as sinners have always done and always will do.

To be stiff necked is to be unwilling to bend or respond to the work of God’s strong Word, as He shows you your sins.  That is, stiff-necked people refuse to be molded or recreated into God’s will.  To be uncircumcised in the heart and ears means that the listener refuses to hear God’s solution to their sins.  We received a powerful example of this behavior when Stephen, full of God’s grace and power simply reported the enormity of the Sanhedrin’s error; in their sins they had blindly crucified God’s solution… Jesus Christ.  “Full of the Holy Spirit, Stephen gazed into heaven and (was allowed to see) the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.  And (Stephen) said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”  But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him.” [Acts 7:55-57]

You see, false teachers then and false teachers today think that by living a certain way and believing in certain principles, they have received a way to please God; they think that through their attempts to keep God’s Law, they are safe and secure from the judgment of God. They take the very means, which God has instituted to show them the ugly truth about their sins and they have twisted it into a way to please God and assure them happiness.

It is a shame that the people who stoned Stephen that day, and the people who will not hear God’s strong Word today would not and will not listen to God’s strong Word.  It is that very Word, which the Apostles proclaimed and the people followed that is still preached today in Christ’s true church.  It is the strong Word, which is still the very rhythm of life for all children of God, and the work of that strong Word is called repentance.  What is repentance?  Simply this, the strong Word of God shows you your sins and you are grieved over them.  As a result, you feel lost and separated from God, that is you feel pain over your sins; real pain, but then the strong Word of God, the Gospel of God shows you His solution to your sins… the very Son of God, Jesus Christ!

You see friends, this truth is so simple that even little children can understand it, but little children must be taught this truth and they must learn to refuse to be fed any other teaching.  Another way to say this is that “Jesus Christ alone is our corner stone; He alone is God’s chosen and precious solution to our sin, and whoever believes in Him will not be put to shame.” [1 Peter 2:6]  Only those little ones who believe and confess this truth may declare with a certain confidence, that “Christ died for sinners; He died for me!”  But for those false teachers and for those who do not believe that Christ alone is God’s only means of salvation, “The (corner) stone that the builders (that is the false teachers) rejected (has become for them) a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.”

They stumble because they disobey the Word of God.  They stumble because they will not allow God’s Word to declare them hopeless, helpless, and unclean in their sins.  They stumble, because they will not allow God’s Word to lead them into that condition of heart, which the church calls contrition… real pain for real sins.  And because they will not allow God’s Law to work within them, they will not, no they can not receive the Gospel of God, which declares that only the cross of Christ and His resurrection can bring peace with God and eternal life.

Stephen knew this truth and it transformed him forever.  As he declared the Word of God, he was also filled with the power of God.  But again, this truth makes no sense to the false teachers today, just as it would have been a pathetic joke to the Sanhedrin then.  Where is the power in an execution?  Who is the one in control?  To the rock throwers they were in control; they had the power of death.  If you were to tell them that with each rock they threw, Stephen became stronger and stronger, they would ultimately point to the pummeled, lifeless body of Stephen and asked, “Where is his power now?”  But this is always what happens to those who will not receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ, because you see, God’s message to sinners is not just the cross, but it is also the message of the empty tomb; the resurrection of the dead!

Stephen died for the Gospel of God because he knew that was what God had called him to do.  Would you do the same if called upon by God?  You would, if you were trusting in His strong Word.  Stephen was not an apostle, nor was he a pastor.  He was simply a redeemed sinner transformed and then nurtured by God’s own means of grace.  The position he held is what we would today call deacon.  The assignment that he fulfilled was much like the ministry our own deacons perform in their respective ministries here at Trinity.  Stephen was in charge of one of several help or charitable distribution centers, set up to help the poor, much like our own pantry, which Deacon Mark oversees, or the legal aid Deacon Clifton offers here at Trinity in the name of Jesus as an attorney.

So where did Stephen get filled with such grace and power that enabled him to give such a strong witness?  He received the teaching of the apostles just as you are doing today.  He was first baptized and filled with all of the Spirit’s power, just as you have been.  Each time he heard the Word about forgiveness of sins in Christ’s name preached, he was filled with that power.  Each time he received the absolution from the lips of his pastors, the apostles, he was renewed just as you are being renewed today.  Each time he approached the Lord’s Table and received the very body and blood of our Lord in, with, and under the bread and wine, he not only heard, saw, touched, and tasted forgiveness of sins, but he also received a powerful strengthening of his faith, which is the very thing that happens to you here at this altar.

We will close our message with the final portion of our first reading and two thoughts that God willing, will carry us through this week, until we gather again next Sunday to be filled once again with God’s strong Word: “Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” [Acts 7:58-60]

Think about this truth first: As hard as a sinner’s heart may be, as lost as they may have become in the unholy doctrine of false teachers, God’s strong Word is still working to reach them.  This truth was proven true in the heart and life of the young man named Saul, who supervised Stephen’s execution.  For you see, this young man named Saul, would later encounter the resurrected Jesus Christ, the very Son of God as he was traveling down a dusty road to arrest and oversee the execution of even more Christians.  And after that encounter, Saul would for ever be know as St. Paul, the apostle of Jesus Christ.  And he would follow in the footsteps of Stephen and also die for his Lord.

The second truth that we are led to see, is how God magnificently demonstrates His grace and His power in the lives of Christians just like us.  He does it as He did it through Stephen… He does it through the forgiveness of sins.  As you have received the absolution of God through the gospel of Jesus Christ this morning, it is God’s will that when you leave this place but not His presence, you too, would say along with Stephen, when someone does you harm, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”  Can you forgive as simply and freely as Stephen?  Yes, indeed you can, with God’s strong Word working within you!  AMEN!