Posts Tagged ‘reconciliation’

The Way Towards a Strong and Prosperous Life


Monday, February 20th, 2017

Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany (A), February 19, 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

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Loving-Our-Enemies-600x600This morning we continue our message from within Jesus Sermon from the Mount, and we’ll let these words confront us and comfort us: “You therefore must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” [Matt. 5:48] Here’s a question that I want you to wait until the end of our message to answer: Is this the Law or Gospel? It’s my prayer that by the end of our message you will be able to answer this question, and that the answer will lead you in the way you live out the rest of your life.

In that question we must remember that Jesus’ primary goal isn’t to speak the law and condemn us as sinners, which we are, but instead He is leading our hearts to understand the will of God and our new identity as saints; people He is sending out to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. [Vs. 13-16] Jesus wants us to see our need for living our lives in complete dependence on God’s love and care, which will then compel us to demonstrate or reflect that same love to our neighbors where ever we me meet them. And all of this is done within the tender balance of living a life of repentance and faith, which Jesus provided for us in the Beatitudes [Vs. 3-12], where He assured us of a life strong with blessings. When the reality of these blessing begin to control our very lives, we will begin to have an effect upon our community as salt and light. But we must always remember that our quest for completeness has nothing to do with entering or staying in the Kingdom of God, because Jesus has already given that to us!

Now resting in this promise of blessing, hear the perfect Law of God:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ (Or if someone punches you, punch them back.) But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil.” Lord, are you saying don’t fight back against anyone? “(Yes”, he says,) If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” But Jesus isn’t done yet, He now takes it a step further: “And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” In other words, if part of a settlement to a law suit is your jacket, let them have your shirt also! “And if anyone (say like the government or someone else with power over you) forces you to go one mile (say to carry something), go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” [Vs. 38-41]

“But Lord…. but Lord! Do you know what that will mean to me? That’s not only foolish it’s also impossible!” And dear friends, that is the point. Living the kind of life that Jesus is leading us to is the foolishness of the cross… the impossibility of fulfilling God’s perfect law. Your “but Lord” should be enough to turn you away from any foolish ideas you might have that keeping God’s law is doable! It should be enough to not only turn you to God’s mercy and forgiveness, but keep you there as you learn to follow Jesus!

You see friends, Jesus wants us to understand that it isn’t God’s law that brings about true justice for us but it’s His love and mercy that does that! Now our Lord knows that this is the complete opposite of what the world calls common sense; it goes directly against our natural inclination. You know what I am referring to don’t you? “A tit for a tat! I’m going to make sure I get justice!” That’s the natural way of this sinful world! They think that the law will give them wholeness and security; but we must always remember that the left hand kingdom or the kingdom of God’s law can never bring about any real change; it only demands it. Instead, it is God’s way to provide justice by inviting His children to trust in His plan for them and then turn to Him in prayer. And when we rest in God’s plan of justice, He then asks us to absorb the evil attacks of our neighbor and let it die there! He is asking us not to live a life of revenge, but instead live a life of sacrificially turning the other cheek and trusting that God will repay!

What we must remember is that this is ultimately not about you and me, but it is about Jesus Christ! He is the one who truly did turn the other cheek when He was struck by the Sanhedrin. He truly did let them take both His tunic and His cloak as they rolled dice deciding who would keep them. He truly did pick up His cross and walk more than a mile to the ominous poverty of Golgotha; with the sins we placed on Him.
But we must not ever say or even think that because Jesus lived this life perfectly for us, we no longer need to!
No friends, just the opposite is true; what Jesus did for us, demonstrates for us what it means to love! He demonstrates to us the highest form of love… God’s own love; a love of intellect and choice. As God has loved us, so we are to love our neighbor.

This kind of love means that we will stand against evil not by taking a physical and reactionary stand against it but by submitting to the one who is evil; by absorbing the evil and not matching it with our own form of pay back. Why would we do this? Because of God’s mercy and love that has been given to us through Jesus Christ!

Now I know, when we hear these words, we want to close our ears; we don’t want to do it! We desperately look for another way to explain this hard teaching of Jesus, but the truth is friends there is no other way to explain it and no other way to follow Jesus; He always leads us to the cross!

This isn’t a new teaching friends, nor is it without those who truly understood it and lived out its truth.

Martin Luther understood it along with those who went before Him and became martyrs. Mohandas Gandhi and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. also saw and lived out the beauty of this teaching, and they absorbed so much hate and evil that it eventually took their lives. Martin Luther King Jr. not only walked the way of the cross but He taught others to do the same, and because of that obedience, God brought about great change. He changed the injustice of hate not with the sword but with mercy and forgiveness, and this change is still in motion today!

Through Jesus we find true power and truth in the cross. And that truth is that you don’t overcome evil by violently standing against it but by turning the other cheek. But don’t mistake this turning of the cheek with weakness or tolerance! Nowhere does Jesus say to turn the other cheek and refuse to speak up for what is right; nowhere does He say not to protect and take on the cause of those who are being overcome by evil! As salt and light, we are to speak the truth, God’s truth in love; a kind of love that moves us to take the evil action of another upon ourselves; the kind of love that moves under the burden of the cross another is bearing and help them shoulder the load. We are to take all of the evil action upon ourselves and let it die there, never bringing it up again!

Do you want to learn to be obedient? Do you want to become what God has already said that you are… holy? Then follow Jesus to the cross and agree with this teaching and pursue it! This is the way of the cross!

So are you looking for a “how to” part of this sermon?

Good, then I have only one step for you to follow: turn to Jesus and His cross! How? Well you’ve already been given the heart of Jesus, so follow that heart; follow that love of God that has been put within you. Love your enemy; pray for him. You will be surprised just how much change and rearrangement God will do when your heart first agrees that He’s right and you’re wrong. Once you learn to admit this, then praying for your enemy isn’t really that difficult.
But why must we do this? Well, Jesus answers this question as well. Listen: “(You will do this) so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” [vs. 45] But that sounds like some kind of works righteousness! Is it? Is Jesus saying that I must work at loving my enemies here on earth so that my Heavenly Father can reward me by making me His son or daughter? No, not at all!
Jesus is saying that when we are loving our enemies we are showing them the love of the Father; we are showing them that we ARE sons and daughters of the Father! Through our acts of love that find their source in the heart of Jesus we are showing everyone, including our enemies that our God is also their God; a God who “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” We are showing them that not only are God and His love real, but also His Law that threatens anyone who refuses to follow that love through Jesus Christ! We are showing them that the same God who saved and changed us wants to do the very same work within them.

“For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors (or open sinners) do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” [Vs. 46-47] You see friends, Jesus is telling us that we are not to think that our Christianity is something nice that we share with those who are part of our congregation; He’s not saying that your Christian love is reserved for anyone else who calls themselves Christian; He’s not even saying that our Christian love should be shared with those who do nice things for us! We are called not to love just those who love us, but to love those who hate us! This is the way of the cross; this is the path Jesus traveled and invites us to travel with Him.

Listen to Jesus final Words upon the cross and let them lead and guide you. As he was dying upon the cross, Jesus prayed: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!” Who did He pray forgiveness for? Was it for those who placed Him on the cross? Yes, He prayed for all those present, He even prayed for you, and He prayed for your enemy, because it was all of our sins that placed Him there! And as He prepared to take His last breath He shouted: “IT IS FINISHED… it is perfect… it is complete!” What is? God’s plan to remove the sins of the world, even your sins!

Jesus closes our teaching this morning with these words:

“You therefore must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” [Vs. 48] Is that Law or Gospel? I say that it is both! You must be complete as your Heavenly Father is complete. You must be finished and you must be complete; this is the true meaning of perfect. And that is what you are because Jesus has blessed you with His completion! Through the beatitudes or God’s pronouncement of blessing at the beginning of Jesus Sermon, He gives you the very thing that He now tells you that you must have… completion! What wonderful news! Now take this blessing of completion and live a strong and prosperous life… prosper for the Kingdom of Heaven is upon you! AMEN!

It’s Already Forgiven!

Sunday, September 8th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 16-C, September 8th, 2013

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“Confident of your obedience, … I know that you will do even more than I say.” [Philemon 21]

Our Epistle lesson this morning (Philemon 1-21), is a little different from our usual epistles, and here’s how; all of the other Epistles in your Bible are general letters to all of the people in a local congregation, or they are intended for many congregations that make up the Church.  But this one, … this one is different.  It is a private letter from the Apostle Paul to a pastor and leader of a local church; a man named Philemon.

Philemon was not only a pastor he was also a wealthy one.  How do I know that?  Because he owned slaves!  Slaves?  Wait just a minute, why would a pastor own slaves?  Because that was an accepted practice within the Roman Empire, and specifically in the area that he lived, a town called Colossae.  The ranks of slaves were not only made up of those who were conquered in war, but also of persons who voluntarily sold themselves into slavery so that they would have a place to live, food to eat, clothes to wear, and a little money to spend.  Now within the roster of slaves working for Philemon, was one named Onesimus.  What he did for Philemon, and how he became a slave is unknown, we only know that he was a slave in the household of Philemon.

But what we also know is that Onesimus ran away and eventually found St. Paul in a Roman prison waiting for a trial that would eventually lead to his death.  Why did he run to find Paul?  Because St. Paul was the founder and Bishop of that church in Colossae and Onesimus knew it.   He must have known many things about Christianity while observing the worship services in Philemon’s home.  He also must have observed many qualities of the Christian faith that he admired but which also confused him, so it only made sense that when he ran he would seek out the only authority he knew of within the Christian church, the Apostle Paul.

So here are three truths we must realize so that this message will make sense.  1. This is not a message on the morality of slavery.  2. When Onesimus ran away, he committed theft; he was depriving his master Philemon of the income or service that he would have rendered had he stayed.  3. Onesimus was attracted by the Christian faith, from what he heard and witnessed, but he was not yet converted; that is, when he ran away, he was not a Christian.

Now let’s look at the letter.  In verse 4 Paul reminds Philemon of his true identity in Jesus Christ.  He is not just a wealthy business owner; he is not just a husband and father; he is not just an owner of slaves; and he is not just a leader of a local congregation… he is Christ’s own Ambassador in all of the vocations or positions of life that he lives.  Through faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ he has been set free, pardoned of all of his sins.  In his baptism this pardon engulfed him and recreated him into the image of His Lord Jesus Christ.  In other words he was made one with God through a relationship of love and faith with the Son of God.  Now this is the truth that empowers St. Paul’s entire message contained within this letter.  The underlying question throughout this whole letter is this: Shouldn’t this relationship with God through Jesus Christ direct every thing we do in life and guide the way we live and behave with all people?

In verse 6, Paul talks about the fellowship of believers and how we relate to each other in the body of Christ and how we treat those outside of the church who hopefully will be attracted to the faith because of how we treat them.  Sometimes I mourn over the damage done to the image of the church because of our public persona.  The church may no longer be seen as a group of ordinary people who love in an extraordinary fashion, by celebrating joyfully with others over their great fortune, and weeping and mourning intensely with still others because of their misfortune and tragedies.  Instead, I am afraid we sometimes may be seen as a group of individuals who just want to get our praise on and avoid letting others into our tight circle because either we are jealous that their blessing isn’t our blessing, or because their sorrow is bringing us down and threatening to take the joy out of our own lives. Paul’s letter is encouraging us to go back to our relationship with God through Christ, and he is commanding us to be reconciled with God and with our brothers and sisters in true Christian love!

In verse 7, Paul asks us to consider a couple things.  Are we being a blessing and useful to others in the church by how we spend our time talent and resources and are we allowing others to bless and be useful to us with their time, talent, and treasure?  Or are we so caught up in the moment and with those in our little cliques that we have no time for others who may be different than ourselves?

In verses 8-15, Paul acknowledges that Onesimus sinned against Philemon, and he admits that this sin has separated the two.  But Paul points out that Onesimus not only acknowledges this before Philemon and Paul, but before God Himself.  You see, Onesimus has turned and received God’s gift of forgiveness through Jesus Christ; he was baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and now being reconciled to God through Christ, He also wishes to be reconciled to Philemon.  In other words, Paul is once more turning Philemon’s eyes and heart to Christ and His cross.  He is showing Him that forgiveness has already been accomplished at Calvary, now all that is lacking is for Philemon to pronounce and live out that same forgiveness towards Onesimus, who once was only a slave, but now is so much more than that, he is Philemon’s brother!

In verse 18, we have perhaps the most beautiful part of the letter.  Here we see Paul, who points Philemon and us to the cross, and he takes up that same cross himself on behalf of Onesimus.  He says that what ever Onesismus owes you, what ever harm he has done that you feel demands restitution, charge it to me, Paul, personally!  “In other words,” says Paul, “as Christ paid my debt of sin and freed me from that burden, I too can not help but do the same for Onesimus.”  Now this is beautiful and it is important, because it sets up what comes next.

In verse 21, Paul says that he is confident that Philemon will take back Onesimus as his brother in Christ without penalty and with complete forgiveness, in fact he is confident that he will do something even better. Paul is certain that Philemon like himself, through the power of the Spirit of Christ, will also take up his cross, and absorb what every financial or social loss that Onesimus’ disobedience caused, just as Christ did for Philemon and Paul upon His cross, where His death brought life for all sinners, even sinners such as Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus.

Dear friend, may I speak to you personally through the grace and forgiving love of Jesus Christ?  Do you know that I thank God for your salvation; I can’t help but celebrate that like me, He has snatched you too out of the grasp of the devil by paying for your sin Himself.  What a joy it is to know that He has also washed you and recreated you into His own image in your baptism, so that like me, you too need never fear the punishments of death.  The fact that you are listening to these words this morning is proof of your love for Christ, even as weak as it may be, it is present by the work of God, and for that I truly am joyful.  I know that it is this same love of Christ that has moved you to give freely and abundantly in your time, talent, and treasure to the church and in other places and ways.  Through your giving, you have truly refreshed the lives of so many.

Now because of this wonderful gift of grace that is active in your life, I must be bold to speak a command of God.  “You must be reconciled with your brother or sister.”  You are required to do this thing, not asked.  Yet you are forgiven through grace, so this command will not cause you any fear or worry, because it will actually be Christ within you forgiving, becoming reconciled to the one that has hurt you and deserves, in the worlds eyes, only punishment and retribution.  You know as well as I that any good works that God commands, which are done out of fear or obligation, do not count for a thing in His eyes.  Instead, we know that God loves a cheerful giver, one who gives of their time, talent, treasure, and even forgiveness, voluntarily out of a heart filled with love and abundant thankfulness for what Jesus has done!

So I, a simple pastor who at times can also be a sinner, ask you to forgive that person who has sinned against you.  Let it go and allow the cross of Jesus Christ to absorb it.  When you see them living their life as if they had never sinned against you, why not do the same.  Let all anger and animosity go and be reconciled to that person.  Sit down, speak truthfully with them; talk about sin, their sin and your own, and talk about grace, Christ’s grace that forgives each of you completely.  Think of how you were baptized and know that the very same waters also cleansed them.  Allow them back into your life after God’s own Word has restored both of you.  This is my prayer for each of you and it is the very thing that I celebrate even now, because I know that by the Spirit of Christ, you will do even more than I ask.

As we close our message, I thought that I would share one more bit of information with you about the relationship between Philemon and Onesimus.  Not only did Philemon forgive Onesimus and take him back, he took him back just as Paul asked, as a dear brother, fellow redeemed sinner through Christ Jesus.  Now to strengthen our faith, allow me to show you what God can do when brothers and sisters are willing to be reconciled with each other through Jesus Christ.

Some time latter after Onesimus’ return, Philemon released Onesimus and had him go back to Paul and serve as a missionary as Paul directed him (Colossians 4:7-9).  Church tradition teaches that later Onesimus went on to become a bishop of the Church in the city of Ephesus at the age of 70, and latter he probably died as a martyr in the Christian faith, refusing to recant his faith in God and his love for his Savior Jesus Christ.

All of this, because Philemon obediently followed the Spirit of Christ and was willingly reconciled to Onesimus.  I wonder whose lives we can influence and change by also being obedient to the Spirit of Christ?  May God bless each of us Onesimuses, and may we also be reconciled to those we have hurt and to those who have hurt us.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

A Celebration During Lent… Really?!

Sunday, March 10th, 2013

Lent 4C, March 10, 2013
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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Did you recognize the words that we just sang in the Old Testament Canticle?  They were taken right out of our Old Testament reading (Isaiah 12:1-6).  They are words of celebration; words that  claim the promise of God, a promise which proclaims that the bondage of His people Israel will have an end.  The words are meant to turn peoples hearts’ outside of their misery and towards a God  who is mighty in strength, faithful, abounding in stead-fast love; a God who brings and gives salvation.

Like the people of old, we too are invited to celebrate and sing praises to the Lord for the glorious things He has done and is still doing for us.  We are still asked to tell anyone in the world what He  has done for us, and what He will continue to do for them, if they will just return to HIM.

What has he done for us?  What has He done for you?  Well, once again we have a wonderful illustration of what He has done and what He is doing.  This morning, in the baptism of Shukri Sahiti  and Elsa Swan, you saw young adults in their early thirties, snatched out of the bondage of sin and given their freedom in Christ.  You saw darkness completely swallowed up by light.  Like all  sinners, even us, Shukri and Elsa were lost in a world that is controlled by the devil.  But God… but God made a way out of no way for them to rest in the Kingdom of Grace, through Jesus Christ, with  the promise that one day they will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  Through the washing of simple water and the Holy Word of God, Shukri and Elsa, in the only way God has ordained, have been  clothed with Christ’s own robe of righteousness.  Did they deserve this rebirth of Christ?  No and neither do we.  And to illustrate this truth, Jesus, in our gospel lesson (Luke 15:1–3, 11–32), tells us  a story; a parable about the prodigal son.

Jesus told this story because judgmental, self-righteous hypocrites were grumbling these words about Him under their breath: “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”  If I was there, I think  I would have told those self-righteous Pharisees, “Thank God He receives sinners, or you and I would have no hope of ever entering into the Kingdom of Heaven.”

In your baptism, like Shukri’s and Elsa’s baptism this morning, God looked upon you and not only saw your horrible sin, but He also saw something that you lacked; something that could only exist if He willed it and created it; and that was the goodness that you must have in order to be in a relationship with Him.  It is a goodness that you have always been invited to embrace and live out, but it is also a goodness that you have always had the freedom to reject.

Like the prodigal son, you too have at times struck out on your own; doing things your way, the way of the world.  And you can also testify to the truthfulness of this proverb, which condemns that way: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” [Proverbs 16:25]  At some point in our lives, each of us must see just how lost we are without God’s forgiving love, and then that reality causes us to simply call out to Him in despair.  What else can we do?

Despair of what?  The despair of being lost; despair of being dead in our trespasses, our sins.  In Jesus’ story, the younger son saw that all of the wealth that came from His relationship with his father had slipped through his fingers like water; all he had left to look forward to, was his own death.  His sense of self worth and value had vanished.  He lost all sense of what it meant to be home with the father he loved.  And it is only this feeling of despair, which led him to return to his father’s home, not as a son mind you, but simply as an unworthy servant who might find a little relief from his despair.

This kind of hopelessness is still played out today with the addict who will intentionally get arrested so that he can at least have the creature comforts of room and board, and a chance to be free of the demons that make up his addiction. Or the plea of a cheating spouse who is served divorce papers and ordered to move out of the family home: “Please, I’ll change.  You don’t even have to forgive or love me, just let me keep living in this home so I can be with the children.”  But despair can also be found in the plea of an employee who has been fired for bad work performance:  “Please… I’ll shuffle papers, make coffee, sweep the floors and empty the garbage; I’ll even work for half my pay if you will just keep me on the payroll.”  Yes, in this prodigal world, false realities crumble around the self-righteous sinner and then, a hopeless despair of reality and death barges in.  And when confronted with this dark reality, the prodigals call out, “Please someone save me; buy my soul if you must.  I’m not asking for a kingdom, but a crumb!  Dear God if you are there and you are listening, please save me!”

And now, the heart of a sinner begins to see the truth; the way that seemed right really does only lead to despair and death.  Nothing works.  Even when you cry out to God (if your honest, you’ll admit that many times before you did this), but even your cry for help doesn’t seem to work.  But wait; didn’t we all learn that to turn away from our sin is the first step towards salvation?  Well, let’s look at that for a moment.   In Jesus story, the prodigal did see the error of his way; he did turn away from his sin and resolved to return to his father’s home, but not as a son, but as servant.  So let’s not put too much importance on the prodigal’s wisdom in seeing his hopelessness; according to his terms, the only thing that would have changed in his idea of repentance was exchanging pig food for servant’s meals.  No, I don’t think looking at the mindset of the prodigal will help us learn too much from God’s Word that we don’t already know.  So instead, let’s look at the One he turned to; he turned to his father and his father’s home, which Jesus wants to make sure we understand, represents Almighty God and His Kingdom of Heaven.

Let me ask you a question.  When the lost son was making his way back home, and when his father spotted him way down the road, what do you think was going through the father’s mind?  I know what might be our thoughts: “Why is my son returning?  Has he learned his lesson?  Maybe he wants more money?  Has he come to hurt me even more with his disrespectful attitude?  I better go out and meet him and find out what’s up!”  Is that really what you think the Father was thinking?

No, instead we behold something that a world, which believes in law and punishment calls foolishness.  We see a Father who sees his son with through eyes of mercy and a heart full of the forgiving love running out to meet His son.  So, in both the Father and the prodigal son, we see a desire to be reconciled to each other. [2 Corinthians 5:16-21]  The son seeks reconciliation with terms and conditions; a downgrade of his status if you will, but the Father has something completely different in mind.    So now they meet.  The son begins to recite his practiced apology to the father, expecting nothing but hoping for just a little.  And what happens next in the story?

I’ll tell you what happens next, amazing grace!  The lost prodigal son is very simply, openly, and compassionately welcomed home.  No lecture, no punishment, and no downgrade in his status as a son.  Don’t you think the son was shocked?  Wouldn’t you be?  And so you should be!  You see that is what is so amazing about God’s amazing grace!  Just as the lost son is received before he can even open his mouth, so were many of you who were baptized as babies.  And even as adults like Shukri and Elsa, when we try to talk, to explain and describe our unworthiness to receive God’s forgiving grace, we like the prodigal lost son and his well thought out “I’m sorry” speech are simply ignored!  So, do we confess our sins to God for nothing?  Well no, not for nothing, but the confession is not what moves our Heavenly Father to love and forgive us.  But our confession of sins to the Father is important, because it reminds us that while we are in that state of sin and despair, right there with us is a God who has never quit waiting for and loving us; a God full of mercy and abounding in steadfast love.  In our repentance, we discover a God who loves and is longing for us to come home.  When we turn our hearts to our heavenly Father, we see a God who is eagerly ready to receive us, welcome us, restore us, and rejoice because we have come back home!

So hear this all of you who are in the Christian faith; you elder brothers and sisters of Shukri Sahiti and Elsa Swan:  Your brother and sister were lost, but now they’ve come home.  All who would judge them in the sense of fairness and say that they have a long way to go before you can “really” receive them as a brother and sister, our Savior Jesus Christ says in the clearest of terms this morning, “Not so!”

This morning, Jesus’ Words turn each of us, baby Christians and mature ones to the very same source of foolish grace.  A love of God that knows no calculations or limitations; a love that can only be presented in His passion; a passion that shouts out loud and clear from the cross of His Son Jesus Christ… “IT IS FINISHED.  YOUR DEBT, EVEN THE SIN OF THE WORLD HAS BEEN PAID IN FULL!”

Upon the cross of Jesus Christ, “He who knew no sin, became sin for us, in order that we on our part may become God’s righteousness in connection with Jesus.” [2 Corinthians 5:21]  On the tree of death, a Lamb without blemish or spot was put to death in our place. [1 Peter 1:19]

This morning, we each discover that Jesus still gathers sinners around Him.  We gathered around the font with Shukri and Elsa, and witnessed God call more sinners into our midst and into the Kingdom of Heaven.  And we along with Shukri and Elsa will gather again next Sunday and every Sunday thereafter here at this church to celebrate our entrance into the kingdom and receive God’s other gifts of grace that will keep us safely in that kingdom until He calls us into our new home, the Kingdom of Heaven.

And so here we are together, a bunch of sinners being and becoming saints, waiting and receiving just as little children, the loving care of our Heavenly Father.  But we don’t wait idly as those with no purpose.  Because you see, we have been called to do two things, celebrate and welcome.  We are celebrating the fact that the church, even little Trinity Lutheran has been given the ministry of reconciliation.  We celebrate the truth that in our midst God has chosen to do the greatest work we could ever witness, calling lost sinners out of darkness into His marvelous light.  So we welcome you home today Shukri and Elsa but we also invite you to be part of this group of older sons and daughters who will not rest until this church is filled with other lost children who need to come home to their loving Father through the forgiving love of their brother, friend, Savior, and God,  Jesus Christ.

So I hope by now you see, there is a need to celebrate, even in the middle of lent.  We must celebrate with God, each and every time these brothers and sisters of ours who once were lost in the death of sin are found and come home.   “So give thanks to the LORD, call upon His name, make known His deeds among the peoples”, proclaim as His ambassadors His greatness and exalt His name by calling all people to be reconciled to their heavenly Father.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Live Strong and Prosper!

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany (A), February 20, 2011
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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INTRODUCTION:  This morning we continue our message from within Jesus Sermon from the Mount, and we’ll let these words confront us and comfort us: “You therefore must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” [Matt. 5:48]  Here’s a question that I want you to wait until the end of our message to answer: Is this the Law or Gospel?  It’s my prayer that by the end of our message you will be able to answer this question, and that the answer will lead you in how you will live out the rest of your life.

In that question we must remember that  Jesus’ primary goal isn’t to speak the law and condemn us as sinners, which we are, but instead He is leading our hearts to understand the will of God and our new identity as saints; people He is sending out to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. [Vs. 13-16]  Jesus wants us to see our need for living our lives in complete dependence on God’s love and care, which will then compel us to demonstrate or reflect that same love to our neighbors where ever we me meet them.  And all of this is done within the tender balance of living a life of repentance and faith, which Jesus provided for us in the Beatitudes [Vs. 3-12], where He assured us of a life strong blessings.  When the reality of these blessing begin to control our very lives, we will begin to have an effect upon our community as salt and light.  But we must always remember that our quest for completeness has nothing to do with entering or staying in the Kingdom of God, because Jesus has already given that to us!

I. Now resting in this promise of blessing, hear the perfect Law of God: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  (Or if someone punches you, punch them back.)  But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil.”  Lord, are you saying don’t fight back against anyone?  “(Yes”, he says,) If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”  But Jesus isn’t done yet, He now takes it a step further: “And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.”  In other words, if part of a settlement to a law suit is your jacket, let them have your shirt also!  “And if anyone (say like the government or someone else with power over you) forces you to go one mile (say to carry something), go with him two miles.  Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” [Vs. 38-41]

“But Lord…. But Lord!  Do you know what that will mean to me?  That’s not only foolish it’s also impossible!”  And dear friends, that is the point.  Living the kind of life that Jesus is leading us to is the foolishness of the cross… the impossibility of fulfilling God’s perfect law.  Your “but Lord” should be enough to turn you away from any foolish ideas you might have that doing God’s law is doable!  It should be enough to not only turn you to God’s mercy and forgiveness, but keep you there as you learn to follow Jesus! 

You see friends, Jesus wants us to understand that it isn’t God’s law that brings about true justice for us but it’s His love and mercy that does that!  Now our Lord knows that this is the complete opposite of what the world calls common sense; it goes directly against our natural inclination.  You know what I am referring to don’t you?  “A tit for a tat!   I’m going to make sure I get justice!”  That’s the natural way of this sinful world!  They think that the law will give them wholeness and security; but we must always remember that the left hand kingdom or the kingdom of God’s law can never bring about any real change; it only demands it.  Instead, it is God’s way to provide justice by inviting His children to trust in His plan for them and then turn to Him in prayer.  And when we rest in God’s plan of justice, He then asks us to absorb the evil attacks of our neighbor and let it die there!  He is asking us not to live a life of tit for tat, but instead live a life of sacrificially turning the other cheek and trusting that God will repay!

What we must remember is that this is ultimately not about you and me, but it is about Jesus Christ!  He is the one who truly did turn the other cheek when He was struck by the Sanhedrin.  He truly did let them take both His tunic and His cloak as they rolled dice deciding who would keep them.  He truly did pick up His cross and walk more than a mile to the ominous poverty of Golgotha; with the sins we placed on Him.  But we must not ever say or even think that because Jesus lived this life perfectly for us, we no longer need to!  No friends, just the opposite is true; what Jesus did for us, demonstrates for us what it means to love!  He demonstrates to us the highest form of love… God’s own love; a love of intellect and choice.  As God has loved us, so we are to love our neighbor.  This kind of love means that we will stand against evil not by taking a physical and reactionary stand against it but by submitting to the one who is evil; by absorbing the evil and not matching it with our own form of pay back.  Why would we do this?  Because of God’s mercy and love that has been given to us through Jesus Christ!

Now I know, when we hear these words, we want to close our ears; we don’t want to do it!  We desperately look for another way to explain this hard teaching of Jesus, but the truth is friends there is no other way to explain it and no other way to follow Jesus; He always leads us to the cross!

ILLUSTRATION: This isn’t a new teaching friends, nor is it without those who truly understood it and lived out its truth.  Martin Luther understood it along with those who went before Him and became martyrs.  Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. also saw and lived out the beauty of this teaching, and they absorbed so much hate and evil that it eventually took their lives.  Martin Luther King Jr. not only walked the way of the cross but He taught others to do the same, and because of that obedience, God brought about great change.  He changed the injustice of hate not with the sword but with mercy and forgiveness, and this change is still in motion today!

Through Jesus we find true power and truth in the cross.  And that truth is that you don’t overcome evil by violently standing against it but by turning the other cheek.  But don’t mistake this turning of the cheek with weakness or tolerance!  Nowhere does Jesus say to turn the other cheek and refuse to speak up for what is right; nowhere does He say not to take on the cause of those who are being overcome by evil!  As salt and light, we are to speak the truth, God’s truth in love; a kind of love that move us to take the evil action of another upon ourselves; the kind of love that moves under the burden of the cross another is bearing and help them shoulder the load.  We are to take all of the evil action upon ourselves and let it die there, never bringing it up again!

ILLUSTRATION: Do you remember the movie that came out 10 years ago called “Pay it Forward”?  The premise was this: An 11 year-old boy named Trevor McKinney was given a class assignment to devise and put into action a plan that would change the world for the better. Trevor’s plan was to create a charitable pyramid scheme, based on good deeds rather than profit. He called his plan “Pay it forward”, which means the recipient of a favor does a favor for a third party instead of paying the favor back.  Well it is Jesus desire that those He brings into the Kingdom of God with Him would do something similar but different.  Jesus is telling us not to pay evil forward but let it end with you!  This is the love He demonstrated upon the cross and it’s the kind of love that He wants us to live in and demonstrate to others.

Do you want to learn to be obedient?  Do you want to become what God has already said that you are… holy?  Then don’t pay it forward; follow Jesus to the cross and agree with this teaching and pursue it!  This is the way of the cross!  So are you looking for a “how to” part of this sermon?  Good, then I have only one step for you to follow: turn to Jesus and His cross!  How?  Well you’ve already been given the heart of Jesus, so follow that heart; follow that love of God that has been put within you.  Love your enemy; pray for him.  You will be surprised just how much change and rearrangement God will do when your heart first agrees that He’s right and you’re wrong.  Once you learn to admit this, then praying for your enemy isn’t really that difficult.

But why must we do this?  Well, Jesus answers this question as well.  Listen: “(You will do this) so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” [vs. 45]  But that sounds like some kind of works righteousness!  Is it?  Is Jesus saying that I must work at loving my enemies here on earth so that my Heavenly Father can reward me by making me His son or daughter?  No, not at all!  Jesus is saying that when we are loving our enemies we are showing them the love of the Father; we are showing them that we ARE sons and daughters of the Father!  Through our acts of love that find their source in the heart of Jesus we are showing everyone, including our enemies that our God is also their God; a God who “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”  We are showing them that not only are God and His love real, but also His Law that threatens anyone who refuses to follow that love through Jesus Christ!  We are showing them that the same God who saved and changed us wants to do the very same work within them.

“For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?  Do not even the tax collectors (or open sinners) do the same?  And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others?  Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” [Vs. 46-47]  You see friends, Jesus is telling us that we are not to think that our Christianity is something nice that we share with those who are part of our congregation; He’s not saying that your Christian love is reserved for anyone else who calls themselves Christian; He’s not even saying that our Christian love should be shared with those who do nice things for us!  We are called not to love just those who love us, but to love those who hate us!  This is the way of the cross; this is the path Jesus traveled and invites us to travel with Him.

CONCLUSION: Listen to Jesus final Words upon the cross and let them lead and guide you.  As he was dying upon the cross, Jesus prayed: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!”  Who did He pray forgiveness for?  Was it only for those who placed Him on the cross?  Yes, He prayed for all those present, He prayed for you, and He prayed for your enemy, because it was all of our sins that placed Him there!  And as He prepared to take His last breath He shouted: “IT IS FINISHED… it is perfect… it is complete!”  What is?  God’s plan to remove the sins of the world, even your sins!

Jesus closes our teaching this morning with these words: “You therefore must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” [Vs. 48]  You must be complete as your Heavenly Father is complete.  You must be finished and you must be complete; this is the true meaning of perfect.  And that is what you are because Jesus has blessed you with His completion!  Through the beatitudes or God’s pronouncement of blessing at the beginning of Jesus Sermon, He gives you the very thing that He now tells you that you must have… completion!  What wonderful news!  Now take this blessing and live strong and prosper… prosper for the Kingdom of Heaven is upon you!  AMEN!

Have You Had Your Heart Checked Lately?

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany (A), February 13, 2011
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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INTRODUCTION:  Maybe you are feeling a little like me this morning, tired of all the commercialism around Valentine’s Day. For the last few weeks we have been bombarded with images and messages that say love is measured  by how much we spend on those we love.  But this has never been God’s idea of love.  God’s Word clearly teaches us that the quality of love isn’t measured by our pocket book, but instead by our hearts.

This morning the Words of Jesus come to us like a scalpel in the hand of a renowned surgeon.  Make no mistake, while these Words are spiritual in nature they are nonetheless real and they are God’s own truth.  So the surgery that Jesus will perform on each of us will be spiritual in nature and the focus of that surgery will be our very hearts!  But like any great surgeon, Jesus wants us to understand the nature of our disease; the disease that requires corrective surgery.  And to help us see the need for this surgery Jesus speaks some strong words to demonstrate to us that our physical hearts are diseased and in fact already dead! 

I. We must remember the context in which these Words come to us.  Our message this morning is still part of a large sermon we call “The Sermon on the Mount”.  Hopefully, we are still resting in our confession that we are spiritually empty and dead inside.  And if we are, then God’s Word assures us that we have found forgiveness and peace with Him.  So the procedure Jesus is performing this morning is simply corrective surgery because we’ve already been given a new heart and assured of our place in Jesus’ Heavenly Kingdom.   

But, if you haven’t yet entered the Kingdom of God through your confession of sin and hopelessness, you will find this whole procedure worrisome, frightful, and intimidating.  You have two choices, you can push away the hand that will skillfully wield the scalpel or you can take a deep breath of the Word of God and fall helplessly to its work and let that same Word perform a major spiritual surgery on you.  What is that surgery?  To be honest, it’s nothing less than a heart transplant.  Jesus wants to remove your diseased heart of stone and replace it with a healthy heart… His own heart!  Now you can refuse to let our Great Physician perform this procedure, but you must be warned that the result will be eternal death; eternal separation from God.  But if you will simply let go of your own self-centered interest and turn to Jesus and His love for you, you will never be the same.

Now I know that for all of us, this will be an uncomfortable time in Jesus’ spiritual OR, but we must remember who it is that is caring for us.  He promises that if we will simply trust Him, and let His Word work within us, we will be eternally changed and rearranged.  Well, are we ready?  Then let’s let the Master do His work!

II. “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” [Matt. 5:21-22]  Now, what we need to keep in mind in this entire message is that there is a common thread that connects all of Jesus teaching.  If we stay with our analogy of heart disease, then we can see Jesus directing our attention to one of the proofs that we have a diseased heart.  He does this by showing us how we incorrectly look at the 5th Commandment.  Just like the people in Jesus time, we too have a very narrow interpretation of murder.  Generally we think of it as raising our hand against our neighbor in a way that ends in violence and death.  Images of Charlie Manson, Ted Bundy and John Gardner come to mind.  But Jesus says, “No, that’s too narrow.”  OK, so let’s include drive-by shootings, domestic violence and DWI’s in the mix.  “No” says Jesus, “your still to narrow.”  Ok, so we will include unjust actions by our police officers that take a life, or an unjust war!  And to this Jesus says, “No you still do not understand that this is a matter of the heart.  What the heart feels and thinks is what gives birth to the sin.  If you are angry with your Christian brother or sister, or even your neighbor, and if you will not let go of that anger you are guilty of murder!”

“You see” says Jesus, “your anger at first is hidden away in your heart.  You think that no one can see it, but I can.  I know what will happen if you don’t get rid of it; if you don’t let me cut it out.  It will turn to bitterness which will overflow into hurtful words, which may then result in some type of action on your part.  I see all of this, and I am warning you that if you don’t let me cut this disease out, you will die eternally and end up in Hell!”

Now each of us may be tempted to think that Jesus is speaking of a procedure that we can put off until later.  Certainly He doesn’t have to perform this work right now?! And to this Jesus says: “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”  What does Jesus mean by this?  Is He telling me that I should get up right now and confess my sin to my brother and sister?  What if my brother or sister that I have sinned against is right now in this very sanctuary?  Am I supposed to interrupt the sermon and approach them?  Well yes, if you feel that is what God is asking you to do!  By no means should you approach our Lord’s Holy Table and eat and drink forgiveness if you are unable to confess your sin to the one you have hurt.  And by no means are you to approach our Lord’s Supper unless you are willing to forgive as Jesus has forgiven you!  Now some of us may have heard the wisdom in these words, we may have seen the need for a new and changed heart, but we want to have time to consider the ramifications of just what such a radical procedure will mean.  So, we will want to put it off until the right time.  And to this procrastinating Jesus brings the spiritual urgency of His Words into our physical reality with these words: “Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” [Vs. 25-26]

Here is where our spiritual and physical realities combine.  Here Jesus is assuring us that if we damage our relationship with our neighbor and do not take steps to repair that damage, it will also have an eternal effect on our relationship with Him!  “So” He says, “do everything that is within your power to live in peace with your neighbor, especially with fellow believers!”

OK, that part of the surgery is complete, so now let’s move onto the next procedure.  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” [Vs. 27-30]  What?  Who’s the surgeon here anyways?  Why does Jesus want us to remove our eye and cut off our hand?  Well haven’t you ever heard someone say, “I can’t help it, I just have a wondering eye.” Or when it comes to stealing they might say, “I just have sticky fingers.”  So Jesus is saying, “Go ahead and pluck and cut, cut and pluck until there’s nothing left to remove!  Or” He says, “you can just let me finish this surgery on your heart, which is the real cause of all of your problems!” 

Friends, here Jesus is showing us once again that the root of all of our sins can be found in the terminal condition of our hearts.  If we want to be free of sin, even the sin of adultery, we must first admit that we have that disease within us.  And to make this confession easier for us, Jesus has shown us that just thinking impure sexual thoughts is the same as carrying them out.  Looking at impure material on the internet and fantasizing about it and looking at a person of the opposite sex and imagining any contact outside of neighborly love is actually the same thing as actually performing the sinful act!  So who is guilty of such adultery?  All of us!  What is the cure for such a propensity to sin?  A new heart!  And that’s just what Jesus has done for us and is doing for us.  

Well, we’ve reached the final portion of our surgery.  And very soon we’ll be in the recovery room.  But Jesus has just one more major procedure to perform.  Listen: “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” [Vs. 31-32]

Now I know for a fact that this part of the surgery is perhaps the hardest and most difficult portion to sit through.  Divorce has become so acceptable in our society that we no longer think of it as a sin.  We can actually be tempted to tell our Great Physician that this is an antiquated procedure and has no place in a modern society.  We might be tempted to quote to Him all of the reasons why divorce is needed.  We might be tempted to begin to rise off of the operating table and tell Him were done!  And to this Jesus gently pushes us back down onto the table and says, “I say to you friend that unless your divorce was caused by unfaithfulness you have already committed adultery.  So lay back down and let me finish!  Hear what I will tell you now and confess that I am right and you are wrong.  Divorce is sin.  It shatters the lives of both parties as well as the innocent children and family members that are part of that relationship.  Do not divorce.  Instead, be faithful to your marriage vows and love and serve one another as if you are loving and serving me.” 

Now our Lord is finishing the surgery, and He closes the incision with these Words: “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.  [Vs. 37] And when you say you will do something simply do it!” 

III. How do we feel now?  Well like how we would feel after any major surgery, we are groggy and sore.  The strong medicine of God’s Law has done its work within us. But now it’s time for the healing Word of His Gospel to do its work.  Now we are reminded that we have already been forgiven and saved from our sins; we have already been given a new heart.  This procedure, while painful was necessary in order to continue the transformation that Jesus began within us after we were recreated and washed clean in the waters of our baptism.  Then and now, Jesus is asking us to live a life in agreement with God’s Word.  First we agree that all of our sins, past, present and future have been forgiven.  Second we agree that as salt and light in this sinful world we need to always turn to Jesus and allow His heart within us to teach us how to live a life that agrees with God’s Word.  We know that while it’s true that we live among people who want to do us harm, people we have every right to see as our enemies, we must learn to trust in God’s protection; His work around us and within us.  We know that even if we suffer great violence and loss, our Heavenly Father is always working to protect us from our greatest threat, and that is our own sins within us that seek to destroy our new heart, Jesus’ heart that He has placed within us.

CONCLUSION: So here is a picture of what salt and light looks like within us, our congregation, and even within our community.  It is a picture of how we live with each other.  Will we sin and fall short of God’s demand of perfection?  Yes, we certainly will!  And confronted with this reality we take our sin and shortcomings to Jesus and His cross.  We repent and confess our sins of thought and attitude, word and deed, to God, asking forgiveness for Jesus’ sake, and we ask for the strength of God’s Spirit to always turn us to Jesus our Great Physician.  And friends, God’s Word assures us that when we turn to Jesus and hunger to let His heart beat within us, we are also turning away from our old sinful diseased heart.  And because we do this, God assures us that we will be at peace with Him and each other, loving with a true love, and serving each other as Christ Jesus continues to love and forgive us!  May you always live out this new heart and mind of Jesus.  In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…. AMEN!

Prophecy Fulfilled at Pentecost

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

Pentecost Sunday, May 23, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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“We all need a little good news once in a while,” so goes the old saying.  But if we pay attention to our Bible, and especially to this morning’s scripture readings we would say rather, “We always need good news—all of the time.”  The good news of course is the gospel, and we need to hear the Gospel all of the time because we sin daily.  Our second lesson this morning is the fulfillment of our Gospel reading where Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you.  But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, who the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. [John 14:25,26]  This is the “Gospel Promise” that Jesus left the Church just before His ascension.  It is His promise he gives to you today.  It is “good news” for you, if you will only believe.

The first time God shared the gospel with us was immediately after the very first sin.  When Adam and Eve were encouraged by the devil to do the only thing God said they could not do, eat from the tree of knowledge.  When they did this, they committed the first sin.  In one bite they exchanged God’s truth and love for a lie (You will be like God.  You will become wise).  Instead of finding wisdom they found misery; instead of becoming like God they became separated from Him.  But God in His love would not let mankind suffer in this state; in His love God demonstrated His mercy by immediately proclaiming the Gospel.  Speaking directly to the devil, but for the benefit of mankind, God said: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” [Gen. 3]  In these words, God promised that the savior of mankind would come as a descendant of Adam and Eve, and it was in the work of this Savior that God would restore mankind into a right relationship with Him. 

 Now, many years after this, God examined the earth and He found that evil had completely overtaken the face of the earth and according to His judgment all that was evil must be removed from the face of the earth through the means of a flood; but God was able to find one family that still wanted to walk with Him by faith; Noah and his family alone placed their faith in God’s gospel of hope; a gospel that proclaimed the coming of a Savior who would make it possible for all people to once again relate to God in love.  Once saved from the flood, Noah’s sons and their families were told to go out into the new world and spread throughout the land and repopulate it with people who like them wanted to relate to God in this spirit of repentance and hope in the coming Savior.  But, as is always the case, they soon ignored God’s command and they gathered as one people in one place.  They went no farther than Mesopotamia, an area today we would call Iraq. 

 The descendants of Ham, a son of Noah who became a powerful people and they began to oppress the other descendants of Noah.  They wanted to make a name for themselves; they wanted to rule over all others in the place of God.  They built a tower; a tower that seemed to reach up to the very heavens screaming at God, “Look at us!  Look at what we have done without you!”  Now the other descendants of Noah wanted to fit in; they did not want to be different, so they went along with this strange building project, and when they joined in, they chose the way of man over the ways of God.  Once again, mankind traded God’s truth and mercy for a lie.  They wanted to live as if God did not matter, as if He didn’t notice their sin!  But God did take notice: “And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.” [Gen. 11:6] 

Their sin was like that of Adam and Eve; they wanted to be independent of God.  And like Adam and Eve, they too would be banished from their land and forced to do what God had commanded through Noah, to inhabit the earth. “Come, let us go down and there and confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.” [vs. 7-8]  Here God was saying essentially, “In their prideful condition they no longer desire to know me, they no longer realize that they need me.  I must dissolve their pride, and remind them of their need for my love and mercy.  They must again look to the coming of the promised Savior.”

In our New Testament reading (Acts 2), we see how God ensured that His message of grace, the good-news that was first proclaimed in the Garden of Eden, would be proclaimed to all people on the face of the earth.  It was the day of Pentecost, or the Jewish Harvest festival; a one day event where Jews from all over the earth were invited back to Jerusalem, to give a Thank Offering to God for His goodness in providing an abundant harvest.  There were people from all over the known world in and around the temple area; each with their own national language, yet all were Jews who fluently spoke and read Hebrew.  And then there were the apostles and disciples of Jesus, about 150 of them, including women and children.  They were gathered somewhere in a large building near the temple; something similar to our fellowship hall.  It was about 9:00 a.m., and they were seated on the floor listening to one of the Apostles (probably Peter); most likely they were trying to figure out what Jesus great commission meant to them; for these were the last words He spoke to them just before He ascended into heaven.  The disciples must have been asking the apostles questions like, “What did Jesus mean when He said he was with us even until the end of time?  He has left us to be with the Father, so how is He with us?”

Peter would not have time to formulate an answer, because out of no where, a very loud noise, like tornado approached their building, and filled the room.  It was the sound of wind, without the wind.  ILLUST: I am a witness to a tornado, and it sounds just like a very loud train is bearing down on you.  IT IS FRIGHTENING!  Now that God had their attention, He was about to remind them, in a miraculous way that Jesus ALWAYS keeps His Word!  The promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit was about to be fulfilled!  Somewhere in the center of the room appeared a large flame; I would imagine that it was similar to the burning bush that Moses saw on Mt. Sinai.  That alone must have frightened the group, but then it did something very new, God’s Holy Spirit became very personal; it divided into many parts, and the parts spread out and began to hover over each person’s head.  Now, fear was replaced with awe, as each one stood on their feet and being led by the Holy Spirit, they began to make their way outside of the building, and into the street.

They were probably in a public square somewhere near the temple because a huge crowd had gathered outside of their building, most likely because of the great sound of the wind that passed from the street into their meeting room.  Now as each disciple, being led by the Spirit of God proceeded outside, they began praising God in a new language that was foreign to them; it was a language that exactly matched the languages of the foreign Jews who gathered at the temple for Pentecost.  Each one heard something like a hymn of praise, in their own native language.  The majority of the people stood in awe.  Someone in the crowd must have known that the disciples were those who had been with Jesus; that they were simple people from Galilee that “should not” have been able to speak these languages so fluently, because the comment was made, “Aren’t all of these people who are speaking Galileans?  So, how is it that we hear, each of us in his own language?  ”  [Vs. 7, 8]

 What a wonderful demonstration of God’s miraculous power!  This was the first recorded miracle God performed after Jesus ascension into heaven, but it certainly would not be the last, in fact, the book of Acts is loaded with miracle after miracle.  God used these miracles starting with this gift of tongues to propel the church throughout the world in such a way as to ensure its growth, very much like how God used the confusion of languages to compel men and woman to spread throughout the earth.  Now God was ensuring that each and every person would hear the praise of God in their own “heart” language.  Through the gift of tongues God demonstrated that His mighty Spirit was leading His church at a time when such a witness was needed.   

Back to our story, Peter now takes his place among the disciples, and he hears some from the crowd proclaim that the disciples praising God are probably drunk!  With this word, the devil once again attempted to take the focus of attention off of the Creator and place it instead on the creature.  But God would not be silent; He could not!  At this very moment Peter’s gift of the Holy Spirit was activated—the gift of prophecy!  Filled with the Spirit, Peter recalled Jesus’ own Words: “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you.  But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, who the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” [John 14:25,26]  Praise God, the Helper had come in a mighty way.  And now led by the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ real presence went out to his people from the mouth of Peter.  Peter continued God’s plan from the beginning, he preached the Gospel.

Dear friends, Peter’s sermon makes it clear that God’s Spirit will be poured out on the last days.  When are the last days?  They are now!  The last days are every day after Jesus suffered, died, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven and sent in his place the Helper, the Holy Spirit, who causes our hearts to respond to God’s call of repentance: “Turn away from your sin and turn towards Jesus Christ.  Confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that Jesus is your Lord and Savior, and you will be saved.”  Yes, the last days are today.  Today, Jesus calls out to us through the Holy Spirit, to turn away from a life that has us our desires as the most important thing, and turn towards Him. And by His Holy Spirit, our hearts are moved to confess our sinfulness to Him and then turn towards Jesus as our only source of help.  Only faith in Jesus Christ, the living Word of God can transform you, renew you, and bring meaning to your life.  In vs. 17 He promises this very thing to you: “And in the last days it shall be, declares the Lord, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams.” [vs. 17]

 Dear saints, you are those sons and daughters that will prophesy and see visions.  Young people, God’s Word specifically mentions you.  There are none too young or too old to receive God’s Spirit, because that Spirit was first given to you at your Baptism.  Do you believe it?  Then live this truth and allow God’s Spirit to keep hold of it and  cherish it.  Call out to Him and He sill save you!  “To call upon the Lord’s name” means to call out to him for the forgiveness of sins and it means to believe that you have been forgiven.  To call upon His name is to call upon God’s mercy as proclaimed in His gospel; it is a gift that you neither earned nor deserved, yet it is yours!  It is the same gospel that God first proclaimed to Adam and Eve, and the one you first received at your Baptism.  And when we are changed by this gospel, the result will be that we will prophesy.  We will share the good news, the saving and blessed will of God to people everywhere.  With God as the center of your world, your vision is his vision—He uses your talents and abilities in a way that is sure to astound you.  Think of it—He will use you to impact the world, the people around you, in a way that will both glorify Him and lead others to know Him also.   

Dear friends, Jesus said to Peter and the other apostles just before his death, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. [John 14:27]  Through the work of the Holy Spirit and His means of grace, Jesus actually gives and leaves His peace to each of you this morning and for eternity.  It is this very peace that all people since the first sin of Adam and Eve have been hoping to receive; trusting in God by faith that the Messiah would come.  He has come and he suffered, died, rose, and ascended for you!  HE IS RISEN!  And all God’s people say, “HE IS RISEN INDEED!”  AMEN!

Prophecy Fulfilled at Pentecost!

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

Pentecost Sunday, May 31, 2009

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

 

INTRODUCTION: “We all need a little good news once in a while,” so goes the old saying.  But if we pay attention to our Bible, and especially to this morning’s scripture readings we would say rather, “We always need good news—all of the time.”  The good news of course is the gospel, and we need to hear the Gospel all of the time because we sin daily.  Without the gospel being central in our lives we are nothing more than a pile of dead—dry bones. Our reading from the book of Acts this morning is the fulfillment of our Gospel reading where Jesus said, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about me.”  [John 15:26]  This is the “Gospel Promise” that Jesus left the Church just before His ascension.  It is His promise that the Holy Spirit will accomplish God’s will in regards to ensuring that the gospel is preached and the gift of faith is given; the promise that a new and blessed life will come forth from dead, dry, bones.  It is His promise he gives to you today.  It is “good news” for you, if you will only believe.

 

I. The first time God shared the gospel with us was immediately after the very first sin when Adam and Eve were encouraged by the devil to do the only thing God said they could not do, eat from the tree of knowledge.  When they did this, they committed the first sin.  In one bite they exchanged God’s truth and love for a lie (You will be like God.  You will become wise).  Instead of finding wisdom they found misery; instead of becoming like God they became separated from Him.  But God in His love would not let mankind suffer in this state; in His love God demonstrated His mercy by immediately proclaiming the Gospel.  Speaking directly to the devil, but for the benefit of mankind, God said: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” [Gen. 3]  In these words, God promised that the savior of mankind would come as a descendant of Adam and Eve, and it was in the work of this Savior that God would restore mankind into a right relationship with Him. 

 

Now, many years after this, God spoke of the hope of the gospel to a prophet named Ezekiel.  In our old testament reading, God showed the prophet the work of the Holy Spirit… He showed Him new life for dry bones.  He showed Him the hope of salvation for those dry and dead in their sins and trespasses, if they would but trust in God’s mercy and receive the gift of faith; faith which comes through the Word of God by the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

II.  In our reading from the book of Acts (Acts 2:1-21), we see how God ensured that His message of grace, the good-news that was first proclaimed in the Garden of Eden, would be proclaimed to all people on the face of the earth, just as Jesus had promised so many times.

 

In our reading, we join the disciples gathered in a large building near the Jerusalem temple.  It was about 9:00 a.m., and they were seated on the floor listening to the Apostles; they were possibly talking about the Great Commission, because those were the last words Jesus spoke to them just before He ascended into heaven.  I would imagine that their discussion probably sounded very similar to the discussions we’ve had here at Trinity; discussions like how can we fulfill Jesus command to “go” into the world and baptize and teach God’s Word.  They must have been asking the apostles questions like, “What did Jesus mean when He said he was with us even until the end of time?  He has left us to be with the Father, so how is He with us?”

 

Peter would not have time to formulate an answer, because out of no where, a very loud noise, like a tornado approached their building, and filled the room.  It was the sound of wind, without the wind itself.  ILLUST: I am a witness to a tornado, and it sounds just like a very loud train is bearing down on you.  IT IS FRIGHTENING!  Now that God had their attention, He was about to remind them, in a miraculous way that Jesus ALWAYS keeps His Word!  The promise of the Holy Spirit was about to be fulfilled!  Somewhere in the center of the room appeared a large flame; I would imagine that it was similar to the burning bush that Moses saw on Mt. Sinai.  That alone must have frightened the group, but then it did something very new, God’s Holy Spirit became very personal; it divided into many parts, and the parts spread out and began to hover over each person’s head.  Now, fear was replaced with awe, as each one led by the Holy Spirit rose and made their way outside of the building, and into the street.

 

They were probably in a public square somewhere near the temple because a huge crowd had gathered outside of their building, most likely because they heard the great sound of a mighty wind gushing into that meeting room.  Now as each disciple, being led by the Spirit of God proceeded outside, they began praising God in a new language that was foreign to them; it was a language that exactly matched the languages of the foreign Jews who were gathered at the temple for Pentecost.  Each one heard something like our liturgical hymn of praise, in their own native language: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to His people on earth.  Lord God, Heavenly king almighty God and Father.  We worship you.  We give you praise.  We thank you for your glory.”  Now the majority of the people stood in awe, but someone in the crowd must have known that the disciples were “simple” people who had been with Jesus, because the comment was made, “Aren’t all of these people who are speaking Galileans?  So, how is it that we hear them praising God in our own language?”  [Acts 2:7, 8, 11]

 

What a wonderful demonstration of God’s miraculous power!  This was the first recorded miracle God performed after Jesus ascension into heaven, but it certainly would not be the last, in fact, the book of Acts is loaded with miracle after miracle.  God used these miracles starting with this gift of tongues to propel the church throughout the world in such a way as to ensure its growth, very much like how God used the confusion of languages to compel men and woman to spread throughout the earth.  Now God was ensuring that each and every person would hear His praises in their own “heart” language.  Through the gift of tongues the Holy Spirit was leading His church at a time when such a witness was sorely needed.  Because of this, we would call this use of the gift of tongues strategic and temporary, because it’s use diminished once the church grew so large and fast that its very existence and power was proof that the Spirit’s eternal presence was within it. 

 

Back to our story, Peter now takes his place among the disciples, and he hears some from the crowd proclaim that the disciples praising God are probably drunk!  With this word, the devil once again attempted to take the focus of attention off of the Creator and place it instead on the creature.  But God would not be silent; He could not!  Now,  filled with the Spirit, Peter recalled Jesus’ own Words: “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you.  But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, who the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” [John 14:25,26]  And remember he did, and then some!  Praise God, the Helper had come in a mighty way.  And now led by the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ real presence through His Word went out to his people from the mouth of Peter.  Peter continued God’s plan from the beginning, he preached the Gospel.

 

III.  Dear friends, Peter’s sermon makes it clear that God’s Spirit will be poured out on the last days.  When are the last days?  They are now!  The last days are every day after Jesus suffered, died, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven and sent in his place the Comforter, the Helper, the Holy Spirit; it is He who causes our hearts to respond to God’s call of repentance through His Word: “Turn away from your sin and turn towards Jesus Christ.  Confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that Jesus is your Lord and Savior, and you will be saved.”  But what are our sins?  They are anything that places God as second place in our life, and anything which offends or harms our neighbor.   Dear saints, in vs. 8-10 of our Gospel reading Jesus says, “(The Holy Spirit) will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father.”  Dear Friends, Jesus is speaking to us—none of us can believe in Him on our own.  Without the Helper we stand convicted as sinners… convicted of the capital offense of unbelief in Jesus Christ as our Savior.   The last days are today.  Today, Jesus calls out to us through the same Holy Spirit, to believe in Him unto eternal life!  To believe in Jesus is to be saved from sin, to have all of our sins forgiven… and to not believe in Jesus is to remain in sin, to die forever as nothing more than a pile of dead bones!  But praise God, for by His Holy Spirit, our hearts are continually moved to confess our sinfulness to Him and then trust in Jesus Christ as our only source of peace with God.  Friends, it is faith in Jesus Christ alone that will strengthen you with God’s love and power.  Only faith in God’s Word can transform you, renew you, and bring meaning to your life. 

 

CONCLUSION: Dear saints, you are those sons and daughters that will prophesy and see visions.  Young people, God’s Word specifically mentions you.  There are none too young or too old to receive God’s Spirit, because that Spirit was first given to you at your Baptism.  Do you believe it?  Then live this truth and allow God’s Spirit through His Word to keep your heart centered in it.  Call out to Him and trust He has saved you just as His Word promises!  “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” [vs. 21]  “To call upon the Lord’s name” means to call out to him for the forgiveness of all of your sins.  To call upon the Lord’s name means that you follow the Spirit’s leading and call out to Him for strength so that you will not fall into unbelief.  To call upon His name is to call upon God’s kind heart as proclaimed in His gospel!  It is the same gospel that God first proclaimed to Adam and Eve, and the one you first received at your Baptism.  It is the same gospel that assures us this morning that when we come to His Holy table to eat His body and drink His Blood we receive forgiveness of sins.  And as we are changed by this gospel, the result will be that we will prophesy.  We will share the good news, the saving and blessed will of God to people everywhere.  We can not help but witness to His love and mercy because it is His Spirit acting within us! 

 

But what about the visions we will see?  What is this vision that God gives?  It is the vision of a dying world.  It is God’s vision of seeing this world saved and transformed by the gospel message that says that through faith in Jesus there is new life for dead bones.  Dear friends, the Holy Spirit is present in this dying world through you!  As you go out into the world and live your life you take with you God’s love and grace.  Filled with His Word and empowered by faith, you are His breath of life for dry, dead bones.  Now go in peace and follow the Lord!  In Jesus name…AMEN!