Posts Tagged ‘witnessing’

A Love Without End… AMEN!



Sunday, June 22nd, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost 2A, June 22, 2014

Click here for audio of this message

I want to start off our message with a quick question: “What is there in your life that you can show to others, which proves that God loves you?”  Many of us may be tempted to point others to blessings in our lives, such as the love of family, health, a good job, money in the bank, or something else that is good, which gives us comfort and peace.  But if that is how you measure God’s love for you, doesn’t that mean that Christians who do not have the love of family, good health, a good job, or money in the bank can not be certain of God’s love?  What about when the things you call blessings vanish and life is hard, does God still love you?

In our Old Testament lesson this morning, the prophet Jeremiah continually wrestled with thoughts like these.  He was a prophet not unlike the other prophets who went before him, in that he was called to declare a message from God that was not popular with the people of God; it was a message that spoke of God’s displeasure with His people’s sin.  It was a message that foretold of God’s discipline that was coming soon; a discipline that was meant to move sinners back to their forgiving God.

Like the other prophets, Jeremiah was directed to use symbolic acts, which accented both the message and the work that God was preparing to perform among and to His people.  Our text this morning (Jeremiah 20:7-13) follows on the heals of one of those symbolic acts.  Jeremiah had just smashed a clay jar in front of the leaders of Israel with the message that proclaimed that as he had smashed the clay jar, so too, would God smash the nation of Israel on account of their sins and their falling from faith.  How did they fall from their faith?  By allowing and following foreign worship practices among them, and even by embracing foreign gods.  Seven chapters later, Jeremiah would confront the civil and religious leaders by wearing a wooden yoke on his shoulders.  This act symbolized Israel’s political submission to the Babylonians; it foretold that just as Jeremiah was yoked like a beast of burden, so too would the Israelites be taken into Babylon in captivity, as slaves.  And when it happened, all of God’s people were to know that God alone, both allowed it and caused it to happen as His way to turn His people’s hearts back to His love and care.

But God’s message to His people is not just a message for the future, but also a message for the present; that is, it is a message for the here and now.  Through the prophet Jeremiah, God is telling all of His people to turn away from any hope that they have placed in their sinful leaders and foreign gods, which is both the reason and the source of “terror on every side.” Instead, they were to turn to Him alone as their source of comfort and assurance.

Now some may wonder, what kind of comfort and assurance can be found in a message that foretells of punishment?  And the answer is that even in the middle of hard times, God is promising His children that He is there with them; you are not alone nor abandoned!  But how are we similar to Jeremiah?  How can his lessoned learned help us?  Well let’s examine that question next.

We can imagine that Jeremiah’s message was a difficult one for him to share, right?  His message to those who continually reject God’s presence in their lives had to be one of bitterness and grief, bordering on despair.  Jeremiah had to be looking at his fellow countrymen and even family, and he had to be grieving.  Why?  Well, God’s forgiving love for him had changed him and filled him with a love for other sinners; a God given love.  In the end, Jeremiah’s grief was too much for him to carry.  Does this sound familiar?  Don’t we too have that same grief for children, parents, friends and neighbors who constantly seem to reject Jesus sacrifice upon the cross and the gift of grace that is given in Holy Baptism?

Like Jeremiah, we whose love is deep grieve deeply.  Because of the work of the Holy Spirit, we too grieve like Samuel, who mourned for King Saul who fell in death, separated from God’s love (1 Samuel 15:35).  Like Jeremiah, we too are prone to grieve like St. Paul, who would have wished himself cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of his fellow Jews (Romans 9:2,3).  But I think that the best example that demonstrated and surpasses Jeremiah’s grief, is the grief of our Lord.  Jesus, the Son of God grieved when approaching Jerusalem, just before His death upon the cross, as He looked at it and wept, because it did not, and for many would not recognize Him as the only means of eternal happiness; the only way to approach a righteous God. [Luke 19:40-44]

Like Jesus, Jeremiah grieved because all of his preaching seemed to have failed to produce repentance or any kind of faith into the hearts of those he loved.  Try as he might, none of them seemed willing to receive the message of God’s punishment, but also a message of mercy and grace.  As he experienced the people’s growing and bitter opposition of the message God had tasked him to proclaim, he learned with great sorrow, that God’s law does not bring peace, but more wrath and punishment. [Romans 4:15]  He learned that the law of God drives unrepentant sinners deeper into sin and creates a  ferocious hatred for God.  Jeremiah learned to his sorrow, that for some people, even family members, the promise of God’s mercy, that is His forgiving love through the gospel, becomes the smell of death. [2 Corinthians 2:16]

In his struggle with grief, the prophet Jeremiah became angry with God, and accused God of tricking him.  Perhaps you too, have had that same experience with God; and experience that seems to befall you just because you love Jesus and His gift of grace, and feel compelled to share it with those you love, only to have them reject both the message and your love for them.  It hurts, right?  Maybe, you too like Jeremiah have complained to God that despite all of your witnessing and mentoring of Christ’s love, not one of your invitations to help others know Jesus like you do, has seemed to produce any results?  Maybe you have already experienced the reality that Jesus had predicted in our gospel lesson: “Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise agains parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my names sake.” [Matthew 10:21, 22a]

Now, while we may not be delivered over to death, to have a family member or loved one avoid you simply because you are a Christian, who can’t help but witness to Christ’s forgiving and life giving love, can be a pain that feels like death.  Jesus promises us that if we endure this pain and do not give up our hope in Him, we will be saved.  But how do we endure through what seems to be unendurable?  We pray and claim God’s promises of life and eternal hope!

Like Jeremiah, we too might be tempted to abandon our hope in God’s promises fulfilled in Christ, or we may be tempted to become a “closet Christian” and just keep our faith to ourselves.  But Jeremiah tells us that if we do that, we will just experience what he experienced when he tried to stop preaching.  He could not do it, because the Living Word of God within him overpowered him and compelled him to speak.  But that Living Word within him also compelled him to do something else; he was compelled to speak to God in prayer; to call out to God for help and strength.

You see, deep down Jeremiah knew that he was not alone.  The Living Word of God, who is the very Son of God attends and helps us just as He attended to and helped Jeremiah; He keeps His promise that He will never leave nor forsake us.  Just as the Lord was Jeremiah’s ever-present help in times of trouble, so too He is yours.  Our Lord would not allow Jeremiah to be overcome with evil or grief, and He will not allow you to slip away either.

Just as our Lord came quickly to help Jeremiah, He promises to respond to your cries for help as well.  Like Jeremiah, we not only may call out for help from God Himself, but He also promises to respond just as He did with Jeremiah.  And when God works within our spirits and we discover that we are not alone, we too will be moved to praise God through the work of the Gospel, that is the forgiveness of sins and the presence of God and declare: “Praise The Lord!  For He has delivered the life of the needy from the hand of the evildoers.”

Dear friends, how do we know that God loves us?  Because His Word tells us so.  No matter what life circumstances may communicate, God’s message in His Word is always one of love; a message that says you are not alone!

When you feel like giving up or taking a break from your faith, take a moment in prayer and ask God the Father to help you through His Word, to remember the depths of His love, not just for you, but for your family members, closest friends and neighbors.  Ask Him to help you remember His passion for sinners; a passion that is so deep that He sent His only Son to die for each and everyone of them.  And then continue to pray to the Heavenly Father who loves you for the ones you love; continue to point them to the cross of Jesus and the waters of Holy baptism, where they like you, may also experience the divine love without end… AMEN!

You’re one of Jesus’ little lambs?!

Sunday, April 29th, 2012

Easter Sunday 4B, April 29, 2012 (Good Shepherd Sunday)
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

“And I have other sheep that are not of this fold.  I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.  So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” [John 10:16]

So you’re one of Jesus little lambs are you?  You’re a Christian?  Really?  You guys are just as messed up as I am; why would I want to  follow you?  What have you got to offer that’s better than what I already have in this messed up life?

Have you ever had someone say something similar to you, or have you ever been afraid that they would say something like that if you  tried to share Jesus with them or invite them to church?  Did you know that fear of rejection and humiliation are two of the biggest  reasons Christians give for not sharing their faith?  Did you know that not sharing your faith is a lot like being a fruit tree that won’t bear  fruit?  And what should we do with a fruit tree in our yard that takes up space, uses valuable resources like water and fertilizer, but year  after year it refuses to do the very thing we bought it for?  That’s right, we’d  chop it down, dig it out, and plant one that will give us  fruit!

Did you know that every day you give a witness to your neighbors, family, and friends, whether you want to or not?  The real question  is what kind of witness are you giving?

Let’s look at the hypothetical questions that I started our message off with and see if you could give an answer and a witness to our antagonistic neighbor.

“So you’re one of Jesus little lambs are you?”  Yes, I suppose I am a lot like a lamb, or maybe even a goat.  Neither one of them are very smart.  They are dirty and not the brightest animals in the world.  They wonder away from the group and their shepherd whenever something catches their eye or draws their attention.  And that’s not a good thing, because the wolf is just out of their line of vision, waiting to kill them and eat them.  Oh yeah, and like me, sheep don’t see very well either.  But that’s just talking about sheep when they are outside of the sheep pen.  You see, I’m also a lot like a sheep who is supposed to be resting safe and sound within the pen.  Their shepherd is standing at the gate protecting them.  He’s the door and will never let any wolves enter and hurt the sheep while they are in the safety of the pen.  But their pen has little escape areas in it, and a dumb sheep could be tricked by another dumb sheep to think that it would be cool, fun, entertaining, and exciting to sneak out and try something new, without the care of the shepherd!

Yeah that’s me.  I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed.  You see, I keep doing the very things that I know I shouldn’t do, that’s called sin by the way.  And the things that please God, well that’s called keeping His commandments, and they’re the very things I can’t seem to do consistently.  Because of that, I can get into a whole lot of trouble; I can get dirty, sinfully dirty, just like a sheep.  If it wasn’t for my Good Shepherd Jesus Christ, I would wander away from His love and the love of my family at church, and I’d end up just like the sheep who gets eaten by the wolf; I’d be destroyed by the devil who hates Jesus and all of His little sheep.  You see, as I told you I don’t see very well, and what I mean by that is, I can’t see and recognize all of the dangers that are around me because, well they’re spiritual dangers.  There are spiritual threats in this world that can destroy my faith and love for God and my neighbor.  But Jesus sees them, and if I stay close to Him, He’ll protect me from those things I can’t see.  And that brings me to how I follow Jesus and stay close to Him.  You know, just as the sheep hear their shepherd’s voice and follow Him, I also hear Jesus, my Good Shepherd’s voice and I follow Him.  I hear His voice in the Word of God; in my Bible.  Every day I try to find time to read His Word and listen to Him speak.  I hear Him, but thank God, He also hears me, and that’s why I talk to Him every day; we call that prayer.

Now let me tell you a little something about the flock that I’m resting in.  That flock is simply the church, and the fence that protects Jesus little lambs is simply the Word of God that tells me how I should live my life.  Now remember, I told you right up front that like the sheep I just can’t seem to do what’s best for me.  I am prone to wander away from God, so He gives me commandments that guide how I live my life as I am following Jesus my good shepherd.  The only problem is, like I said I am prone to wander off; like those dumb sheep, I am really good at finding holes in the fence and following false teachers, or as Jesus calls them, hired hands.  Those false teachers act like pastors and well, they can really fool you, but when trouble comes, when the devil comes, boy they’ll light out of there real fast, because they are only in it for the money.  Yeah, those kind aren’t real pastors because they don’t hear the Good Shepherds voice, and if they can’t hear it, how are they supposed to lead and teach me?  No thanks, I’ve learned that new and exciting things aren’t always what they seem to be.  I’ve learned to find rest by staying in the flock, where I listen to and follow Jesus voice as He preaches and teaches through my pastor, who is a real under shepherd, loved and led by the same Good Shepherd that I follow, Jesus Christ!

So there you have it, a way to witness without arguing or backing down.  If someone asks you if you’re really a Christian, one of Jesus little lambs, don’t get intimidated by the question, just answer it.  Now I know that many times those questions can be a little more like accusations; like they’re calling you a hypocrite and that very possibly is what they’re saying.  But that’s alright, because you see, they’re right!  We really are hypocrites in the world’s eyes; God calls us saints and yet we still sin.  So if they ridicule your faith, simply agree with them and say you really are a lot like a dumb sheep doing the things and going to places you shouldn’t.  You really do get angry and say hurtful things sometimes; you do think about yourself more than others; even more than God.  Agree with them, but tell them that you still hear your Good Shepherds voice teaching you and changing you.  He speaks through His law and tells you what you did was wrong; that it was sinful.  That voice, that Word from God causes you to confess your sin and ask for His forgiveness.  But then you hear Him speak again, you hear His good news, that says that He still loves you and forgives you.

And then, after you’ve gotten the hypocrite accusation out of the way, it’s time for you to demonstrate that you really are a Christian; ask them to forgive you for anything you’ve done or failed to do that has hurt them.  And if they have hurt you, well then it’s time for you to tell them that you forgive them just as your Good Shepherd has forgiven you.  Now, I know it can seem a little intimidating doing these things, but just keep reminding yourself that it is Jesus speaking and acting through you.  You are simply hearing and following His voice!

So now, the scariest part of witnessing is over.  You’ve identified yourself with sinners, even sinners like the one who is calling you a hypocrite; so now all that is left is to extend the offer to that person to become a saved sinner like you.  How?  Invite them into the safety of the flock!  Invite them to come to church with you.  Explain to them that what you experience every week, they can experience too!  They can know real safety and peace, even joy and fulfillment by getting to know the Good Shepherd’s voice.  Tell them right up front that at church, it is God’s Word, preached and taught, that saves and changes everyone equally; tell them that in that Word they too will hear the Good Shepherd speak. And if you like, you can let them know that God takes that same Word and applies it with water in baptism and he converts sinners into Christians.  Why you could even tell them that God’s care doesn’t stop there; He also feeds and nourishes our spirits with His Holy meal, where He combines simple bread and wine with His Word as He feeds us His very body and blood, all so that we will by faith know that we really are forgiven.

Oh, and don’t forget to tell them that there is safety in numbers!  If they will come into God’s flock, they won’t be alone.  Not only will the Good Shepherd Jesus Christ be with them, but so are all of us!  Make sure they understand that each of us knows that we’re no better or worse than they are.  We’re just lost sheep who’ve been found and are trying ever day to love each other as the Good Shepherd loves us; tell them we are learning to forgive each other too, just as God forgives us.

Now, I suppose you might still be a little nervous about this witnessing thing.  You might be worried that they’ll laugh at you and ask how all of this can be true.  And if they do, then all you need to do is point them to the very thing that saved you… the power of God!  Jesus said, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life (for my little lambs) that I may take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.  I have authority (and power) to lay it down, and I have authority (and power) to take it up again.” [John 10:17,18]

Where do you point them to see the power of God?  To the love of God, Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected for them.  Point them to Jesus who is God in human flesh, come to save us; Jesus who paid for the sins of the world, even their sins, so that they would not have to pay; Jesus, their Savior who like a Shepherd wants to lead them along with us to life everlasting.  Christ is risen; He is risen indeed! AMEN!

Familiarity Breeds Contempt!

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

Wednesday Evening Gospel Celebration, September 1, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of Song of praise and the sermon
 

A Fable, by Aesop, the African—a slave and a learned teacher of wisdom: When first the Fox saw the Lion he was terribly frightened, and ran away and hid himself in the woods. Next time however he came near the King of Beasts he stopped at a safe distance and watched him pass by. The third time they came near one another the Fox went straight up to the Lion and passed the time of day with him, asking him how his family were, and when he should have the pleasure of seeing him again; then turning his tail, he parted from the Lion without much ceremony.  What do you suppose happened to the fox the next time he met the Lion?  What if the Lion was hungry?

 Of course the moral of this ancient fable is the fact that familiarity breeds contempt.  In our gospel reading tonight it was the towns people’s familiarity with Jesus that caused them to dismiss him; to think less of Him than His Words and His miracles demanded.  The good town folk of Nazareth would never accept that Jesus was the Son of God, because they could not even accept that He was a man of God.  They knew Him.  Familiarity is a tool of the devil; a tool He uses to cause us to look down upon the ways and the things of God.  Instead of standing in awe of God’s presence through the simple person of Jesus, they sneered at Him.  Today, many of us, instead of standing in awe of God’s presence in our lives in simple things like the Word, water, wine, and bread, we may look upon these simple things as common and ordinary; things that could never be miraculous.  Yes friends, familiarity is a barrier to the gospel, but it is also God’s means to bring us the power of the gospel.I. The people of Nazareth who rejected Jesus did so because they thought they already knew Him.  They knew where Jesus grew up and they knew His mother, His brothers, and His sisters.  These Nazarenes represent a group of people that are still with us today, people who follow a way of thinking that says: “If you know the origin of something, you know all there is to know about it.  Case closed.  NEXT!”  For instance, some learned scientists have decided that the origin of man was in protoplasmic ooze, so man is nothing more than evolved protoplasm.  “Sorry God, we don’t need your account of creation that narrow minded people for thousands of years have refused to turn away from.  We learned men instead choose to preach, teach, and confess that man evolved from swamp scum!”  Some scholars have decided that love is based in man’s sexual appetites.  So love is no longer a commitment based on what is good and right, but instead on what feels good.  “Sorry God, but we don’t need your Word, which teaches that love is a commitment to You and our neighbor, instead we choose to preach, teach, and confess that if it feels good, do it!”

Another way that familiarity breeds contempt is by validating our misconceptions; misconceptions based on stereotypes—social and intellectual snobbery.  This way of thinking teaches us that race, politics, and social standing are more important than personal character and faith.  In our gospel reading this morning, you can still hear the cynicism and superior attitude hissing out in the way the good town folk of Nazareth said “Carpenter”.  After all, Jesus and His family came from a lower level of life than the brightest and best that become Rabbis and teachers.  How could He possibly have learned more than us.  He hasn’t been gone long enough to gain all of this wisdom.  Today, this thinking still plagues us.  The old prejudices and hatreds are still here, but they’ve been legislated away by laws that threaten to punish them as hate crimes.  Oh yes, those feelings are still there, but they are just hidden, swept away under a fancy judicial throw rug.

I’ve read that the most segregated day of the week in the U.S. is Sunday.  On any given Sunday you will find the rich worshiping with the rich and the poor worshiping with the poor.  We have black churches and white churches; Hispanic congregations and Asian congregations; traditional worship and contemporary worship.  You stay on your side of the worship tracks and we’ll stay on ours, and never the twain shall meet.  And to this many people answer, “Amen!  Glory, Hallelujah!”

With all of these obstacles standing in our way, isn’t it amazing that our Lord’s church can get anything done?  How many times has a dear member of a church been raised up by God to speak a Word of wisdom or love only to be dismissed because they’re too young, or they are too new or inexperienced in “the ways and Word of God?”  We say things like, “Why I knew her since she was a baby.  What can she teach me?”  Or maybe when someone speaks God’s Word we can only think of the mistakes they’ve made in the past, so much so that we can’t hear God speaking through them in the here and now.  Yes, with all of this familiarity and contempt, how does God get things done?

II. Well friends, He gets things done through the power and work of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus said, before He ascended into heaven that He would not leave us as orphans to find our way alone in this world; He said He would send us the counselor who would continue to teach us.  Friends, Jesus has kept His promise—you see, He’s gave us the supernatural ability to live by faith and not by sight.  By faith, we understand and believe that God has revealed His power through human weakness.  The people of Nazareth said that “Jesus can’t be the Messiah, because He is one of us.”  “Jesus can’t be the Savior of the world” declares the unbelieving world today, “because He died on the cross like a common criminal!”  And to this God smiles and simply says “Your ways are not my ways O sinful man.”

In Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians, he gives us yet another example of how God chooses to use human weakness in order to demonstrate His power.  Paul pleaded with God to take away His thorn in the flesh; his weakness that the devil used as a tool in order to cause him to lose faith.  What was Paul’s thorn?  I don’t know and neither does anyone else, but whatever it was you can be sure it was a weakness of some kind—a weakness in his human flesh.  When Paul asked the Lord to take away this weakness, how did the Lord respond?  He said, Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in (your) weakness”. [2 Cor. 12:9]  And to this Word Paul responded with these wonderful words of faith: “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” [2 Cor. 12:10]

 Do you want God to be strong within you?  Then you need faith!  How do we get faith?  We need to be in His Word!  “Faith comes by hearing the Word of God!  It’s that simple!  And when we have faith, we can trust in Jesus’ real presence in our lives, and know that He will provide all that we need to please Him and follow Him; when you are at that point, you will know that God is doing a strong work within you and through you!  Just as the apostles were sent out two by two to proclaim God’s Word without making provisions for their journey God also sends us out.  He wants us to know by faith that He has already provided all that we will need to make it through this journey we call life.  Through the preaching and teaching of His Word He nourishes us with divine power.  Through our own study of that same Word and our personal prayer life, God allows us to see how much He cares for us, and He allows us to see our love for Him grow as we learn how much He loves us!  As we live out His promises that were given to us in our own baptism, and as we feast upon His forgiveness at His holy table, we no longer look down upon His simple means of grace as simply the familiar activities of a boring church day, but instead we see all of these things as wonderful mysteries that God uses to draw us closer to Himself and each other.  It’s these simple things that empower us to go out to a dying world as His messengers, His Holy Ambassadors proclaiming His Word.

 III. But what are we to proclaim?  Well, whatever He wants us to proclaim.  Now, some here this evening may counter that they are afraid to talk about the Lord because they don’t know enough Bible verses.  But friends, we can’t let this stop us; instead we should follow the example of the apostles and latter the 72 disciples who went out 2 by 2 proclaiming a very simple message.  We need to remember that these people were simple fishermen and laborers who had very little education.  How much Bible do you think they knew?  None of that mattered to them, for you see they had the simple message of God…Repent!  Turn away from your sinful life style and trust in the love of God as given to you through the Savior, Jesus Christ.  Turn away from your fear and worries and trust in the loving heart of God, who pleads with you to turn to Him.  “Not enough” you say, “I need to say more or they may ignore me.”  Fine; then tell them your own story of faith.  Tell them why you love Jesus.  “But what if they look down on me because I am different than them?  Dear friends, the gospel, which is God’s message of love for sinners is not about skin, it’s about sin!  It’s not about race, it’s about grace.  The gospel crosses all barriers—race, age, social and economic differences are all removed by God’s power when you are sent by Jesus Christ.  All the walls of separation come tumbling down when you are giving your witness about God’s love.  When you are speaking as God directs, “whether they hear or refuse to hear (because of their sinful hearts), they will know that a prophet (an ambassador of God) has been (with) them. [Ezekiel 2:5]

CONCLUSION: Friends, let’s not get caught up in a numbers game, thinking we have to keep track of how many people received Jesus as their personal savior because of our testimony; God has never asked us to do that.  Instead, He simply asks us to speak His message of repentance and forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  Just as Jesus sent out the 12 He is also sending you.  He wants you to build relationships of trust with your neighbors.  He wants you to let Him create new friendships with people who are dying without knowing Jesus as their Lord.  Once they know you and trust you, they will hear your testimony…God’s Word of love for the world.  Once you have spoken, then just leave the rest in the Lord’s capable and loving hands.  May God continue to work His powerful and miraculous will through His simple means…even you and me.  In Jesus name….AMEN!

Baptism by Fire!

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, August 15, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

This morning God’s is speaking a very personal message to us; He is speaking to us about the cross of Jesus Christ!  It’s the same cross that has brought us peace, love, and happiness from God; but it will also bring us rejection, pain, and suffering!  It is a cross that demonstrates the passion of God for sinners and the walk of faith for those who are forgiven!  Through the cross God is saying that no matter where your heart is right now; no matter what you have done or will do, God loves you and wants you to turn away from your sins and turn to Jesus Christ alone to receive the pardon and forgiveness that He bought for you upon that cross.

This morning, God is telling you… listen now, don’t worry about what He is telling others, because He is talking to you right now; this morning God is telling you to turn away from the sin that has caught you and turn to the cross of Jesus.  He wants you to know that it really is that simple.  There is nothing more you need to do than to admit that what you are doing right now is sinful and that you need his forgiveness and real presence in your life.  He wants you to admit that on your own you are helpless to defeat that sinful nature.  He wants you to admit that you need Him more than you need the approval and love of anyone or anything in this world!

For many, and I trust for you as well, this is good news!  But to many more, this message is a threat to their way of life and their very happiness and existence.  You see many in this world only want to live for themselves; they seek glory and honor for their own lives and not for the God who created them.  They only want to silence the message of the cross, because the cross says that they must change.  The cross says that they must die daily to their sinful desires, and then live to give God glory!  They hate this message, because if it is true, it means that they are wrong; they’re life style is wrong.  So what are they to do?  Well, they’ve created a new message; a message of self-realization and fulfillment.  They’ve create a new theology… a theology of glory!

This morning dear friends, God is speaking to all of us and He warns us from our Old Testament reading to avoid these false teachers.  He says, “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes.  They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord.  They say continually to those who despise the Word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’” [Jeremiah 23:16-17] 

This morning God is warning us to avoid these false teachers; He is saying that He sees and knows what they are doing and they will be punished.  He asks us, “Am I a God at hand (only) and not a God far away?  Can (any) man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him?” [Jer. 23:23]  “Isn’t my Word like fire and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” [Jer. 23:29]

This morning dear friends, God is speaking to you.  Don’t worry about what He’s saying to your family, your neighbor, our nation, or the world, but know this, He is speaking to you.  He wants you to know that in the past He spoke through a nation, the people of Israel.  He called them to be a light unto the unbelieving world.  They were sent to call all nations unto repentance.  But they rebelled, which led to their rejection.  But now, God raised up a new nation.  A nation that relates to Him by faith in spirit and in truth!  God raised you up!  How did He raise you?  Through the cross of Jesus Christ!

This morning friends, God is speaking to you.  He is asking you to turn away from your sins and then turn to the cross of Jesus Christ so that you will know that you are saved.  Do you believe this Word from God?  Good, then live it out!  How?  By being His witness and ambassador of hope and love in a dying world.  Speak the truth, God’s truth, but speak it in love!

This morning, God is asking you to trust Him and follow Him.  “But follow Him where” we ask?  Follow Him to the cross of Jesus Christ.  It is the cross that Jesus had in mind when He said, “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!  I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!  Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division!” [Luke 12:49-51]

Dear friends, when our Lord spoke those words He was thinking about you; he was thinking about today!  When He spoke those words he knew that once He was crucified upon His cross it would set the world on fire.  He knew that people would know once and for all that there was no other way, no other religion that would please God except the true religion; the religion of personal faith that comes to us only through the cross of Jesus Christ.  He knew that this message of the cross would bring both peace and hatred.  He knew that through His death on the cross, those who received His gift of passion, suffering, and death would receive eternal peace with God.  But He also knew that those who related to Him by faith in this gift of the cross would be the targets of scorn and hatred throughout the world!   

This morning dear friends, Jesus speaks to us from His cross and He says follow me.  Suffer with me and do not lose hope.  But following Jesus to the cross is hard; it’s hard because we know it will bring division and suffering.  We know that we will be ridiculed and looked down upon, because we know that we will not only have to live a life of repentance and forgiveness, but we will have to speak this message to others; we will have to speak it to the theologians of glory!

This morning, Jesus warns us not to follow these theologians of glory.  He warns us that the time of judgment is coming for all of those who call evil good and good evil.  Listen to what He says:  “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A shower is coming’ And so it happens.  And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘(It’s going to be a scorcher)’ and it happens.  You hypocrites!  You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” 

“But Lord” we counter, “it’s just that I am afraid!  I’m afraid of the way people will treat me if I speak up!”  And to this God says, “Oh?  Are you more afraid of their judgment than mine?  Would you rather have your friends say, ‘away from me, I never knew you’ or me?”

Dear friends, this morning Jesus is showing each of us that we have all the proof we need to trust in Him and follow Him.  He is warning us not to be like the theologians of glory who certainly know how to test the weather and many other things but ignore the spiritual signs that God has provided to make us wise unto salvation.  This morning Jesus says that we must first remember that all of His Word is true and it will never be less true.  Remember the great work that He did for you upon the cross and then remember the very personal work He did for you within the waters of your own baptism.  Remember the consistent teaching of the church about sin, repentance, and forgiveness.  And when you remember, remember also that God is not a man that He should change His mind.  What was sin then is sin today.  Do not call good what God has called evil.  Remember that you have been called out of this evil world to relate to God by faith and grace, because of the truth of His Holy Word which has shown you your Savior Jesus Christ and His cross!  So live out this life under the cross.  Call sin what it is, without fear.  This is your baptism by fire.  The fire that first kindled in your Savior’s heart has now been poured out on you.  It is the power of the Holy Spirit which changes you and sends you to speak the very same message to other sinners who are not yet relating to God under the cross.

Dear friends, this morning God wants you to have the heart and mind of your Savior Jesus Christ.  He wants you to see how tragic it is that men and women today can predict the movement and growth of stars, split the atom, and even put men out in space, but they are blind to God’s will.  They know how to satisfy their self-serving desires but they refuse to know the will and love of God.  They know how to get to space, but they refuse to know how to get to heaven!  Our educated world and its theology of glory has a lot of knowledge about science and sociology but very little divine and spiritual wisdom. 

This morning dear friends, God is sending you out into this unfriendly world to speak this wisdom.  But He is also sending you out with this reminder of His love for you: His baptism of fire began the day he entered the Jordan river and allowed John to baptize Him.  When He went into those waters He had no need for a baptism and forgiveness of sins; but He went in for you!  When He came out of those waters he willingly took upon Himself the sins of the world, even your sins.  He did it to prove to the world and to you that He took upon His own body the entire load of guilt that you should answer for.  But then He also took them to the cross and by His suffering and death he removed the guilt of the world; He removed your guilt.  In your baptism He has soaked you with this same fire.  Now He asks you to live out this fire by speaking this message of the cross to a world full of self-serving sinners.  Why?  So that some might be saved; so that they too might know and be changed by His baptism of fire!  I pray you will do this very thing, and I ask this in Jesus name.  AMEN!

We are one as He is One!

Sunday, May 30th, 2010

Sunday, May 30, 2010
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

“Whoever desires to be saved must above all, hold the “universal” Christian faith.  And the “universal” Christian faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance.” [vs. 1-3 of the Athanasian Creed]

God is one.  There is only one God.  The one God has always existed from eternity as one God—and He always will!  God alone is eternal.  And to this, your Muslim neighbors would say a loud AMEN!  Does it surprise you to know that they will appeal to this very truth in an attempt to draw you away from your Christian faith?  You see, in addition to confessing that God is one, we Christians also confess that God is love, in fact we say that Love is the very essence of God.  Now your Muslim friends will never deny that God loves but they will deny that this love is the essence of God.  You see, they will claim that if God can’t be God unless He loves someone, then God can’t be God without someone to love.  So how can an eternal God be dependent upon His creation in order for Him to be God?  Muslims will tell you that although God does love, love can’t be God’s essence, because He is dependent on no one.  But this kind of thinking about God is a lie and it isn’t any better than the lies that come from people who worship many gods.  There’s no difference between having one idol and a half dozen.  Idols are idols.  The Moslem god is an idol.  The true God is one, but the mere acknowledgement of this fact doesn’t mean a person is worshiping the true God.  The one true God is also united within Trinity.  The only God who exists is the Triune God.  Any god who isn’t triune is not God because a god who is not triune cannot be love, and God is love.  Dear friends, please do not ever let any devil lead you away from this truth because it is crucial to your very salvation.  If God wasn’t love then he would not have suffered and died upon the cross for you!

The love of God is not an attribute that makes Him dependent on us.  It is the eternally defining attribute of God that defines His very essence as God in regards to His relationship shared between the three persons within the One Godhead.  When we say God is love we are also saying that God could not be love unless He was Triune.  You see, there’s an eternal unity of love between the Father who begets and generates the Son who is begotten.  This eternal unity of divine love exists as well between the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit who is sent from both of them.  But as I told the children, this is far too high for us to grasp.  You see, how God relates within Himself is far too much for us to comprehend.  After all, He is the Creator and we are the creature!

While completely understanding God is far above us, we can know about Him by paying attention to what He has already revealed about Himself.  We know from scripture that the Father has generated or begotten the Son on many occasions.  It was the Son and two angels who visited Abraham outside of Sodom and Gomorra to warn Abraham of the pending destruction of the two cities, so that His nephew Lot might be saved.  It was the God the Son generated by the Father who took on the form of a burning bush so that Moses might behold some of the Lord’s glory and receive God’s Law that would teach Israel and the people of faith how to relate rightly to a Holy and loving God.  There are many more instances throughout scripture that demonstrate that God the Father generates or begets the Son in order to accomplish the purpose of God, but for us, the best example is found in John 1:  “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” [John 1:14]

Do you hear in those words how the Son is now forever generated or begotten in human flesh yet He still possesses eternal glory, grace and truth.  Do you understand how together the Father and the Son send the Holy Spirit?  It was God the Spirit who was hovering over the face of the waters in the very beginning of creation. He was sent by the Father and the Son, and together they created the heavens and the earth-He was sent by these Words: “”Let there be light,” and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good. [Genesis 1:1-4]  Like a marvelous symphony God’s Word’s of Love spoke forth creation and goodness.  It was an eternal love generated and sent from the heart of the One true God who has always revealed Himself in three persons.  But we must always remember that we can’t divide the person’s from the One True God or else we will lose His essence, which is love.  What do I mean by this?

Well you see, while it is the Father who generates or begets, and it is the Son who is begotten but not made, and it is the Holy Spirit who is sent together by the Father and the Son, there are not three God’s but One. As One, the three persons created everything that is together.  The divine mystery of God’s triune nature is this: As One they have always existed and since God does not change they will always be One in glory and majesty.  There is only One Uncreated, Eternal, and Almighty God.  When we pray to our Lord in heaven we do not pray to three Lords, but rather we pray to one Lord because the Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, and the Holy Spirit is Lord.  Three persons united eternally in One essence of love, which is God! 

After all of this, I think that we all now agree that God’s ways are far above our ability to understand, so why am I talking about an eternal relationship of love into which you and I could never find our way?  

Because God has created a way-He has brought His love to us!  In so doing He has established fellowship with us.  But in order to enjoy all of the benefits of this relationship (eternal grace, mercy, and peace with God and each other), we must also faithfully believe that God the Son took on human flesh.  God did this not because He needed to, but rather He did it because He is love.  We are the ones in need!  We need God to come to us.  Although God’s voice declared all that He had made good, it was our own sinfulness that has forever turned good into evil.  Think now, in the privacy of your own hearts, who among us has not thought or done evil already this morning?!  Isn’t it true that without help we could never stand before a perfect and righteous God!  There is not a single thing that we can do to save ourselves…we need God’s mercy, pardon, and forgiveness.  And yet the punishment for sin is death, and that is precisely what it will take to pay for our sinfulness.  But as a true champion, our Redeemer God came to us in our own flesh and paid for our sins himself.  The entire God came to us.  Our creator wrapped Himself in creation, because only He could change our hopeless situation.  Why do I say the entire God came to us?  Because if you remember, we can never divide the essence of God; God always acts as one because He is one!  Now I know that once again, this is far above any of us to understand, but we must believe this truth because it is how God has revealed Himself.  Let me offer a crude representation that might make this a bit more intelligible:

Before a wedding, there were three women in the dressing room putting a dress on the bride, who was one of the three and she participated as well with putting on of the dress. We could say that all three were dressing her; and yet only one is being put in the dress. In a similar way, we see that all three Persons, as one God, created the one humanity, clothed the Son in this, and united it with His person, so that only the Son became man, and not the Father or the Holy Spirit, yet because God is One and not three, the Son who from the time of His birth as Jesus would now eternally be fully God and fully man. 

Friends, it was this same Jesus who lived the sinless life on our behalf.  It was this same Jesus who allowed Himself to be put to death by sinful men.  He did not have to do this but rather He chose to suffer and die for us, because God is love.  Please hear me, “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men,(because it was your sins that compelled God out of love to suffer and die for you.  But be of good cheer), God (has) raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” [Acts 2:23-24]  By His stripes you have been healed.  By His suffering and death you have been released from the eternal punishment for your many sins!  By God’s love you have been saved! 

At your baptism God’s work of re-creation was activated for you.  All of the benefits of His suffering and death were given to you.  The old sinful man and woman that was your identify at birth has now been put to death through His same Word of creation that was spoken “In The Beginning”. This re-creation of life from death is now yours because of God’s own suffering and death through Christ Jesus!  Dear friends, do you see what a wonderful gift of love is now yours?  You have been freed from your former body of death and you have been given a new life.  Embrace and cherish this gift.  Live out this new life with certainty that it is yours!  As wonderful as this new life is and as sinful and undeserving as we may be, we must not doubt that this gift is ours, because it was given out of God’s love.  And yet when the troubles of life creep in, we do doubt, we can lose hope, and that is why Jesus hasn’t left us alone in life as orphans.  He promises that He and the Father are still with us in love, because He has sent us the gift of the Holy Spirit, and where the Holy Spirit is, there also are the Father and the Son, because God is One! 

It is the Holy Spirit who moves our hearts to hunger for hearing and studying God’s Word.  It is the Holy Spirit that causes us to remember God’s saving love when we remember our own baptism.  It is the Holy Sprit that creates a hunger within us to gather at the Lord’s Table where we receive His very body and blood when we eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins.  It is the Holy Spirit that creates in us a clean heart, which in turn moves us to come to God in prayer, asking first for forgiveness and then for all the desires of our heart, with the assurance that God hears us and answers us according to His will.

Dear friends, because God is One and God is love, and because we are called into fellowship with Him by love, then we are also called into the fellowship of His Mission to seek and save those that are lost and dying, separated from His love because of sin.  This mission is from the Father, and the Son who is the very message of the mission. This message, which you have been given is nothing less than the good news about the incarnation, suffering and death of Jesus Christ for all sinful men, women, and children.  The message is that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  Since the source of mission is God the Father and the message of the mission is God the Son, then what of God the Holy Spirit?  Dear friends, the Holy Spirit is the very power of God’s mission.  MISSION IS HOLY SPIRIT POWERED!  What this means is that God’s mission can’t fail because He is the very source, message and power of that mission, but God always uses means to accomplish His mission.  He uses simple things to confound the supposed wisdom of the devil and sinful men.  God chooses to use you and me!

We are all called to be ambassadors of God’s love and we are to declare His message in our own words, but they are words that are centered in God’s love for us; they are centered in His Word, which is the very Word that has given us new life and sustained us while living out our lives in a sinful world!  And as we live out our lives gathered around God’s Word, the Holy Spirit is ever active within and around us, leading us out into our communities with the message of Jesus Christ.   

Dear friends, the Holy Spirit is united for eternity with the Father and the Son, and together They lead us by faith so that they may strengthen and grow God’s Church.  The Holy Spirit, sent by the Father and the Son propels all believers out into the mission field, our community, armed with His Word and Sacraments, personal witness and Christian living in order “to convince the world concerning sin and righteousness.”  And to this truth we answer, “Teach us to love our neighbor as you love us, and lead on O Lord, and let us be one in missionary zeal as you are One—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  In Jesus name…AMEN!

Familiarity Breeds Contempt!

Sunday, July 5th, 2009

5th Sunday of Pentecost, July 5, 2009

Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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A Fable, by Aesop, the African—a slave and a learned teacher of wisdom: When first the Fox saw the Lion he was terribly frightened, and ran away and hid himself in the woods. Next time however he came near the King of Beasts he stopped at a safe distance and watched him pass by. The third time they came near one another the Fox went straight up to the Lion and passed the time of day with him, asking him how his family were, and when he should have the pleasure of seeing him again; then turning his tail, he parted from the Lion without much ceremony.  What do you suppose happened to the fox the next time he met the Lion?  What if the Lion was hungry?

 

Of course the moral of this ancient fable is the fact that familiarity breeds contempt.  In our gospel reading this morning it was the towns people’s familiarity with Jesus that caused them to dismiss him; to think less of Him than His Words and His miracles demanded.  The good town folk of Nazareth would never accept that Jesus was the Son of God, because they could not even accept that He was a man of God.  They knew Him.  Familiarity is a tool of the devil; a tool He uses to cause us to look down upon the ways and the things of God.  Instead of standing in awe of God’s presence through the simple person of Jesus, they sneered at Him.  Today, many of us, instead of standing in awe of God’s presence in our lives in simple things like the Word, water, wine, and bread, we may look upon these simple things as common and ordinary; things that could never be miraculous.  Yes friends, familiarity is a barrier to the gospel, but it is also God’s means to bring us the power of the gospel.

I. The people of Nazareth who rejected Jesus did so because they thought they already knew Him.  They knew where Jesus grew up and they knew His mother, His brothers, and His sisters.  These Nazarenes represent a group of people that are still with us today, people who follow a way of thinking that says: “If you know the origin of something, you know all there is to know about it.  Case closed.  NEXT!”  For instance, some learned scientists have decided that the origin of man was in protoplasmic ooze, so man is nothing more than evolved protoplasm.  “Sorry God, we don’t need your account of creation that narrow minded people for thousands of years have refused to turn away from.  We learned men instead choose to preach, teach, and confess that man evolved from swamp scum!”  Some scholars have decided that love is based in man’s sexual appetites.  So love is no longer a commitment based on what is good and right, but instead on what feels good.  “Sorry God, but we don’t need your Word, which teaches that love is a commitment to You and our neighbor, instead we choose to preach, teach, and confess that if it feels good, do it!”

 

Another way that familiarity breeds contempt is by validating our misconceptions; misconceptions based on stereotypes—social and intellectual snobbery.  This way of thinking teaches us that race, politics, and social standing are more important than personal character and faith.  In our gospel reading this morning, you can still hear the cynicism and superior attitude hissing out in the way the good town folk of Nazareth said “Carpenter”.  After all, Jesus and His family came from a lower level of life than the brightest and best that become Rabbis and teachers.  How could He possibly have learned more than us.  He hasn’t been gone long enough to gain all of this wisdom.  Today, this thinking still plagues us.  The old prejudices and hatreds are still here, but they’ve been legislated away by laws that threaten to punish them as hate crimes.  Oh yes, those feelings are still there, but they are just hidden, swept away under a fancy judicial throw rug.

 

I’ve read that the most segregated day of the week in the U.S. is Sunday.  On any given Sunday you will find the rich worshiping with the rich and the poor worshiping with the poor.  We have black churches and white churches; Hispanic congregations and Asian congregations; traditional worship and contemporary worship.  You stay on your side of the worship tracks and we’ll stay on ours, and never the twain shall meet.  And to this many people answer, “Amen!  Glory, Hallelujah!”

 

With all of these obstacles standing in our way, it’s a great wonder how the church gets anything done.  How many times has a dear member of a church been raised up by God to speak a Word of wisdom or love only to be dismissed because they’re too young, or they are too new or inexperienced in “the ways and Word of God?”  We say things like, “Why I knew her since she was a baby.  What can she teach me?”  Or maybe when someone speaks God’s Word we can only think of the mistakes they’ve made in the past, so much so that we can’t hear God speaking through them in the here and now.  Yes, with all of this familiarity and contempt, how does God get things done?

 

II. He gets things done through the power and work of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus said, before He ascended into heaven that He would not leave us as orphans to find our way alone in this world; He said He would send to us the counselor who would continue to teach us.  Friends, Jesus has kept His promise—you see, He’s gave us the supernatural ability to live by faith and not by sight.  By faith, we understand and believe that God has revealed His power through human weakness.  The people of Nazareth said that “Jesus can’t be the Messiah, because He is one of us.”  “Jesus can’t be the Savior of the world” declares the unbelieving world today, “because He died on the cross like a common criminal!”  And to this God smiles and simply says “Your ways are not my ways O sinful man.”

 

In our Epistle reading this morning Paul gives us yet another example of how God chooses to use human weakness in order to demonstrate His power.  Paul pleaded with God to take away His thorn in the flesh; his weakness that the devil used as a tool in order to cause him to lose faith.  What was Paul’s thorn?  I don’t know and neither does anyone else, but whatever it was you can be sure it was a weakness of some kind—a weakness in his human flesh.  When Paul asked the Lord to take away this weakness, how did the Lord respond?  He said, Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in (your) weakness”. [2 Cor. 12:9]  And to this Word of the Lord, Paul would give the Church these wonderful words of faith: “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” [2 Cor. 12:10]

 

How is God strong within us?  Why when we have faith!  When we trust in Jesus real presence in our lives, and know that He will provide all that we need to please Him and follow Him, then God is doing a strong work within us and through us.  Just as the apostles were sent out two by two to proclaim God’s Word without making provisions for their journey God also sends us out.  He wants us to know by faith that He has already provided all that we will need to make it through this journey we call the walk of Christian faith.  Through the preaching and teaching of His Word He nourishes us with divine power.  Through our own study of that same Word and our personal prayer life, God allows us to see how much He cares for us, and He allows us to see our love for Him grow as we learn how much He loves us!  As we live out His promises that were given to us in our own baptism, and as we feast upon His forgiveness at His holy table, we no longer look down upon His simple means of grace as simply the familiar activities of a boring church day, but instead we see all of these things as wonderful mysteries that God uses to draw us closer to Himself and each other.  It’s these simple things that empower us to go out to a dying world as His messengers, His Holy Ambassadors proclaiming His Word.

 

III. But what are we to proclaim?  Well, whatever He wants us to proclaim.  Now, some here this morning may counter that they are afraid to talk about the Lord because they don’t know enough Bible verses.  But we can’t let this stop us; instead we should follow the example of the apostles and latter the 72 disciples who went out 2 by 2 proclaiming a very simple message.  We need to remember that these people were simple fishermen and laborers who had very little education.  How much Bible do you think they knew?  None of that mattered to them, for you see they had the simple message of God…Repent!  Turn away from your sinful life style and trust in the love of God as given to you through the Savior, Jesus Christ.  Turn away from your fear and worries and trust in the loving heart of God, who pleads with you to turn to Him.  “Not enough” you say, “I need to say more or they may ignore me.”  Fine; then tell them your own story of faith.  Tell them why you love Jesus.  “But what if they look down on me because I am different than them?  Dear friends, the gospel, which is God’s message of love for sinners is not about skin, it’s about sin!  It’s not about race, it’s about grace.  The gospel crosses all barriers—race, age, social and economic differences are all removed by God’s power when you are sent by Jesus Christ.  All the walls of separation come tumbling down when you are giving your witness about God’s love.  When you are speaking as God directs, “whether they hear or refuse to hear (because of their sinful hearts), they will know that a prophet (an ambassador of God) has been (with) them. [Ezekiel 2:5]

 

CONCLUSION: Friends, let’s not get caught up in a numbers game, thinking we have to keep track of how many people received Jesus as their personal savior because of our testimony; God has never asked us to do that.  Instead, He simply asks us to speak His message of repentance and forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  Just as Jesus sent out the 12 He is also sending you.  He wants you to build relationships of trust with your neighbors.  He wants you to let Him create new friendships with people who are dying without knowing Jesus as their Lord.  Once they know you and trust you, they will hear your testimony…God’s Word of love for the world.  Once you have spoken, then just leave the rest in the Lord’s capable and loving hands.  May God continue to work His powerful and miraculous will through His simple means…even you and me.  In Jesus name….AMEN!

God Is Love!

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

Trinity Sunday, June 7, 2009

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


“Whoever desires to be saved must above all, hold the “universal” Christian faith.  And the “universal” Christian faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance.” [vs. 1-3 of the Athanasian Creed]

God is one.  There is only one God.  The one God exists from eternity as one God.  God alone is eternal.  Would it surprise you to know that there are many other religions that will agree with you?  In fact, they will appeal to this very truth in an attempt to draw you away from your own Christian faith?  You see, in addition to confessing that God is one, we Christians also confess that God is love, in fact we say that love is the very essence of God.  Now these other religions will never deny that God loves but they won’t agree that love is the essence of who God is.  They will argue that although God loves, love can’t be His essence, because that would make Him dependent on someone, and God depends on no one.  But this kind of argument is false because it ignores the very essence of God.  The true God is indeed one, but just believing in this fact doesn’t mean a person is worshiping the true God; for you see, the one true God is also united within Trinity, and within His Triune nature God is love.  The only God who exists is the Triune God.  Any god who isn’t triune isn’t God because a god who isn’t triune can’t be love, and God is love.  Dear friends, please don’t ever let anyone lead you away from this truth because it is crucial to your very salvation.  If God wasn’t love then he wouldn’t have suffered and died upon the cross for you! [1] 

 

I. God’s love isn’t an attribute that makes Him dependent on us, but rather it’s an attribute that defines His very essence as God in regards to the relationship shared between the three persons within the One Godhead.  When we say God is love we are also saying that God could not be love unless He was Triune.  You see, there’s an eternal unity of love between the Father who begets and generates the Son who is begotten.  This eternal unity of divine love exists as well between the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit who is sent from the two of them.  But as I told the children, this is far too high for us to grasp.  After all, He is the Creator and we are the creature!

 

Dear friends, while completely understanding God is far above us, we can know about Him by paying attention to what He has already revealed about Himself.  We know from scripture that the Father has generated or begotten the Son on many occasions.  It was the Son and two angels who visited Abraham outside of Sodom and Gomorra to warn Abraham of the pending destruction of the two cities, so that his nephew Lot might be saved.  It was God the Son generated by the Father who took on the form of a burning bush so that Moses might behold some of the Lord’s glory and receive God’s Law that would teach Israel how to relate rightly to a Holy and loving God.  There are many more instances throughout scripture that demonstrate that God the Father generates or begets the Son in order to accomplish the purpose of God, but for us, the best example is found in John 1:And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” [John 1:14]

Do you hear in those words how the Son is now forever generated or begotten in human flesh yet He still eternally possesses eternal glory, grace and truth.  Together the Father and the Son send the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit.  It was God the Spirit who was hovering over the face of the waters in the very beginning of creation. He was sent by the Father and the Son, and together they created the heavens and the earth—He was sent by these Words: ““Let there be light,” and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good. [Genesis 1:1-4]  Like a marvelous symphony God’s Word’s of Love spoke forth creation and goodness.  It was an eternal love generated and sent from the heart of the One true God who has revealed Himself in three persons.  But we must not divide the person’s from the One True God or we will loose His essence, which is love.  What do I mean by this?

 

You see, while it is the Father who generates or begets, and it is the Son who is begotten but not made, and it is the Holy Spirit who is sent together by the Father and the Son, there are not three God’s but One. As One, the three persons created everything that there is together.  The divine mystery of God’s triune nature is this: As One they have always existed and since God does not change they will always be One in glory and majesty.  When we pray to our Lord in heaven we do not pray to three Lords, but rather we pray to one Lord because the Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, and the Holy Spirit is Lord.  Three persons united eternally in One essence of love, which is God!  So why am I talking about an eternal relationship of love into which you and I could never find our way?  

II. Because friends, God has created a way—He has brought His love to us!  In so doing He has established fellowship with us.  But in order to enjoy all of the benefits of this relationship (eternal grace, mercy, and peace with God and each other), we must also faithfully believe that God the Son took on human flesh.  God did this not because He needed to, but rather He did it because He is love.  We are the ones in need!  We need God to come to us.  Although God’s voice declared that all that He had made in the beginning was good, it was our own sinfulness that forever turned good into evil.  In our natural condition, there is not a single thing that we can do to save ourselves…we need God’s mercy, pardon, and forgiveness.  And yet the punishment for our own sin is death, eternal separation from God’s love.  But as a true champion, our saving God came to us in our own human flesh and paid for our sins Himself.  In Jesus Christ, the entire God came to us.  Our Creator wrapped Himself in creation, because only He could remedy our hopeless situation.  Why do I say the entire God came to us?  Because, remember, we can never divide the essence of God.  God always acts as one because He is one.   

Friends, it was this same Jesus who lived a sinless life on our behalf.  It was this same Jesus who allowed Himself to be put to death by sinful men.  He did not have to do this but rather He chose to suffer and die for us, because God is love.  Please hear me, “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men,(because it was your sins that compelled God out of love to suffer and die for you.  But be of good cheer), God (has) raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” [Acts 2:23-24]  By His stripes you have been healed.  By His suffering and death you have been released from the eternal punishment for your many sins!  By God’s love you have been saved! 

At the baptismal font God’s work of re-creation was activated for you; there at the font, you were “Born Again!”  All of the benefits of Jesus’ suffering and death were given to you.  The old sinful man and woman that was your identify at birth has now been put to death through His same Word of creation that was spoken “In The Beginning.” This re-creation of life from death is now yours because of God’s own suffering and death through Christ Jesus! [Jn 3]  Dear friends, do you see what a wonderful gift of love is now yours?  You have been freed from your former body of death and you have been given a new life.  Please, don’t take lightly what God has done for you.  Rather, embrace it and cherish this gift.  Live out this new life with certainty that it is yours.  We must not doubt that this gift is ours, because it was given out of God’s love.  And yet when the troubles of life creep in, we do doubt, and that is why Jesus has not left us alone in this life as orphans.  He promises that He and the Father are still with us in love, because He has sent us the gift of the Holy Spirit, and where the Holy Spirit is, there also are the Father and the Son, because God is One! 

 

It is the Holy Spirit who moves our hearts to hunger for hearing and studying God’s Word.  It is the Holy Spirit that causes us to remember God’s saving love when we remember our own baptism.  It is the Holy Sprit that creates a hunger within us to gather at the Lord’s Table where we receive His very body and blood when we eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins.  It is the Holy Spirit that creates in us a clean heart when we hear the sweet words of absolution, which in turn continually moves us to come to God in prayer, knowing by faith that He hears our confession and will always forgive and love us.

 

III. Dear friends, because God is One and God is love, and because we are called into fellowship with Him by love, then we are also called into the fellowship of His Mission to seek and save those that are lost and dying, separated from His love because of sin.  When we cry out in confession, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a sinner, and I live in the midst of a society of sinners,” God in His love for us, through His Holy Spirit, touches our hearts with the Gospel, and says, “Behold, your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” [Is. 6:4-8]  And by the work of the same Spirit, God speaks to our hearts and asks: “Whom shall I send, and who will go out to the world for us?”  And by the work of the same Spirit we are moved to respond, “Here am I!  Send me!” [Is. 6:8]

 

 Friends, the mission of the church is your mission!  It comes from the heart of the Father, and from the Son who is the very message of the mission. This message, which you have been given is nothing less than the good news about the incarnation, suffering and death of Jesus Christ for everyone.  The message is that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  [John 3:16]

If the source of mission is God the Father and the message of the mission is God the Son, then what part does God the Holy Spirit play?  Dear friends, the Holy Spirit is the very power of God’s mission.  MISSION IS HOLY SPIRIT POWERED! 

What this means for us is that God’s mission can’t fail because He is the very source, message and power of that mission.  God has invited us to work with Him in His mission.  For you see, God desires to use simple means to perform mighty miracles in order to confound the supposed wisdom of the devil and sinful men.  Along with His Word, God uses simple water, bread, and wine, and He chooses to use you and me!  He uses us when we speak His Word and give our witness to our neighbor.  And who is our neighbor?  Anyone that God puts in our daily lives!  Won’t you give it a try?  Won’t you tell others about your love for God?  Tell them how you were saved at the baptismal font.  Tell them how you grow in His Word and how your faith is nourished at His Holy table!  Why not invite a friend to come with you to church.  Don’t worry, you won’t be alone when you do these things…remember, you’re on a mission that is powered by the Holy Spirit!

 

CONCLUSION: Well this morning dear friends, we have learned that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are united together as one in love; in love for each other and God’s love for us, and together we are led together by faith so that God may strengthen and grow His Church which is centered in His love.  And to this truth let’s bow our heads and pray:  “Teach us to love our neighbor dear Lord as you love us, and lead on O Lord, and let us be one in missionary zeal as you are always One—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  …AMEN!

 


A paraphrase of an idea expressed in a professional paper by Rev. Rolf Preus-ALC April 2003

 

 

Tag…You’re It!

Sunday, January 18th, 2009

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

INTRODUCTION: In our gospel reading this morning we encounter Philip, a follower of John the Baptist along with His friends who aren’t mentioned in this reading, but who are nonetheless there; there’s John (the author of this gospel), Andrew, Peter, and James, all of whom were fishermen from the same region.  Philip, is about to try his hand for the first time at witnessing to his friend Nathaniel, who was also a follower of John the Baptist.  He’s excited because he really believes that the five have finally encountered the real-deal, the Messiah, the Savior of the world.  There’s just one problem, He’s doesn’t fit the popular image about the Messiah; He’s the son of Joseph a carpenter from of all places…a very small and insignificant region called Nazareth.  “Oh well” thinks Philip, “at least I can use the other four as my back up”.  “Hey Nathaniel, just think of who we’ve found!  Yes I said we, you know the boys and I, John, Andrew, Peter, and James…We found the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth!”  Nathaniel pauses, “Where did you say that He’s from?  Nazareth?  Can anything good come from that place?  Do you really expect the Savior of the World, my Savior to come from a place like that?  Come on Philip, get real!”  Philip pauses for a moment and says the same thing he heard Jesus say to them, “Come and see!”  And guess what….He did!

I. What part do our expectations play in our faith?  Well, Philip had high expectations in Jesus, so he really played up the importance of knowing and following Him as Savior.  Nathaniel had low expectations in Jesus, but His friend persuaded him to at least go and meet Jesus for himself.  The result was the beginning of the church. What do you want out of this morning’s worship service?  What’s the reason you’re here?  What were your expectations when you walked through the doors of this church this morning?  Expectations can be amazing things and they can lead us in ways we never would have imagined.  Hollywood uses expectations to hype their latest “big” movie.  I can’t tell you how many times I have been excited by movie promos and trailers only to be terribly disappointed once I’ve seen the movie.  Unfulfilled expectations seem to be the tragedy of the American way of life.  But with God, that’s never the case.  When our hearts are set on really seeking the Lord and all that He really is, and not just what we think He is, our God will always meet and beat our expectations. 

If you came through the doors of this church this morning expecting to be entertained and made to “feel good” then you will most likely leave here disappointed.  But if you came here this morning fully expecting to meet with Jesus, then you WILL leave here like Nathaniel changed and rearranged.  Like the first six disciples, your encounter with the Son of God and Son of Man will change you because of what you expect to find and because of what you actually find in Jesus.  You see, Jesus is the difference between your expectations and God’s intention for your life. 

So many times, when we enter into worship, prayer, and the study God’s Word, our expectations are way too low.  The first five of six disciples had very high expectations for their encounter with Jesus, but they discovered, even these expectations were still too low.  The sixth disciple, Nathaniel had very low expectations and Jesus changed his whole world by demonstrating knowledge about Him that only God could have, “When you were alone, deep in prayer with your creator, under the fig tree, I was there and saw you!”  Yes in both cases, and in our case, expectations seem to have very little to do with our relationship with Jesus.  Why is this?  Well, God’s Word in Ephesians (3:20) tells us that Jesus is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or even think.  So, let me ask you again—what are you looking for this morning?  Are you looking for a teacher?  Are you looking for meaning?  Are you looking for a Savior?  Nathanial was, and He was not disappointed, in fact He received far more than this!  Are you ready to receive all that Jesus has to give? 

 II. What does Jesus give to us today?  The very same revelation that Jesus gave to Nathaniel, He offers to us this morning!  When Jesus looked into Nathaniel’s heart and he found a sincere man who really wanted to have a lasting relationship of love with God.  He wasn’t a fake, lip service Christian, but rather he was a man who hungered for God, but knew that because of his sinfulness God must be the one to first move towards him, so Jesus did just that, he moved towards Nathaniel.  This is what Jesus wants to give us today!  Sadly, most people in our society lack this simple kind of honesty.  They profess their love for Christ but on their own terms; they still secretly love the world and the sinful desires of their own flesh; they promise faithfulness to Christ on Sunday but Monday through Saturday they would rather live out their social and political ideals instead of their faith!  This is the kind of false love that prevented the Jews from seeing Jesus as their Savior; this is the half-way kind of love that doomed the apostle Judas to hell, and it’s the kind of half love that almost trapped St. Peter.  Even today, we have whole denominations that seem to have embraced this phony half love for God with the mantra of a society that says, “If it feels good do it!  Sex without marriage is alright as long as you love each other” they say; same sex marriage can’t be wrong they say, because God does not make mistakes.  In their minds, Adam and Steve is just as valid as Adam and Eve.  Not only this but, they also demand that those of us who are trying our hardest to live out our simple faith and follow our Lord’s will, accept their sin and call it good.  St. Paul speaks of this duplicit mindset in our epistle reading when he says, “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?… Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” 

Now I know that this kind of faith is called bigotry and hate speak by some; they say that we are being judgmental and cruel, but is this true?  Who’s saying these things and why?  I know one thing for sure; it isn’t the working man and woman talking like this—demanding that others accept their behavior.  No, they’re too busy just trying to make a living in order to support a family; the last thing that they want to know about is what someone else is doing in their own bedroom.  But you see, these hard working people are the very people that Jesus called to follow him in the beginning of the church and they are the same people He calls today.  Jesus walked along the banks of the Jordan and through humble towns and market places, and He selected from the entire nation of Israel only those who pleased Him and who He considered to be best qualified for service in His kingdom. He intentionally avoided the big city lights of Jerusalem with its royal throne and political parties, its residences of the rich and famous. He refrained from calling the religious elite and rulers into His group. He gave the nation’s power players the cold shoulder.  He journeyed through the working class communities, through neighborhoods and market towns, and He selected the working poor like fishermen, carpenters, and good, simple, uncouth bumpkins. The great aristocrats “the Hollywood elite” of the day He left behind in Jerusalem, even though everybody assumed that these were the very people the Messiah would pick first. But Jesus did the opposite; He pursued His own plan and initiated His kingdom on His own terms with such an absurd simplicity that even the simplest of people could understand.

Christ’s only reason for such action was to prevent the high and mighty, the clever, and the powerful people from thinking that they could control access to the kingdom of Heaven and trample the simple God-fearing folk under their foot. To these lowly people, these working poor who simply seek God with all of their heart while raising a family, to these Christ says along with Nathaniel and you, “Behold, you are people of faith indeed, in whom there is no dishonest intent!”  “Truly, truly, I say to you, because you long for me and wait for me, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

III. What is this ascending and descending on the Son of Man?  This ascending and descending towards Jesus is nothing less than heaven itself opened allowing the angels and saints before us to gaze down upon us and allowing us through eyes of faith to gaze upon them.  It is a foretaste of the feast to come.  It is our new reality that we live in because of grace; because we believe by faith that Jesus is our Savior—God in human flesh who came to us to save us.  This is our reality every time we hear God’s Word preached or read; it is our reality because of our baptism into new life; and it is our reality every time we partake of His Holy feast receiving His body and blood in with and under the bread and wine!  Why do we do all of this?  For the forgiveness of sins! 

What does the forgiveness of sins give us?  Complete access, an e-Ticket to heaven!  How do we get this access?  Only by following Jesus Christ—only by responding to the invitation, “Come and see!”  But dear friends, don’t come alone…no this invitation is not just for you but for your children, your family, your friends, your neighbor, and yes even for the self serving politician, religious elite, and power broker.  All are welcome and you are the one that must extend to them the invitation.  So guess what?  Like Phillip and then Nathaniel, “Tag You’re IT!” 

May God continue to grant each of us wisdom, compassion, love, and mercy as we extend His kingdom one invitation at a time to all who will listen.  In Jesus name….  AMEN!  SDG

We Are One as He is One

Saturday, May 17th, 2008

Trinity Sunday, May 18, 2008

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

“Whoever desires to be saved must above all, hold the “universal” Christian faith.  And the “universal” Christian faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance.” [vs. 1-3 of the Athanasian Creed]

God is one.  There is only one God.  The one God exists from eternity as one God.  God alone is eternal.  And to this, your Muslim and Jehovah Witness neighbors would say a loud AMEN!  Does it surprise you to know that they will appeal to this very truth in an attempt to draw you away from your Christian faith?  You see, in addition to confessing that God is one, we Christians also confess that God is love, in fact we say that Love is the very essence of God.  Now your Muslim and JW neighbors will never deny that God loves but they will deny that this love is the essence of God.  You see, they will claim that if God can’t be God unless He loves someone, then God cannot be God without someone to love.  So how can an eternal God be dependent upon His creation in order for Him to be God?  Muslim and JW(s) will tell you that although God does love, love cannot be of God’s very essence, because He is dependent on no one.  But this kind of thinking about God is a lie and it isn’t any better than the lies that come from people who worship many gods.  There’s no difference between having one idol and having a few dozen.  Idols are idols.  The Moslem and the JW god is an idol.  The true God is one, but the mere acknowledgement of this fact doesn’t mean a person is worshiping the true God.  The one true God is also united within Trinity.  The only God who exists is the Triune God.  Any god who isn’t triune is not God because a god who is not triune cannot be love, and God is love.  Dear friends, please do not ever let any devil lead you away from this truth because it is crucial to your very salvation.  If God was not love then he would not have suffered and died upon the cross for you![1] 

I. The love of God is not an attribute that makes Him dependent on us.  It is the eternally defining attribute of God that defines His very essence as God in regards to the relationship shared between the three persons within the One Godhead.  When we say God is love we are also saying that God could not be love unless He was Triune.  You see, there’s an eternal unity of love between the Father who begets and generates the Son who is begotten.  This eternal unity of divine love exists as well between the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit who is sent from the them.  But as I told the children, this is far too high for us to grasp.  You see, how God relates within Himself is far too much for us to comprehend.  After all, He is the Creator and we are the creature!

While truly understanding God completely is far above us, we can know about Him by paying attention to what He has already revealed about Himself.  We know from scripture that the Father has generated or begotten the Son on many occasions.  It was the Son and two angels who visited Abraham outside of Sodom and Gomorra to warn Abraham of the pending destruction of the two cities, so that His nephew Lot might be saved.  It was the God the Son generated by the Father who took on the form of a burning bush so that Moses might behold some of the Lord’s glory and receive God’s Law that would teach Israel and the people of faith how to relate rightly to a Holy and loving God.  There are many more instances throughout scripture that demonstrate that God the Father generates or begets the Son in order to accomplish the purpose of God, but for us, the best example is found in John 1:  “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” [John 1:14]
Do you hear in those words how the Son is now forever generated or begotten in human flesh yet He still eternally possesses eternal glory, grace and truth.  Do you understand how together the Father and the Son send the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit.  It was God the Spirit who was hovering over the face of the waters in the very beginning of creation. He was sent by the Father and the Son, and together they created the heavens and the earth-He was sent by these Words: “”Let there be light,” and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good. [Genesis 1:1-4]  Like a marvelous symphony God’s Word’s of Love spoke forth creation and goodness.  It was an eternal love generated and sent from the heart of the One true God who has revealed Himself in three persons.  But we must not divide the person’s from the One True God or we will loose His essence, which is love.  What do I mean by this?

You see, while it is the Father who generates or begets, and it is the Son who is begotten but not made, and it is the Holy Spirit who is sent together by the Father and the Son, there are not three God’s but One. As One, the three persons created everything that is together.  The divine mystery of God’s triune nature is this: As One they have always existed and since God does not change they will always be One in glory and majesty.  There is only One Uncreated, Eternal, and Almighty God.  When we pray to our Lord in heaven we do not pray to three Lords, but rather we pray to one Lord because the Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, and the Holy Spirit is Lord.  Three persons united eternally in One essence of love, which is God! 

After all of this, I think that we all now agree that God’s ways are far above our ability to understand, so why am I talking about an eternal relationship of love into which you and I could never find our way?  

II. Because God has created a way-He has brought His love to us!  In so doing He has established fellowship with us.  But in order to enjoy all of the benefits of this relationship (eternal grace, mercy, and peace with God and each other), we must also faithfully believe that God the Son took on human flesh.  God did this not because He needed to, but rather He did it because He is love.  We are the ones in need!  We need God to come to us.  Although God’s voice declared all that He had made in the beginning good, it was our own sinfulness that has forever turned good into evil.  Think now, in the privacy of your own hearts, who among us has not thought or done evil already this morning?!  We must agree that without intervention we could never stand before a perfect and righteous God!  There is not a single thing that we can do to save ourselves…we need God’s mercy, pardon, and forgiveness.  And yet the punishment for sin is death, and that is precisely what it will take to pay for our sinfulness.  But as a true champion, our Redeemer God came to us in our own human flesh and paid for our sins himself.  The entire God came to us.  Our creator wrapped Himself in creation, because only He could remedy our hopeless situation.  Why do I say the entire God came to us?  Because if you remember, we can never divide the essence of God.  God always acts as one because He is one.  Now I know that once again, this is far above any of us to understand, but we must believe this truth because it is how God has revealed Himself.  Let me offer a crude representation that might make this a bit more intelligible:

ILLUS: Before a wedding, there were three women in the dressing room putting a dress on the bride, who was one of the three and she participated as well with the putting on of the dress. We could say that all three were dressing her; and yet only one is being attired in the dress and not the other two. Similarly we must understand here that all three Persons, as one God, created the one humanity, clothed the Son in this, and united it with His person, so that only the Son became man, and not the Father or the Holy Spirit, yet because God is One and not three, the Son who from the time of His birth as Jesus would now eternally be fully God and fully man. 

Friends, it was this same Jesus who lived the sinless life on our behalf.  It was this same Jesus who allowed Himself to be put to death by sinful men.  He did not have to do this but rather He chose to suffer and die for us, because God is love.  Please hear me, “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men,(because it was your sins that compelled God out of love to suffer and die for you.  But be of good cheer), God (has) raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” [Acts 2:23-24]  By His stripes you have been healed.  By His suffering and death you have been released from the eternal punishment for your many sins!  By God’s love you have been saved! 

At the baptismal font God’s work of re-creation was activated for you.  All of the benefits of His suffering and death were given to you.  The old sinful man and woman that was your identify at birth has now been put to death through His same Word of creation that was spoken “In The Beginning”. This re-creation of life from death is now yours because of God’s own suffering and death through Christ Jesus!  Dear friends, do you see what a wonderful gift of love is now yours?  You have been freed from your former body of death and you have been given a new life.  I implore you do not take lightly what God has done for you.  Rather, embrace it and cherish this gift.  Live out this new life with certainty that it is yours.  As wonderful as this new life is and as sinful and undeserving as we may be, we must not doubt that this gift is ours, because it was given out of God’s love.  And yet when the troubles of life creep in, we do doubt, and that is why Jesus has not left us alone in this life as orphans.  He promises that He and the Father are still with us in love, because He has sent us the gift of the Holy Spirit, and where the Holy Spirit is, there also are the Father and the Son, because God is One! 

It is the Holy Spirit who moves our hearts to hunger for hearing and studying God’s Word.  It is the Holy Spirit that causes us to remember God’s saving love when we remember our own baptism.  It is the Holy Sprit that creates a hunger within us to gather at the Lord’s Table where we receive His very body and blood when we eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins.  It is the Holy Spirit that creates in us a clean heart, which in turn moves us to come to God in prayer, asking first for forgiveness and then for all the desires of our heart, with the assurance that God hears us and answers us according to His will.

III. Dear friends, because God is One and God is love, and because we are called into fellowship with Him by love, then we are also called into the fellowship of His Mission to seek and save those that are lost and dying, separated from His love because of sin.  This mission is from the Father, and the Son who is the very message of the mission. This message, which you have been given is nothing less than the good news about the incarnation, suffering and death of Jesus Christ for all sinful men, women, and children.  The message is that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  Since the source of mission is God the Father and the message of the mission is God the Son, then what of God the Holy Spirit?  Dear friends, the Holy Spirit is the very power of God’s mission.  MISSION IS HOLY SPIRIT POWERED!  What this means is that God’s mission can’t fail because He is the very source, message and power of that mission, but God always uses means to accomplish His mission.  He uses simple things to confound the supposed wisdom of the devil and sinful men.  God chooses to use you and me!

Now while it is true that not all are called to be missionaries and pastors in the strict sense, all of us are called to be witnesses of God’s love in our own lives.  We are all called to be ambassadors of His love and we are to declare His message in our own words, but they are words that are centered in God’s love for us; they are centered in His Word, which is the very Word that has given us new life and sustained us while living out our lives in a sinful world!  As we live out our lives centered around God’s Word, the Holy Spirit is ever active within and around us, leading us out into our communities with the message of Jesus Christ.  When Jesus told his disciples and the church to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, he promised that He would be with them always. [Matthew 28:18-20]  Jesus also promised the disciples (that’s you and me), that He would send the Holy Spirit, the counselor, who would teach them the truth, and this truth will “convince the world concerning sin and righteousness,” He promised that the Spirit would bear witness to Christ, and that He would live in them and endow them with His gifts (John 14:16,26; 15:26; 16:7-8).  You are God’s disciples.  You are the means by which God intends to reach the lost.

Dear friends, the Holy Spirit is united for eternity with the Father and the Son, and together They lead us by faith so that they may strengthen and grow God’s Church.  The Holy Spirit, sent by the Father and the Son propels all believers out into the mission field, our community, armed with the Word and Sacraments, personal witness and Christian living in order “to convince the world concerning sin and righteousness.  And to this truth we answer, “Teach us to love our neighbor as you love us, and lead on O Lord, and let us be one in missionary zeal as you are One-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

In Jesus name…AMEN! 


A paraphrase of an idea expressed in a professional paper by Rev. Rolf Preus-ALC April 2003