Posts Tagged ‘Prejudice’

From Lesser to Greater

Sunday, May 10th, 2015

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

Sorry, no audio for this message is available

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who Is Welcome Here?

Sunday, September 9th, 2012

15th Sunday in Pentecost B, September 9, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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“”Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.”” [Isaiah 35:4]

Can you remember a time in your life when you had an anxious heart; when you were separated from God and you knew it?  What is it  that separated you from God’s love; wasn’t it your sin?  Didn’t that make you afraid of thinking about eternal things; about judgment?    And yet here you are this morning; listening to God’s Word and experiencing a new and abundant life!  True, it isn’t always and easy  life, but it is a lot better than the other option of living a life of fear and worry.

So how did you get here, living this life of faith?  How did you become a Christian?  Was it your decision to simply turn away from a life  of sin, or was there more to it?  What I mean is, if you simply decided to turn to faith and away from sin, then why are you still sinning;  why are you still struggling with living a life that is pleasing to God?

Ok, I know that is making you a little uncomfortable, so I’ll try another approach; perhaps you are here living this Christian life of faith  because someone invited you at just the right time to come to church, and your life has not been the same since?  Well then, if that’s  the truth, I would say that you owe that person who invited you to church your very life.  I would say that there is no limit to how much you can and should do to repay that person for the kindness they’ve shown you!

I know, I know… that reason doesn’t seem practical either, so let me try something else; something different and outside of you.  Perhaps, just maybe you are here because Jesus saw inside of you, knew the real you and still saw someone worth saving; worth touching and worth speaking to!  Maybe in a way that only God could touch or speak, He simply said, “Ephphatha!  Be opened” and it was at that point your ears were opened to hear the truth; God’s truth.”

In our gospel reading we see two examples of healing and both were done to people you and I would probably have over looked.  One, was a strange foreign woman and the other was a deaf and babbling foreigner who could only mumble and point.

The foreign woman was the insistent type; she insisted on having a one on one talk with Jesus!  She wouldn’t settle for His helpers or friends; it had to be with Jesus alone!  Now she was a strange one; she was different.  Today, you might call her needy and clingy; you might even say she was downright rude.  You know the type I’m talking about; the type that won’t take no for an answer.  Now the apostles I am sure tried to send her away, after all she was a dirty, no good gentile woman, but she refused to leave.  Finally, when Jesus came out of the home he was in, she pushed her way past the crowd and through the apostles, fell down at Jesus feet and worshiped Him.  She worshiped Him and called out for mercy; she called out for the one thing only Jesus could do… drive a demon out of her daughter.

Now, I am going to ask you a tricky question; the answer isn’t what you think it should be, so take your time before you answer.  Did Jesus heal her daughter right away?  Wait, don’t answer yet… really meditate on the question.  Here let me help you.  After Jesus received her worship and heard her speak out loud her question, he immediately responded with a statement of facts, He said,  “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”  Now that is a strange thing for Jesus to say; why would he call that desperate woman a dog?  Does that sound like the Jesus you have come to know?  Did he really call her a dog… someone less than human?  No!  He called her something more than a dirty wild dog and something less than a Jew; He called her what she was, a gentile sinner, in need of a Savior.

You see, Jesus spoke correctly when He said that it wasn’t right to take the food out of the mouths of His children.  What parent here would feed anyone or anything before their children were fed?  No one would, and that is Jesus point.  You see, the Jews were the children of God by default, because they were the children of Abraham; descendants of that man of great faith.  It was to Abraham who God promised that one of His descendants would be the promised Messiah, who would come to save the Jews first and then the gentiles from their sins.  And now before the very eyes of this woman stands that Messiah; Jesus, the Son of God and the son of Mary.  And He is telling her that His first mission to the Jews is not yet complete; her time, the time of the gentiles has not yet come.  But that doesn’t explain why Jesus called her a dog.  Well, let’s see if we can shed a little light onto that one.

The Jews, who were supposed to be a light to the gentiles, a light that showed them the way to God’s forgiving love, instead mostly drove the gentiles away; they acted hatefully and superior.  They looked down on the gentiles and even called them dogs; the kind of dogs that were homeless and unclean; they called then “ka-leeb”.  Ka-leeb was the Hebrew word used to describe the dogs found in the junkyards or roaming the streets at night.  But Jesus did not use that word, instead he used a Greek word that referred to the woman and other gentiles as Kynariois, or family house doges.  That kind of canine was the beloved and cherished family pet.  But as much as you love your pets, you certainly would not feed them first and then feed your children.

Now the gentile woman picked up on that word that Jesus used to describe her, and she spoke it right back to Him; “Yes, Lord; yet even the kynariois (pet dogs) under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”  And to this Jesus smiles and sends the woman home; home to a daughter who is already healed.  So the answer to the question is yes, Jesus did heal her daughter immediately, perhaps even before they spoke.  He healed her because the request that came from her mother was completely covered and surrounded in faith.

So my next question is this: Why did this woman have faith in Jesus?  Why did she trust Jesus?  She trusted Him because Jesus opened her heart to trust Him.  Like the man who had been deaf and unable to speak for such a long time, she was helpless to hear about and believe in Jesus unless God opened her ears and her heart to hear and believe.  Just as Jesus spoke the Word “Ephphatha” to the deaf mute, He spoke the same Word of opening and believing to the woman.  The Word of God speaks the will of God.  And what is God’s will?  That none should perish but have everlasting life!

Eternal life is a gift; it is never earned nor a birth right.  You are not a Christian because your parents were Christians; you are a Christian because God has spoken the Word Ephphatha to you.  He spoke it to you in your baptism and he speaks it to you when you gather around His Word and at His table to receive His Supper.  We believe because He has spoken, and when He speaks to us Ephphatha He speaks new life.  It is a Word that is spoken to dirty no good sinners and holy and righteous saints alike.  It is a Word full of power and it both kills and brings back to life.

Are you listening?  Do you hear Jesus speaking Words of death and life?  He is asking you to be open and listen; perhaps He is even asking you to speak Words of life to someone you would not usually speak to?  Maybe He is asking you to step outside of your comfort zone and associate with people who are not like you; people you would normally not give a second thought to.  If you are rich or at least well off, maybe He is asking you to share the gospel, or invite someone who is poor to church.  Or if you are poor, maybe He is asking you to speak openly and sincerely with someone who appears rich or above your economic status; you know rich people need Jesus too!  Or maybe He is asking you to speak to someone who is obviously living a life far removed from God and the church; maybe it is someone or a group of someones who intimidate you or even infuriates you?

Will you speak; do you dare go that far outside of your comfort zone?  Yes, and you will do it if you allow God to open your heart along with your ears.  You will do it because you know that God is no respecter of persons or status.  If He was, He never would have chosen you.  And yet, He did!  Jesus died for you.  On the cross He had you on His heart and His mind, and in your baptism He called you God’s own child!  You are God’s own child because the Word of the cross opened your heart and your ears.  You are God’s own child because the waters of your baptism washed you clean and recreated you.  You have been transformed from a sinner to a saint.  From a dog to a child of God, and now God asks you to watch Him do the same thing again and again through His Word that you carry in your heart.  “Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.”  Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.”

So sing for joy.  Tell everyone who will listen, because everyone really is welcome in God’s house.  Tell whoever God puts in your path, about what Jesus has done for you.  Invite them here to this place to hear the very words that save you… Ephphatha… be opened!