Posts Tagged ‘Restoration’

Don’t You Love It When a Plan Comes Together? 


Sunday, June 24th, 2018

The Nativity of St. John the Baptist (Pentecost 5B),
June 24, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

“I love it when a plan comes together.” Those are the favorite words often repeated by the fictitious Colonel Hannibal Smith of TV’s “The A-Team.” 

We all love to see our plans come together and work out for our success, don’t we? We love to plan family vacations, which allow us to reconnect with family and experience new things.  We also have our financial plans, and we love it when our savings and investments meet or exceed our projected outcomes so that we’re sitting pretty when our planned retirement or a special purchase becomes a reality. Then there are those career plans or an education that leads to the right job that leads to the expected promotion.  Oh, we love it when a plan comes together!

Throughout the Bible we’re shown that the perfect God of love, wisdom, knowledge and power is also a planner.  Isn’t it great to have a God in charge of, well, everything; a God who never lies, seeks to use us, or messes up a task that only He can perform? Isn’t it great to know that He is our God and we can rest easy that He’s in charge of both human history and our eternal destiny? 

In our Gospel lesson this morning we celebrate what is known as the festival of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. And in that lesson, we have a wonderful example of all of this.  In all of our readings, we get to see and hear God’s plan coming together!

We all know about plans that don’t come together though, don’t we?

Sometimes our plans don’t always work the way we desired. Maybe it’s because we procrastinate or allow ourselves to get sidetracked. Or perhaps we lose our focus or desire.  Maybe this is what St. Paul was talking about when he said, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” [Romans 7:19] St. Paul might be on to something.

Another reason why our plans fail, and things don’t work out the way we thought, maybe because, we fail to understand what is best in God’s eyes. Think of it, we work our plan and we achieve most of our objectives, and then we arrive at our intended goal and discover it wasn’t really what we wanted, needed, or envisioned it to be.

Sometimes our plans are ruined because we just plain forget what a messed up, fallen, sinful world we live in. Sometimes I think that is why our best intentions are ruined.  And when things blow up in our face, instead of taking the setback as just another life lesson, we can become cynical, bitter, and angry.

And sometimes, our plans fail because of the leaders that we look up to who let us down. Many times, political leaders we campaign for, vote for, or pray for fail us for the same reasons we fail.  But sometimes they can just outright betray us. They tell us what they think we want to hear in order to gain our support and then they just change and follow a different agenda once they’re in power.

All of us have seen our best-laid plans fail. Ultimately, all these failures can be traced back to sin, both ours and the sin of others. Our dreams can go unrealized and our hopes can be dashed for so many reasons. 

Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist had experienced this sort of thing too, so when God let him in on a major development in his plans…

Zechariah was certain that God’s plan just wouldn’t work. 

Do you remember how in their advanced age, he and his wife Elizabeth were told by the angel Gabriel that they would finally have a son and that they were to name him John, who would later be called the Baptist. But perhaps the most amazing part of this plan was the fact that John was the one proclaimed to come and go ahead of the promised Messiah in order to prepare the people’s hearts for His coming.  It meant that God was indeed making good on His promise to comfort His people. All of this was to fulfill both God’s promise and plan to save His people from their sins!

Of course, all of the experiences in Zechariah’s life told him that this plan was ridiculous, a long shot at best.  The biology, considering their age made it laughable. Sure, they were praying for a child for many years, but hadn’t God missed their window of opportunity? And then there was the fact the current government (Rome) was one of pagans which had influenced and led their religious leaders a long way away from God.  Surely this was just to much for God to overcome in such a short period of time.  

So Zechariah just could not believe that this plan of God was going to happen, at least not now and not with him. And perhaps you remember that because of this lack of faith in God, Zechariah was struck speechless. So there sat Zechariah for nine long months unable to speak while the Roman rulers and corrupt religious leaders seem to prosper like never before with no apparent consequences for their collective sins. Yes, the more time passed Zechariah by, the more impossible God’s plan seemed to become. 

But then something wonderful happened, Elizabeth gave birth to a son and it was time to name him!

John’s birth and Zechariah’s song as memorialized in our gospel reading signaled that all of God’s plans were in fact coming together!

During Elizabeth’s pregnancy, Zechariah had a lot of time to think about things with a new appreciation for not just his relationship with God but also for how all of God’s promises as recorded in the Old Testament were coming true. I am sure that He was beginning to appreciate both the name of his son and its meaning. John means, “The Lord has shown favor.” God had indeed shown favor not to just an old childless couple but also on all of His people. Zechariah might also have considered the meaning of his own name, which is “The Lord remembers.” What is it the Lord remembers? Thankfully, not the sins and failing of his people. No those are as far separated as the east is from the west. What the Lord remembers is His gracious covenant plans. He proves He remembers them by fulfilling them!

Now that John is named, God let’s Zechariah speak again, but this time he speaks with more insight and respect for God.  Listen: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear,
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

This song that the Holy Spirit caused Zechariah to sing, has come to be called the Benedictus. It has been a part of the church’s liturgy since at least the ninth century. It gets its name from the first word of the song, which translated from Latin to English means “blessed”. God caused him to essentially sum up all of the promises found in the Old Testament in one short song; promises that were all to finally be fulfilled.  The Benedictus affirms that indeed God’s plan had come together.

Above everything else, Zechariah prophesied that God’s plan to send the Messiah, as heard through the mouth of the Prophet Isaiah over seven hundred years earlier (Isaiah 40:3-5), were now coming true. God had not forgotten His promise to comfort His people. He would finally fulfill His plan to send Jesus, the Messiah of God.

Jesus, the incarnate Son of God came at just the right time. He lived the perfect life that mankind had failed to live. Jesus suffered and atoned for all the sins of the world; a world that had always failed to keep God’s perfect Law. Jesus did this when He suffered and died on the cross, thus paying for our sins, the sins we should have paid for. But that is not the end of the story, because Jesus also rose from the grave to demonstrate His victory on our behalf. And finally, Jesus promises to come again at just the right time to usher in the kingdom of heaven in all of its fullness.

Jesus has come and demonstrated that God’s plans always come together.  God always delivers on His promises. John the Baptizer was commissioned by God to prepare the world for Jesus coming. John’s work of both announcing and bringing repentance and eternal life has continued within each of you who have been baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The church made up of people like you and me, sinners redeemed and made part of God’s plan have been commissioned like John the Baptist, to prepare the world for Jesus coming, one sinner at a time.  They like us are also very much a part of God’s plan!

Do we doubt that this plan will ever really come to pass? Will we be speechless to those who need to hear the Gospel and also be prepared for that great day when Jesus comes again? Have we failed to remember God’s promise? Let us resolve to leave these sins forgiven at the cross and washed away in the waters of our baptism, and let us praise God as Zechariah did.  Let us resolve to read our Bibles and discover God’s many promises fulfilled and to also declare His mighty works of love and salvation in all their beauty and splendor. Let us together wait for the day when the fullness of God’s plan comes together! In Jesus name… AMEN!

It All Comes Down To This

Sunday, May 24th, 2015

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost B, May 28, 2015

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It all comes down to this!  Down to what?  The coming, presence, and work of the Holy Spirit, of course!  Jesus said, “… I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.  And when he comes, he 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, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.”

Now, I know the presence of the Holy Spirit is nothing new; His Work was essential, “In the beginning.. (when) the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.  And (He empowered the Word of God when) … God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” [Genesis 1:4]

The Spirit was there with Adam and Eve as they were repelled out of Paradise, and it was the Spirit Who constantly reminded them of the Promise of restoration through the coming Champion who would destroy sin, death, and the devil, and bring humanity back to Paradise.  The Holy Spirit was with Noah and the Animals as the Ark was built and the animals were compelled to enter the Ark in peace.  The Holy Spirit was with Moses as He parted the sea and led God’s people to dry land.  It was the Spirit who filled every one of the prophets of old and the Apostles of Jesus to speak Words of hope and new life, all once again centered around the Champion who has actually fulfilled the promise of Paradise restored.  And that champion is Jesus Christ, crucified, risen, and ascended!

Now this is all “good news” but it is not the only news on this day of Pentecost.  The news of Pentecost is that not only has Christ risen, but also that He has risen for you.  And here’s the best part of that proclamation, it is empowered by the Holy Spirit to actually bring you a new life with God, and take you back to Paradise; back to a right relationship with God!

So, the Good News for each of you today, is that through the fulfilled Word of God, you have been given faith to believe in each and every promise God makes regarding your sin and Christ’s Work upon the cross to take away your sin.  You have been given faith to know this truth as a certainty.  Just as the Spirit at creation hovered over the waters to empower the Word of God to create everything out of nothing, so too He has empowered God’s promise of forgiveness and restoration and the waters of your baptism.

But here’s another truth…

Life without faith is desperate. In our Old Testament lesson, we are given a graphic demonstration of this desperation through the vision God gave to His prophet Ezekiel.  The valley of dry bones is the ultimate expression of life overstepping its limits, which is the abandonment of hope in the Creator God.

Ezekiel’s vision is the reality of our world today.  Certainly the Christian martyrs in the middle east must feel dry, desolate and alone as they die one by one through the demonic power of ISIS.  But we do not have to go that far to know the feeling of emptiness and abandonment; how must the people of Detroit feel as they think back to better days when the economy was booming and neighborhoods and business were flourishing, but now all that stands are the burn out shells of homes and businesses that once were.

The Mexican artist, Jose Guadalupe Posada created a large body of art showing persons engaged in a wide variety of daily activities, but each were depicted as skeletons.  In one drawing he depicted a soldier riding through a valley of bones full of human skulls.  What was he trying to tell us?  Was he trying to say that hope in the government above or in place of our hope in God only leads to death?

Perhaps the most terrifying aspect of Ezekiel’s vision is after the bones became skeletons, and after the skeletons were fleshed, what filled the immense valley floor? Bodies of real people who are simply dead because they lack the touch of the Holy Spirit; they lack the breath of life!  This dear saints is the ultimate tragedy… not that people die, but that they refuse to live.  The flesh without spirit, not the dry bones is the most haunting aspect of Ezekiel’s vision.  A world of zombies, the walking dead if you will who are in that state and don’t know it, or worse yet they know but they do not seem to mind.  But…

Life with faith in Christ overcomes the curse of the walking dead; it overcomes despair! Jesus declared to the world and to you personally on the day of your baptism, “I came that (you) may have life and have it abundantly.” [John 10:10]  He is the only One who can not only speak hope, but deliver it.  He not only promises a restored and renewed hope, but His Word actually gives it.

Every Word that Jesus spoke and taught was to prepare each of you for that one moment in your life when you realize that there is something great and profound missing in life, and then receive it!  When your moment of despair comes, and sometimes they come frequently like the waves on the ocean shore, when it comes it is God’s will that you recall His promises of forgiveness and restoration, which you have heard declared, read, or even sung, and then remember.  Remember what?

Remember that although through His Word you have discovered that your sin is great, deadly, and terrifying, you must also remember that all of Christ’s righteousness has been given to you completely through His Work upon the cross and the declaration of the empty tomb.

But the Easter cry of “He is risen” is like a iPhone without a battery, if you can not or will not reply, “Indeed, He has risen for me!”  And this is now getting at the power of the abundant life that Jesus has promised to the church, and through the church , to the world.  This is where we discover that…

Life with Christ finds empowerment through the Holy Spirit in the church for the work of witness and missions! So it all comes down to this… The day of Pentecost is a demonstration of both the love and power of God, which takes the good news of forgiveness of sins and ensures that it will be declared throughout the world.

As Peter and the disciples gathered in the upper room right after their Lord Jesus ascended into heaven, they must have felt alone and afraid.  But they knew somehow they were not abandoned; they knew that Jesus would make good on His promise to send a helper, a counselor, and protector.  And my, did he ever…

Some may say rightly that until that day when the Spirit showed up in power, Christians were just playing the part of church; they were playing around with the idea of Christ, not yet allowing the resurrected and ascended Christ to come alive in their midst.  Again, they were like an iPhone without a battery, or better yet they were like a bus without an engine.  But then something happened on the Day of Pentecost… Jesus made good on His promise; He sent the Holy Spirit.

The entire account given to us in our second reading (Acts 2:1-21) can not help but excite us and invite us into the story of the church. The imagery of the event comes alive as it glows with tongues of fire and the bewilderment of other languages. People seem to be staggering and stammering like drunken men. But when Peter speaks and the air clears, that which is testified to, is nothing other than the mighty works of God.

Dear friends, the mighty works of the Holy Spirit are still being performed today.  We witness the same power as the dreams of the old and the visions of the young people refuse to play church, but actually become and behave as church through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.  And this mighty work is none other than the work of salvation; the translation of sinners into saints for “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved!”

When ever the Word is proclaimed, whether through the work of the sermon, Bible Study, personal witness, or when it is carried overseas to far way places, it is fulfilling the mission of Christ found in Matthew 28:”Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Vs. 19, 20) So Pentecost is really the birth of Missions or the empowerment of the church to fulfill Christ’s mission.

As you leave this place but not Christ’s presence, you leave reminded that you are on a mission to share the good news that sinners sins have been forgiven through the work of Christ alone. But you do not go alone; you have been empowered and you are protected by the Holy Spirit.  And as you share the good news, what will be the response that you will receive from friends, neighbors, and family?

Now we are at the very heart of sinful mankind’s response to the gospel.

Humanity’s situation without God is so desperate and their opportunities with Him are so big that almost any response seems inadequate and even a little ridiculous.  Do people fall to their knees and cry mercy or rise to their feet and cry glory; once they are converted by the Holy Spirit, do they spend a period of time in study and training or do they rise from the valley of dry bones in service to God and neighbor?

To dwell on questions like those can also be another way we play church and play with the mission of Christ.  Why not face the facts as we know them; anyone who has been struck by the Spirit of Pentecost has received the breath of life; they’ve been recreated through the waters of Holy Baptism.  In other words they have been reanimated.  And what they do next is the very same thing we do every day…

We repent! We believe and we become what God has already declared we are… Redeemed!  Repentance is the heart beat of the church.  It is the radical turning of the whole self from itself, to a right relationship with God through the cross of Jesus Christ.  To be baptized is to enter into the life and mission of the church.  To receive the Holy Spirit is to allow the Sprit to shape your life in obedient witness and service to Him who first loved us!  And yes, it may even mean making amends for past wrongs, selling or giving away what we don’t need and sharing the proceeds or other goods with the needy, sharing a common life with other Christians on days other than Sunday, worshiping daily and breaking bread in homes, the very transformation that marked the Christian community after the great day of Pentecost. [Acts 2:37-47]

SO IT ALL COMES DOWN TO THIS. The Holy Spirit is among us in great power, just as He was in the beginning, just as He was with Adam and Eve, just as He was with Noah, Moses, the prophets and apostles of old, and just as He was that first Pentecost Sunday.  In the past all who have made a difference within the building and growth of God’s Kingdom only did so because they were willingly being led by God’s Word and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.  So it all comes down to this.  Are you willing?  I pray in Jesus name that you are… Amen!

Have You Been Found or Found Out?

Sunday, September 15th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 17C, September 15th, 2013

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“For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out.” [Ezekiel 34:11]

I would like to tell you a story about a little boy named Billy who became lost in a large department store.  His mother was frantically looking for him, because there had recently been several high profile child abductions that played over and over on the national media.  When the police arrived to help, the mother was livid, because she wanted the police to go out immediately and find her son right then, but of course, the police needed some critical information so that they and others could do just that.  About 10 minutes later, the store manager happened to see a little boy matching little Billy’s description playing with out a care in the world in the sporting goods department.  He asked him if his name was Billy and he said yes.  The manager told him that his mother and many others were looking for him and were worried for him.  Then he asked him if he would like to be taken to his mother and the boy’s answer surprised the store manager.  He said, “What for mister; I’m not lost.  I know right where I am!”

This brings up an interesting question.  “How do you find someone who doesn’t even know that they’re lost?”  Can you save someone who doesn’t know or won’t admit that they need saving?  This morning’s message asks us to consider this question about our selves:  Are we found or have we just been found out?

In our gospel reading this morning (Luke 15:1-10), Jesus uses two stories to drive this question home to a bunch of Pharisees and scribes who were the religious leaders of the day.  You see, they were a little upset that Jesus kept hanging around sinners; or what today some might qualify as losers and misfits.  Their type seemed to always gather around Jesus to hear Him speak, just as the Pharisees had.  The only thing different between the two groups was that the sinners and misfits knew they were lost and needed saving, but the religious leaders, like the little boy in my story either didn’t know they were lost in their sins or they didn’t care.  Both groups were drawn by God to hear the Words of eternal life; one group listened and the other refused to listen.

Today Jesus still speaks to us; He is speaking even now.  His Word declares the one thing needful to all human beings… forgiveness of sins.  But this message can get lost in today’s world where there are so many other competing messages.  Watch TV for just an hour and you will be bombarded with a host of products and causes that the talking heads want you to care about and be convinced that you just can’t live without.  Their only job is to get you to support that message with your hard earned cash.  But it isn’t just society that bombards us with a host of other supposed needful messages and causes.

Even in our churches we seem to be overpowered by messages of prosperity and well being.  Their are so many alternative messages being proclaimed from pulpits through out the church, and it’s one mandated message of forgiveness of sins seems to have been removed, or at least assigned an almost insignificant place amongst the many messages that are communicated.

On any given Sunday you will hear a message about healthy marriages, the secret to raising godly children, how to be God’s man or woman in the work place, and other assorted themes to the point where forgiveness of sins is mentioned as only an after thought: “Oh, and by the way, God loves you.  You are forgiven!  Now go out and make money build the kingdom through happy marriages and godly children.”

In our Epistle reading (1 Timothy 1:5–17), St. Paul instructs Timothy to warn these false preachers about preaching and teaching just these sorts of messages.  But before Timothy approaches these ill-prepared false preachers, Paul reminds Timothy the purpose of all preaching; he writes, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”  In other words, to those who will find out how badly they were lost in their sins, and how grave their situation was in their lost-ness, once they are found, or once they know that God has forgiven them through Jesus Christ, their response will most certainly be one of great love that comes from a heart and conscience that has been purified by the mercy of God and the work of Christ upon the cross.  But says Paul, (A) “Certain (group of) persons, by swerving from these (truths), have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.” [1 Timothy 1:5-7]  In other words, preachers and teachers who haven’t been prepared by God to proclaim and teach His Word are using the law of God for illegitimate purposes, and it will not make their listeners right with God.

Like today, some were using the law to teach people how to live a better life; how to get a blessing from God, when the first and foremost purpose of the law is to show us our sin; to show us that we are hopelessly lost if we will not let God find us!  So the primary use of the law is like a mirror; it shows us our sins in all of their hideous glory!

When my daughter was younger, occasionally she would go to school dances.  She would spend a considerable amount of time preparing her self, until she felt that she looked “presentable”.  One afternoon, her preparation time seemed to be considerably longer than usual, so I walked down the hallway to the bathroom to enquire about the delay.  As she looked at me through the mirror, she said in a voice that was almost a sob, “I hate this mirror.  It shows to much stuff!”  Now, being a man, I really didn’t get what she meant, so I asked her to explain.  She said, “Dad can’t you see that big zit on the side of my nose.  No matter how much make-up I put on it, I can still see it, and so will every one else!  Why can’t we have a regular mirror like everyone else?!”

And that dear friends is the primary purpose of God’s law; it is designed to show us all of our sins, even the little ones that no one else but God will notice!  Even if we don’t like what it shows it still shows it!

Once God has our attention; once He has forced us to see our sin, then and only then will we know how badly we need saving.  Then and only then will we see the fork in the road; the two ways we can go.  One road is the way of endless hope, the gospel of Jesus Christ which assures us that through His work upon the cross and the Spirit’s work within the waters of baptism, He is daily renewing us with His Word and promises of grace and forgiveness.  But the other road, the one without Jesus, is a way which leads only to a hopeless end, where our sins forever cling to us and dam us to hell.

This morning God has spoken.  You have been shown your sin and shown your Savior, Jesus Christ.  This morning you have been found and found out.  Perhaps when you heard Paul’s lists of sins in our epistle lesson you may have felt secure.  Maybe you were saying to yourself, “OK, I don’t go around hitting my mother and father, I haven’t killed anyone, I don’t sleep around, I don’t engage in homosexual acts, I don’t have any slaves, and I don’t lie… well I only tell little lies, and any how, I’ve never testified in court, so I should be alright.  And to that… to that I would like you to think about how very little children play hide and seek.

Watch how little children between two and four years old hide when they are playing hide and seek.  Not only will they find a secluded corner to hide in but they will also lower their heads and cover their eyes.  When they are found, when the seeker calls out, “I see you hiding on the side of Daddy’s chair” they will not look up or agree that they’ve been found.  Instead the seeker who has found them often must touch them on the shoulder to assure them that they really were found.  It is as if they are saying, “If I can’t see you then you can’t see me!”

This morning in His Word of Law and Gospel, Jesus has found you.  He has tapped you on the shoulder and said, “I see you hiding your sins from my Father in Heaven.  You can’t deny that truth; you’re found out!  But the good news is I found you!  I didn’t find you to punish you or hall you in front of my Father to be ridiculed; no, I found you so that I could save you.  I found you so that I could remind you that I have already paid for your sins upon the cross; I’ve already saved you in the waters of your baptism.  I am the one that draws you to me every Sunday so that you can hear the same message over and over.  You are found!  You are forgiven.  You have been recreated and every day I will watch over you!”

What a wonderful message of love… forgiving love we hear in this holy place.  It is a message that will most certainly result in a great love for God and each other along with a pure heart, a good conscience, and a true faith.

This morning let’s close our message with these Words of Jesus: “I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God (in heaven) over one sinner who repents.”  This morning we have all given the angels much to be joyful over as each of us turns to our Savior Jesus Christ and prays, “Save us Jesus we are Yours!”  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!

Comfort…Do You Need It?

Sunday, June 24th, 2012

The Nativity of St. John the Baptist, June 24, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

Do you need comfort?  Did you notice that I didn’t ask you if you wanted comfort, I asked do you need it?  There’s a difference.  If I were to ask you if  you wanted me to comfort you, and if you weren’t going through any perceived crisis or threat, you’d probably think I was out of my mind.  But if I  were to tell you, I have comfort to give and you will see a need for it in the future, would you let me comfort you?

Such was the case in our Old Testament reading (Isaiah 40:1-5).  The Prophet Isaiah is proclaiming the very heart of God; God wants to comfort His covenant people;  He wants Isaiah to speak tenderly to them and declare that their warfare is ended and their sins are forgiven.  In fact, He wants His people to know that  within this comfort comes a double portion of blessing, directly from the hand of their Creator and Redeemer God!  But they didn’t get it.  They saw no  need for comfort because their lives seemed to be going smooth.  They still had their homes, a good job, money to buy food, and national pride!  Why  what more could they want?  So comfort, no thanks Isaiah, but we will take that double portion of blessing from God that you mentioned.

What they refused to acknowledge was God’s appraisal of their sinful lives.  They refused to agree with God that how they were living was sinful; that God  was right and they were wrong.  They refused to hear God’s Word of Law.  And because of that, God promised through the prophet Isaiah that they  would be destroyed as a nation and occupied; they would be forcefully removed from their homeland and taken away in bondage.  They would feel  helpless and abandoned.  Then they would want comfort, because then they would see a need for it.  So through the prophet, God is saying, here is My  comfort, and after knowing all that I’ve told you, do you think you need it?

Do you need His comfort?  If you find yourself this morning a little like the stiff necked people of Judah that Isaiah was preaching to, thinking that your life is fine right now, let me help you out a little by being blunt.  You do need His comfort and so do I!  We need His comfort because we are sinful and broken!

Do you understand that everything that is and ever will be wrong with your life is the result of your sin and the sin of people around you?  Somewhere in your past, maybe even in the near past you have made decisions that you knew were unpleasing to God;  maybe you’ve done something or failed to do something that has had a drastic effect on your present or your future.  God wants you to know that you can’t undo that past, but you can find comfort.

Maybe there’s a character flaw in your personality that keeps hurting the people closest to you; maybe the hurt you’ve caused others is so deep that you may never have a loving and healthy relationship with them ever again.  Maybe because of that sin, you feel alone and abandoned?  If so God says that He has come to bring you comfort!

Perhaps, at one time you seemed to have everything.  God had blessed you with money, reputation, and authority, but now it seems that all of this has been taken from you.  You may see yourself as a shadow of what you once were.  If so, God wants me to speak comfort to you this morning.

Or maybe, you are looking back at your family, your children and it seems that what was once a strong Christian family has become dysfunctional and distant from God and His divine service.  Maybe the hunger to know God’s forgiving love and mercy is no longer a priority to you or your children.  Maybe you’ve struggled with answering the question who is to blame?  Is it your fault, your adult children, or a combination of the two?  This morning God is telling you that regardless of who is to blame, He wants to bring peace and comfort to you and your family.

And finally, maybe God wants us to look back together as a congregation and see how far we’ve fallen as a worshiping family of faith.  Maybe He wants us to look back at our strong legacy of sharing the gospel that was once Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church.  Maybe He wants us to see how we are but a shadow of what we once were, and then agree with Him that our fall from greatness is the result of our own sin as a congregation.  Maybe within our collective congregational guilt, you too can find some personal responsibility and guilt on account of what you failed to do or give that would have helped the church’s mission?  If so, God wants me to speak Words of comfort to you this morning!

What is this message of comfort?  Simply this, your warfare is over, the battle is won!  You no longer have to worry about how you will account for  your sinful life to God; you don’t have to wonder what you can do in order to take away your guilt.

This morning, God is telling each of us that it’s good that we see our sin and our inevitable death as punishment for that sin; that’s the proper work of His law.  But God also wants you to hear and believe the other portion of His Word that brings you new life, the gospel.  He wants you to know that if your sinful heart longs for freedom and release from your guilt, then He has heard your cry.  He has sent His Son, your Savior and King to take away your guilt.  Yes you have sinned, and yes your sin is offensive to your holy and perfect God, but He and He alone has acted to take away that sin.  You need never worry that God will not forgive, or that He will take away His love from you.  Instead, He wants you to hear His Words of comfort.  You are forgiven!  You are no longer locked up in a prison of your own making.  Your sin no longer defines you.  In other words, you are no longer a slave to your sin.  The devil can no longer threaten you with an eternity of punishment in hell, because Jesus has come to set you free.  Upon the cross His life-blood was spilled to set you free!

And to make sure that you will have no doubt about God’s complete and perfect work, He makes the gospel very personal, by coming to you in the waters of your own baptism.  It is there where He assures you that every one of your sins has been washed away and that you have been, and everyday are being recreated into the very image of your Savior, Jesus Christ!  Just as Judah could not pay for her own guilt that Isaiah made so plain to them in his preaching, you can do nothing as well.  You are helpless and must depend totally on God’s mercy; you must stake everything on His undeserved love.  And in your baptism, that is what you do every day.  You remember that it was God alone who saved you and is saving you.  Listen, its true, someone must pay for your sins, and someone has; it is Jesus Christ, not just the Son of God and your Savior, but the Heavenly Father’s Suffering Servant who came to suffer in your place! In your baptism, Jesus took away your guilt and sin and exchanged it with His obedient life and death upon the cross.  So in your baptism, God wants you to see that on the cross, Jesus not only took away the sins of the world, but He especially took away your sins!  Hear this word, believe it, and be comforted!

But there is one more piece of comforting news for you this morning.  God has not come to the world in one great moment upon the cross and then left us alone.  He did not come to you once in your baptism to wash you clean with the water and the Word and then abandoned you.  No, His Word this morning promises you a double portion of blessing; in other words the blessing of His real presence is with you, it is eternal, and it will never end.

In this season of Pentecost, God wants you to remember that His Holy Spirit is with you always.  When you were baptized, God put His seal upon you and declared to the devils and this sinful world, “This one is mine!”  He is always with you protecting and blessing you.  When you read God’s Word and stay in that Word, His Spirit is teaching you things so great that the angels stand in awe.  In His Word you hear and understand about a comfort from God that will never leave you or forsake you!  In His Word you learn that while God will not take away the discomfort and the temporary consequences of your sin, He has taken away the eternal consequence.  “You are free!  You are forgiven!”  Now that is a message of double blessing, and through the Holy Spirit He repeats it to you over and over!

Now do you see that you have really received a double blessing? Good, then God wants you to leave this place with not just gratitude and appreciation, but with a new personality; a new mindset.  God wants you to leave here knowing one simple thing.

You have been blessed to be a blessing to others.  How?  By speaking the gospel; by speaking the same message of comfort to your neighbor.  Speak the gospel and live the gospel.  And as you speak and live the gospel, God wants you to invite others to be changed by the gospel.  Tell them that there is a place at 7210 Lisbon Street, in the city of San Diego, where they too can hear a message of comfort that will change them just as it has changed and is changing you.

This morning friends, it is my prayer that you not only see your need for comfort but that you would also want it, now and always.  I pray that God has shown you that you are not to be defined by your past, by what you have done or failed to do, but only by what the Son of God Jesus Christ did for you upon the cross and what He gave to you within your own baptism.  I pray that this realization will change you and you like St. John the baptizer, you will leave this place speaking and living a message of repentance; always turning to Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith and your Christian life.  I pray this always in Jesus name… AMEN!