Posts Tagged ‘The Church’

Living in the Promised Land

Sunday, October 8th, 2017

Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost-A, October 8th, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.” [Isaiah 5:1]

And let the church say Amen! Amen to the reign of our beloved Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen to life in His vineyard, the church. But most of us south of Temecula don’t really understand the nature of a vineyard, do we? I understand that producing grapes is a lot of work, and yet it is completely foreign to me. So, let’s talk about gardens instead.

Gardening, for many of you is a very satisfying and relaxing endeavor. Many of us have had sore backs days after working in our gardens. We would almost swear to the truth that we perspired gallons of sweat and developed blisters larger than any we have ever had. And yet, weeks latter we are rewarded with beautiful flowers, plants, and produce.

But sometimes you plant something that just doesn’t turn out to be what you expected it to be; it either never takes root or it grows in a wild way that you did not desire, and you know that if you don’t do something about it, it will ruin the entire garden. So with those kinds of disasters, what is a gardener to do? You uproot it and start over!

Yes, gardening is a lot of work, but God warned our first parents, Adam and Eve of this sad truth after they fell to sin. Listen: “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” [Genesis 3:17-9] But God promised the faithful descendants of Adam and Eve, that one day He would send a Savior, who would first deliver them from their sins, and then He would also, through this coming Savior bring them back to Eden, the real “Promised Land!”

And that is the situation that the prophet Isaiah speaking for God, is describing in our Old Testament lesson (Isaiah 5:1-7) this morning.

The children of Israel, descendants of faithful Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, had been resting in God’s vineyard, the promised land for many long years now. And when they first arrived there, they were told that it would be a land of milk and honey; in other words, God would provide all that they needed to live right and peaceably with Him, each other, and within the land itself. All that they needed to do was trust in the promise of the coming Savior and then follow God’s commandments, which were to be a hedge of protection for them, and a wall that would separate them from the godless nations that surrounded them. But…

They began to develop a national pride that caused them to not only look down on other nations but they also forgot about their God who actually planted them there. There God was the One who prepared the Promised Land for them; He was the One who dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted them there as His choice vines. He set up the watchtower, which was their form of worship of the One True God, and He was the One through the use of the Law and Gospel, worked within them to put to death their old sinful nature, and bring to life their new circumcised nature, a faithful nature, which waited patiently for the coming Savior.

And as they continued to live as if God did not matter, God took notice. He sent many prophets and judges who spoke Words of warning and Words of encouragement, so that the people would remember the true God and then see their sinful need for a Savior. But they would not take notice; they would not yield!

So now O church, judge between God and His vineyard. What more was there for Him to do for His vineyard? He looked for a yield of grapes, that is works produced by faith in the coming Savior and the promised return to Eden, but He found only wild grapes, works that glorified man and not their God. Well there was one more thing that God would do; He would send His Son!

In our Gospel reading (Matthew 21:33-46), Jesus tells another story about a vineyard.

It is a story told to the same sort of religious leaders that Isaiah was speaking to in our Old Testament lesson. A man planted a garden and rented it out to tenants. But when the owner sent servants (prophets of God) to collect the rent, the tenants killed the servants. In exasperation, he sent his son (His Only begotten Son), and they killed him. Jesus asked his hearers what the owner would do, and the crowd answered, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.” (21:41).

You see friends, this morning’s readings aren’t really about vineyards or gardening at all, instead they’re about the people of God, ancient Israel and you and me today. It’s a warning that we must not become wild in our nature, but remain people of faith; faith in the Savior promised long ago who has now come, and faith that one day very soon, He will come again to bring us once and for all back to Eden, the true Promised Land.

We may be tempted to ask God why He chose to place those disobedient people into His vineyard, knowing that they would be wild grapes and produce only bloodshed and outcries, but then we would have to ask Him also, why he brought us into His new vineyard, Christ’s church. You see, today you and I are supposed to be God’s pleasant planting; we too are suppose to produce fruits, good works of righteousness, but many times we don’t; instead we produce wild grapes; fruit that glorifies ourselves and not God. So why does God even bother to plant? Because He loves His vineyard, His garden; God loves you!

The church, which for now is our promised land, is God’s planting, His vineyard. It is easy to forget that this isn’t our church, but His. And it is even easier to forget that it is God who does the real work within us and through us. Like preparing a vineyard or garden, He plants us in Holy Baptism and then lovingly tends to our growth through His means of grace; His teaching, preaching, and Holy Supper. It is His work within us that shapes us and prunes us into the very image of His Son, who was killed by the former tenants so that He would rise from that death and fulfill the promise of the coming Savior who would bring us one day back to the final promised land, the Kingdom of Heaven, which is Eden restored!

You see friends, this pleasant planting of the Lord we call the church is for now, as we wait, our promised land; it is where God provides for our needs, and prunes and tends to our growth. All of this work of God is centered in His beloved Son, Jesus Christ who died, rose, and gives us His Holy Spirit. Jesus assures us of this when He says, “I an the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” [John 15: 1, 5]

And here we are abiding; simultaneously resting and working within the promised land we call the church, and knowing full well that by God’s grace we will one day enter the final Promised Land. And as we wait, we have two missions to fulfill. The first is to grow in faith everyday as we are planted in the church, and the second is to seek out and bring other wild grapes into God’s vineyard through His Son Jesus Christ.

Today I would like to call your attention to a very fruitful ministry within the LCMS, and it is the Lutheran Women’s Ministry League, or more simply called the LWML. It is an organization that has over the many years proven to be a very fruitful portion of God’s vineyard; a portion that continues over and over again to bear much fruit. Through the collection of mites and their faithful service in mission, these faithful ladies not only wait for the return of their Lord, but they serve Him in their waiting with gladness and zeal. They freely recognize that all of the hard work that they perform throughout the world is possible only because it is their Savior Jesus Christ, who is working in them and through them.

This morning, let us recognize and thank God for theses faithful ladies of the LWML, because they are living proof that God still does marvelous things within His vineyard. Where the ladies serve with gladness, the oil of gladness begins to impact those parts of the vine that they are attached to. Where once a congregation may have been wild or shriveled and old lacking fruit, when the LWML is revived within that congregation, a new spirit of service, as a result of the Spirit of Christ begins to reshape that congregation. This is why we should always celebrate and support the LWML Ministry. We are not celebrating the ladies who serve, but rather the Savior God within them that proves to all of us that God is still doing great and marvelous things around us, and that He wishes to call each of us into that mission so that He can do great and marvelous things within us and through us too!

While I understand that many who love gardening believe that they are closest to God when they are in their garden, I believe, no I know that we are really closest to God, nearest to His heart, when we are in His church. His presence among us through His means of grace moves our hearts to be thankful beyond words because He has made us a part of His pleasant planting through Jesus Christ. It is then that each of us will be moved to serve the Lord with gladness! AMEN!

Living in the Promised Land

Sunday, October 5th, 2014

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (A), September 28, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.” [Isaiah 5:1]

And let the church say Amen!  Amen to the reign of our beloved Lord, Jesus Christ.  Amen to life in His vineyard, the church.  But most of us south of Temecula don’t really understand the nature of a vineyard, do we?  I understand that producing grapes is a lot of work, and yet it is completely foreign to me.  So, let’s talk about gardens instead.

Gardening, for many of you is a very satisfying and relaxing endeavor.  Your efforts are rewarded with beautiful flowers, plants, and produce.  But gardening is also a lot of work.  Many of us who worked these last two months to finish the rose garden on the east side of the sanctuary and the Polynesian garden on the west side of the garden can attest to that truth.  Many of us men have had sore backs days after working in those gardens.  We would almost swear to the truth that we perspired gallons of sweat and developed blisters larger than any we have ever had.  And yet, there outside of the windows of our sanctuary are the beautiful gardens, and they will be even more beautiful next year, God willing.

But sometimes you plant something that just doesn’t turn out to be what you expected it to be; it either never takes root or it grows in a wild way that you did not desire, and you know that if you don’t do something about it, it will ruin the entire garden.  So with those kinds of disasters, what is a gardener to do?  You uproot it and start over!

Yes, gardening is a lot of work, but God warned our first parents, Adam and Eve of this sad truth after they fell to sin.  Listen:  “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.  By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” [Genesis 3:17-9]  But God promised the faithful descendants of Adam and Eve, that one day He would send a Savior, who would first deliver them from their sins, and then He would also, through this coming Savior bring them back to Eden, the real “Promised Land!”

And that is the situation that the prophet Isaiah speaking for God, is describing in our Old Testament lesson (Isaiah 5:1-7) this morning.

The children of Israel, descendants of faithful Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, had been resting in God’s vineyard, the promised land for many long years now.  And when they first arrived there, they were told that it would be a land of milk and honey; in other words, God would provide all that they needed to live right and peaceably with Him, each other, and within the land itself.  All that they needed to do was trust in the promise of the coming Savior and then follow God’s commandments, which were to be a hedge of protection for them, and a wall that would separate them from the godless nations that surrounded them.  But…

They began to develop a national pride that caused them to not only look down on other nations but they also forgot about their God who actually planted them there.  There God was the One who prepared the Promised Land for them; He was the One who dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted them there as His choice vines.  He set up the watchtower, which was their form of worship of the One True God, and He was the One through the use of the Law and Gospel, worked within them to put to death their old sinful nature, and bring to life their new circumcised nature, a faithful nature, which waited patiently for the coming Savior.

And as they continued to live as if God did not matter, God took notice.  He sent many prophets and judges who spoke Words of warning and Words of encouragement, so that the people would remember the true God and then see their sinful need for a Savior.  But they would not take notice; they would not yield!

So now O church, judge between God and His vineyard.  What more was there for Him to do for His vineyard?  He looked for a yield of grapes, that is works produced by faith in the coming Savior and the promised return to Eden, but He found only wild grapes, works that glorified man and not their God.  Well there was one more thing that God would do; He would send His Son!

In our Gospel reading (Matthew 21:33-46), Jesus tells another story about a vineyard.  It is a story told to the same sort of religious leaders that Isaiah was speaking to in our Old Testament lesson.  A man planted a garden and rented it out to tenants. But when the owner sent servants (prophets of God) to collect the rent, the tenants killed the servants. In exasperation, he sent his son (His Only begotten Son), and they killed him. Jesus asked his hearers what the owner would do, and the crowd answered, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.” (21:41). Looking for grapes, precious grapes, the owner instead got wild grapes, and on top of that, they killed his son too.

You see friends, this morning’s readings aren’t really about vineyards or gardening at all, instead they’re about the people of God, ancient Israel and you and me today.  It’s a warning that we must not become wild in our nature, but remain people of faith; faith in the Savior promised long ago who has come, and faith that one day very soon, He will come again to bring us once and for all back to Eden, the true Promised Land.

We may be tempted to ask God why He chose to place those disobedient people into His vineyard, knowing that they would be wild grapes and produce only bloodshed and outcries, but then we would have to ask Him also, why he brought us into His new vineyard, Christ’s church.  You see, today you and I are supposed to be God’s pleasant planting; we too are suppose to produce fruits, good works of righteousness, but many times we don’t; instead we produce wild grapes.  So why does God plant?  Because He loves His vineyard, His garden; God loves you!

The church, which for now is our promised land, is God’s planting, His vineyard.  It is easy to forget that this isn’t our church, but His.  And it is even easier to forget that it is God who does the real work within us and through us.  Like preparing a vineyard or garden, He plants us in Holy Baptism and then lovingly tends to our growth through His means of grace; His teaching, preaching, and Holy Supper.  It is His work within us that shapes us and prunes us into the very image of His Son, who was killed by the former tenants so that He would rise from that death and fulfill the promise of the coming Savior who would bring us one day back to the final promised land, the Kingdom of Heaven, which is Eden restored!

You see friends, this pleasant planting of the Lord we call the church is for now, as we wait, our promised land; it is where God provides for our needs, and prunes and tends to our growth.  All of this work of God is centered in His beloved Son, Jesus Christ who died, rose, and gives us His Holy Spirit.  Jesus assures us of this when He says, “I an the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.  Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” [John 15: 1, 5]

And here we are abiding; simultaneously resting and working within the promised land we call the church, and knowing full well that by God’s grace we will one day enter the final Promised Land.  And as we wait, we have two missions to fulfill.  The first is to grow in faith everyday as we are planted in the church, and the second is to seek out and bring other wild grapes into God’s vineyard through His Son Jesus Christ.

Today is LWML Sunday.  It is a day that we celebrate a very fruitful portion of God’s vineyard; a portion that continues over and over again to bear much fruit.  Through the collection of mites and their faithful service in mission, these faithful ladies not only wait for the return of their Lord, but they serve Him in their waiting with gladness and zeal.  They freely recognize that all of the hard work that they perform throughout the world is possible only because it is their Savior Jesus Christ, who is working in them and through them.

This morning, we recognize the ladies of the LWML because they are living proof that God still does marvelous things within His vineyard.  Where the ladies serve with gladness, the oil of gladness begins to impact those parts of the vine that they are attached to.  Where once a congregation may have been wild or shriveled and old lacking fruit, when the LWML is revived within that congregation, a new spirit of service, as a result of the Spirit of Christ begins to reshape that congregation.  This is why we celebrate the LWML this morning.  We are not celebrating the ladies who serve, but the Savior God within them that proves to all of us that God is still doing great and marvelous things around us, and that He wishes to call each of us into that mission so that He can do great and marvelous things within us and through us!

While I understand that many who love gardening believe that they are closest to God when they are in their garden, I believe, no I know that we are really closest to God, nearest to His heart, when we are in His church.  His presence among us through His means of grace moves our hearts to be thankful beyond words because He has made us a part of His pleasant planting through Jesus Christ.  It is then that each of us will be moved to serve the Lord with gladness!  AMEN!

It’s Good to Be a gentile-Christian!

Sunday, December 5th, 2010

2nd Sunday after Advent A, December 5, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

INTRODUCTION: In our epistle reading this morning [Rom. 15:4-13] we are allowed a glimpse into an issue that caused quite a bit of controversy within the body of Christ, the Church.  There were divisions being created over the question of how the gentiles should be received by the Jewish Christians.  Some said that they should become Jewish by adopting the historic practices of the Jews, specifically circumcision.  We must remember that the very word “gentile” was often used in a derogatory fashion.  It was someone who was outside of God’s covenant of peace with the Hebrew people who were chosen by God to be a light or a beacon unto the gentile nations.  A gentile then signifies a person or a group of people who are “strangers”  to God Almighty.  In the time of Paul, the Hebrew word “goi” or gentile meant “nation,” and often it was used to designate nations that were politically distinct from Israel. [Deut. 15:6; 28:12, 36; Josh. 23: 4]  From this use the word gentile has come to be defined as “stranger” or “heathens.”

You can see how tension could develop in the middle of a worship service, especially at the Lord’s Supper if heathen were showing up to not just worship, but to receive our Lord’s very body and blood!  Well that tension was resolved once and for all by the Council of Jerusalem in 50 A.D., it was decided that the “gentile” Christians would not be troubled with any religious burdens other than remaining with in the one faith in Jesus Christ and to abstain from things polluted by idols and sexual immorality.

So problem solved!  Now there will be no more divisions within the body of Christ right?  Wrong!  We still experience divisions within the body of Christ.  Things like economic status, color, ethnicity, styles of worship, and denominational differences still divide us.  What went wrong?  This morning we will look at two things that God’s Word says if followed will bring harmony and peace, first within our individual hearts and then within the body of Christ, His church.  They are the welcoming of all believers and the adherence to God’s Word!

I. In verse 7 in our epistle lesson we read “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”  Who is it that Paul wants us to welcome?  Well he says one another, so right away we can see that he is referring to a particular group of people.  Does he mean a congregation?  Yes!  Here God through St. Paul is telling each of us to look past any prejudice or anger we may have, even if we feel it’s justifiable and welcome one another in peace. This welcoming that Paul is talking about is the type that ignores differences and grudges against other Christians, and it forgives and perseveres in love simply because Jesus first loved them!  Here Paul calls us to carry the perceived weaknesses of a brother as long as it takes.  Just helping them once or twice and leaving them to someone else is not what he has in mind.  No Paul is calling us to continually welcome them and to help shoulder their burden as long as it is needed.  But how and why should we do this?

Well in regards to the how, we must first admit that we can’t do this on our own.  You see we are all caught in sin; that is, on our own we can’t love someone else as Christ loves us!  So if we are to welcome our brothers and sisters here, we must be willing to ask Christ to come along side of us and give us a desire to forgive and to love and then we need to ask Him to give us endurance and encouragement so that He can continue to work within and through us.   Well that answers the how, but why should we do this?  Friends, St. Paul answers that question too; we do it simply for the glory of God!  We must remember that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us; he welcomed us and He wants us to do the same for each other!

Well, I think that each of us can agree that this is truly God’s desire for our congregation and I’m sure that each of you will through the power of God’s Holy Spirit work towards fulfilling His will.  You know, there is nothing sweeter than a congregation that is centered in the love of God and Christ Jesus.  Jesus should be the heart of every member here!  But if we allow these words to take us no further than within this small body of believers, then I am afraid we are no better than the Jewish Christians that were admonished by the Council of Jerusalem.  Because you see there are other Christians who are not Lutherans who also hear these Words of encouragement and admonishment, and they too are being moved to act along with us!  But act in what way?  Well to love and forgive one another.  To believe that if anyone confesses with their mouth and believes in their heart that Jesus is Lord they are saved and they are your brother or sister.  And what are we called to do together?  Friends, we are called to build the Kingdom of God together! 

Now some will be wondering if I am trying to say that all denominations are the same, and to this I will answer, “Certainly not!”  And yet they are my brothers and my sisters, even if they are different!  So St. Paul calls us to welcome them as well.  But how!  Let’s let St. Paul answer that question.  Listen: “for whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of Scriptures we might have hope.”

II. How can there be unity in such a vast sea of different denominations and teachings?  By being in, living out, and teaching correctly God’s own Word!  By holding onto what was written and not rejecting any of it.  In His Word, God promises to come along side of us and create harmony, real unity among believers!  You see, like before, it is God coming among and within us doing the work!  The strong and the weak, the rich and the poor, Roman Catholic and protestants of all flavors are promised unity if they hold onto the pure Word of God!  Where the Word of God is preached, taught, confessed, and lived-out, you have the true church, the One Holy catholic Church!  This was our Lord’s desire when He prayed his High-priestly prayer.  If you remember he prayed that we be one as He and the Father are one.  Then He prayed: “Sanctify them in the truth; thy Word is truth.” [Jn. 17:17, 21, 23]  How do we become one?  By remaining in His Word and being set apart as Holy through it!  Why did He want us to be united?  So our unified voice and harmony would impress those in the world that were outside of this faith; so that they would desire to be part of this oneness! 

Dear friends, you don’t see the body of Christ grow by changing or getting rid of some of the Word; no, Christ says that we will only see people come to faith and rest in this faith if they remain in His truth.  How do we remain in His truth?  By remaining is His Word; all of His Word is truth!  All of God’s Word that is found in your Bible is inspired by Him.  It is to be used for reproof, for correction and improvement in our lives.  No one has the right to discard any portion of scripture.  We are to declare both the Law and the Gospel as it has been given to us!  Jesus gave His Church the specific commission to teach all people to observe all things whatsoever He commanded. [Matt. 28:20]  And Paul declared: “I have not shunned declaring unto you all the counsel of God.” [Acts 20:27]  In the Old Testament too, people were forbidden to add to the written Word or to take anything away from it. [Jos. 1:8; Deut. 17:19].  This means dear friends that nothing in Scripture can be regarded as culturally irrelevant or worthless, because whatsoever was written before hand was written for our learning! [Rom. 4:23,24; 15:4; 2 Tim. 3:16; 1 Cor. 10:11]

How can unity be restored not just in this church and our denomination, but within each denomination and throughout the Kingdom of God?  By knowing what God’s Word says and sticking to it!  This is what we call doctrine!  What is doctrine?  It is whatever the apostles and prophets wrote and taught for our learning.  These writings, this unified Word of God alone is what is the foundation of the Church.  It is the Word of God alone that proclaims the doctrine of Christ and His redemption, the forgiveness of sins for the entire world.  The Bible is a unit in which all of its parts, statements, doctrines, commandments, and promises either directly or indirectly, serve the purpose of teaching each of us how to be saved through faith in our Savior Jesus Christ.  And then it boldly teaches us how to live out our lives as children of God in a world darkened by sin, all for the glory of our God, Jesus Christ.  It is this holy Word of God alone that feeds us and then sends us out into the world to seek and save the lost!

How will we see the Kingdom of God grow?  By being of one mind and one mouth, “so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” [Rom. 15:6]  Dear friends, with one voice means with one united confession of faith.  To glorify God is to speak and to act so that his glory may appear within us and among us!  As his glory is one and unchangeable so must our proclamation of His Word be along with our service to Him as we allow Him to work though us building and advancing His kingdom!  This oneness of conviction and confession is what we call our doctrine!  When we lose our oneness of mind or voice someone is wrong and God’s glory is diminished through us!  But the clearer our doctrine is and the truer it is taught the more God’s love is displayed among us and through us.  Do we work alone and ignore our brothers and sisters in other denominations in order to protect our doctrine?  No, we must work with them and allow them to see that through God’s Word and its pure doctrine we have been given not just strong instruction but also endurance and strength. 

CONCLUSION: Dear friends, I know that sometimes we can really get tired of the real doctrinal differences that are found in the various Christian denominations.  The gentile-Christians who received the pure gospel of Jesus Christ were tiring of the continued religious attacks of the Jewish Christians.  But they didn’t separate, instead they and their pastors continued to plead for harmony and unity through the pure Word of God.  They used strong doctrine to convince the Jerusalem Council that they were indeed their brothers and sisters even though before they were considered gentiles; strangers and heathen.  It was strong doctrine that brought the church together under one heart and mind, the heart and mind of Jesus Christ.  And it will be again that same strong doctrine that will unite us under that same heart and mind.  It is this pure doctrine, the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ that alone unites us and turns us from a people of religion into a people of faith; people who are resting and serving within a relationship of love with God through Jesus Christ.  Yes it is good to be a gentile-Christian; one who has been saved through Jesus Christ; one who was once a stranger to God because of sin, but no longer because of grace.  Now, together through grace and faith we can rest in His love and forgiveness by the will and power of His Living Word, Jesus Christ!

 “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” [Rom. 14:13]  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!