Beware of False Prophets, Indeed!

July 17th, 2016

Eighth Sunday After Trinity-HL, July 10th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church, and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://www.tlcsd.org
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  [Matthew 7:15]

The reign of heaven has broken into our world in power through Jesus Christ.  And now, our Lord Jesus is in the process of bringing His Father’s saving righteousness to the world. Nevertheless, Christ and His church are still being attacked by enemies both from outside and from within His church; enemies who do not want God’s true Word proclaimed.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Jesus simply came out of heaven in power and destroyed the enemies of His church?  But that is not how God has chosen to operate in this sinful age; no, God’s reign is coming to us every day in hidden ways, in an unexpected forms, that to this sinful world seem weak and meaningless. The ultimate expression of this message is the cross of Jesus, where God defeated sin, death, and the devil.  Jesus’ disciples, you and me, will have to carry our crosses too.  Jesus drank from the cup of suffering in a way we could never fully understand, but He also gives each of us who are baptized in to His death a cup of suffering that we too at times, must drink from as we follow him.

None of us enjoys suffering; we spend most of our lives trying to avoid it, and yet Jesus says that suffering will come our way if we are truly on the narrow way of salvation and eternal life.  But isn’t there a way to avoid the suffering?  The false prophets would like us to think so!  They offer you a path opposite of Jesus narrow way, a very broad path, which they promise will supply the faithful with glory and prosperity right now in this sinful age.

So today, we will examine two ways of life, and two different kinds of prophets.  One way is narrow and it is called the path of the cross and repentance, and the other way is broad, and it is called the way of glory.  Which will you follow?  How can you tell the true prophet of the narrow way from the false prophets of the broad way?  Well, first let’s understand what God’s word has to say about prophets.

A prophet is a man who speaks on behalf of God and at God’s request.

He has a message to bring that comes from God, and it is the prophet’s business to see to it that the message is given clearly.  It usually takes a good amount of courage on the part of the prophet to proclaim the message, because it’s not just in Jerusalem where the prophets are harassed and even killed by the very people God has sent the prophet to speak His true Word to.

A false prophet is a person who speaks about God and the will of God as though he knew all about these things, but in reality he does not, and in fact he is actually leading the people who listen astray.  “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name,” says the Lord through Jeremiah, “I did not send them nor did I command them or speak to them.  They are prophesying to you… the deceit of their own minds.” [Jeremiah 14:14]

“And my people love to have it so,” is the statement God declares in another place. [Jeremiah 5:31]  The falsifying of God’s message is usually in the direction of making it say what the people want to hear and not what God says they must hear. “If they had stood in my council, they would have proclaimed My Words to My people, and they would have turned from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings.” [Jeremiah 23:22]

But it is not just in the Old Testament that we find mention of false prophets.  In our second reading [Acts 20:27–38]  and our Gospel lesson [Matthew 7:15–23], both St. Paul and our Lord Jesus warn us directly about them and speak of them as something that is to be driven out of the Christian church.  They are rightly referred to as hungry wolves disguised as gentle lambs.

Here is an important truth worth remembering: Since the coming of Jesus, God no longer speaks to us through direct revelation; in other words, don’t look for a new message to be proclaim.  What God would say to our generation is spoken through the Word and can be found there and only there.  The same responsibility that lay upon the prophets rests now on those who are properly trained and called preachers and pastors of God’s Word.  For pastors, it is a matter of faithfully and diligently speaking the message that God wishes us to proclaim.

Both Christ and the apostles warn us, that we the redeemed sinners who are gathered in Christ’s church have a strange eagerness to believe in false teachers who preach another message of prosperity; a message about a false Christ, and another false Gospel.  God’s Word says that, “the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths.” [2 Timothy 4:3]

False teachers sadly seem to always “have many followers,” [2 Peter 2:2], so the size of a congregation is no indication that the true Word of God is being proclaimed from their pulpits.

It is on the broad way of glory and prosperity that sinners will discover when it is to late that it’s path was in reality the broad road to Hell.

Jesus says to us this morning, that it is from the fruits of their preaching and teaching that you will know the false prophets.  So what is their fruit?  Well lets hold it up to the light of God and let Jesus show us.

These wolves in sheep’s clothing love to declare that God does not want us to suffer, so if you are suffering it is simply because you have not followed His will.  Now lucky for you, this glory preaching, false teaching phony prophet will tell you how to live your life so you can reclaim the prosperity they say God wants to give you.  Once you are comfortably under the false prophets control and traveling on their glory road they will also proudly proclaim to you that God also does not want you to be poor or sick, and if you are it is simply because you lack the right kind of faith.  And yes, you guessed it, they will gladly preach to you and teach you about their kind of faith.  I find it fascinating that there version of faith always involves some aggressive form of tithing and “giving until it hurts!”

You see dear friends the wrong unscriptural human centered prophets always start with what is seen and perceivable with our senses, and then from that perspective they proclaim a false understanding of the unseen spiritual reality of God.  The false prophets always start from what is on earth and then they lead you to look to Heaven.  Or another way to say this is that they believe that one may know the Creator by first celebrating creation.  But the correct, scriptural, God centered answer always starts with the hidden God and it turns over all questions and mysteries to Him.  Notice, I did not say the unknown God, but only the hidden God.  While God may be unseen he is very much known, and we all may know Him equally through His Son, Jesus Christ, the very visible and powerful Word of God!

Jesus Christ is both the true message of God and the true messenger of God.

The message of Jesus is always one of repentance; of turning to God through the narrow way of the cross, which also implies a turning away from the way of the world and it’s false promises of prosperity and glory.  In other words, the only message that a true prophet of God must preach is one that insists that God is right and we are wrong.  God’s narrow way of salvation is the only way to paradise and any other message or way is not only wrong but it consists of the very sin that separates us from God’s redemption for sinners, which is only obtained through the cross of Jesus Christ!

Dear friends, there is only one defense against the deceptions of the false prophets: the Word of God.  And so it is necessary to have such an intimate knowledge with the whole Word of God that you can discern God’s truth from the errors that are peddled by the false prophets.  The truth is that God does not wish that any sinner should perish, but that all of us would turn, repent, seek the cross of Christ that alone pays for our sins, and then follow the narrow way of Jesus until one day we are at home in paradise.

You started out on this narrow way of salvation when you were baptized.  It was there where you were saved by grace alone, faith alone, and scripture alone, all because of Jesus Christ alone!  Christ’s true church and His true messengers are called to continually feed your faith with this very same message.  They are commissioned to encourage you to confess your sins as illuminated by Scripture so that they may do what the Holy Spirit has empowered them to do… absolve you of those sins.  It is this message of repentance and forgiveness that the true prophets are commissioned to proclaim and no other!  The true prophets must not deviate from it, because then they would be leading you down the broad false way that ends in eternal suffering.

Dear friends, who do you say Jesus is?  The false prophets and glory preachers will tell you that He is the means to your blessing and prosperity here in this life, and then only as an after thought will they address the eternal life to come.  This is a message that always finds its origin from within a sinful heart.  But the message of the cross and the constant source of hope and faith for sinners is that Jesus alone is your Savior and God who promises and abundance of glory and prosperity not here in this sinful world, but there in your eternal home which Jesus has prepared and has waiting for you in heaven.

So this morning, I proclaim to you that you must stay on the narrow way of the cross; a way that will surely pass through both suffering and happiness.  It is a way that is hidden from the eyes of false prophets.  It is a path that may take you through both sickness and disease but it is leading you to eternal healing and restoration.  It is the way of the cross; a cross that tests everything!  And the way of the cross always ends in God’s love and  power, as it passes through suffering, humility, and shame in the eyes of the world.  But where it ends makes all the difference.  Oh friends, nothing is worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us, that is waiting for us on the other side in God’s paradise which has been prepared for you!  For you see, “now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” [1 John 3:2]

May God keep each of us on this narrow way and defend us from both the false prophets and their teachings.  I ask this in Jesus name…  AMEN!

With Jesus, A Little Is a Lot!

July 10th, 2016

Eighth Sunday After Trinity-HL, July 10th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church, and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://www.tlcsd.org
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

Our Gospel lesson this morning joins Jesus and His disciples after a successful missionary outing.  Each group was returning to Jesus with reports about how God had proven His faithfulness by providing for all of their needs, and even validating their message of forgiveness by healing the sick and casting out demons.  It was a wonderful time!  But it was also a time of emotional pain and disappointment; the kind that comes from devastating news.

Just as they were finishing up their reports, they were told that not far from them, King Herod had beheaded John the Baptist, a man that all of them including Jesus, had grown to love and admire.  Now, as Jesus looked around at each face of his friends and students, he came to the conclusion that He and they needed time alone; they needed to get away from the crowds, in order to rest, reflect, and learn.

So they left the crowds and headed to the opposite shore of Lake Galilee. St. John tells us that they had a little bit of  “alone time” with Jesus on the grassy slope of a large hillside, until Jesus looked off into the distance and pointed out a very large mass of people that was making its way towards their now, not so secret location; the crowd had found them again!

So for the rest of the day, Jesus stayed with the people teaching them and curing their illnesses.  As their true “Good Shepherd” Jesus was tending to their spiritual and physical needs.  And as the day was drawing to a close, and the disciples own stomachs began to grumble and growl with hunger they reminded Jesus of the hour (the dinner hour), and they began to plead with Him to send the people away, because they were hungry!  But Jesus answered them and said, “You give them something to eat.”  ‘What?  How!?  Even if we had that huge amount of money, where would we find a place so close that could even provide that much food?’  Where indeed!  There were about 5,000 in that group, and that estimate included only the men in the crowd; when you include women and children, the true size of the crowd was probably closer to about 11,000 people!  That’s enough to fill the San Diego Sports Arena!!

In my mind’s eye, I can see Jesus smiling and slowly looking around at the twelve stern and concerned faces, amazed at their lack of faith.

What a sad vignette.  This is the picture of a congregation of Christians that’s tired, hungry and frustrated by a lack of members and resources.  But we can learn something from this story; something eternal and life changing; something that just might reinvigorate life in our own ministries here and within our communities.

In our Gospel reading, Jesus has just administered a “Pop Quiz” designed to help the apostles along with us learn two things:

1.      What the true quality of our faith in God is.  And…
2.      The truth that God wants us to experience His faithfulness.

Once we have learned these two lessons, we will then also discover these two truths:

1.      With God, a little is a lot.
2.      To Jesus, there’s no such thing as leftovers!

Like the apostle’s, we all must discover what the quality of our own faith is-and Jesus used just one challenge to help the apostles discover the quality of theirs.

A challenge is like a riddle; you know there’s a way to solve it, you just have to figure out how!  Notice that Jesus didn’t ask, “Can you give them something to eat?” but instead he commanded them to do it by saying, “You give them something to eat.” A  response to this type of teaching requires a lot of thought and even discussion on the part of the students, and in regards to the teacher, He better know the correct answer to the riddle before he issues the challenge!

Now it’s easy for us modern day Christians to be judgmental of the apostles.  After all, we have the luxury of looking backwards into time.  It’s easy for us to wonder why they so quickly forgot the Canaan wedding miracle where Jesus turned water into wine.  We could remind them of Jairus’ daughter and even the widow of Nain’s son who both were raised from the dead.  Certainly we would have faired better than they, with our perspective of time, or would we?

Well this morning, I would like to ask you a question, and I want you to think for a moment before answering it: “What is the biggest problem, our own test that’s facing our congregation today?”  (Pause) Many might quickly answer that it is a lack of resources or a lack of members that’s holding us back.  But I submit to you, that the biggest problem facing the church today is not a lack of resources or church members, but rather it’s the same problem that the apostles had, a lack of faith.  And…

To our lack of faith Jesus asks us to report what little we have on hand.

To the 12 apostles Jesus asked, “How many loaves do you have?  Go and see.”  What did the apostles report to Jesus?  “We have 5 loaves and two fish.”  St. John’s gospel records that they finished their report with these words, “But what are they for so many?”

What’s the first question someone will ask when a necessary expense request is brought into almost any church council, “Where’s the money coming from?” But I submit to you that that’s the wrong question. The only question we should ask is: Is this God’s will for our church? And if it is His will, shouldn’t we trust Him to provide what is needed?  Like the apostles, our faith many times, even with the advantage and perspective of time is still very small.  But what is it that Christ said? “…if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” And we would add (if it is in keeping with God’s will). [Matthew 17:20-21]

What we must remember is that just as Jesus tested the faith of the apostles, He also tests our faith as well, by putting us in difficult situations with no easy answers. Why?  So that we can learn what the quality of our own faith is.  After asking and waiting so long, do you still trust Him to find you a job?  Do you trust Him to help repair a broken relationship?  Do you trust him to overcome your illness or disease?  Do you trust Him to replace your depression with passion and joy?  Do you believe that He will bless and strengthen our church, which is His church? You see, it’s during times like these, when prayers seem to go unanswered, that we may become frustrated, just as the apostles were. However, frustration is never what God wants us to feel! The faithful disciple will trust that God has answered their prayer, but it can only be experienced in His time.  The apostles fell short because they allowed their faith to be weakened by their own limited resources instead of seeking God’s limitless resources.

Both the apostles and even us today, seem to want God to work according to what we want instead of what God wants.  But in the midst of our worry and concern we hear similar words that Jesus spoke to address His disciples concerns, “Have the people sit down.”   I wonder what the disciples were thinking after he said that!  I can hear it in my mind: “What is he doing?  Why is He having all these people sit down as if their going to dine on this little bit of food?  Is he going to make them watch us eat our dinner?”  The truth is, sometimes we need to just sit down, relax, pray and wait on the Lord.  Sometimes we must simply learn to be willing to set aside our worries and concerns and simply wait for Jesus.

And so they did just that, they waited, they listened, they watched and then they learned and remembered that…

God wants to bless us by allowing us to experience His faithfulness!

Our Lord once said that “What is impossible with people is in fact possible with God.”  (Luke 18:27)  And now the God-man Jesus Christ demonstrates that truth by taking a few loaves and 2 fish and miraculously making it fill the bellies of over 11,000 people!  Only one person could do that … the sinless Son of God; the one who also followed His humiliating suffering and death with His exalting and miraculous resurrection from the dead to gain forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life for all of us; even for you!

Those who witnessed and personally benefited from Jesus’ feeding miracle, and we along with them who have believed by faith and benefited from His miraculous resurrection, joyfully realize and gratefully admit that all things do in deed work together for the good of God’s children and His church, only because we are called according to His purpose! [Romans 8:28]  And what is that purpose?  Well, the other three Gospels augment verse 11 by stating that Jesus had the apostles acting as waiters, by bringing food out to the people in baskets, all 11,000 of them.  The apostles were tired and they were hungry, but here they were in total amazement and invigorated with a new vitality as they partook in a miracle and served Jesus by serving the people who didn’t yet know Jesus!

Dear friends, God’s desire, His central concern after our own salvation is that as Christ’s disciples, you and me, should be continually working with Jesus to seek out and save the lost!

As I stated earlier, this message now leaves us with two eternal truths and they are: First, with Jesus, a little is a lot. The disciples’ reluctance to wait for Jesus to attend to the crowds was not really based on their concern for the people, but rather on their own tired bodies and empty stomachs.  While they knew the people must be fed, they could not see how what little they had could be used for that.  So they quit; they gave up and asked the Lord to bless their failure.  But Jesus wanted to do so much more with them, and He wants to do so much more with us!  If we will only trust in His promise to provide for our every need, then we will discover as the apostles did that day, that Jesus will provide all that we need as we follow Him.

And finally, I promised you a second truth, and it’s this, there are no leftovers with Jesus! Have you ever wondered why Jesus had the disciples gather up all of the remaining loaves and fish with 12 baskets?    May I suggest, and this is only a guess, that it was because those little baskets were intended by Jesus to be their lunch boxes, which Jesus Himself ensured were filled so that they could in-turn, each eat and be filled.

Friends, Jesus was faithful to provide for them, but He did it after they served their community; but what about Jesus?  Wasn’t He hungry as well?  Well sure He was, but may I also suggest that Jesus expected the Twelve to share their abundance with him?  Maybe 10% from each apostle?  Wow what a concept!  Friends, Jesus still pours his abundance out to us today, and He expects us to remember him in our giving to the needy, to the support of the church and with our own personal service to our congregation and the community we are located in.  May God help us to remember these lessons and believe in the miraculous real presence of Jesus that is still with us and teaching us today!  I ask this in Jesus name, AMEN!

We Need The Ten Commandments

July 3rd, 2016

Seventh Sunday After Trinity-HL, July 3rd, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church, and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://www.tlcsd.org
http://ORLCSD.org

Click here for audio of this message

Isn’t it true to say that one of the characteristics of a baptized born-again Christian is that we desperately want to please our Creator?  Don’t we struggle to keep the Law of God, the Ten Commandments?  Sometimes we do well at this and other times we fail.  But through it all, we know we have grace, the unmerited love and kindness of God, which was won for us by Jesus Christ.

But sometimes we may misuse this wonderful gift of grace by mistreating God’s Law in two ways.  First, we can develop a spiritually unhealthy pride in how well we keep the Law of God, and second we may become flippant with the law of God and our own sinful choices, simply because we are covered and protected by God’s grace.

The Pharisees were certainly not flippant with the law of God.

The Pharisees had made a profession out of keeping the outward appearance of complete obedience to the Law of God.  They radiated an aura of holiness and superiority.  The entire religious system of the Jews had gone from being a nation of people waiting for and proclaiming the coming of the Savior of Israel to a system of laws, rules, and regulations which were tightly controlled, taught, and enforced by the religious elite, the Pharisees.

Now don’t get me wrong, love for God was present in their teachings, but it was a love that was tightly regulated and compelled by a fear of God and His religious leaders.  Fear of the Creator is a healthy thing for creatures like us to have, but only when it is properly balanced with a natural and strong love for the Creator; a love that can only come from and be given from the Creator Himself.  This type of love is what Jesus taught as Agape or heavenly born love.  Where there is Agape love, love from the Creator, then creatures like ourselves thrive, because faith and trust in the love of God abounds.

But when the fear of God begins to disappear, the result is the opposite of the Pharisees false sense of pride; opposite yes, but just as deadly.

The second way we can choose to mishandle the Law of God then, is with a flippant or nonchalant attitude.

It goes like this: “Yes, I know that the Ten Commandments are important, but I am not a Jew, I am a Christian who is covered by grace.  My sins are taken care of, so I just live my life one day at a time without getting all hung up on the Law of God.”

And to this flippant attitude, St. Paul says, “(Oh) What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?  By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”

Do you understand where Paul is leading you?  He is trying to get you back to a right relationship with God by restoring a proper attitude of respect that all redeemed creatures must have towards their Creator and His law.  Respect is simply a divinely instilled balance of both fear and love for God.  We should fear and love God so that we understand what it means to be baptized into Christ Jesus, baptized into His death upon the cross.  St. Paul is teaching us that we need to understand that through the power of God our sinful natures not only died with Christ upon the cross but we were also laid dead with Him within the tomb.  Why?  So that Just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too, in our new redeemed, baptized, and obedient nature might rise as well.  And so by faith, we understand that one day, we too will be raised into a new life perfected by God, as we live out our lives with Jesus for eternity within God’s Paradise, which Jesus restored.

You see, because you are baptized, you are not your own; you have been purchased with a great price, which is the life blood of Jesus Christ.  You have been redeemed from the power of sin, death, and the devil, and filled with the Spirit of God.

Today, Jesus speaks a truth that only his true disciples will understand; it is a truth that allows us to correctly understand the Law of God, and through that understanding we are completely emptied of our pride and made ready to receive the life changing Gospel, which fills us with the love of God and a certainty that our sins really are forgiven through the work of Jesus upon the cross; a work which alone restores us and brings us back to a right relationship of fear, love and trust with our Creator.

Today Jesus proclaims this very important truth: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”

What does Jesus mean when He says that He has come to fulfill the Law?  Is He simply saying that because of Him the Law can’t hurt us anymore because He satisfied its demands for us?  Well yes, that’s part of it, but there is so much more for us within the work of Jesus.

Think of the Law of God and all of the Old Testament as a serving cup.  It was all that was written concerning the life, work, and ministry of the Messiah who would come and restore God’s people of faith.  And now, He has come, and He has done all that was declared He would do; but never forget who He did it for; He did it for sinners, He did it for you!  So again, think of the Law of God as a serving cup, or a chalice that is filled with all of Jesus’ work and promises which are recorded and given to sinners within the gospels and the entire New Testament.

These are the things that bring and give Jesus to you.  So do you see, you can’t have one without the other; you can’t have the contents without the cup!  And what good is the cup if it is empty?  As we drink the gospel, we also drink from the cup of the Old Testament.  It is the gospel that gives us a new obedience to not only want to keep the Law of God, but it also gives us the ability to keep it.  And when we fail, and we do and we will, we are given the grace of God, the forgiveness of sins, which is ours through Jesus Christ.

Now here is where you will see how Jesus fulfillment of the Law and Prophets not only sets you free from the bondage and condemnation of the Law, but it also invites you into that fulfillment of the Law as a participant.

The Bible teaches us that all men have sinned, “None is righteous, no, not one; … all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  And this is because our very nature, our inner self contains something that naturally rises up against God.  The Bible calls it “the flesh” and says that it can never be subject to the law of God. [Romans 8:7]

And still God’s law remains.  It does not care that our sin prevents us from keeping it, but rather it just insists that you do it.  Another way to say this is that the Law of God tells us who we must be if we want to stand in the presence of our perfect Creator.  The law demands that we be perfect because God is perfect.

So you see, Jesus is very serious when He insists that no one can get around the demands of the law of God.  Jesus’ Gospel doesn’t get rid of the law but rather He teaches that He was the only one who could perfectly fulfill it, and that He did that very thing for you!  When Jesus rebuked the additions that the Pharisees had made to God’s law, He did that because even those additions fell short of God’s perfection, which the Law demanded.  Jesus said that His disciples would not enter the kingdom of God unless their righteousness exceeded the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees.  No, Jesus had not come to get rid of the law.  Not even a jot or tittle of it.  All of the law is good; it comes from God.  And because all of the Law is good, we should never think that we can pick and choose which laws we think are most important.  “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of it all.” [James 2:10]

So who can be saved?  The disciples asked that question in their day.  And Jesus answered: “With men it is impossible, but not with God.  For all things are possible with God.” [Mark 10:26]  Paul puts it this way: “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: (By) sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh.” [Romans 8:3]  Once again, we are face to face with the fact that redemption, our salvation is completely beyond us and wholly a work of Christ.  You see, in our baptism, Jesus has solved our lack of righteousness, by covering us with His own.  This is the basis on which our entire Christian faith stands and rests upon.

Whoever believes in Jesus is free from the condemnation of the law.  In spite of your many sins you can be a child of God.  But you aren’t free from what the Bible speaks of as your service of righteousness to God and your neighbor, or your obligation to keep God’s law.

You were once a servant of sin, before you were baptized, but now you have become a “servant of righteousness.” [Romans 6:18]   By the Spirit of God, you are now enabled to use God’s law as a sort of policeman over your soul and a judge over your flesh, but not your spirit, because that is new and free since your baptism.  Everyday your baptized nature is reminded in various ways of the same challenge that God first spoke to Cain: “If you do well, will you not be accepted?  But if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.”  [Genesis 4:7]  For you dear Christian, the commandments have become a useful aid to help you remember the difference between right and wrong, and then by God’s Spirit, to overcome evil with Christ’s goodness.

So remember this, you who have been baptized and believe in the work of Jesus; you are not alone, for you see, you possess the Spirit of God who lives within you.  And when you “walk by the Spirit” so that it is Jesus who is at work within you, then the demands of the law have been fulfilled. [Galatians 5:16, 17]

But also remember dear baptized ones, you have both the Spirit and your own flesh to deal with, so in this life, there will always be a clash and constant battle between the two.  So we must remember that the fulfillment of the law will never be complete in this life, and that it can never be through the keeping of the law that we are made right and acceptable to God.  But rather it is entirely because God came to you through His Son Jesus Christ and did for us what we could not do ourselves.  And where we have Jesus, we will always have faith, forgiveness and love.  Oh yes, and we are also guaranteed eternal life.  In Jesus name… AMEN!

Where Is Your Home?

June 26th, 2016

Fifth Sunday After Trinity-HL, June 26th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church, and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://www.tlcsd.org
http://ORLCSD.org

Click here for audio of this message

Lord Jesus, You have said, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.” [Luke 16:10] In these Words you teach us that you desire that our conduct within our earthly lives should reflect our higher and greater heavenly calling that you have given to us within the holy waters of our baptism. Help us O Lord, so that we will not turn away from the truth that the mirror of your Word shows us, which we will now hear.  If we discover Your word condemns us, save us and prevent us from trying to save ourselves! Help us to remember that we should judge ourselves now in your Word, so that You will not have to condemn us later. By Your Holy Spirit teach us to regret the misery of our sinfulness now so that we may rejoice in the blessed gift of a new and forgiven life in eternity.  Help us to humble ourselves here so we might be exalted there. Help us to weep here so that we may laugh there. So now we ask O Lord that You make Your word a taste of life for each of us. Make it medicine for the sick, strength for the weak, and a cover for the strong. Hear us, O Jesus, for the sake of Your holy, saving name. Amen.

Here’s a question that you may have been asked by someone before, “Are you born again?”

How did you answer?  If you’ve been baptized, the answer is of course a resounding “Yes!”  But how can you answer so confidently?  Now before you give an answer, let’s all of us remember that being “Born” or being “Born-Again,” is something that we played no part in.  Life is always God’s to give and to take away.  So keeping this in mind, I believe the question and the answer should point our hearts and minds towards the source of our “rebirth” and the instrument that was used.

The source of rebirth is God and the instrument or means of that rebirth is the Word of God, which is normally first given to a person through the sacrament of Holy Baptism; that is the place where you were washed and recreated through the Word of God, a place where you were made right with God through the cross and life blood of Jesus Christ; in short that is the place where God changed your home address from sinful earth to paradise restored, a place where you will eternally belong in a condition of peace with God and each other.

So that being said, where is your home?

In our gospel lesson this morning (Luke 5:1–11), we are dropped into the second calling of Peter, or the calling of his vocation. The first time Jesus called Peter was through the invitation of Peter’s brother Andrew (John 1:25-42).  It was within this first calling that Peter already baptized by John the Baptist would have begun the life of a disciple; would have begun a journey in which the Master was daily teaching him that his true home was not to be found on earth but in heaven with Jesus simply because he continued to follow and trust Jesus.

When Jesus issued a call of discipleship, He simply said, “Follow me.”  And from that point on, it was understood that if a person responded to the call of discipleship, they were required to follow Jesus who would be their Master and teach them in both Word and example.

The most important thing for a disciple of Jesus to do then was to follow Him and willfully come under His influence.  So a disciple of Jesus then and now must learn from Him, and through this learning process, they would see and hear such amazing things that they otherwise would never have experienced.  Today, Jesus Himself says to all of His disciples who have responded to His call, “If you continue in my Word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Something happens to a person once they become a disciple of Jesus; they are set free from the bondage of sin; or simply put, they are born again!  This new birth, this transformation from being a citizen of the world to being a citizen of heaven happens because the Word of God brings the power of God, which is the only way to experience new birth and a change of mind.  The disciples of Jesus who are willing to listen to Him and follow Him are continually welcomed to be His disciples.  And while they follow and listen, they begin to understand the truth… God’s own truth.  They listen because they have been born again… because they have a heavenly mind.  So now, let’s discover…

How the Heavenly Minded Christian Fulfills his Earthly Calling.

Let’s look at Simon Peter and the excellence he demonstrates in living out his earthly calling.  At the time of his calling he had been a Christian for almost a year, but since Christ hadn’t yet called him into the office of preaching, he not only remained in his calling as a fisherman, but he did it with a greater degree of excellence after he was “born again.” According to our gospel lesson, Jesus not only found Simon Peter working, washing his nets, but he was the kind of worker who could honestly say to Jesus: “Master, we have toiled all the night.” And now, when Christ asks him after a long night of work to sail out again, after the nets have been cleaned, he does not complain and try to make Jesus understand how tired he is, no instead, he obeys God’s call to work.

Here’s another thing we learn from the life of Simon Peter; we can learn that a born-again Christian displays a heavenly mind, not by despising and neglecting his earthly calling so that he has more time to concentrate on prayer and Bible study, but by embracing his earthly calling as the very thing that pleases God.  Oh there are certainly many times that a “born again” Christian will and should seek times of relaxation and recreation, but not because they’re lazy or because they’re a lover of pleasure, but because they know that they’ll be more efficient and productive in their work if they are rested. For a born again Christian, every moment of life whether at work or play, is a gift from God and another opportunity to praise Him.

Here is another truth about heavenly-minded Christians: When others employ them, they can rely on them. Not only is there no better churchgoer than a heavenly minded Christian, but there is also no better employee or manager than a born-again Christian.  In other words, this world will never find a more diligent, conscientious and faithful worker than a born-again Christian. The more heavenly minded a Christian is, the less ashamed they are of even the humblest dirty jobs, right down to the washing of filthy fishing nets or even the cleaning of toilets.  A heavenly-minded Christian then works at whatever task is before them because God has said, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread,”  (Genesis 3:19) and “You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.” [Psalm 128:2]  Now don’t get me wrong, a born-again Christian should seek to find pleasure in their work, but it isn’t the reason they work; they work because they wish to please God.

And may I point out another important characteristic of a born-again Christian?  No matter how faithful they are in their earthly vocation, they will never neglect their heavenly calling to gather around God’s Word and Sacraments.  Simon-Peter worked all night, he was tired, but when Jesus asked to use his boat to preach the gospel, he dropped everything that distracted him and rowed out with Jesus so that Jesus could use his boat as a pulpit; so that he could hear the Word of God.  How unfortunate today that so many use their employment as a reason to excuse themselves from gathering at church to hear their Lord speak words of forgiveness and strength.  A born again Christian will never accept an earthly calling that would force them to give up attending God’s Divine service, even if it meant becoming wealthy.

The truth is, Christians with a heavenly mindset begin to think in a new way; they’ve discovered that even though their work in this world is necessary, work and care for their souls is even more important.  They have discovered that there must be time for hearing and meditating upon God’s Word and receiving His Holy meal.  They have also discovered that if God would allow them to become sick they would not be able to work, and then they would be forced to trust in His care for both their body and their soul.  This is why the heavenly minded, born-again Christian is willing to suffer the threat of harm and loss in the things of this world so that they can hear and meditate on God’s powerful and transforming Word.

Now, let’s allow God to teach us…

How He has determined that we will become and remain born again, heavenly-minded Christians.

It’s God’s will that we discover and remain at both the cross of our Savior Jesus Christ and the most blessed font of salvation where we were baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  This is the only place that a sinful person of the world can become born again and remain a heavenly minded Christian.  While there are many who claim the name of Christian, there are really only a blessed few who are truly born-again.

So how can we know that we really are born-again?  By staying close to Jesus.

Let’s look again at Simon Peter in our Gospel reading.  Peter became the heavenly-minded Christian that he was because he followed his master Jesus and allowed His Word to transform both his sinful heart and mind.  We have heard that after Simon Peter brought in the great catch of fish with the help of his coworkers, he realized that He was in the presence of the almighty power of God as Jesus sat in his boat.  When he properly understood who Jesus was, he trembled with fear, and “fell down at Jesus knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

These words of Simon Peter give us the key to understanding the mystery of a truly born-again, heavenly minded Christian.  Peter’s new born again nature like ours, is founded upon a living and deep knowledge of our natural sinfulness and worthlessness before God.  But it is also founded upon the great grace and mercy of Jesus Christ.  Peter’s great fears were not found in loss of employment, physical illness nor disease, but in the spiritual sickness of his sinfulness and the eternal death it brings.  But Peter knew where to bring his fear of sin; he threw himself at the feet of Jesus and begged for forgiveness and salvation.

Jesus would have us do the very same thing today.  He would have us see the nature of our spiritual illness that is sin, and then accept by faith His sweet absolution; the truth that He desires that each of us would turn to His cross and receive forgiveness.  You see, the cross of Jesus is the only place that God has promised and provided salvation for the world.  And this work of salvation for the world is given to you personally in the water’s of your own baptism.  There at the font, God has indeed promised you that you have been born again and given a heavenly mind.

Dear friends, it is only through the call of discipleship that we can receive the gift of salvation.  It is only through the life, death, and the resurrection of Jesus that this sinful world can be made right with God.  And in the waters of your own baptism, God has given you both a new life and a new home.  Every day for you dear baptized and born-again Christians is a new day with Jesus as His disciple; another day to both follow and learn from the Master.

To follow Jesus doesn’t mean that you must give up a normal occupation, but it does mean that we should seriously begin seeking Jesus where He can be found, in His church, His Word, and His sacraments and even with us as we work and witness to both His presence and saving love for sinners.  Therefore it is written concerning the first disciples at Jerusalem, that “they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers.”

May God continue to move our hearts to do this very thing, in Jesus name… AMEN!

On Obeying the Word of God

June 19th, 2016

Fourth Sunday After Trinity-HL, June 19th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church, and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://www.tlcsd.org
http://ORLCSD.org

Click here for audio of this message

If you remember, last week we talked about becoming a Christian.  Today, I would like to talk about what it means to live out that Christian faith, specifically we will look at our new obedience to God’s Word and what effect that should have in our lives and what dangers we face when we are not properly living out our Christian faith.

When the Word of God first comes to us, it comes and floods our hearts with mercy and forgiveness, which then moves us to demonstrate those same things within our own lives.

In our Old Testament lesson (Genesis 50:15-21) we see this demonstrated beautifully.  If ever there was a man who seemed to be given a reason to judge others and even hold onto a grudge, it was Joseph.  Bullied as a child, sold to slave traders as an adolescent, Joseph had many reasons to remember and to pay back his brothers for all of their evil.  But God was with Joseph.

Sold into slavery yes, but God provided in the midst of his servitude, and so Joseph became the head servant of a very rich household.  But then it all fell apart and Joseph was imprisoned for a crime he did not commit.  Imprisoned yes, but then God made a way for Joseph to become the warden of the very prison he was confined to.  But then it seemed that all of that fell apart too, as Joseph was once again falsely accused and facing hard time.  But God made a way out of that tight spot, and Joseph was given the ear of Pharaoh, and Pharaoh eventually made Joseph second in command, answering only to Pharaoh.

And now standing before Joseph were the brothers that bullied and banished him.  Now was the time for judgment and pay back, or was it?  Standing before his brothers and in the stead of a merciful God, Joseph knew what God would have him do; it was the very thing God had done for Joseph; Joseph would show mercy.  “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?  As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”

In these Words, Joseph was demonstrating a man controlled by the Spirit of God and so He was compelled to act for God.  In these Words, Joseph was pointing towards the coming Savior, Jesus Christ, the very Son of God who would take the evil intentions of men and their cross and turn it around as God’s way to “bring it about that many people should be kept alive,” and spared the death penalty for their sin.

This is then not only the effect that God’s Word had in Joseph, but it is also the effect that God wants to have in our lives now in this age, as Ambassadors for Christ.  But be forewarned, even as the Holy Spirit of God is providing us with a new spirit of obedience to the Word of God, we also face the danger of falling to a spirit of pride and judgment.  You see…

When people begin to take the Word of God seriously, they also learn to love their success in keeping the commandments of God.

As the saints of God, isn’t it true to say that we struggle to live out our new baptized natures; we struggle to live a life that is pleasing to God.  We want God to know that we take His call of faith seriously, and because of that, we want to be doers of His Word and not just hearers.

This isn’t a bad thing; it’s not a bad way to begin our walk with Jesus.  What was it that Jesus said to the rich young ruler who asked Him what he must do to gain eternal life, “Keep the commandments!”  And isn’t that precisely what we are trying to do as we live out our Christian faith?

But as so often happens, people who begin to walk by faith in the new life of baptism, begin to believe that they are becoming much better at being good, and then they think it is becoming easier for them to “live a good Christian life.”  Some people may even think as St. Paul formerly thought, that in “regards (to) righteousness under the law—(they are) blameless.”

So where did they go wrong; where do we go wrong?  Well the mistake we sinners inevitably seem to make is that we feel we have a license to compare ourselves to others.  Don’t we find ourselves being thankful that we are not like old “so and so.”  Maybe we’ve even caught our selves thinking that if “old sinner so and so” really wanted to change, then they could, just as we have.  But it is precisely because we judge others that we find ourselves being judged by God.

When we find ourselves judging others, we should also discover that we have not really been taking the law of God seriously, because we have arbitrarily chosen who we will judge and what we will use as our standard to judge.  And because we’ve done this, we have lost the most important standard of all… justice and mercy and faithfulness.  Therefore Jesus reminds us that he who judges others will himself be judged.  So…

If we really want to take the commandments of God seriously we will stop comparing ourselves with others.

This is because God’s law demands that instead of comparing ourselves to others, we must compare ourselves only with God, because only He is perfect.  In other words, we ought to be perfect as God is perfect, merciful as He is merciful, holy as He is holy.  You see, the law does not give us any possibility to be satisfied with ourselves; you can never say I’ve arrived.  This is because the knowledge of sin, our sin, comes to us through the law.

Our mouths are shut as every one of us stands guilty before God.  The rich young ruler who approached Jesus knew that something was missing in him, even though he did everything he could think of to be a good man.  And when the crowd brought the woman caught in adultery before Jesus to be stoned, it was the elders in the group who dropped their stones first and slithered away out of shame, when Jesus said that he who was without sin among them should be the one to cast the first stone.

So now hear this good news and have faith in it.  It is God’s will that just as His Law has shown us that we can never live up to His holy standards, and that we have no right to judge other people’s salvation, it is also His desire that through the same Law, each of us would be forced to see our great need for a Savior who alone can make us right with God.  It is God’s will then that His law would point your guilty conscience towards the cross of Jesus where every sin, even our sinful desire to judge others was put to death.  If we will begin to listen to this message of the Gospel in a fresh new way, we will then begin to truly know a Savior who does not judge us in the midst of our sins here in this sinful world.  And remember this—Jesus refrains from judging us not because He can not judge, but because He has taken that judgment upon Himself as our brother and LORD; because He has died in the place of sinners; He has died for you.

And now that we have received this strong love of Jesus, what shall we do with it?

Shall we keep it to our selves?  No, but we are told to go and share what we have received from our Lord with other sinners. What this means for us today is that we are being compelled by the Holy Spirit to show both kindness and mercy towards others who appear to be trapped in sin; others who think or act differently than us – even those caught in adultery, cohabiting men and woman, or the homosexual couple. We are to care about their needs and also their eternity because Jesus cares for them.  We are to speak God’s mercy and love to them, and we do this when we speak God’s truth.

Listen, it is not our job to go around finding the specks in our neighbors eyes, because we are still working on the log that lies within our own eyes.  It is not the job of one blind man to lead another blind man upon a dangerous path.  But rather when asked for the reason of the hope we have in Christ, we are always prepared by God to speak God’s own truth, not in judgment but in love; we are always prepared to point them to the Great Physician Jesus Christ who also desires to heal them of spiritual blindness just as He heals us.

So we speak God’s truth … not in anger or spite, but in mercy and forgiveness. By speaking this way, we pray that God would do the same work of repentance and hope in them that He is doing in us.  So remember, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” [Luke 6:37, 38]. May this strong Word forever lead our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus… AMEN.

On Becoming a Christian

June 12th, 2016

Third Sunday After Trinity-HL, June 12th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.” [Luke 15:1]

Here’s a question that I get asked a lot: “Hey Pastor, how can I really know that I’m a Christian?”  And to this I pose a couple of my own questions to them to lead them to the central idea of our message today: “Aren’t you really asking me how can you know that you are pleasing God?  Or maybe what you really mean is how can you know for sure you are saved?”

Well, in order to know you are saved you must first know that your lost; that is you must admit that you are lost in your sins, or simply put, you are a sinner.  So a sinner then, is someone who is lost in their sins with no ability of their own to be found or made right with God.  From this then, we can say to be a Christian is to be a sinner who has been found in the darkness of sin and then made right with God in Holy Baptism through the life, death, and resurrection of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.  But what then?

Do you have to become a better person in order to be a Christian?

Of course you do!  Don’t we usually take that for granted?  Don’t we as a rule consider “Christian people” to be a people with a God-given moral standard; as people with certain customs and characteristics that are considered respectable?  But sadly, when we think of our own lives within those terms we usually are forced to admit that we haven’t  attained that standard of excellence; we fall far short.  And this is why many of us must sadly admit that if we are judged by our conduct and our thoughts, we fall far short of the mark, and all appears hopeless, and it seems that we will never truly become a Christian.

And that way of thinking, was exactly what had trapped the Pharisees and most Jews; it is what made turning to Jesus very difficult for them.  They were convicted by the Law of Moses (the 10 Commandments) that they were required to achieve holiness or righteousness with God through what they must do.  But Jesus taught something entirely different.  And this is what shocked the Jews.

You see, it wasn’t respectable and moral people that were flocking to Jesus in order to hear Him and become His disciples, it was sinners… public, open sinners! The God fearing folks of Jesus time were offended by the truth that Jesus felt at home and very comfortable hanging out with sinful, no good ragamuffins!  He was at ease with those who were considered by others to be less than worthy of a place in God’s kingdom.  He received sinners and ate with them, which in the Far-Eastern culture meant the same as counting them as close friends. So He was a friend of no good sinners, and what’s more, He readily admitted it!  When they criticized Jesus for this He simply said: “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick… I came not to call the righteous (or perhaps it is clearer if we say the self righteous), but sinners.” [Matthew 9:12, 13]

You see, the truth is that we do not become disciples because we have so many good qualities that have convinced us that we have something to add to or improve Christ’s church, but rather, we become Jesus’ disciple because we have so many faults.  We do not come to Jesus because we are better than others, but because we are just as bad, or even worse than them.

When Jesus called people into God’s Kingdom, His invitation made it clear to them that in spite of all of their sinfulness, they could still become the children of God.  In another story, Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is like a king who asks an accounting of His servant.   And what does that accounting look like?  A man is brought forward who owes the equivalent of millions of dollars, and he has no hope of ever paying it back.  And how does the master respond to this hopeless condition?  He has mercy on him and forgives the whole amount.  Cool, huh?

But does Jesus really make no demands on us?

Well to begin with, He makes only one demand, and that is that we come to Him in order to receive what He has to give us.  He simply asks us to come to Him and then to follow Him; listen to and trust in what He has to say, and then place ourselves under His influence.  From this comes another requirement…

We are to respond to the work and presence of the Holy Spirit within us, Who is always creating repentance, faith, and the desire and ability to do good deeds.  So the fact that we’ve become different and better people—is something that naturally follows upon the first requirement that we simply come.

Rather than seeing the need to be a good person as a demand that God makes as a qualification to come to Jesus, it is instead a result of turning to Jesus.

Consider the thief on the cross who was crucified with Jesus.  He did not have time to become a better man.  He would never have an opportunity to live a better life or produce any good deeds to brag of.  And yet no one could ask for a more unconditional promise of salvation:  “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”  He had done the one thing that is necessary—he had come to Jesus to get help.  He believed in Jesus.

In the presence of Christ we must never expect to find a gathering of morally perfect people.  Remember, it was the tax collectors and sinners that were all being drawn near to Him.  So in our churches today, we must also expect to see sinful people wanting to be with Jesus and His disciples.  That is, we should see rough, sinful people being drawn to our church, wanting to become Jesus’ disciple.

If today His mercy calls you and you find yourself in this category, you must do the same.  He who does not do this should not be surprised to find a mixed company in Christ’s church.  But when we respond we will find that our despair and worry over first our own sinfulness and then other people’s sinfulness has been replace with…

The joy of salvation!

As Christians we live by faith in what Jesus has done certainly, but that faith always leads to joy!  Joy in the salvation of ourselves and others is simply the great delight or happiness that is caused by Christ’s exceptionally good work for all sinners, but especially because that good work of Christ is the true pleasure of God!

St. Paul in our Epistle reading experienced this realization also, and it created within him an extreme sense of thankfulness, listen: “I thank Him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service.”  Perhaps a better way to say this is that Paul was thankful that Jesus made him faithful through the gift of grace (God’s undeserved kindness) and then He gave him the strength to continue believing in and following Jesus.

Was there something that God discovered in Paul that made him worthy of being called into God’s kingdom of salvation through Jesus Christ?  Well, let’s let Paul answer that himself: “Formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief”.

And we must be careful not to think that because God saved Paul, Paul became so thankful and indebted to Jesus that he decided to change his life, formulate a plan and implement the plan that would allow him to live a God pleasing life and win many to the kingdom of God.  No, Paul would never say anything like that, in fact he said the opposite, listen: “(It was) the grace of our Lord (that) overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”

So, along with Paul, we can say that by faith and first hand experience, this saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom Paul and maybe you and me are the foremost.  So if God desires to save a sinner like Paul, just imagine how much he wants to save you, and not just you, but also the many people living here in our community who are dying without ever truly knowing Jesus and His kingdom of grace.

The church, even our little church here, like our Lord, does every thing we can think of to find the lost, and we keep looking for them until they’re found; that mandate is the very reason that the church still exists within this sinful world. Through the preaching of God’s Word, both the law and the gospel, as a church we go after the lost sinner both creating the desire to be found and the ability to assure them that they have been found too.  And within our vocations or our callings in life as individuals, our Christian witness to Jesus and His desire to both be with and save sinners goes out into our community like a lamp that brings saving light into the darkness of sin.  For many, that searching light may be at first nothing more than the truth that it is Christ’s passion to be with and save sinners.

And when a sinner is found and turns or returns to Jesus’ side, we the church and indeed all of heaven rejoice and say amen to Jesus declaration: “Thus, I tell you, there is joy!” Great joy not just here in Christ’s church but “Before the angels of God in heaven.”

Today His mercy calls you, and if you have responded by turning or returning to Jesus, be assured there is a great celebration of joy in heaven, “Over one sinner who has repented!”  To God alone be the glory… AMEN!

Listen, God is Calling!

June 5th, 2016

Second Sunday After Trinity-HL, June 5th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.  For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’ ” [Luke 14:23, 24]

Listen.  Stop all that you are doing, rid your self of all those things that are vying for your attention right now, and just listen.  Listen, because God is calling out to you!  He’s been calling you for a long time, but we wont worry about those other times, let’s just concentrate on Jesus call right now.  Any time Jesus invites sinners to gather around Him and receive His gift of forgiveness, of salvation through His means of grace, God is calling out to you.

In our gospel reading, God was calling out to a bunch of Pharisees who were sinners; He was calling out for them to repent, that is turn to the guest of honor, Jesus the Christ, the very Son of God and be saved from their sins.

If they would only stop, turn their attention to His Word and listen to the call of grace, they would be saved.  Would they stop and listen?  Did they see a need to turn away from their hollow religion and find salvation in the One who was speaking to them; teaching them with Words of eternal life?

Jesus let them know that there were three major reasons why they may not stop, turn, and listen.  The reasons were simply excuses that were seeds of dissent, which were planted by the enemy, the devil.  Let’s look at those “reasons”:

“I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.”  Here, within this excuse, many young families of Jesus’ time, and perhaps even our time can be seen.  “I just bought a house, and I have to get settled in first.  I agree that being right with God, of knowing Him intimately and personally is important, but I have to get my personal life in order first and then there will be time, real quality time available for me to dedicate myself to God.”  And then there is this “reason”…

“I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them.”  Oh the demands of employment, who could not understand this reason?  “I just started a new job, and if I go insisting on having Sunday’s off for worship, I probably won’t keep my job very long, or I will at least be destroying any hopes I have for promotion and advancement in the future.”

What is interesting to note here is that in both of these reasons given, the person responding to God’s call is not saying that they don’t need to respond to God’s invitation, they are simply saying that now is not the right time.  In other words, “At this time I must respectfully decline your invitation, but please keep me in mind the next time the invitation goes out.”

And finally the third response or excuse…

“I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.”  In other words, “No thank you.  I have a spouse who is not a religious person and has no desire to become one.  I will adopt their attitude towards religion.  Please take my name off of your list!”

And what happens to all three of these sample groups of people in Jesus story?  He tells the servant who is sending out the invitations to take them off of the list; to bar them from the privilege of attending the banquet.  There will be no further offers of salvation; they’re done.  But then He does something amazing; He orders that others be brought in to take their place.  And still there’s room after the new group is brought in.  So…

So bring in the low life; go out everywhere and anywhere and “compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.”  Bring in the beggars who never would have thought that they would be invited and let them know that they are not only invited but they are valued by God.

And that dear friends is where you and I enter the story.  We are the beggars who never thought that God would call or even desire to call us, and yet… He has and He is!  Listen, God is calling.  Do you hear Him?

When someone asks you to respond to God’s call, they are really asking you to accept His invitation to live within His Kingdom.

The Gospel message or God’s invitation to be forgiven, is one that makes it clear to you, that He is inviting and welcoming you to come and rest within His kingdom of grace, which is a kingdom of forgiveness.  Jesus compares this to an invitation to attend a great feast or a royal wedding as a welcomed and honored guest.  But Jesus also reminds us that the strange and remarkable thing is that there are many who are invited who just don’t desire to respond at all.

So how is the invitation sent out?  Well, an invitation could come either by a messenger or by a letter.  And both of these methods are used with God’s gospel invitation; that is Christ’s invitation for you to come unto Him and rest in His kingdom of forgiveness.

Our Lord has sent out His apostles first and then His disciples, and He sends all of them out with an invitation, which comes to you within His Word.  The invitation to come into His kingdom comes when we both hear the Word preached and when we read it in the Bible.

But Baptism also implies an invitation.

It is through baptism that we have been received into the kingdom of God.  To a Christian, baptism is meant to be what the celebration of the Passover was to the Jews, Listen: “And it shall be to you a sign on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the law of the Lord may be in your mouth.” [Exodus 13:9]

It is God’s will that each and every Christian look back upon their baptism as God’s final word or judgment which makes it clear to the one baptized, that He accepts and receives you just as you were found by Him.  But we must also remember that He loves us far too much to leave us in that “first found” condition.  The point is however, that no one who is baptized should ever doubt whether God wants to have a long lasting relationship of love with them.  You see, it’s when people forget God that His holy Word convicts us of our sinfulness and invites us to renew our relationship of grace with Him, by returning to Christ’s invitation, that is He invites us to return to our baptismal grace, which is still ours if we will but return to it.

This fresh call of God comes to us through the Word of God.  Personal sorrows over our sins, a fresh encounter with other Christians, and an inner emptiness, or a vague unrest in the conscience are all circumstances God may use to prepare the soil of our hearts to receive a fresh gospel seed of forgiveness and renewal.  But the invitation itself always implies that God in some manner is saying to us again: “Listen.  Jesus is calling.  Come; for all is now ready.”

The time may come when you hear God’s Word in a new way, and you try to rationalize that hearing and that moment as simply a coincidence.  But that coincidental hearing of God’s Word, perhaps your hearing of that Word right now, is really a part of God’s plan.

This is His moment; that’s why we call this time Divine Service.  He has had it planned since the beginning of time.  The Bible describes God as One who is “seeking” His people, not like a shepherd who goes out searching for new sheep to shepherd, but as a shepherd searching for His sheep who are lost; sheep that He often finds caught in the bramble and thorny vines.  And when He reaches his hand to free the lost creature, and then reassures it that it has been found and is safe, that lost sheep, you and me, may be saved immediately, if that is what we desire.

Today, as with all invitations received in God’s Divine Service, we are experiencing a moment of destiny-filled seriousness.  For sinners like us there is always the possibility of wriggling loose from the grip of God.  But then there is also the possibility, which is even greater than before, of our coming home to God and staying there; staying in Christ’s church.  Listen.  God is calling.  So…“Today, when you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,” and “seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near.” [Isaiah 55:6]

When God seeks us, when we hear God calling us, that is the time when we should seriously seek Him, it’s a time that we should seriously begin to seek Him through His means of grace that He has made readily available to us.  Through His Word always, but also in the waters of our baptism and at His altar where He offers to feed our baptized  spirits with real food and drink that both strengthens our faith and assures us of our forgiven state.  These means of grace are the very sacraments that God uses to both create in us a desire to hear Him speak and then also  ability to understand Him.  Through these things God invites us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, but also to rest in that salvation with great faith and confidence in all that Jesus has done for us, “holding fast the word of life,” [Luke 11:28] and to be concerned with hearing, learning, understanding, and applying the Word of God in our lives.

When we do this, then God has promised to continue the good work in our hearts and to bring it to completion.

May God continue to do this very thing within each of you as you listen to God call out to you, in Jesus name… AMEN!

Holy, Holy, Holy Triune God

May 22nd, 2016

Trinity Sunday-HL, May 22nd, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“Whoever wants to be saved must, above all, hold the catholic faith. Whoever does not keep it whole and inviolate will doubtless perish eternally.  This, however, is the catholic faith: that we worship one God in trinity and the Trinity in unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance.” [Introduction to the Creed of Athanasius]

That dear friends is the truth that the historic Christian church has always declared and always defended.  There’s just one problem though, and it’s a big problem; by nature, we don’t like to hear God’s truth because…

We are people of unclean lips, and we dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips. And in the revelation of the One true God in Trinity and unity, we see the King, our King, the LORD of hosts and we know that because of our sin, we must die.

We know that we must die because unclean lips are only the symptom of the true disease… our hearts themselves are sinful and unclean.  We have done things we should not do and we fail to do the things we know we must do.  What we fail to do is to love God with our whole heart, soul, and mind, and we fail to love our neighbor as our self.

But God has sent His servants to you to declare a way out this sinful mess; a way out of no way.  His servants have been called to teach you of God’s solution; to repeat the solution over and over. But to receive the solution and live you must receive the God who gives this gift.  The solution is the hot coal of Holy Baptism that works to take away your sin; to wash you with simple water and the purifying flame of the Holy Spirit of God.  But our sinful nature scoffs at such a simple solution to our sin problem.  Simple?

God’s solution may seem simple to sinners such as ourselves; it may even seem to good and easy to be true, but behind the simple water and the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit is the life and death of the very Son of God, Jesus Christ.

This Jesus, whom you crucified with your sins, suffered and died for the sins of the world.  On Good Friday, God in human flesh, our flesh did something that is impossible for our created sinful minds to comprehend… He died.  God who is eternal, immortal, invincible, did the impossible… He died.  Now before you say, “No, it was only Jesus body that died” remember, Jesus’ two natures are forever connected; that is they can never and will never be disconnected.

So on Good Friday, because Jesus died, God died.

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”  [Romans 11:33-36]  Indeed, how unsearchable and inscrutable He is, unless He reveals Himself to us.  While we can never give a gift to God that would put Him in our debt, He has given us one; through the giving of His Son upon the cross, He also allows us to know Him as He is.

He is one God in trinity and the Trinity in unity.

Let’s get one thing stated from the beginning: The word “Trinity” won’t  be found in the Bible.  But the name of the Triune God is found in two of the most important passages of the New Testament.  The first one is the baptismal command of our Lord, which we have by command repeated for all when they are baptized in the “name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” [Matthew 28:19]  And the second is the apostolic benediction which has so many times been spoken to us: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” [1 Corinthians 13:13]

When we speak of the Trinity, we must first remember what the Bible so often insists, that God in His nature is inscrutable and incomprehensible.  No one comprehends the thought of God except the Spirit of God.  [1 Corinthians 2:11]  What we know about the Trinity of God is simply what He has revealed to us.  It is not a matter of logical deductions or deep philosophical thought.  The simple truth is that what we know about God is only a fragment.  About this fragmentary knowledge we must say, as of all such knowledge, that we cannot always fit it together into a logical and systematic doctrine that has no mysteries.  We neither can nor need to fill in the revelation with our own theories.  We can only confirm what God has already said about Himself.

God’s Word insists, first of all, that God is One.  This was the core of the creed of Israel: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is One Lord.” [Deuteronomy 6:4]  Jesus says that this is the first pillar of the law of God. [Mark 12:29]  The apostles claim the same as the most certain doctrine of all the faith, God is One.  We know that there is only One God.

But it is just as clear in the Scriptures that there is a triune nature in God’s being, which is so essential and so profound that it can only be expressed by our word “person.”  By person we mean, a being that possess both will and self-consciousness.  This is why Jesus speaks of His thoughts and His will, just as the Scriptures speak of the Word of the Spirit, His comfort and warning, His decisions and His intervention.  Both the Son and the Spirit speak with the Father.  And yet the Son and the Spirit are inseparably bound together with the Father.  They are One.  How this can be is one of the many mysteries of God, a mystery which we cannot possibly understand completely.

Both the Son and the Spirit are as eternal as the Father is eternal.  They were both present in the beginning and shared in the creation of the world.  They are just as divine as the Father Himself.  Therefore Christ has received the name of God, the Lord, and is worshiped as God by the disciples.  So, the Word of the Spirit is God’s Word, and when the Spirit witnesses, God Himself speaks.

People usually first know something of the being of God the Father.  He can be traced in the world of nature and in all the good gifts He gives to us.  Christ too can be describe as a tangible figure, without too much difficulty.  We understand that He is the Word that became flesh.  But in regards to the Holy Spirit, as we discussed for the last two weeks, things get a little harder for our small, created minds to understand.  The Spirit lives and is at work in the church, in Word and Sacrament; He works to point our hearts and minds to Christ.  Therefore it is in the New Testament that we find the clearest report of Him.  Yet still today, no one can truly know the Holy Spirit except as He lives in the life of the church and as He uses the means of grace to work upon our hearts.  It is then that we first learn to know the Triune God—in as far as it is possible to know Him from this side of glory.

And that is why you are here today; you are here to know who God is through the proclamation of His Word, a word about His Son Jesus Christ.

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness to save sinful Israel from the venom of vipers, which was God’s punishment for their willful disobedience and their stubborn sinful natures, so the Son of man was lifted up for you upon the cross, for the sins of the world. [John 3:1-16]

Unless you are born again in the washing of the water and the Word you cannot see the kingdom of God.  And even now, as your sinful nature is struggling with these truths of God because they are so beyond your comprehension, even now as that nature is silently asking, “How can these things be?” God is answering you with the next two verses that follow our gospel reading found in vs. 16 and 17: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

And now you know the rest of the story… God loves the world, He loves you, because He exists in a unified love for Himself.  The Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father, and together they love the Holy Spirit who because of divine love, desires to come to you and share God’s love with you.  But if it simply ended with you, where would the love of God be for the rest of the world that is lost in sin and death.  No, the love of God can not stop with us, it must proceed out of us and to our neighbor so they too may be born of water and the Spirit and recreated in love.

“Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.  To Him be glory forever.  AMEN!

Now, may “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”  AMEN!

Witnessing Jesus Part 2

May 15th, 2016

Pentecost Sunday-HL, May 15th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” [Acts 2:21]

That dear friends was the whole purpose of the miraculous gift of the Holy Spirit on the first Pentecost of the New Testament church… so that all would be moved to call upon the name of the Lord and be saved.  But everyone does not call upon the name of the Lord, and here is why…

Because we are fallen, sinful creatures separated from the Creator with no true desire if left on our own, to ever get back to Him on His terms and be right with Him.

In our Old Testament lesson (Genesis 11:1-9) we see just how true that statement is.  These people who are building a name for themselves are just a few centuries old after the flood.  We are told that the whole world had a single language. Since all people came from the family of Noah, it makes sense that their vocabulary would be the same. While it was true that their language hadn’t changed, their attitudes towards God certainly had—and not for the better.

Noah’s descendants started out well. From Armenia, where many believe the ark had come to rest, they journeyed down into the Tigris-Euphrates valley, often referred to as Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq). The direction of their migration was to the southeast; in the Bible it’s described as “eastward,” because the Hebrew language only had expressions for the four points of the compass.

“They found a plain in Shinar and settled there.” A well-watered plain would naturally look good to farmers, and in disobedience to God, they decided to stop their migration and settle down. It didn’t matter to them that God had said, “Be fruitful and multiply.  Fill the earth!” They answered: “Why should we? It doesn’t get any better than this spot!”  They had forgotten that even that spot belonged to God.

The settlement they planned to establish was not a temporary one either. Remember they said, “Let us build ourselves a city,” that sounds pretty permanent. And the materials they chose also make it pretty clear that this settlement was meant to last for a long time. Instead of sun-dried clay, they chose fire-hardened brick for their building project, with tar for mortar instead of the customary mud. And look at the stated purpose of their building project: “so that we may make a name for ourselves.”

“Glory to man in the highest!” They turning God’s plan for us upside-down. They rejected his goal for their lives (to glorify God), and substituted it with a goal of ther own. Sustenance (food and shelter), security, status—these were the life goals the descendants of Noah had adopted to replace God’s call to glorify Him alone as provider and sustainer of all these things and indeed, their very lives.

It shouldn’t surprise us that God through the Holy Spirit intervened in judgment to stop their building project.  “I am the Lord”, He has told us.  “I will not give my glory to another.” [Isaiah 42:8]  And to prove it, the Holy Spirit worked to confuse their languages and through that work cause division and strife, making the completion of their building project impossible.  But on the first Pentecost for the new church, God the Holy Spirit would physically, for a moment in time, undo that work and bring clarity in His message of repentance to His fallen people.

So Who is the Holy Spirit? The immediate answer is that, “He is God!”  He always has been God and He always shall be.

First perhaps it ought to be said that the Holy Spirit is not and invention of the church and it’s theologians.  Among the many lies that unbelievers love to spread is the assertion that Jesus Himself never taught anything about the Holy Spirit.  Oh, is that right?  No it isn’t!

Jesus has a great deal to say about the Holy Spirit.  As we discussed last week, when Jesus was about to leave the disciples and ascend into heaven, He promised them that the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, would come to them.  That’s why they were to remain in Jerusalem until they were clothed with power from on high.  The Spirit would make it possible for them to continue the work of Christ.  He would give them wisdom to be able to speak before governors and kings.  He would teach them all things and lead them into the whole truth.  He would witness to them about Christ.

But then how are we to think about the Holy Spirit?  Well, we should actually not “think” of the Holy Spirit at all.  He is not a product of our intellectual abilities and He can’t be comprehended by our minds alone.  We can learn to know Him only through the work that He has done and is doing among us.  And His work is not to reveal Himself, but to glorify Christ.  He doesn’t seek to describe a likeness of Himself to us, but instead He causes the picture of Christ to come alive before our eyes of faith when the Spirit is at work.

And how does He do this?

The means, which He uses, is the Word of God.  He teaches all that Jesus taught and reminds us of what Jesus said.  It is the work of the Spirit that moves us to perceive the presence of Christ in Holy Scripture.  Through the work of the Holy Spirit, Scripture  becomes the living Word so that we can be confident that Jesus speaks and deals with us still today in the Word and by the power of the Spirit.

As I said earlier, one of the most important things the Holy Spirit does for us is to convince us that we are sinners.  The Holy Spirit is ever working to move our hearts and minds to understand just how twisted and out of balance with God our lives are.

But we also learn through the Word what Christ has done and given to us, which makes all the difference’ it makes us right with God.

In our gospel lesson Jesus tells us that “If anyone loves me, he will keep my Word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” [John 14:23-31]

If you do not read this with the understanding that Jesus is giving the wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit, then you might receive this Word as just another Law of God.  Love me or else!  But that is far from what Jesus is saying.  Just a little further on in His dialogue, Jesus promises that this ability to love Him, to love God will find its origin outside of our selves; He says that it will be a gift from God.  Listen: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, who the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

Do you understand now?  Can you see that this is all a work of God the Holy Spirit who is your Helper, your comforter, and friend.  Once you hear these Words of Jesus as good news, the Holy Spirit brings peace.  “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

The work of the Spirit then is to lead us to the assurance of faith that now rests in our hearts through Christ alone.  So we can agree that “the Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”  Christ has given us “His Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.”  It is through the Spirit that we learn to say “Aba Father” or dear Father in Heaven.

You know the truth is, we won’t always feel the great power and assurance of the Spirit’s presence.  But even when we are overwhelmed with worry and fear, and even at the lowest and weakest times of our lives, the Spirit is at work in our hearts. The sign that He has not forsaken us is the fact that we have not forsaken His Word and that Word is constantly awakening repentance and faith within us.

The Holy Spirit cannot be known or possessed unless we have been brought to faith in Christ by the Word.  This is the precise reason why some people cannot possibly understand the meaning of the Holy Spirit.  He is “the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him, nor knows Him.”  But you know Him dear saints, and that makes all the difference!

On the day of Pentecost the disciples were moved by the Holy Spirit to remember all of Jesus Words of Comfort.  And on that day, we could say the agape love of God, as demonstrated through the Passion of Christ the Son of God became the most powerful gift they would ever receive.

Christ did what He said He would do; He made all things right between God and men.  He empowered His church with the love of God and the Holy Spirit to go out into a world of confusion, division, and sin, and speak the need for all men to repent and be baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Why?  So that through Christ’s Word and Sacraments empowered by the Holy Spirit we could once again be united in the love of God unto eternal life.  May this be our truth now and forever more… AMEN!

Witnessing Jesus

May 8th, 2016

Easter 7-HL, May 8th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

Here’s a truth that each of us must understand this morning before a single word of gospel hope is declared: Living out our Christian faith, let alone witnessing to it, would be impossible unless God the Holy Spirit was powerfully working within us and among us through His chosen means of grace.  But once the Holy Spirit enters our lives and our hearts, living out our lives becomes a whole different experience.  With the Holy Spirit, the church armed with the Word of God and Christ’s Sacraments (Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper), is equipped as a body and as individuals who are part of that body are sent forth to witness to God’s presence in both our lives and indeed the entire world.

This last Wednesday the universal church celebrated the high and holy day of Christ’s Ascension. As we think about that day this Sunday, we also can’t help but put our selves in the shoes of the disciples.

In addition to awe and wonder as the they witnessed their Lord ascend into heaven from the Mt. of Olives, they also must have been dealing with a sense of fear and worry: “Now what are we suppose to do?”

When the disciples went back to the upper room, back to their normal lives, they perhaps knew more about Jesus than any other people in the whole world would ever know.  So it is fair to say that if Christianity had simply been a matter of knowing Jesus and His teachings and then living by that knowledge, then they could have started to preach and witness about His Kingdom of Grace immediately.  But instead, they were instructed by Jesus to wait patiently in an attitude of prayer and supplication until the gift of the Holy Spirit was given.

So what was it they were lacking?

The disciples lacked the very thing that Jesus promised to give them… the power and comfort of the Holy Spirit.

Let’s think about that for a moment; think about the work that God had prepared for them to accomplish.  They had been given the responsibility to witness about Jesus.  They’d been with Him from the beginning.  They had seen it all and had been taught by the Lord Himself.  Above all, they were witnesses to both His resurrection and His ascension.  But the truth they were to proclaim was also an insurmountable challenge for mere followers of Jesus.  You see…

The man they were to bear witness to had been executed as a blasphemer and a troublemaker.  And what’s more, they too, were promised by Jesus Himself that they could expect to be met with the same violent resistance.  Hadn’t Jesus told them many times that they would be persecuted; that the disciple was not above his teacher? Jesus even said that if they had called the master Beelzebub, what would they do to the servants?  But along with these truths of coming trial and tribulation, Jesus also implied that when the time of testing arrived they were to confidently stand their ground and not fear those who can destroy the body but not their souls.  By now, they must have been thinking, “Easier said than done!”

So now safe and secure in the upper room, their task must have seemed to be impossible.  They were to go out amongst the same people who crucified Jesus and preach and witness that the Man they killed was not only the Messiah but in fact, He was their only hope for eternal life.  And so we can see why the disciples must have felt alone and afraid; their task was to break through the wall of impenitence and hatred that even the Lord’s own words would not shatter.

But there’s still more they had to consider.  Through out all of their living out and proclaiming Christ, they were also called to preserve the purity of the message.  They had to preserve the unity of the church, stick together even when there was no Master among them, and they must preach the gospel even though there was no one with them physically to counsel with.  All of this demanded more than mere human powers could supply.  But Jesus had never expected them to fulfill their responsibilities alone.  God Himself would fulfill the task with them.  He would clothe them with power from on high.  He would open the way for the Word by convicting men of sin and of righteousness.  He would give His messengers a power and a wisdom, which would overcome their enemies.  He would lead them in all of God’s own truth.  He would preserve the vision of Christ living and untarnished.  He would Himself speak through their tongues and words.  And …

To accomplish this miraculous task, Christ would gather is little lambs into one body, His body the church, and He would do it all through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Through the church, God would gather His eternal and spiritual Israel, His faithful saints.  He would gather them from all the nations and ethnicities throughout the world and bring each of them into their own country the church, which would be for them a foretaste of their eternal Home in Paradise, a place that had been prepared for them by Jesus Himself.

Through the preaching of the Gospel of hope, the washing of Holy Baptism, and the sustenance of  spiritual food and drink received at the Lord’s Holy Table, Christ through the work and power of the Holy Spirit would create and sustain His dear saints.  That is by the grace of God and the gift of the Holy Spirit that comes from God through the Word of God Jesus Christ, God the Father would created, gather and send out His children of faith through the power and direction of God the Holy Spirit to speak to and gather even more redeemed sinners into the Christian faith.

All of this is taking place even today by God through you and me, by the power and work of the Holy Spirit.  You see…

Christianity is not simply knowing about Jesus and following Him.

Our Christian faith, and indeed our entire lives is something that can only be experienced where God is at work in the presence and person of the Holy Spirit.  For the disciples this was a daily experience.  That’s why they spoke of witnessing together with one heart and mind through the Holy Spirit; that’s why they could insist that they and the Holy Spirit acted together, as they walked in the Spirit and by the Spirit.

God the Holy Spirit promises us today just as He promised the disciples who witnessed Jesus ascension long ago, that as He has changed our hard and unbelieving hearts and sustains new life and faith within us, He desires to do the very same thing with those we come in contact with as we share with them the story of Jesus and His victory over sin, death, and the devil.  A victory that was accomplished through His passion and death upon the cross, the empty tomb of His resurrection, and His return to the right hand of the Father through His ascension.

Dear friends, Christ did not want you to be trapped by ignorance of the hard times that lay ahead for the church, His church.  He clearly described the resistance that we would face as together we witness to the “one thing needful” for salvation… faith in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.  If we try to go about the calling of Jesus to seek and save the lost on our own with a different message, we will only discover failure and misery.  But if we go out living our lives within the various vocations we find ourselves in, we will find both success and joy in our calling to be witnesses to the love of God, which is ours through Christ Jesus.

Our task and calling today as both individuals and members of the universal body of Christ is to spread the knowledge of Jesus.  Not to declare a message that makes us comfortable or will make our neighbors comfortable, but the truth that Christ died for sinners of which you and I are the chiefs of, and so are they that we witness Christ to.  Not only does God want to be a part of our sometimes-mundane lives, but He wants to be a part of our neighbors’ lives too.  He wants to offer His gift of salvation to others through us.

No wonder we talk about joy in the Holy Spirit.  What a tremendous reason to be alive in this world today.  What a tremendous reason to look forward to what every tomorrow holds.  God wants to use you… He wants to work through you… He wants to show Himself to other people both here in this place of worship and in your life as you lead them only and always to Christ alone; as you declare the Easter message: “Christ has risen, indeed!  AMEN!”