Posts Tagged ‘witness’

The Power of God’s Love!

Saturday, September 17th, 2011

Friday Night Gospel Celebration, September 16, 2011
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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NOTE: Only the scriptures and some main points are available for this message.  For the entire message please listen, using the audio link above.


Romans 12:
9-21

 (Vs. 9) “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.”    Right from the beginning St. Paul is making it clear to us that everything that follows is centered in love.  But this kind of love is different from the kind that we naturally show others; it’s the kind of love that is the ultimate fruit of God’s love for us.  It is the kind of love that gives you faith to believe that Jesus is your Lord and Savior. 

 (Vs.10-13)Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, and serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.”

  (Vs. 14-16) “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.”  Do these words sound familiar?  They should, because they are a paraphrase of Jesus’ own Words: “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” and “bless those who curse you.” [Matt. 5:44; Luke 6:27-28]  Think of Jesus last words upon the cross before he died, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).  I know what you’re thinking: “Well sure, He was the Son of God, of course He could bless and forgive.  No man could do that could they?”  Well what about Stephen, who opened his mouth in a blessing upon those who were stoning him to death?  Do you remember the last words that he uttered? “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60)

  (Vs. 17-20) “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  There is no question that the man who does us evil ought to be paid back with the exact proportion. This is God’s own principle, and Paul isn’t ignoring that. But if God applied only that principle to us, where would we be?  And that is the point, without God’s grace through Jesus Christ we would be damned along with our worst enemy.  Friends, it is God’s work alone that saved us, and we should do everything to glorify Him and bring honor to His presence in our lives by living a life that demonstrates that same grace.   

CONCLUSION: Dear friends, the summary of all of this can be found in Paul’s last words: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” God demonstrated this principle for us long ago, when He sent His only Son to die for you upon the cross.  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us!  Just as Jesus prayed for us long ago upon the cross, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” so too, we must pray for those who hurt us.  We need to pray and ask God for love as we try to show kindness to our enemies. Will they take advantage of us? Will they hate us even more? Only the Lord knows. Our task is not to protect ourselves but to obey the Lord and leave the results with Him.  Friends, even if our enemy refuses God’s love, we will still have experienced the love of God in our own hearts and we will grow in His grace.

I Will Not Keep Silent!

Sunday, January 17th, 2010

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Sanctity of Life Sunday, January 17, 2010
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Grace, Mercy and Peace are yours, from God our Father and for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ!  AMEN

“For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness and her salvation as a burning torch.” [Isaiah 62:1]

INTRODUCTION:  A professor in a medical school once posed this medical situation — an ethical problem — to his students: “Here’s the family history: The father has syphilis. The mother has TB. They already have had four children. The first is blind. The second had died. The third is deaf. The fourth has TB. Now the mother is pregnant again.  So the parents have come to you for advice. They are willing to have an abortion, if you decide they should. What do you say?”

The students broke into small groups for “consultation.” All of the groups came back to report that they would recommend abortion.

“Congratulations,” the professor said, “You just took the life of Beethoven!”

Well that’s just a story pastor.  We live in the real world.  Ok, here’s a “real world” poll taken in New England, which revealed that, if parents were able to know these things in advance, 1 percent of them would abort a child on the basis of sex, 6 percent would abort a child likely to get Alzheimer’s disease, and an incredible 11 percent would abort a child predisposed to obesity.  In essence, they would abort many of us!

I.  Sin is sin.  God’s Word clearly identifies what is sinful and what is pleasing to Him.  There are no gray areas in God’s eyes, and yet we like to create these gray areas, don’t we?  We make the gray areas because we don’t like facing our own sinfulness.  Oh, and in case you think that claiming ignorance of God’s will might offer you some protection, listen to God answer you from the book of Proverbs: “If you say, “Surely we did not know this, “Does not He who weighs the heart consider it?  He who keeps your soul, does He not know it?  And will He not render to each man according to his deeds? [Proverbs 24:11-12]

Friends, we’ve been called by Jesus Christ, the living Word of God to be both His church and His voice of truth in this world of sin.  We are His prophets.  But before we can fulfill this role, we need to agree that God is right and we are wrong!  Now as your pastor, you have called me to speak and teach you that Word, so together we will hear His Word, be changed and strengthened by it, and then go out into our communities where we can be God’s salt and light.  Now here’s the fascinating part of this calling; if we are faithful, God assures us that to the world, we will be like a crown of beauty, a royal diadem in His hand.  In other words, we’ll bring Him glory here on earth!

Friends, if we are faithful in speaking for God to those we encounter, He promises that we will experience his blessings in a way that will change the very way we think and live.  In other words, God promises that through our obedience we will discover that we are not only precious in His sight, but we are in fact His delight.

II. But we have a slight problem; the enemy doesn’t want us to live out this new identity, so he’s set some traps in order to deceive us.  These traps come to us through the use of science and the sinful society we live in; a society that loves to call evil good and good evil.  But even if we successfully avoid these traps, the enemy still has one more trick up his sleeve; he intends to stop us by overwhelming us with so much opposition and anger that we’ll no longer see the good of speaking God’s truth to such an evil society.  In other words, he wants to demoralize us to the point where we just simply give up.  Now, this same tactic has been used by the enemy in the past with great success.  It’s called institutionalized sin—sins that have been accepted by our society as normal.  If you don’t believe this truth, just look back no farther than 150 years ago when the institution of slavery—the trafficking of human beings was considered normal.  And even after a bloody civil war that nearly destroyed our nation, that sin still remains and it is still trying to capture the hearts and minds of our children.  This hatred of others is a sin that places “self” as the ultimate authority, which in turn allows us to see some people as less than human.

Today we celebrate “Sanctity of Life” Sunday.  This is the day that we as a church have set aside to remind us that God has declared all human life precious in His sight; the unborn, born, and even those who are frail and near death.  But science and our society tell us something very different—they say that the unborn are merely potential life, and the old and frail are just a life that’s already been lived.  They would have us believe that neither can really be counted important.  But listen to God speak through the voice of the Psalmist and let the voice of our enemy the devil and this sinful society be silenced: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” [Psalm 139:13-18]   And if that’s not enough for you, listen to the living Word of God drive home the message through the Apostle Paul: “(Don’t) you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” [1 Corinthians 6:19-20] 

 Friends, you have heard God’s Word… you know that there are no gray areas.  Right is right and wrong is wrong.  Now God wants to send you out into this world as His burning torch of truth and salvation.  But you say, “Pastor what can I do?  It’s the law of the land; abortion is legal, right?”  Well do you have a mouth?  Then for the sake of the unborn and for the credibility of the church, speak out.  Use your mouth to change hearts and minds, and use your vote to change the law.  And all the while, God wants you to pray!  Pray for your leaders and pray for your neighbors, and then work against the enemies of God who joyfully lead others astray by convincing them to take a life through abortion.  Pray that God will change both their hearts and minds so that this evil will be erased from our society.  Listen to St. Paul’s advice; he says, ” First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” [1 Timothy 2:1-4]  Pray dear friends, pray and don’t grow weary of prayer.  Don’t give up in speaking the truth; don’t surrender in the fight.  Keep on doing what you know is right.  Listen to God’s Living Word, and then be decided in your heart that you will do what Jesus tells you!

 III. In our gospel reading this morning, Mary, the mother of God the Son, Jesus Christ had a dilemma.  She was one of the matrons, or sponsors responsible for the smooth operation of a wedding party.  But the wine was running low, and the party was still jumping!  Now granted, when compared to other real life issues, running out of wine means very little in the large scheme of things, but at the time it was important to Mary.  She had doubts and fears; so where did she go?  She went to Jesus!  Now the fact that she went to Jesus isn’t that fascinating, after all, Jesus is her son, but what happened next would change everything.  It would change the way faithful people live and it would change the way faithful people think!

 Have you ever wondered why Jesus called His own mother “woman” instead of “mother”?  “Jesus?  Son?”  Mary called.  “They are almost out of wine,” she says.  And to this Jesus answers, “Woman, what does this have to do with (you and) me?  My hour (or my time) has not yet come.”  Here friends, Jesus mother turns to her son as she undoubtedly did so many times before, but this time it is different…it’s a critical moment where ordinary help won’t suffice.  She knew that Jesus had no money and as a stranger in this town he had no connections.  Yet they needed wine.  So why turn to Jesus?  Because friends, she never forgot that her son was also the Son of God, the Messiah… her Savior.  You see, in this small dilemma, ordinary help would fail; they had neither the time nor the means to get more wine, so Mary knew she must look for extraordinary help.  Mary didn’t need familial help, she needed divine hope.  And to give this hope, Jesus must first eternally change her relationship with Him. 

 Friends, when Jesus called His mother woman, He was declaring to her that His position as a dutiful son was eternally ended.  He was telling her that from that moment on He would be assuming a much higher position; one as Savior and Redeemer.  And this divine work can only be done on God’s terms and in God’s time, not hers and not ours.  Like Mary, we too must learn that if we really want divine hope and help, we must first recognize who Jesus really is.  It is Jesus, the Son of God, together with the Father, and the Holy Spirit alone who determine when and how God will miraculously intervene—even in hopeless situations!

 Friends, it was this first miraculous sign from Jesus—turning water into wine—that would forever direct both Mary and the entire church to ask and receive all things through Jesus Christ alone, and then simply and trust that He would act according to His time!  It is in Him alone that we are to place our trust.  And with this new truth, Mary has a new teaching to share with her assistants at the party and with us…

 “Do whatever He tells you.” [John 2:5b]  Do you understand what this means friends?  It means that we must do whatever God’s Word says.  What God’s Word calls good, we are to call good.  What He calls sinful and evil we are to say also.  In His Word alone, we are to live, breath, and find our existence and fulfillment.  Yet we still sin daily.  We sin against God and we sin against each other.  Since this is most certainly true, it is critical that we hear what comes next.  It there is anyone here this morning who has in the past had an abortion, assisted with or counseled for an abortion, performed an abortion, or has simply been indifferent to abortion, let God speak to your heart.  Let His Spirit convince you that abortion is a sin?  Has He shown you that it is your sin?  Are you sorry for this sin and all others that you have committed and do you sincerely repent of them?  Is it your intention to agree with God that this is an evil that must be defeated… that was defeated upon the cross of Jesus Christ?  Do you desire to be free of this evil now and for all eternity? 

Dear friends, because Jesus has defeated both the devil and all evil through His death upon the cross, and because He has given this victory to you through the washing of the water and the Word in your own baptism, hear the sweet words of the gospel, the forgiveness of your many sins.  You are forgiven!  You no longer need to live in shame and reproach.  Through God’s Holy work alone He has taken away your sorrow and shame and He has given you a new name…. you are called Christian.  You are a child of faith!  As a member of the Holy Christian Church you are now the beloved bride of Jesus Christ Himself!

Now dear saints, as the beloved bride of Christ, hear the words of mother Mary fresh and new… “Go, and do whatever our Lord tells you.”  What is He telling us?  Speak up for those who have no voice!  Call evil what it is!  Don’t be afraid of the ungodly, because they will soon have their punishment handed down to them.  Instead, speak up and speak out to those who will hear the Word of God and repent, just as you have.  Join your pastors and the whole church and preach Christ Himself and His Holy Word until He comes again to judge the living and the dead.  Do whatever God’s Word tells you because He is your salvation, and let politics and this sinful society be damned!

Let this world and our sinful society see our Holy God’s righteousness shine through each of us as individuals and as His church so that all may see us as justified and equipped by God for this battle—not with the laws of man but with the highest law there is… the Living Word of God!

CONCLUSION: Dear friends, do whatever Jesus tells you.  Repent and be baptized.  Repent and believe you’ve been forgiven and changed.  This is the message we are to speak to our neighbors and even to our elected leaders.  Let’s speak this message in our conversation and let’s speak it through the ballot box.  We will not be silent… because we cannot be silent.  Yes we’ll be ridiculed and marginalized, but as I said in the beginning of this message, we must speak out, because we are God’s crown of beauty and we are a holy and royal diadem in His hand.  We alone can bring Him glory, because we alone are called by a new name…. Christian!  Jesus we are yours… save us!  AMEN!

Were You There?

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

Pastor Brian Henderson, Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego

“…and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead.” [Acts 3:15b]
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We are all called to be witnesses to God’s forgiving love in our own lives.  Each one of us is to always be prepared to give our own testimony to why and how Jesus saved us from sin and delivered us into heaven.  We are His ambassadors.  But before we can give a witness we must have a testimony—that then will be the focus of our message this morning…honing our testimony, and we will begin and end our message with this question: Were you there when they crucified your Lord?


 In our reading from Acts, Peter confronts a crowd of people in Jerusalem who have gathered in amazement because of a crippled man who is healed.  They try to acknowledge Peter and John as the source of healing, but Peter will have none of that.  He immediately gives all glory to God and begins one of the most convicting sermons ever preached.  The most intense portion of his message was this: “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. You denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead.” [Acts 3:13-15]  Jesus they denied and delivered to be killed, but Barabbas the murderer they chose to give life to instead of the author of life!

Now it is doubtful that there were many people present…listening to Peter’s sermon who were actually there when Jesus was sentenced to death.  Most likely, most of those people knew nothing about Barabbas being granted clemency in exchange for the death of Jesus, and yet Peter insists that they were the ones who delivered Him over to Pilate and asked for the death of the Author of life!  How can this be?  Because it was their sins that Jesus took upon Himself that compelled Him to go to the cross.  While they may not have been physically present the day Jesus was sentence and executed they knew that the man they once called Messiah was about to be put to death, and they said nothing.  They knew that an innocent man was about to die, and they offered no testimony on His behalf.    They killed the Author of life!

How many times have you turned away from doing what you know is right because it was inconvenient to be a person of faith?  For some here this morning, it may be easier to be politically correct than being faithful to God’s will.  Go along to get along!  Maybe you‘ve learned to follow society’s moral idea of right and wrong rather than what God’s Word says is good and evil?  If so, you killed the Author of life!  For others, maybe you know that Jesus suffered, died, and rose for you, but you have never really taken the time to know Him.  You know that His entire gift of grace is for you, but you have never really found the time live in it!  If so, you killed the author of life!  Maybe you are one of the many that finds yourself vacillating between claiming Him and forgetting Him.  Some days you are thankful for all that He has done for you and on other days, well…you live as if He never did a thing for you.  If so, you killed the author of life!  Or maybe you are one who has truly discovered what it means to be saved by grace, through faith in Christ alone just as the Bible says, but you are terrified to tell others how your relationship with Jesus has saved you.  If so, then you also must realize that you too killed the Author of life!

Dear friends, Peter was painting a bleak picture to the people around him that day and he paints a bleak one for us as well—bleak, but not hopeless!  Listen to what he says next: “And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” [vs. 17-20a].

Dear friends, if you have been convicted by God’s Word this morning then listen to what Peter says… “I know that you acted in ignorance.”  Confess your sin and turn to Him who was crucified for you, so that all of your sins may be wiped clean!  Instead carrying your guilt with you, come to your Savior, the author of life so that times of refreshing goodness and peace with God can be yours!

It was not by accident that Jesus suffered and died.  We may be ignorant that our sins took Jesus to the cross, but God knew what He was doing.  God knew that He must give Jesus as a lamb for the slaughter, as the sacrifice for the sins of the world.  We act out of ignorance, but God acts in full knowledge with an intent centered in nothing but love for us.  We may be ignorant, lost in our own sins, but thank God that His wisdom and undeserved love for us makes us wise through faith and brings us to salvation.  Through our own wicked sinfulness God brought us His salvation; He gave His Son Jesus to you who took away your own guilt as He took away the sins of the world! 

Is this good news?  If so, then repent!  Turn away from your sinfulness so that “times of refreshing may come for God!  The suffering, worry, and fear are over the battle is won!  Alleluia!  Turn from sins that so easily trap you and turn to your redeemer, your savior, the Author of life, Jesus Christ.  This is the what St. John meant when he wrote in our Epistle lesson that, “No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.” [1 Jn. 3:6]  How do you keep from falling into sin?  Only by turning away from a sinful life and turning to Jesus!  How do you know that you are walking with Jesus and not following the ways of the devil and the world?  Because you practice what is right.  You look to Jesus alone as your way to please God and you hold on to the very things He’s given to you so that you will not lose hope!  You claim your baptism as His promise that He will never leave you or forsake you, and when you do sin, His Holy Spirit pains your heart to confess your sin to Him and then by the very same Spirit He gives you faith to know that you are forgiven.  How long will God put up with your sinfulness?  As long as you continue to turn to Him and be saved and recreated into His image and will for you.

This dear friends is exactly the relationship that God desires and it is exactly the relationship He creates and sustains within us as we abide in Him.  It is the relationship of a Father and His children.  Now there are other types of relationships that this world likes to show off.  They are relationships where one gives as much as another; relationships like husband and wife, friend and friend.  But in our relationship with God it is entirely one sided…He gives and we only receive in gratitude.  And what does He give?  He gives forgiveness, He gives new life… birth from God!  And what is our response?  Gratitude!  How do we show our gratitude? 

We show our gratitude by witnessing. In our gospel lesson, Jesus teaches His disciples and He teaches us how we are to live our lives because of what He has done for us and because of who we now are.  Listen: “Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.” [Luke 24:45-48]  Friends, Jesus has opened your mind through the gift of faith.  You too can understand scripture.  You too now understand that Christ suffered, died, and rose for you.  If you are living out this truth then you are a good witness.  You too have a testimony to give.

There’s a Christian guy who prayed every morning: “Lord, if you want me to witness to someone today, please give me a sign to show me who it is.” One day he found himself on a bus when a big, burly man sat next to him. The bus was nearly empty but this guy sat next to our praying friend. The timid Christian anxiously waited for his stop so he could get off the bus. But before he could get very nervous about the man next to him, the big guy burst into tears and started weeping. He sobbed with a loud voice, “I need to be saved. I’m a lost sinner and I need the Lord. Can’t somebody tell me how to be saved?” He turned to the Christian and pleaded, “Can you tell me how to be saved?” The believer immediately bowed his head and prayed, “Lord, is this a sign?”

Are you looking for a “sign” to start witnessing?  Well you have one…the sign of the cross; the cross that saved you and the world.  Who should you tell?  Whoever you know needs to hear the good news.  How should you tell them?  By demonstrating love for God in your own life, and then by explaining why you love Him.  Have you experienced repentance and forgiveness of sins in Jesus name?  Remember, you can’t witness to something you haven’t experienced!  Were you there when they crucified your Lord?  If so, then tell your story!

The Power of God’s Love!

Sunday, August 31st, 2008

Sixteenth Sunday in Pentecost, August 31st, 2008

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
” [Romans 12:12]

 

INTRODUCTION: Why would anyone set out to suffer and die?  Why would anyone choose humiliation over triumph?  To the world this is a ridiculous concept!  That’s why in our gospel reading, when Jesus said that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed Peter answered, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”  The other disciples must have been thinking, “Good for you Peter!  This can’t happen to the one we love.  How can a suffering, humiliated, or worse yet, a dead Mesiah save us!”  But to this, Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Poor Peter, just days before this our Lord had praised him as being the model confessor of the church, because he confessed Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  How could someone who seemed to have everything so right, now be so terribly wrong?  Our Lord answers that question so that we can see the error: “You aren’t looking at things from God’s plan, but from the plans of men!”  Well what’s the difference?  Both ways of thinking identify Jesus as the Savior, right?  Well yes, but the difference is in the kind of Savior!  Peter and the others wanted to glory in victory now!  They wanted a majestic conqueror—one that would by the power and might of man make all things right in the world.  They were appalled when Jesus said it was necessary for him to suffer and die.  They were so appalled that they missed the part that came next—the gospel!  “On the third day I will be raised from the dead!” 

 

The truth is friends, God’s love is always demonstrated as sacrificial love, and that is why Jesus said that “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  Without the self-sacrifice of Jesus, there would be no victory over sin death and the devil; without self sacrifice there can be no power in love.  And for us, if we want to truly live a life transformed by the “Power of God’s love” we must pick up our cross, and follow Jesus in the way of sacrificial love.  This is the truth that we will explore this morning in our Epistle lesson.  Please take out your Bibles and turn with me to Romans Chapter 12.

 

(Vs. 9) “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.”    Right from the beginning of our Epistle lesson this morning, Paul is making it clear to us that everything that follows is centered in love.  But this kind of love is not your run of the mill, here today gone tomorrow kind of love; you know the kind I mean don’t you?  The kind of love that is ablaze with passion on the wedding day, but cold as ice on the 5th anniversary of that wedding night.  No this is the kind of love that is the ultimate fruit of God’s love for us.  It is the kind of love that gives you faith to believe that Jesus is your Lord and Savior because “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son on the cross so that you would be saved!”  This isn’t the fake kind of Hollywood love, no this is the giving kind of love.  It gives everything it has so that the person receiving it knows they are loved.  With this kind of love, God chose to love you a sinner, and with this kind of love, as we will see latter, we are enabled to choose to love our enemies.  This is real love.  This love isn’t just words, but its action and truth! [1 Jn. 3:18]  So how do we demonstrate this genuine kind of love? “Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.”  Hate everything evil and sinful and be permanently stuck to everything that’s good!

 

ILLUS: Perhaps the best way to demonstrate this truth is to illustrate its opposite.  Within our own community, just a couple miles down Imperial Avenue, you will be in neighborhoods that are plagued by drugs of all kinds, including the worst drug of all, Crystal Methamphetamine.  Hundreds of our neighbors are addicted to a drug that contains, phosphorus, methylamine, acetone, chloroform, iodine, ammonia, hydrogen chloride, lithium, ether, and muriatic acid.   When all of this is mixed together and cooked, it creates a crude version of Methamphetamine, and when smoked or snorted it produces an intoxicating euphoria that causes one to feel that everything is good and right in the world.  Friends, the truth is for these poor souls, nothing is right!  Any one of those ingredients alone can cause death.  These poor people have learned to love the very thing that is killing them, and they hate anyone that comes between them and their drug.  How many families have been destroyed because of this drug?  How many lives have been lost?  Yet these poor souls have become addicted to it!  They are living out the opposite mindset that Paul is asking us to live out.  When Paul says that we should hold fast to what is good, he means that we should be permanently stuck to it!  We should be addicted to what is good, and we know that there is no one or nothing good but God Himself!  Friends, we hate illegal drugs because they are evil and because we love God!  Now because we love God, we find ourselves hating anything and everything that separates anyone from the love of God which is ours in Christ Jesus!  Now Paul will show us how this type of love will work in our church.

(Vs.10-13)Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, and serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” Be devoted to one another with warm family affection and brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.  These words sound good; everyone wants that kind of love in our lives and in our church.  To Paul, this family-type devotion to one another is much more than friendship. It’s the type of love that involves commitment like that experienced in a good family.  When one person in a family is hurting, sick, or in trouble, all of the other family members rally around that person and help in any way possible.  This type of sacrificial, self giving love then is the fulfillment of “Honoring one another above ourselves”. When one of us is in trouble all of us respond.  But the truth is, this type of love can be a real inconvenient; it can even intrude into our personal lives at the worst moment, but this is God’s way, the way of sacrificial love.  It is God’s will that if one of us is in a time of testing, due to financial crisis, sickness, sorrow, or pain, rather than try to hide our tribulation, we should rather embrace the love and support of our church family,  and pray, waiting on God to supply our needs.  It is precisely during these moments when Christ’s church becomes the model of true love to the whole world.  This kind of love is a radical concept to the unbelieving world, but it is the only kind of love that matters to the church.  Paul says that the only way we can demonstrate this kind of love is if we are “fervent in spirit”. 

 

The actual Greek word that is translated fervent means “seething—be seething in spirit.”  Just as water and steam  violently bubbles and seeths out of a covered pot of boiling water, so too we are to be seething in the Spirit.  If you find yourself lacking that fervent, seething spirit,  Paul has just the way to obtain it—“Be constant in prayer!”  Through God’s Word we are given faith and empowered by a relationship of love that allows us to call our God and Creator, Father!  And because of this loving relationship, we are not only encouraged to bring to Him all of our own needs but the needs of others as well!    When we pray for a Christian brother or sister, God’s Spirit is active in our own hearts causing us to be seething in the spirit, so that He may love and care for that person through us, and when God is working through us it is not a chore to love someone, instead it becomes a blessing. 

 

ILLUS: Some years ago a Lutheran church in Oklahoma, divided. The split was so bad that one faction began a lawsuit to dispossess the other and claim the property for itself. The local newspapers picked up the story, and the locals followed what was happening with a lot of interest. The judge decided that it wouldn’t be a matter for the civil courts until the church authorities had made a ruling. After much discussion, the church authorities awarded the property to one of the two factions, and the losers withdrew and formed another church in the area.  Think about how different things would have been had those in that church followed Paul’s call to mutual commitment: Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.   Be seething in the spirit!”  Now that we have an idea of what our love should look like inside of the Church, Paul brings everything together into one picture.  Here now comes the type of love we are to have everywhere.

 

(Vs. 14-16) “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.”  Do these words sound familiar?  They should, because they are a paraphrase of Jesus’ own Words: “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” and “bless those who curse you” )Matt. 5:44; Luke 6:27-28).  Think of Jesus last words upon the cross before he died, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).  “Well He was the Son of God, of course He could bless and forgive.  No man could do that could they?”  Well what about Stephen, who opened his mouth in a blessing upon those who were stoning him to death?  Do you remember the last words that he uttered? “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60)

 

Friends, the way of the world says that we should curse those who are unjustly persecuting us, but the Christian prays for bullies and tormentors.  Why?  So that they might repent, so that God might forgive them.  Bless, Paul says, and do not curse them, don’t speak evil against them behind their back, because it is never right to both bless and to curse at the same time.  No, instead, we Christians must model the same love that Jesus has loved us with.  When we follow the way of our Lord, we learn to “live in harmony with one another”. Oh yes, and Paul adds something else, “Do not be haughty, (that is prideful and stuck-up), but associate with the lowly.  Never be wise in your own sight.”  Just as you don’t like to be bullied or persecuted, be sure that you aren’t doing the same thing to others—by way of neglect or preferential treatment.

 

ILLUS: Have you ever heard of Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes. When he was appointed the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court by President Herbert Hoover in 1930 he moved to Washington, and transferred his church membership to a church there. It was the custom in that church to have all new members come forward during the morning service and be introduced to the congregation. On this particular day the first to be called was a Chinese laundryman named Ah Sing, who had moved to Washington from San Francisco and kept a laundry near the church. He stood at the far side of the pulpit. As others were called, they took positions at the extreme opposite side. When a dozen people had gathered, Ah Sing stood painfully alone. Then Chief Justice Hughes was called, and he significantly stood right next to the laundryman.  Friends, we are Christians, and we are to associate with everyone—the ordinary people, the unimportant, even the outcasts of society; even those who are being persecuted. If we can’t get along with one another, if we can’t be the champions for the oppressed in our own church, how can we ever face our enemies?  And that is precisely where Paul is taking us next…

 

(Vs. 17-20) “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  There is no question that the man who does us evil ought to be paid back with the exact proportion. This is God’s own principle, and Paul isn’t ignoring that. But if God applied only that principle to us, where would we be?  And that is the point, without God’s grace through Jesus Christ we would be damned along with our worst enemy.  Friends, it is God’s work alone that saved us, and we should do everything to glorify Him and bring honor to His presence in our lives by living a life that demonstrates same grace.  Nothing that we do or say, should ever bring shame to our Lord and His gospel, and that is why Paul says, “give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all”. To that same end, Paul tells us, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” That would include peace with believers and nonbelievers, those in the church and outside of the church. You know friends, it takes two to fight, and if you as a believer aren’t seeking revenge, then there should be no long-lasting disruption of peace that involves you.

 

But what about justice?  To this Paul answers, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  Here is Paul’s answer. A juster hand than yours and mine is in control, and He will hand out the most perfect justice that is due to every unrepentant sinner. Friends, by choosing to not avenge ourselves, we aren’t abandoning justice, but rather we have chosen to trust God with the whole matter.  Remember friends, God saved you, and he doesn’t want anyone else to perish either.  So God is restraining his punishment with hope that your enemy will become you brother. So we wait; but while we wait, we aren’t just patiently endure mistreatment, no instead God wants us to seek to change our enemy, if possible, to bring him to repentance.  How?  By feeding him when he is hungry and giving him drink when he is thirsty!  These are only two of many possible examples, but they are good ones.  But why must we be nice to our enemy?  Paul answers that this way, “for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Or we could say that by being nice to him, we allow God’s Law to work within his heart, causing him shame, which will then hopefully cause him to repent of his sin and turn to the same source of love that saved us, Jesus Christ!

 

CONCLUSION: Dear friends, the summary of all of this can be found in Paul’s won words: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” God demonstrated this principle for us long ago, when He sent His only Son to die for you upon the cross.  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us!  Just as Jesus prayed for us long ago upon the cross, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” so too, we must pray for those who hurt us.  We need to pray and ask God for love as we try to show kindness to our enemies. Will they take advantage of us? Will they hate us even more? Only the Lord knows. Our task is not to protect ourselves but to obey the Lord and leave the results with Him.  Friends, even if our enemy refuses God’s love, we will still have experienced the love of God in our own hearts and we will grow in His grace.

Repent and Rejoice!

Saturday, April 26th, 2008

 Repentance; Salvation; Witnessing; Acts 17:16-32; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21; Easter 6A
 
 Sixth Sunday in Easter, April 27, 2008
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click her for audio of this message.

Perhaps the most important question someone will ever ask and have answered is, “How can we get to heaven?”  When you ask people this question as often as I do, you will be surprised by the many different answers you receive; most of them have nothing to do with how God has determined is the only way to come to Him.A little boy named Billy was caught being bad, something easily done for little boys who venture outside of the watchful eye of their parents.  His mother, who had become frustrated, asked him, “How do you expect to get into heaven acting like that?”  Billy thought for a moment and then said, “Well, I’ll just keep running in and out and keep slamming the door until they say, ‘For heaven’s sake Billy, either come in or stay out.’  Then I’ll go in!”  And that is the same foolish idea that many today have about pleasing God and entering into an eternity of peace.This morning I have a message to communicate to you that is so simple that it can be summed up in just one word, yet because of its simplicity many find it difficult to receive, so I will preface that simple Word with this story.
There was a couple many years ago that went through the long process of adopting a child.  Those of you who have been through the process can attest to how grueling and frustrating adoption can be.  When this young couple was finally approved as adoptive parents they were called down to the agency to meet and take home their new baby boy.

They arrived at the agency several minutes early and they were escorted to a waiting room upstairs.  After a few minutes they heard someone else come through the front door, and slowly walk up the same stairs.  Then they heard muffled voices and a door to a room next to them open and close.  Again they heard muffled voices but this time the voices were accompanied by uncontrollable sobbing, deep with anguish the sobs continued for several minutes.  Then suddenly, all was silent and they heard once again the same footsteps going down the steps, the same door closing.  After a few minutes, the case worker entered their waiting room and asked the couple to follow her into another room.  As they entered, they immediately saw a crib, and within the crib was a beautiful baby boy!  On a chair next to the crib was a brown paper bag that contained a change of clothes and two sealed letters from the birth mother, the woman they heard sobbing.  One of the letters was addressed to the adoptive parents; it thanked them for providing a loving home for her baby and accepted that under the terms of the adoption she was to have no contact with the child.  At the end of this letter the young mother added one request—Would they allow her little son to read the other letter on his 18th birthday?  She assured them that she hadn’t included any information about her identity, but rather simply wanted to communicate one thing in life that she had learned was more important than anything else.

The story never told what was in the letter; it’s point was to illustrate the enduring love of a mother for her child, a child that she could no longer care for.  But I can’t help but wonder what she wrote.  If you had to condense all that you feel about life and love into a few precious words, what would you write?  You wouldn’t have time for trivial things; you’d have to get right to the point.  Friends, this morning I find myself in a similar position along with the Apostle in this morning’s lesson from the book of Acts.  I must start and end this message with one thought, indeed with one word.  I pray that you will hear and understand this message clearly.  Please don’t listen to my accent; don’t worry about my hair or tone of voice; don’t think about my race or my education.  See past me and hear the word of God, “REPENT!”

This morning we find St. Paul delivering a message of repentance and salvation to the people of Athens.  Turn with me now in your Bibles to Acts 17:16-31. Starting in vs. 16 we read: 16Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. 17So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.
 19And they took hold of him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” 21Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.

We’ve caught up with Paul waiting in Athens for his partners in ministry to join him there.  While he’s waiting he begins to observe things that really bother him in his spirit.  All around him are idols and evidence of false worship.  As Paul is trouble in his spirit, he felt compelled to address the cause of that trouble.  So Paul began to engage the citizens of Athens in discussion and debate about the One true God.  As he did this, it became apparent that there were two groups of thinkers that seemed to control all of the discussion about religion and faith; they were the Epicureans and the Stoics. 

The Epicureans believed that true religion was discovered in the pursuit of enjoyment.  If life was difficult for a person then that meant that, that person was searching for happiness in the wrong place.  If you were living a comfortable life then that was considered evidence that you were on the right path.  We could say that their motto was “Eat, drink, and be merry!”  The Stoics on the other hand believed that all of life was nothing more than a collection of atomic particles whose existence and order were predetermined by an unseen and unknowable force.  If one wanted to find happiness in life, then it was necessary to discover this force’s movement and follow it.  We might say that the Stoics motto was “Go along to get along” or “Go with the flow!”  Does any of this sound familiar?  We live in a consumer based society.  Every day we see people living their lives in the pursuit of things.  Young people, your parents and grandparents had a saying for this style of living—it was called “Keeping up with the Jones’”.  “My neighbor or friend has this gadget or that thing and they seem happy, so I need to somehow get it too!”  The problem with this style of living is that no matter how many things we collect, it’s never enough, we always want the next big thing!  But, we also can find another type of person whose philosophy is “It doesn’t matter.  The rich keep getting richer, and the poor just keep getting poorer.  What’s the use? I’ll never have a comfortable life style, so why bother!  I just won’t work for anything.  I’ll just settle for whatever the government and charities give me.  I just have to accept that as my lot in life!”

St. Paul tried to reason with both of these groups, by assuring them of something greater than themselves; he tried to tell them of a God who saw them as more than the things they had collected in life or failed to collect.  What was his reward?  They ridiculed him and called him a babbler, a speaker of nonsense, yet they could not reject the logic in his belief.  Now intrigued by his logic they say, “We wish to know more about what you are saying.”  And to this, Paul undoubtedly asked and answered the same question Martin Luther asks us in His Large Catechism concerning the First Commandment, “What does it mean to have the true God?” A God is the term we use to describe the one greatest thing or things we turn to, to find happiness; the things we find refuge in during times of need.  Therefore, to have a god is nothing else than the very thing that we trust and believe in with our whole heart.  So you see, it is trust and faith that makes both a God and a false god.  If our faith and trust are right, then our God is the true one, but where our trust and faith are falsely placed then we don’t have the true God but instead we are worshiping an idol.  Anything dear friends that our hearts rely on or desire, anything we depend on, that is our God.

What do we depend on?  I mean what is it that we really think will make our lives better?  For some it may be a certain life style.  For others maybe it’s a certain political party, or government program.  Maybe it’s a certain drug or substance that alters your mood.  And for others it might be a system of belief that says all religions lead to heaven and all worship is sacred to God the creator.  But all of these things if allowed to replace the one true God and His Word are simply false gods and idols.  This was the truth that Paul taught and it no doubt caused quite the commotion within the halls of academia, in the city of Athens.  And yet they wanted to hear more!

 [Vs. 22] 22So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious.   23For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 
   26And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28for
    “‘In him we live and move and have our being’;
 as even some of your own poets have said,
    “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’
   29Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Dear friends, what St. Paul was saying to the people of Athens, he is speaking to us as well.  He is saying that the incarnation of God in Jesus means that even as we live our lives continually searching for meaning and knowing the true God, “Indeed he is not far from each one of us.”  If you have never truly known the love, mercy, and kindness of God, and you hunger to know the truth, HE IS NOT FAR FROM YOU!  Maybe you knew the sweetness of His presence once, but now because of circumstance either directly resulting from your actions or circumstances beyond your control you feel as though God has abandoned you.  Please hear this word, HE IS NOT FAR FROM YOU!  Perhaps you truly know God’s presence and enjoy a relationship of trust with Him, but something in this message has touched your heart, and you feel the need to confess your sin and be forgiven once again, then be of good cheer, HE IS NOT FAR FROM YOU!  Friends, the truth is, we can’t make God come any closer to us than He already is.  In Jesus, God lives in the flesh and He is redeeming our sinful lives every moment of every day!   I know, for some this undeserved gift of love from God in spite of our rotten, sinful living just seems too good to be true.  Of course it’s too good—that’s what makes every bit of it so wonderful!  IT—IS—TRUE!

The truth is we don’t have to live as if God is angry with us, because the God in whom “we live and move and have our being” doesn’t need a single thing from us, instead we need to receive from Him.  In our baptism we received all that was needed to approach Him with or aching and lonely hearts.  And when we look back at our baptism we are reminded that he has incorporated us into His continuous and mighty act of salvation, as a gift of love from Him to us!

Now, because of this gift, we belong to a God “who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth”.  We are not judged by a god who is separated from us.  For in Christ, the world is judged in righteousness, not in anger.  We are judged not by the virtue of any sacrifice we can make, but by the virtue of Christ’s glorious sacrifice for us—“By His wounds (we) have been healed.”  By his agonizing death for you, the death you should have died, you have been saved. 

Dear friends, St. Paul says that we can be sure of this promise because Jesus has risen from the dead, He is risen indeed!  So repent!  Turn away from your sins and turn to Jesus for forgiveness and life.  Repent and believe that God is for you, and then let His love transform you forever!  I pray that you will do this now, tomorrow, and every day in Jesus name…. AMEN!