Counsel Without Knowledge is Dark, Indeed!

June 21st, 2015

June 21, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

We’ve all been in that dark place of fear, worry, doubt, and anxiety, and we all have fallen back on the old tried and true method of dealing with these things… panic!  It is in the time of panic that we try everything imaginable to bring courage, stability, certainty, and peace.  Advice from those older and more experienced than ourselves sometimes helps; but advice from our father or father figures is meant to teach more than reassure.  You see, in order for the teaching to help it has to make sense, and in the middle of tragedy, who really wants to listen and learn.  So if our fathers or father figures are wise in regards to God and His ways, they will encourage us to slow down, and then with a humble heart and mind, direct us to take it all to the Lord and call out to Him for help.

But what happens when we feel we’ve done that and have been doing that very thing, and nothing seems to be changing; nothing seems to be bringing us relief?  Then we may be tempted to grow angry and bitter with God, or worse yet, we may doubt that He even cares.  This is precisely where Job was within our Old Testament lesson.  But God does see, and God does care, and to assume that He is clueless and distant is to follow a dark counsel without the wisdom of the Spirit.

This is precisely the message that God gave to Job when He declared these Words to Job, in the form of a question: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge.”  When God addresses Job, He does so using His exact and personal name, Yahweh, or Jehovah.  When God speaks to Job, His name tells all of us that “I Am” IS the God who knows all things and allows all things, so that in the end they will work together for the good of those He loves, for those who love Him.  This all knowing, all seeing, and all powerful God then addresses Job and us, with these words of challenge. “Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.”  In other words, this will be a contest; competition to see who it is that knows all; to see who it is alone that can declare in the end that it will be well with your soul.

Within His Words that follows, God desires to do a great work of faith, both within Job’s heart and our hearts.  God desires to purge all of us of pride, and then force us to see our own sinfulness and helplessness, and then lead us to trust in God and His saving love; the love of our Eternal Father, strong to save

In our Gospel lesson (Mark 4:35–41), the disciples are being taught that exact lesson by the very Son of God, Jesus Christ.  Every time I read this portion of scripture I can hear the underlying question beneath the disciples’ words recorded, and it is, “Jesus, don’t you care that we are about to die?”  I think that is also our underlying question when we are going through the storms of life.

Dear saints, our central problem is not the storms of life, but instead it’s our sinful tendency to focus only on the storms.  I think you will agree with me that it is hard to remember that Jesus is in the boat with us when our attention is consumed by the life threatening waves outside the boat that are now spilling into the boat and threatening to capsize us and pull us deeply down into the sea of despair.

Why do we so easily loose sight of Jesus in times of trouble and focus so heavily on the storms of life.  Why do so many of our storms, life problems at the time seem so unsurvivable, but afterwards we can look back and see that we made it through, with even stronger faith?  Because dear friends, one day, maybe sooner than we know it will be one of those storms that does end our earthly existence.  Within this perspective of fear and worry, it’s hard to remember that Jesus is in the boat with us; it’s not easy to remember that God is on the job when the waves are in your face, and your boat is quickly filling with unwanted water!

Sometimes when we encounter these life storms, we can become like Job and his friends; we want to understand the storms.  And so we ask, “What have I done to offend you Lord.”  Or we may ask, “O Lord, don’t you care that I’m in trouble?”

We so desperately want to know the answer to things like” “Why did I lose my job, or why can’t I find a job?  Why did the one I love and need so badly have to die?  Why am I so sick?  Will I ever get better?”  Or perhaps even today we may be asking, “Oh Lord, why did you allow the evil to control that young man who killed nine of our brothers and sisters while they were praying to you at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC?  We ask why because we hope that by knowing the answer to the unknown we will find a way to bring calm to our minds and peace to our souls.  But the truth is that even through our best efforts of gaining knowledge we will always fall short of understanding the mysterious infinity of God’s mind and will; we will always be frustrated by the feeble limits of our own human intellect.

And to our insatiable desire to have God explain Himself, God asks us His own question: “How can you the creature ever understand I your Creator outside of what I have told you; outside of what I have decided is enough knowledge?”  But this isn’t the answer we want, is it?  No, secretly within our hearts we want God to explain Himself.  So, our sinful nature loses sight of God’s love for us and instead of faithfully trusting in His presence and care, we begin to focus our worried minds on the unknown instead of the known.

The truth is friends, God’s love and grace sound good to us when things are going well.  We will easily trust in His love, but sadly, when the storms of life come, and they will come, then the littleness of our faith appears.  And when this weak faith becomes evident, Jesus speaks from within our boat and says, “Why are you being so cowardly?  Don’t you have faith?”

Dear friends, the solution to our fears is to remember where Jesus is and who He is.  We are reminded where He is, within His question of why we are afraid, and why we lack faith, we may be tempted to hear a scolding within the Words; that is we may receive the Words as just another accusation of God’s Law demonstrating how helpless and faithless we are.  But if you hear Jesus Words that way, you have forgotten Who Jesus is.  He is not speaking as a Judge, but as a Savior and a Comforter.

The Son of God is with you in the boat, traveling with you through the storm upon the sea of despair.  After all, it was this Christ who told you to get into the boat with Him in the first place.  He is the One Who died for all so that you would know that just as death had no power over Him, it likewise has no power over you.  It’s not just the wind and sea that must listen to Him, but also sin, death, and the devil must obey Him.

Through His completed work upon the cross we are a new creation; through His Word and sacraments we are able to trust in His real presence with us, even when our own storms over power us.  Through His presence, our little faith becomes strong faith, as we rest with the other disciples within this gospel ship we call the church.  Because of Jesus, we don’t ever have to fear the storms of life again, because we know that through Him, God the Father is always for us and never against us.  Within the waters of our own baptism we have been splashed with a power greater than all of the angry seas combined.  Because the love of Christ controls us, we can trust in God’s kind heart, and through His love for us, all of our fears can be calmed and replaced with certainty.

Dear friends, in response to our cry, “Don’t you care that I am in trouble?”  God doesn’t offer us understanding, but instead He offers us His presence within His precious promises.  He Who said to the waves, “Thus far and no farther,” says to us, “Fear not, for I am with you always.”  He assures us the He knows what we can never understand, and He is able to handle what ever we can’t.

Today dear friends Jesus tells us to stay within the Gospel Ship, even this little boat we call Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church.  He wants us to look around and see this truth: There is still room and time to bring more fearful and frightened sinners aboard, so that they too, along with us, can find salvation and peace.  There will be storms, but Jesus will always be with us in the boat as we pass through the storms.  And while He is with us, He is teaching each of us to trust Him and have faith—faith in the Fathers love for each of us.  Oh sure, there will be times when it will seem as if God is silent; as if Jesus is asleep, but fear not little ones, even though He appears to sleep, He is with you in the boat.  So take comfort, because the one who sleeps is also the one who never sleeps.  He is the your Savior and Champion who promises to never leave nor forsake you.

He has permitted the storm to come your way so that you may know and trust Him deeper than you could ever imagine.  But one day, your very last life storm will come, and that will be the perfect storm, because that will be the one that will take you to your perfect home in Paradise.  Let us pray…

“O God our Defender, there are right now storms raging around us and within us, and they are causing us to be afraid. Rescue your people from despair, deliver your sons and daughters from fear, and preserve us all from unbelief, unbelief that tries so hard to separate us from your eternal love.  We ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Things Are Not Always What They Appear

June 14th, 2015

June 14, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

Things are not always what they appear to be, are they?  I am thankful for the warning in the side mirror on my vehicle that states: “Warning, objects in the mirror are closer than they appear to be.”  I tend to forget that, I need that reminder.

I also need to be reminded that the Kingdom of God in eternity is not what it appears to be in our time; it is not what the world supposes it to be.  They see the Kingdom of God as a bunch of superstitious people gathered around and antiquated Bible, a little water, a scrap of bread, and a sip of wine.  And as they scoff, we gather and find forgiveness, peace, and the promise of eternal happiness and joy, within those very things.  Why the disparity?

Faith. Faith is the one thing needful. Lack of faith is what causes a mighty nation, full of life and vigor to decay from within, dry up, and die.  That was the cause of the nation of Israel’s demise, it was the cause of the death of all of the empires that have ever existed, and it will be the demise of our country if its citizens continuously reject faith.

It was the demise of the way of worship for the Jews, which we can call the old church.

Where is their temple worship?  It is gone!  Where is their temple? Destroyed!  Jesus said as much when He said, “The time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.” [Luke 21:6]  WHY?  Again they had lost their faith in the promise of God and the mercy and forgiveness He would bring to all through the Savior who was to come.  And when He did come, they rejected the very means of Salvation that God had promised since the fall of creation.

But you have not lost that faith, have you?  You are still here, so out of love, out of charity I will gladly assume that you still trust God to make all things new; to make all things right.  I trust that you have faith in the Savior who has now come and will come again.  You have faith in Jesus Christ, the very Son of God!

You have Faith in a Who and a Promise! Unlike what the world thinks, things are not as they seem.  Your faith is not simply in some printed words found in a book, but in the living Word of God that both spoke and ensured by the power of His Spirit that His Word would be preserved for you, so that you would have faith.  What kind of faith?  Faith to believe that simple water when combined with the promises of the Word of God would bring both forgiveness and peace with God.  Faith to believe that a scrap of bread and a sip of wine are also, mysteriously the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, broken and shed, eaten and drank for the forgiveness of sins.

You are that sprig that God says in our Old Testament reading (Ezekiel 17:22-24) was removed from the lofty top of the great cedar that was Israel, which is now withered and abandoned.  You are the church, the very mystical body of Christ that has been planted by God Himself upon the high and lofty mountain, which is the long awaited Paradise restored.  You are part of something inconceivably vast and powerful; you are even now part of the Kingdom of God; a Kingdom, which throughout the eons has not only promised but given rest to the weary and joy to the broken hearted.  You are part of the Kingdom of God fulfilled.

The Kingdom of God is the Promise Fulfilled! Yes the promise fulfilled, but also the promise not yet seen.  To be sure, those who have died in the faith, are now absent from the body and present with the Lord; that is they see with their own eyes both the glory of the Lord and the beauty of their eternal home in paradise.  But we are still here; we must still walk by faith and not by sight.  Faith assures us that the promise is fulfilled and there is a place reserved for us too; a body and home, tailor made for us by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

We are holy by faith, because He is holy.  We are holy simply because we are forgiven and loved, so we forgive and love as well.  We are holy because we are sustained by the power of God’s Spirit and the means of grace, which He gives to both create and sustain our ability to see by faith.

And we need that faith to live within God’s promise fulfilled, because things are not always as they seem, and this truth creates tension.

The tension of living by faith and not by sight. In our gospel lesson this morning (Mark 4:26-34), Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God can be compared to a mustard seed, the smallest of seeds commonly known at the time, “yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” And here is precisely where the tension is experienced; there are birds nesting in our branches that bring all kinds of strange and peculiar things with them; things like poverty, sickness and disease, rude behavior and domineering spirits.  Many times they don’t come simply to rest in our gospel tree, but to take it over.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate what I mean is to change Jesus illustration of birds resting in the Mustard tree to one of the Phasmida, or as they are more commonly know as, the “Walking Stick.”  The walking stick insect looks just like a twig of the tree, and it blends in perfectly with the tree.  The camouflage is needed because other animals that live outside of the tree fly around looking to eat the little walking stick.  But when they are within the canopy of the tree, they may rest safe and free from harm, because they look like they are part of the tree.  But they’re not, are they?  And while they rest within the safety of the tree, they begin to eat the leaves and find sustenance from the tree itself.

Are you a part of the tree, or are you like the walking stick simply finding sustenance and safety.  Only you and God know the answer to that, not me.  But I will tell you what I do know; God does not want you to be a walking stick; He wants to graft you within the tree itself.  God wants you to simply quit hiding and surrender to His wonderful grace; his forgiving love and mercy.  And here is the wonderful news, you do not need to do a thing, simply surrender to the same means of grace and mercy that brought the rest of us into the body of Christ.

You may become a branch of this tree, by simply seeing that the safety and security that you have enjoyed for a time, can be yours for eternity by simply surrendering to God and believing that He gives precisely what He promises through His powerful Word, a splash of water, a scrap of bread, and a sip of wine.

What are you waiting for, or better yet, what are you hiding from?  He has already found you; you are here in the gospel tree, the church.  Why not truly belong and become that which the world thinks is both foolish and pathetic?  Why not belong and become what the cross of Jesus Christ has already provided and announced for all sinners throughout the world… you are forgiven and loved by God. [John 3:16]

Look around you; things are not what they appear to be.  You see first with eyes of flesh, and you see sinners.  But now look with eyes of faith at those sinners who have gathered around God’s means of grace and promise, and by faith, you see instead sinners who have become and our becoming saints by faith.  If you can rest in this truth, then you along with all of us struggle together as saints for eternity and sinners only for as long as we live in these tents; these temporary bodies of sin.

We all struggle together with putting to death the sin that is within us, and during this struggle we groan in anticipation for the day that we will be free of that struggle and then rest securely in our new resurrected bodies within our new home.  Each of us together are becoming by grace what God has declared we are through Christ; holy, perfect, and righteous.  And for each of us, the battle to belong and become will not be complete until God calls us to our new home… Paradise.  [2 Corinthians 5:1–10] AMEN!

The True Name It And Claim It!

June 7th, 2015

June 7, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson,
Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

ASSIGNED READINGS: Genesis 3:8–15, 2 Corinthians 4:13–5:1, Mark 3:20–35

TEXT: “Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak”. [2 Corinthians 4:13]

Spoiler Alert!! The words in our text may not mean what you think they mean.  You may discover in today’s message that you too, have been duped by the devil.  You may be unknowingly walking straight into the devils trap; a trap designed to strip you of your faith in the eternal promises of God.

In our Old Testament reading, we are shown a tragic and stunning example of what happens to men and women of God when they forget that the devil and all of creation are liars when they contradict the promises of God found in His Word.

Listen: “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.  He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. [Genesis 3:1-7]

Do you see what the devil did to dupe Eve?  With a little word-smithing, He took a command of God, twisted it, and turned it from Words of love that were meant to protect Adam and Eve, and he turned those Words upside down, and made them seem as if God was overbearing and cruel.

“Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”  Now think about this for a moment… Eve had no business even talking with this creature about God, unless it was to praise His name.  Remember, Adam and Eve have been given dominion over all creation.  She did not need to defend Him, because He is the Creator God; He even created the sinful mouth that was spewing forth those sinful words.  All that Eve needed to do was to call out to God and ask Him to rebuke this vile creature.  Or… she could have deferred to her husband, who was right there with her, but she didn’t do that, and Adam never said a mumblin’ word.  Why?  Because they had been entertaining desires that were unhealthy, and the devil knew this.  So Adam allows Eve to speak for both of them with these words: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”

Now it is Adam and Eve’s turn to twist the Word of God; to make it communicate a message it was never meant to declare.  Nowhere in scripture did God ever say that if Adam and Eve touched the fruit they would die.  He simply said that they could not eat it.

So now the devil sees clearly what is in the heart of the first couple and he begins to use it as a shiny lure in order to trap them with the hook of full-blown sin.  “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  In other words, God is not the God of love you think that He is.  He has been holding out on you; there is another completely different level of knowledge and existence that you are missing out on.

And so the first sin is committed when Adam and Eve with one heart and mind reach out and take and eat.  And from that point on, their eyes were opened and they knew that they had disrupted, no destroyed their relationship of love and trust with their Creator God.  And when God approaches them as He always had done, He asks them specific questions that will lead them to confess their sin.  But instead of taking responsibility, what do they do?  They begin to play the blame game.  “The woman you put here made me do it.”  And, “the Serpent you created tricked me!”

So if we had to put a name on the very first sin, what would we call it?  Coveting?  Well sure, that sin is there, but before it can come, I submit that one must first set aside their devotion and love for the Creator God.  So this is really a first commandment issue.  “You shall have no other God before or beside me” says the Lord your God!  Do you see friends, all issues in life and all sins that are committed are directly related to the very first commandment.  In other words, there are two ways to look at all things in your life, from God’s perspective or from the worlds perspective.

“I believed, and so I spoke”.  Are these powerful spiritual words that unlock worldly treasure and rewards or is there a deeper spiritual meaning to them?  You don’t have to go far to get your answer.  St. Paul was simply quoting King David in Psalm 116, verse 10, and through that quote he was pointing out that his faith in the promises of God find their origin and power through the same source of Spirit given faith that King David was given.

In that quote of Paul, he is assuring us that what he is preaching and teaching boldly and willingly is exactly the same thing that David proclaimed.  Both Paul and David were very familiar with hard times; they knew all to well sorrows and threats of danger and harm.  And both Paul and King David were sustained and motivated by the exact same faith.  Like Paul, King David was delivered for a purpose, so that he could walk before the Lord in the land of the living and proclaim the truth of God, which alone is able to defeat the lies of the devil and sinful men and women.

While the world may chose to preach, teach, and confess positive thinking and word of faith as true faith, we like St. Paul and King David must be realists.  We know that there is suffering, sickness, disease, poverty, racism, and violence through out this world.  Simply proclaiming some hidden power to be protected from this reality is just plain stupid, especially when nowhere in His Word does God say that if you have a strong faith you will be immune from these things.  Instead God calls us to place our faith in what is not seen; in what He declares to be our eternal reality.

What does this kind of life centered in the eternal promises of God look like?  Well, again, let’s look at St. Paul’s life for the answer.  In the middle of all kinds of danger, danger like folks trying to kill him in every town he goes to visit simply because he is proclaiming the forgiveness of sins and the resurrection of the dead, in the middle of these threats, St. Paul remains brave and steadfast; why?  Because He knew that the same God who raised Jesus from the dead would raise him and all believers in Christ as well.  This is the right kind of name it and claim it that we are called to proclaim and believe.

True faith is always connected to Jesus and the promises that He gives to His church.  The true faith of a Christian never forgets that it is in the world but not of the world.  True faith remembers that the life that we are living is always following Jesus from sorrow and death, to resurrection and glory.

Dear friends, we face the same things today that St. Paul dealt with.  Like Paul we too wait for Jesus to come again and end the destruction and sin that has overtaken all of creation, and we wait never knowing when He will come, but only knowing that His return is imminent.

To be sure, St. Paul and the early church preachers took great comfort in their baptismal guarantee of being resurrected, but their comfort in all of their trials and tribulations ran deeper than that.  You see they also took comfort in the promise of God that within their message of forgiveness, was the actual power of God’s Spirit, which actually does save the world from sin, death, and the devil, through the suffering and death of Jesus Christ What gave them even greater comfort and power was the promise of each believer’s resurrection; the fact that Jesus resurrection would also be the reality for all who receive and believe the promises of God that are given in Holy Baptism.  In other words, St. Paul was comforted by the expanding Kingdom of God one sinner at a time, which now includes you!

Dear friends, St. Paul and indeed the entire church after him believe and also speak and work with all of their hearts to bring others into this same faith, because only then will these others also be given the resurrected life of the blessed.  So within the heart of Paul and all Christians is the God given gift of faith that is paired equally with a great gift of love so that as many who are willing to believe will be presented together before God as the body of Christ, and together with one voice sing out praises of thanks giving before their Creator God.

This is the work of God’s champion, the Son of Adam and Eve and the very Son of God, Jesus Christ, and it is this work alone that God calls us to put our faith in.  And through this faith we know that even when this temporary tent which is our human bodies is destroyed, whether through sickness, disease, famine, or violence, we have an eternal body, a mansion within Paradise restored that God has prepared for us through His Son Jesus Christ.

It is there in paradise, that we will finally know by sight and not by faith a life of true pleasure and glory with God and Christ.  It is there where we will dwell eternally in a permanent, glorious, infinitely blessed existence in heaven.  So believe and confess that this temporary existence is not your eternal reality, and endure patiently with the rest of the church militant, as we wait to join the rest of the church triumphant who are already in eternity living with and glorifying their God with praises!   AMEN!

God Is Love!

May 31st, 2015

Trinity Sunday, May 30, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

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

God is one.  There is only one God.  The one God exists from eternity as one God.  God alone is eternal.  Would it surprise you to know that there are many other religions that will agree with you?  In fact, they will appeal to this very truth in an attempt to draw you away from your own Christian faith.

You see, in addition to confessing that God is one, we Christians also confess that God is love, in fact we say that love is the very essence of God.  Now these other religions will never deny that God loves but they won’t agree that love is the essence of who God is.  They will argue that although God loves, love can’t be His essence, because that would make Him dependent on someone, and God depends on no one.  But this kind of argument is false because it ignores the very essence of God.

The true God is indeed one, but just believing in this fact doesn’t mean a person is worshiping the true God; for you see, the one true God is also united within Trinity, and within His Triune nature God is love.  The only God who exists is the Triune God.  Any god who isn’t triune isn’t God because a god who isn’t triune can’t be love, and God is love.  Dear friends, please don’t ever let anyone lead you away from this truth because it is crucial to your very salvation.  If God wasn’t love then he wouldn’t have sent His only begotten Son to suffer and die upon the cross for you!

God’s love isn’t an attribute that makes Him dependent on us, but rather it’s an attribute that defines His very essence as God in regards to the relationship shared between the three persons within the One Godhead.

When we say God is love we are also saying that God could not be love unless He was Triune.  You see, there’s an eternal unity of love between the Father who begets and generates the Son who is begotten.  This eternal unity of divine love exists as well between the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit who is sent from the two of them.  But as I told the children, this is far too high for us to grasp.  After all, He is the Creator and we are the creature!

Dear friends, while completely understanding God is far above us, we can know about Him by paying attention to what He has already revealed about Himself.  We know from scripture that the Father has generated or begotten the Son on many occasions.  It was the Son and two angels who visited Abraham outside of Sodom and Gomorra to warn Abraham of the pending destruction of the two cities, so that his nephew Lot might be saved.  It was God the Son generated by the Father who took on the form of a burning bush so that Moses might behold some of the Lord’s glory and receive God’s Law that would teach Israel how to relate rightly to a Holy and loving God.  And it was God the Son who appeared to Isaiah in heaven and out of love sent Him to preach repentance to Judah.

There are many more instances throughout scripture that demonstrate that God the Father generates or begets the Son in order to accomplish the purpose of God, but for us, the best example is found in John 1:And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” [John 1:14]

Do you hear in those words how the Son is now forever generated or begotten in human flesh yet He still eternally possesses eternal glory, grace, and truth.  And together the Father and the Son send the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit.

It was God the Spirit who was hovering over the face of the waters in the very beginning of creation. He was sent by the Father and the Son, and together they created the heavens and the earth—He was with these Words: ““Let there be light,” and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good. [Genesis 1:1-4]  Like a marvelous symphony God’s Word’s of Love spoke forth creation and goodness.  It was an eternal love generated and sent from the heart of the One true God who has revealed Himself in three persons.  But we must not divide the person’s from the One True God or we will loose His essence, which is love.  What do I mean by this?  Well think of it this way: While it is the Father who generates or begets, and it is the Son who is begotten but not made, and it is the Holy Spirit who is sent together by the Father and the Son, there are not three God’s but One. As One, the three persons created everything that there is together.  The divine mystery of God’s triune nature is this: As One they have always existed, and since God does not change they will always be One in glory and majesty.  When we pray to our Lord in heaven we do not pray to three Lords, but rather we pray to one Lord because the Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, and the Holy Spirit is Lord.  Three persons united eternally in One essence of love, which is God!  So why am I talking about an eternal relationship of love into which you and I could never find our way into?

Because friends, God has created a way—He has brought His love to us!  In so doing He has established fellowship with us.  But in order to enjoy all of the benefits of this relationship (eternal grace, mercy, and peace with God and each other), we must also faithfully believe that God the Son took on human flesh.  God did this not because He needed to, but rather He did it because He is love.  We are the ones in need!  We need God to come to us.

Although God’s voice declared that all that He had made in the beginning was good, it was our own sinfulness that forever turned good into evil.  In our natural condition, there is not a single thing that we can do to save ourselves…we need God’s mercy, pardon, and forgiveness.  And yet the punishment for our own sin is death, eternal separation from God’s love.  But as a true champion, our saving God came to us in our own human flesh and paid for our sins Himself.  In Jesus Christ, all of God came to us.  Our Creator, out of His love for us, wrapped Himself in creation, because only He could remedy our hopeless situation.  Why do I say all of God came to us?  Because, remember, we can never divide the essence of God.  God always acts as one because He is one.

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

At the baptismal font God’s work of re-creation was activated for you; there at the font, you were “Born Again!”  All of the benefits of Jesus’ suffering and death were given to you.  The old sinful man and woman that was your identity at birth has now been put to death through His same Word of creation that was spoken “In The Beginning.” This re-creation of life from death is now yours because of God’s own suffering and death through Christ Jesus!

Dear friends, do you see what a wonderful gift of love is now yours?  You have been freed from your former body of death and you have been given a new life.  Please, don’t take lightly what God has done for you.  Rather, embrace it and cherish this gift.  Live out this new life with certainty that it is yours.  We must not doubt that this gift is ours, because it was given out of God’s love.  And yet when the troubles of life creep in, we do doubt, and that is why Jesus has not left us alone in this life as orphans.  He promises that He and the Father are still with us in love, because He has sent us the gift of the Holy Spirit, and where the Holy Spirit is, there also are the Father and the Son, because God is One!

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

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

Note two remarkable truths. First, the Lord wants to send someone to speak for him. The question asked, “Whom shall I send?” is for the benefit of Isaiah. God wants to send a human to speak for him. God could have sent the seraphs who sang in the heavenly temple, but that isn’t His choice. Instead, God desires to send a creature limited not only by flesh and blood but also by sin. Isaiah had just confessed his sinfulness just as you have done, yet God wanted to send him.

The next amazing truth is the willingness of Isaiah. He responds without hesitation, “Here I am. Send me!” The same person who just a moment ago was terrified because of his sin is now exhibiting courage, and he gladly in embraces his call to go for the Holy One of Israel. What caused this transformation? The very same work that God wants to do in your heart; forgiveness and the realization that God wants to use us like He used Isaiah, produces the reply. Forgiveness has worked a miracle inside the prophet. Courage replaced fear. Willingness replaced a sense of unworthiness. God has worked this miracle “to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13). And Isaiah volunteered without knowing anything about his call. He simply expressed his willingness to go no matter what tasks the Lord had in store for him.

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

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

What this means for us is that God’s mission can’t fail because He is the very source, message and power of that mission.  God has invited you to work with Him in His mission.  For you see, God desires to use simple means to perform mighty miracles in order to confound the supposed wisdom of the devil and sinful men.

Along with His Word, God uses simple water, bread, and wine, and He chooses to use you and me!  He uses us when we speak His Word and give our witness to our neighbor.  And who is our neighbor?  Anyone that God puts in our daily lives!  Won’t you give it a try?  Won’t you tell others about your love for your One True God who exists in both Trinity and Unity?  Tell them how you were saved at the baptismal font.  Tell them how you grow in His Word every day, and how your faith is nourished here at His Holy table!  Why not invite a friend to come with you to church.  Don’t worry, you won’t be alone when you do these things…remember, you’re on a mission with the rest of us, and that mission is powered by the Holy Spirit!

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

It All Comes Down To This

May 24th, 2015

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

Click here for audio of this message

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

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

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

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

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

But here’s another truth…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These Things Are Written That…

May 17th, 2015

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Easter 7B, May 21, 2015

Click here for audio of this message

May the words of this message and the meditations of our hearts be both directed by you, and pleasing unto you O Lord.  In the name of the Father Son and Holy Spirit, AMEN!

Let’s immediately address the title of our message this morning.  Can you finish it?  I hope that you can because we just sang those words in our Alleluia and Verse, before the reading of the Gospel lesson.  “These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.”  [John 20:31] The apostle who wrote those words is the same St. John who wrote these Words from our Epistle lesson (1 John 5:9-15), “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” [V.13]

Notice, that the Word says “that you know that you may have eternal life”,  and it does not say “that you can have eternal life.” God desires that all men, women, and children, know that eternal life is already there’s through His Son Jesus Christ; through His life, death, and resurrection, and then know that all of it was done for you.  He came so that you could have a new and forgiven life, without fear or doubt.  He came that you might have an abundant life once again with your Creator.
His coming to sinful men and women was promised in His Word since the first sin of Adam and Eve; a sin that seemed to forever bar all mankind from returning to Paradise.  But the promised solution, the hope for both them and all mankind was the “Seed of the woman,” who would latter be known as the Messiah; the One who would make all things new and right with our Heavenly Father.  This Seed we know by faith, as a gift from God, is the Son of God, Jesus Christ.  He is the Messiah who was promised, that would restore mankind’s lost relationship with God, and thus bring us back to Paradise lost.  It is God Who makes all things new, and it has absolutely nothing to do with you and your efforts or lack of them.  He does it entirely through His Son Jesus Christ alone and through…

Scripture alone, grace alone, and faith alone. It is scripture, grace, and faith alone that recreates our hearts and minds so that we will believe that Jesus is the Christ and then receive His saving name, which alone ensures our hearts that we have eternal life. Again Jesus the Christ saves us, but saves from what?  Well, from the condemnation of our sins of course!  But how do we know this is true?  Through…

Scripture Alone: In the message of the inspired writers of Holy Scripture comes the re-creative Word of God; the Logos, who in the beginning said, “Let there be…” and there was!

John admitted that he could have written much more about the physical life of the Logos who came to us, but what he did write was enough to bring us eternal life.  St. Paul put it this way: “You have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” [2 Tim. 3:15]  Scripture does this by introducing us to Christ Jesus. So, we can say that as God’s Word introduces us to Jesus, it is also bringing the power of God into the lives of we who believe. [Rom 1:16]  God’s Word, every bit of it, found within your Bibles is powerful, because it teaches you about Jesus Christ.

The word of the prophets, which promised the coming of the Messiah, can be compared to a fire, because it purges the hearts of sinners of anything that does not come from God’s Word.  And it can be compared to a hammer, because it shatters our hearts that can become hard as rock when we place our hope in anything accept Christ alone! [Jeremiah 23:29]  The words of Scripture rise from the pages of our Bible with only two purposes, to pierce our hearts in regards to sin, and to heal our hearts in regards to the work of our Savior. [Heb. 4:12] John’s words about the Word made Flesh were written to bring life to each of us who hear or read those Words.  “These things are written that you may believe  that Jesus is the Christ!”

Now with all of this being true, we must always remember that when we are reading God’s Word, it must be handled with both respect and a sense of awe.  We must never try to impose our own cultural ideas upon that Word, nor use it to justify our sinful actions.  Scripture interprets Scripture. The Word of the Lord alone can govern how his Word is to be understood. The one who listens to God’s Word is to be “trapped” within that Word. It remains an authoritative voice from outside of our control. Therefore, the words of Scripture must be understood within the context of God’s revelation of Himself within the biblical text, and not according to what contemporary society says is truth.  We as the readers or hearers of God’s Word stand under that Word and never over it.

In our first reading this morning (Acts 1:12-26), we join the eleven apostles and many disciples of Jesus as they are leaving the mount called Olivet, where for the last time, they physically saw Jesus as He ascended into Heaven to be seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.  After they witnessed Jesus going up into heaven, they returned and stayed in Jerusalem, just as Jesus had commanded them.  But it was the way that they were waiting, which has significance to our message this morning; they were waiting “with one accord, devoting themselves to prayer.”  That is, they were devoted to worship and the one correct understanding of God’s Word!

What was it that united them?  Scripture alone!  It was through scripture that the work of the Holy Spirit moved Peter to fill the place that Judas, by his death vacated.  Judas Iscariot, the one who scripture prophesied would not only betrayed Jesus Christ and the Christian faith, but take his own life to boot!

Peter, filled with the Spirit of God, and moved by the Spirit, stood before the congregation, and began to apply scripture to their situation.  As he spoke, the Holy Spirit reminded of the two portions of Scripture from the Psalms of David, which prophesied both the betrayal of the Messiah, and the punishment and replacement of the betrayer. First, he read Psalm 69, which proclaims, “May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it.”  In other words, the betrayer will be punished, and his betrayal of the faith will not be repeated again by those who replace him.  The next Psalm brought before the heart of Peter was Psalm 109, which declares, “Let another take his office.”  That its let another apostle be called.

So what we learn from this is that it is Christ alone who chooses, and it is Christ who still speaks to His Church through Holy Scripture and prayer.  It is by grace alone that any are chosen, and it is by faith alone that they will continue stead fast in this high call of God.  And we will need this faith that comes through the Word of God every day, because like Judas we too can only be saved by…

Grace Alone: And like Judas, we too are subject to fall from our call as Christians and betray our Lord, choosing the rewards of this sinful world over the grace of God.  In fact, it has already begun in your life, hasn’t it?  Wasn’t it your sins, like the sins of Judas that caused Jesus to set His heart on that painful walk to the cross?  Quickly, don’t deny it; simply say “Yes, Christ died for my sins.”  Because if you cannot say that Jesus died for your sins, that it was your sins that led Him to the cross, then you cannot receive the forgiveness of sins that His death brings.  That is, you cannot receive His grace, which is the undeserved gift of God’s forgiving love.

Dear saints, when you are in Christ’s church, when you are gathered around the Word and Sacraments, you are receiving Jesus gifts without merit, which come through Scripture alone, by grace alone, and which save you by both creating and sustaining faith alone.

Faith Alone-is that very thing, which allows us to receive and believe that not only has Christ died to save the World, but He also died to save you!  By faith alone, you are able to say along with the entire church, “He is risen, indeed, but more importantly, He has risen for me.”

Because he died to save sinners, He died to save you, and in your baptism, He has given all of this to you.  In the washing of the water and the Word of God, you may stand with confidence upon the work of Jesus Christ and the teaching of the twelve apostles, which alone not only promises, but also gives eternal life.

So faith is simply the empty hand of a beggar, which has nothing on its own, but simply waits to be filled with belief in Christ by God Almighty.

Now let’s look at a case study of a real man whom God says was a type of Judas; a type, which all of us may become if we do not cling to Jesus alone, through Scripture alone, by grace alone, and by faith alone. It is the story of Ahitophel, who was counselor of King David.  The Bible mentions this man only in three places, yet his life is intertwined with King David from the time that David became king in Hebron until the time of the death of David’s son, Absalom.  In 2 Samuel 16:23 we are told that the counsel of Ahitophel “was as if a man had inquired at the oracle of God: so was all the counsel of Ahitophel both with David and with Absalom.”  So where did this man of God, Ahitophel come from?    Well, the Bible says he was from the town of Giloh, a town near Hebron (Joshua 15:51-55). Hebron was the area where young David, before he was king, sent his young men to a man called Nabal, asking for some thing in return for having protected Nabal’s shepherds and flocks from marauders in the area of Carmel.  David was ridiculed by Nabal, and it was Nabal’s wife Abigail who saved the lives of all of them from the wrath of David, by her quick thinking and action. After Nabal died, David married Abigail, and if you read 1 Samuel 25 you will see that she admits that the meaning of her husband’s name Nabal, is “Fool”. This is the only man in the Bible who has this name.

So what is the meaning of Ahitophel’s name?  It is “the brother of a fool.”  But unlike his brother Nabal, he was renowned for his wisdom and understanding. You’ll find him mentioned as King David’s counselor in 1 Chron. 27:33. And it appears, that he held this position up until the time of the rebellion of David’s son Absalom.

So why did Ahitophel commit suicide?  Well, Ahitophel had served David closely and obediently for years, yet out of no where he seems to have turned on his King, and joined the conspiracy of David’s son Absalom to over throw David, but when the advice he gave Absalom in regards to defeating David was not followed, out of shame and fear, he committed suicide by hanging himself.  But Why; why did he turn traitor, and why the permanent solution to what seems to be a temporary problem?  And herein lies an interesting tale.

You see, Ahitophel was the one person who was in the know when David committed adultery with Bathsheba. He was in the Palace, in the confidence of the King and he was Bathsheba’s Grandfather! Yes, you can look it up yourself in 2 Sam.11:3 and 2 Samuel 23:34. Bathsheba was the daughter of Eliam whose father was Ahitophel. So here along with the death of his brother, is the seed of betrayal that years later became the motivation for Ahithophel to turn on David and join David’s son, Absalom.

Remember, Bathsheba had been happily married to Uriah, and it was Bathsheba whom David seduced and then had her husband Uriah killed in battle.  Ahitophel knew all of this, and carried that grudge for years.  In Psalm 41:9,  David laments, “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.” This is the very verse that Jesus quoted about Judas at the last supper, as the betrayer, who like Ahitophel turned against the one who entrusted him with responsibility.

When both Ahitophel and Judas saw that their advice to their kings was rejected, they both saw that there was no future for them, so they both chose the same end… betrayal and then suicide!

CONCLUSION: Dear friends, we must all consider Ahitophel and Judas when we are tempted to hold a grudge against someone who may have hurt us or let us down.  And then by faith, we must see how God has so lavishly blessed us with His grace, and then ask the Lord to take that root of bitterness out of our hearts, because if it remains, it will ruin us and rob us of the faith that is needed to be led by His Word.

Friends, if you have a grudge against someone, allow God’s Word to have control over your lives.  By faith, go and make peace with the one you are at odds with, and then with the same grace you have been given, go and offer forgiveness to the one that has hurt you.  And remember, forgiveness is a verb, not a feeling. It is something you do through the help of God, and it’s not something you feel. Peace comes after you have gone and forgiven the one you were in conflict with. Whether they accept your forgiveness or not, once you have forgiven, you will by faith, through grace, experience the peace of God in your soul, because the Word of God promises that it is so.  AMEN!

From Lesser to Greater

May 10th, 2015

Easter 6B, May 10, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Sorry, no audio for this message is available

“Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” [Acts 10:47]

This morning, I want to start out our message with a word of encouragement from me your pastor, to each of you who make up this congregation we call Trinity Lutheran Church.  You truly are a welcoming and loving bunch of saints, and your diversity proves that.  You are made up of Asian, African, African American, Caucasian, Hispanic, Polynesian, wealthy, middle class, and poor.  You love each other equally and you are willing to offer up what you have to help each other when asked.  You seem to be following God’s example… you are not a respecter of persons.

All that being said, may I suggest that we take what our first reading (Acts 10:34-48) has to heart, and see if we might still have room to grow, both as individuals and as a congregation?  Good, let’s get started.

Another way to rephrase Peter’s question, would be like this: “Does anyone see what God is doing differently than me?  I see Him saying that He wants to save all people, regardless of who they are or what they are; regardless of what they’ve done or what they haven’t done?”

Did you notice that no one disagreed with Peter?  Now, don’t dismiss this fact because it is very relevant to what God is doing both in our reading and within our community today.  You see, prior to this day, God was seen as a national God, or a God of the Jews.  The Jews believed this, and it tended to steer them towards looking down on other folks; people who were not a part of their nation.  Peter was of this same mindset to an extent; he couldn’t help but be that way because he had been mistakenly taught this mindset from childhood.

But prior to our reading, in Acts 10:1-33, we discover that God had prepared Peter for a shift in his thinking through a vision.  In his vision from God, Peter was shown a great sheet that came out of heaven with all kinds of un-kosher creatures; you know creepy crawly things.  And in the vision, God said, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.  But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.”

Now prior to Peter’s vision, a gentile Roman Centurion who feared God but did not yet know him also had a vision.  And in his vision he was told by an angel to go to the home where Peter was staying and invite him to his home to share the gospel.  And obedient to God’s command, Cornelius sent his men to find Peter and ask him to come and speak.  The next day when Peter arrived at the home, Cornelius welcomed Peter, and Peter proclaimed these wonderful words: “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.”

And then Peter said a prayer, opened his moth and he began to preach this sermon: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.  And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

To those Jewish Christians who were accompanying Peter, and had not the privilege of the vision, this all must have seemed very odd, and out of order.  They must have been thinking, “These are Roman gentiles and not Jews; why is Peter preaching to them our gospel?”

Before they had time to object, and before Peter could even finish his sermon, the Holy Spirit acted in a way that would make God’s desire clear to everyone there and everyone who would hear about this day: “While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

No one that day attempted to prevent these people, who were foreign to God’s holy people from becoming part of Christ’s body; from becoming part of the church.  The gift of speaking in foreign languages was the same work of the Spirit that was done with the apostles and disciples earlier on that first Christian Pentecost.  In other words, God was telling Peter and all of the Jewish Christians that these gentiles, and all people of the earth are equal to the Jewish people; equal in their sins and equal in their need for a Savior.

The blood of Jesus was poured out for not just the sins of the Jews, but for the world, and the waters of Holy Baptism is for all sinners who have been crushed by God’s perfection as demonstrated through His Law and desire forgiveness of sins, and to be born anew, recreated through the washing of the water and the Word!

Would you look around this sanctuary please and tell me what is missing, or should I say who is missing? (Pause) Where are the young people?  Where are the children and young adults?  Oh, we have had plenty of the young people come to visit; we’ve even baptized at least a dozen of them in the last few years, but where have they gone to?  Do you know?  If you don’t know where they’ve gone to, do you know why they left?  Could it be that they left because they didn’t feel that there was a place for them here?  Could it be that we have been so impressed with our diversity in regards to race, ethnicity, and economic standard that we were beginning to feel like we have done all things well, and that there is no more room to grow?  Could it be that we have become a respecter of persons in regards to age?

The title of our message is, “From the lesser to the greater,” because that seems to always be how God works.  He takes the things that we may look down on and turns them into the very thing that brings His law to shame us with our sin of superiority and then shape us with the gospel, the forgiveness of that sin, with the challenge to go and sin no more.  In other words, God has taken that sin from us, so now we must identify it, mark it, and avoid it.

From the lesser to the greater for Peter meant, receiving a message from God about unclean food and then applying that message towards people he felt were unclean. For us today, from the lesser to the greater can be seen in our own lives and discovered within the lives of our neighbors, no matter their age.  We see this play out in our own salvation don’t we?  God moved each of us here this morning, at some time in our own lives from sinner to saint.  That is, within the waters of our own baptism He recreated us through the same word that created the universe, and He recreated us into His very own children.  But He didn’t stop there did He?  No, daily he moves us from repentance to forgiveness; from sin to salvation, and He does it through the same means that He uses to save others who are not yet a part of us; He does it through the proclamation of the gospel (the preached Word), Holy Baptism, and His Holy Communion where He feeds us His very body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine.

All of these things, along with our own witness and conversation with our neighbors, points our hearts and minds back to the very same thing which equally saved us and continues to save us; we are taken back to the Word of God.

Did you notice a moment ago when I was listing God’s means of grace, or His means of giving us faith to believe and confess in the name of Jesus, I also included your own witness and conversation with our neighbors?  This is because we the church are to grab onto and utilize the Word of God in all of its forms.  In both baptism and the Lord’s Supper, it is the Word of God along with the working of the Holy Spirit that brings faith to the one receiving these gifts.

There’s no magical power in any of these things that simply works by itself; it is all empowered by the Holy Spirit to bring faith to the one that is receiving.  The content of the Gospel contains and delivers God’s power for salvation as it creates faith and speaks to that faith.  Just as we struggle to avoid removing the speck from our neighbors eye while ignoring the log within our own, so too we often need a sermon, or a fellow believer to apply the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection to our own hurts and desires of comfort.

Young people today are hurting and aching for that gospel comfort, but they will unlikely find it by simply paging through their Bibles or listening to a 20-minute sermon.  They want to see that gospel hope in action; they want a guide or mentor who will teach them the personal truths of proclaiming and believing in the mystery of eternal life as it is revealed within the name of Jesus.

The voice of the gospel is a living voice, and it lives through each of us.  A sermon on Sunday is a great God ordained example of that Living voice of the Gospel, but if that is the only voice that young people are hearing, I am afraid that with what they face every day in this world darkened by sin, it may not be enough for them to over come the trials they are facing.  They need something more; they need you!

Young people need to be mentored; they need to be reminded by us that they are important to both God and the church.  Young people need mentors, surrogate Christian parents and Grandparents to come alongside them and remind them that what they know and believe of God matters.  They need to know that we older Christians are not that much different than them.  We too, have been moved from sinner to saint and we too struggle to live out the life of Christian while also fighting to put to death our old sinful natures.

While it is true that young people think, talk, and dress differently than we do, they have one thing that is the same: They desire to know God’s love and mercy.  They desire to know the mysteries of salvation that the church declares are theirs through faith in the name of Jesus Christ.  Will you please be that man or woman for the next young person that comes into our midst?

It is my prayer that we will all be aware through the help of God that He has called each of us to be conversing with others, even young people, and consoling them with God’s good news in Christ.  It is you God has chosen to teach these young people He brings into our midst about the abundant love He has lavished upon them through His means of grace that He so freely gives out right here at Trinity Lutheran Church.  I pray we will do this both as individuals and as a congregation for the glory of God and saving grace that calls us out of this lesser world of sin, into the greater glory of eternal life.  I ask this in Jesus name, Amen!

Our Vocation is Clear

May 3rd, 2015

Easter 5B, May 3, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” [John 15:5]

Some of you know that I love Cowboy movies, or as they are more properly called, Westerns.  I love the simplicity of the narrative and the development of the characters.  You have the good guys, the bad guys, and what I like to call the confused guys.  They are the ones, usually the town folks who don’t seem to be committed to anything other than survival, who show great potential, but they always seem inadequate for the task at hand.  And that task almost always in the best westerns is to standup to the bad guys; bad guys who today we might call bullies.

The bad guys in accordance with western genera, are inevitably made up of the rough and crude working class, but there always seems to be an upper class elite who is pulling the strings; intimidating the townsfolk into cowering and ignoring their criminal behavior, all so that the bad guys can have their way.  And within this tension enters the role of the good guy; the hero!

You know that the hero is ready to jump into action, when he says the magic words: “I can’t abide by that!”  What he is actually saying, is that to ignore the evil that is being done in front of him is contrary to his nature.  Or we might say that it is not in keeping with the good guy’s calling.  And what is that calling?  To abide in his nature… to be the good guy!

This morning, God’s Word reminds each of us what our calling or vocation is; we are called to abide in Jesus Christ, the true vine or source of life.  It reminds us that above all our other callings or stations in life, we are Christians; we are the good guys and gals of this world.  We are good, not because of anything that is unique to ourselves, but simply because we have been grafted as branches into the vine, the body of Christ.

Jesus says this in another way that perhaps we can understand: “Already you are clean because of the Word that I have spoken to you.” [Vs. 3]  You have been born again, created anew, cleansed and remade by the washing of the water and the Word.  These two cry out to you as the instruments of your salvation: The blood of Christ shed upon the cross for the sins of the world, and the water of your own baptism which made this gift truly yours personally in a way that ensures that you can and will abide within the body of Christ, His church.

In our first reading (Acts 8:26-40), we encounter one of the best demonstrations on how God ensures that all who desire to abide in Him, will do that very thing.  We meet an unnamed Ethiopian eunuch who is returning from his trip to Jerusalem.  Even though he remains unnamed, God wants you to understand that He was an important man within the nation of Ethiopia, because he was the queen’s own minister of finance.  And because he worked so closely with the queen and her family, as was the tradition back then he also voluntarily became a eunuch; that is through surgery, he became sexless.  But this important man was also something so much more in God’s eyes; he was a person being called unto salvation.  Just as he was surgically altered to serve the queen, God desired to spiritually alter him so that he could abide within the very body of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.

But there was a problem, the good folks who also were called by the same Prince of Peace and who were the authority within the temple of God, were still locked into the old covenant of Moses.  It was this covenant that attempted to bind a gentile into fear and punishment by denying him the very thing that the Jews refused themselves when they crucified Jesus Christ, a relationship of grace and mercy with the Creator.

Now, on his way back from worshiping the One true God as a 2nd class citizen, with an expensive scroll in his possession, this man of faith who is seeking to know the One true God, is introduced to Him in a miraculous way.  As he is reading his scroll, God sends Philipp by order of an angel to meet this Ethiopian seeker and answer all of his questions; questions that should have been answered within the temple but were not.

Through the explanation of the Word of God and the introduction of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, this Ethiopian seeker is moved to plead for the greatest gift he would ever receive: ““See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” [Vs. 37]  And just like that, this eunuch who through the old covenant of Moses was barred from abiding in God’s love was translated immediately into that love by being brought as a branch into the vine, the holy Christian church where he will continue to receive nurturing and teaching through the Word and Sacraments of Christ’s church.  In fact, the history of this ancient nation of Ethiopia teaches us that it was this eunuch who brought the gospel to their great nation.  He first shared that gospel with the Candace or the Queen, who was also baptized and from that point on the church began to flourish and grow, all because one man was called by God to abide in the body of Christ.

It is here in Christ’s church where we are nurtured and strengthened and told to abide.  It is here that we are forever reminded that we too are called to be good guys.  We are called to be loved and to love each other in return.  We are called to hear the truth and to speak the truth.  And this is the truth, Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God took on our real flesh, He became one of us in order to save us; in order to die for this sins of the world, but most importantly He died for your sins personally, you dear saints who have been baptized.

Like the Ethiopian eunuch, you too were called and saved solely through the miraculous work of God’s Spirit; you were saved through the washing of the water and the word.  And you too were called to abide and grow, to learn and then go.  You go out back into the world of darkness and sin, just as the Ethiopian did.  But you are not of this world; you are a child of light and you too confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh! [1 John 4:2]  You are part of the Vine, the Body of Christ, because you have been cleansed, but you must be careful because you are going out into a world and kingdom of darkness.

Like the Ethiopian eunuch and like the early Christians that St. John speaks to in our epistle lesson (1 John 4:1-11) you will most certainly encounter the spirit of the antichrist.  You can find his unholy spirit everywhere.  He is the one who insist that either your abiding faith in Jesus Christ is false or it is insufficient to give you a full life.  They will preach and teach to you a different message that denies you salvation in Christ alone.  Whether it is science alone or Jesus plus works, make no mistake the false teachers are everywhere.  And also do not be misled, whether they admit it or not they are all tools of Satan, that great lion, that ravenous wolf, who only desires to take away your faith and claim you as his own!

The answer to this threat is simple… we must come out of them and gather together with other branches that are abiding in the vine.  Within the vine, the body of Christ His church we find both the love of God and the love of each other.  St. John says it this way: “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the (payment) for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

Beloved, the world can not love you because it is not part of the vine; it does not have the nourishing sap of the Son of God sent out to the branches that abide, that rest in God’s love.  They have not because they can not abide by this God who comes to us and dies for us!

But you can and you will abide in Him.  And because you abide in Him, you cannot abide within the evil of this world.  You can not remain indifferent like the confused and fearful town folks in some Western story.  You must be the good guy because you abide in Him.  But take warning, from Jesus own words, “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” [John 15:2]

Are you nervous about the sufficiency of your fruit?  Do you wonder if you will be taken away due to lack of fruit?  Then hear again the Word of Jesus the True Vine and abide and thrive: “Already you are clean because of the Word that I have spoken to you.”  So continue to abide in me and I will abide in you.

To abide in Christ is to be a fruit producer.  You cannot abide in Him and have no fruit, because His very life blood, the sap of the indwelling Holy Spirit resides in you.  And where the Holy Spirit is, is also His fruit.  What is this fruit?  Well God’s Word plainly tells us that “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance,” (Gal. 5:22, 23); “goodness and righteousness and truth” (Eph. 5:9); These are “the peaceable fruit of righteousness,” (Heb. 12:11).

Dear saints as you abide here in God’s love, He alone is working through His Word and Sacraments to ensure that your love will abide in Jesus and grow more and more in the knowing that you are forgiven and protected from the judgment that awaits the world that will not abide in His Son.  It is here that you are taught and filled with the forgiving love of God through Christ Jesus so that you seek out and approve all things that are excellent; that you may be sincere and without offense to others until the day of Christ; being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are already yours through Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God” (Phil. 1:9–11).

Are you still worried that you do not have enough fruit?  Do not allow that worry to separate you from the nourishment found only in the vine, because it is there alone that fruit may come.  A branch may have only a small amount of fruit, but as long as it draws life from the vine, some of the fruit will be found, and God will bless it and multiply it.

Dear friends, you are one of the good guys, and because you abide within the True Vine you can not abide within the things of this world.  Even when the world overwhelms you, you must not allow your fears, worries, or doubts to sever you from Christ and His Church.  It is precisely at times such as these when you need the nourishment of the vine and the love of other branches the most.  AMEN!

Our Relentlessly Pursuing God

April 26th, 2015

Easter 4B, April 26, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us”. [1 John 3:16a]

What a wonderful text for us to be blessed with this “Good Shepherd” Sunday.  It speaks of God’s love for each of us as demonstrated through the giving of His Son; a Son who willingly laid down His life for lost little sheep such as we.  But, that’s only half of the verse isn’t it?  The other half seems to set a different tone, and then it is followed up with two more verses that seem even more challenging, listen:  “and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?  Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” [1 John 3: 16b-18]

This morning, if we read these Words without remembering who our Good Shepherd is, we may look at Him in a different way; a way that will cause us to flee from Him, instead of running to Him.  This morning we will look at two pictures of God, or two ideas of Jesus and then with the help of the Holy Spirit we’ll allow God to adjust the vision of who He really is within our lives.

This morning you may be receiving Jesus’ Words in our gospel reading (John 10:11–18) like this: I am the relentless hound of God, and I will hunt you down until you lay down your life for your brothers; until you are willing to share all of your goods with a brother in need.  I will hound you and find you and force you to love with not just talk but with deeds!”

Do you sometimes struggle with the sins of your past and your many failures to measure up to what you feel God demands of you?  Do you sometimes feel that this Christian life we are asked to live out might just be too much for you to bear; that the risk of falling short of God’s expectations seems to be more of a certainty than a possibility?  If so, you are not alone in your feelings.

Around 1896, a celebrated English author by the name of Francis Thompson wrote what has been hailed as perhaps the greatest poem ever written in the English language; it was titled “The Hound of Heaven.”  It was revealed to be the story of the authors life; a life he spent running from God and pursuing the happiness of the world.  Thompson compared himself to a rabbit that had been flushed from its hiding place by a hunting dog, which caused him to embark on a life darting from one hiding place to another as the Hound of God relentlessly pursued him.

Listen to a bit of the poem and see if you can find yourself at times within his words: “I fled Him, down the nights and down the days; I fled Him, down the arches of the years; I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears I hid from Him, and under running laughter. Up vistaed hopes I sped; And shot, precipitated, down Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears, From those strong Feet that followed, followed after. But with un-hurrying chase, And unperturbed pace, Deliberate speed, majestic instancy, They beat— and a Voice beat More instant than the Feet— “All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.”

Can you feel the fear and the sense of despair within the author’s words?  Is that the picture of Jesus we have; as a pursuer, a great judge who will find us where ever we flee to either force us to “knuckle under” to his rule or be punished for our miserable failures in life?

Are we too, simply delaying the inevitable confrontation with our God and the coming to grips with our many failures to live up to the “Good Shepherd’s” standards?  Or do we have the picture skewed, and maybe we do not see Jesus rightly?

“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.”  [John 10:14, 15]

After years of running, Francis Thompson finally met the real Jesus; he began to know Him as the Good Shepherd.  Listen to the words he puts in God’s mouth in the poem when God finally confronted him: “All which I took from thee I did but take, Not for thy harms, But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms. All which thy child’s mistake fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home: “Rise, clasp My hand, and come!”

Dear friends, the point communicated in Thompson’s poem is also the message of all of Scripture:  If we choose to shut out God and His Good Shepherd, then we are shutting out our only true shelter and Provider. God is the source of all things safe and secure so whomever chooses to shut him out will be shut out of all good things; we won’t find the love we are seeking in the world because we have rejected it from God. God is saying to us this morning, “You choose to drive love away from thyself when you choose to separate thee from Me.”

“By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.” [1 John 3: 19-22]

God is not the overbearing task master, who sends His Son out to hunt us down like runaway slaves, but instead God sees us as His little lambs who have wondered off into danger; He sends His Son out as our Good Shepherd, who has given His life upon the cross to defeat our true enemy the devil, who prowls like a hungry wolf seeking to devour us.  He drives off the hirelings, who are the false teachers, by feeding us here in this place of pasture and rest with the living water of His comforting Word of gospel truth, which is received, taught, and learned as the purest of doctrine.  (Psalm 23)

It is this truth, which reassures our hearts that God does not condemn us, but rather He came to us in His Son to live with us and then die for us.  But ultimately He wants us to see that He also rose for us from death so that we would not fear our own death.  And all that He asks of us is that we trust Him and walk with Him as He continues to teach us, protect us, and yes even seek us when we wonder off into trouble.

What is the commandment of God that can either bring fear or comfort to you who are Jesus’ little lambs? “This is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.  Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.”

What do you believe in?  Does any thing outside of the name of Jesus even compare with the eternal love and mercy of God almighty?  Can anything within the world give you the assurance and then the continued reassurance that you are never abandoned or forgotten by your Creator like God’s Word and Sacraments can?  Has anyone in the world ever died for you?  Would you even want them to?  No, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” [Romans 5:8]  He died for us to bring us back into God’s love, where we can daily experience safety, mercy, and peace.  And all we must do is rest, feed, and then follow Him, our Good Shepherd Jesus Christ as He teaches us to live a life of sacrifice and service to other lost little lambs who need to find their way back to their Savior.

I will close with a children’s bedtime story, I call “The Lamb Who Wanted to Be Lost.”

Once upon a time there was a little lamb who wanted to run away from home.  So, he said to his Good Shepherd who loved him very much, “I am running away.”  “If you run away,” said the Shepherd, “I will run after you.  For you are my little lamb.”  Then the little lamb told his shepherd that if he runs after him, he will become a fish and swim away from him.  And the Good Shepherd smiled and countered that he would simply become a fisherman and fish for him.  The little lamb then decided to become a rock on the top of a tall mountain, and so the Good Shepherd said that he would become a mountain climber.  After a rock, he decides to become a flower hidden in a large garden, and the Good Shepherd says that he will simply become a gardener.  Whatever the little lamb wanted to become to escape from his shepherd, he countered with a person or thing that would find him.  And so the story goes until the end, when the little lamb finds himself exhausted trying to come up with more ideas, and finally says, “Aw shucks, I might as well just stay where I am and be your little lamb.”

Well… AMEN!

Repentance and… Heaven!

April 19th, 2015

Easter 3B, April 19, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

“While he clung to Peter and John, all the people, utterly astounded, ran together to them”. [Acts 3:11]

What should we make of that sick man in our First Reading (Acts 3:11-21) who clung to Peter and John?  Sure he was grateful to have his health back, but to cling to them; to follow them every where; to say good bye to your entire life prior to that moment of healing and be willing to start over clinging to these two men, doesn’t that seem a little extreme, almost cultish?  Well sure, if it was in fact Peter and John this man was devoted to, but it wasn’t, was it?  No!

Peter addresses the large crowd that thought that way, and he corrects them by saying, “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk?”  Then he says, it wasn’t us, it was Jesus, who you killed, that healed this man; Jesus the Author of Life, and the Forgiver of sins!

The healed man knew this and he believed it; he received it all in the name of Jesus and the witness that John and Peter gave to him about that name.  Sure he was healed, but where the real miracle took place wasn’t in his body, or even in the Temple, but instead, it was in an existence so far from their physical reality that normal folks would never believe it.  What was that miracle and what was that existence.  The miracle was repentance, forgiveness of sins, and the existence was eternal resurrected life in heaven!

Last week we heard that the key to Christian fellowship, that is fellowship and harmony with each other is in that little word faith.  This week, we will build on that and discover that the key to fellowship with God is also faith, but then something else is added, REPENTANCE!

What is repentance?  Some will say that it simply means turning around, or turning away from something, and I would agree with that, but there is something much deeper than that, something which makes repentance a part of your eternal life.  You see, what is important is Who you are turning around to.  You notice I did not say what you are turning to or what you are turning away from.

To be sure, those things are within repentance, but it all starts with Who you are turning to.  The sick man knew Whom he was turning to; he was turning to Jesus the Author of Life who alone can take away the sins of the world.  The Lamb of God who not only dies for the sins of the world, but comes back to life to prove that He has defeated sin, death, and the devil for you, so that you too will be assured of the eternal resurrected life in glory just as Jesus lives it out now.

Like the sick man, you too have been healed, forgiven of your many sins and promised a new and eternal-resurrected life, where you too will never again know sickness nor disease, nor temptation to sin.  And all you must do is cling to Jesus!  Turn to Him and receive forgiveness.  When you turn to Him, you turn to the cross and the empty tomb, and all that He has accomplished is yours.  When you turn to Him, you are also turning away from your sin and the ways of the devil and this fallen world; that is, your trust is no longer in sinful things and sinful ways, because Jesus in His Word has taught you a better way.

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”  Those first words of our epistle lesson (1 John 3:1-7) state a reality to all who have turned to and cling to Jesus Christ; you are children of God!  No ifs, ands, or buts about it, it’s a done deal.  People without faith can never understand this because without faith they see no need to turn away from their sinful lives and sinful choices.  So, this whole repentance thing sounds strange and impossible to them.  It is as if they want to ask us, “So let me get this straight, you want me to turn to an invisible man who you say is also God, and then you want me to ask to be forgiven for life choices and a life style that society and I see no problem with.  In fact, isn’t it true that it is only you Christians who find my choices offensive?  No thanks, you can keep your Jesus!”

Why do people without Jesus find you and your clinging to Him so offensive?  Because they don’t know Him!  But you do, don’t you?

Now I can see the wheels turning in your heads and almost hear your thoughts right now.  You may be thinking, “I hope I do; I sure hope so.  I want to believe and I want to know Him, but sometimes I truly just don’t know.”

Repent!  Turn to Jesus and cling to Him.

You are doing that right now.  Just as the sick man seemed to be clinging to Peter and John, so you right this moment are here in church, but your not clinging to this place nor the pastor, you are clinging to Jesus.  This church, and I your pastor are simply the instrument that Jesus uses to speak faith into your hearts so that you will continue to turn away from doubt and keep clinging to Him.

You see you need faith to keep clinging to Jesus, to keep repenting because while it is true that “we ARE children of God now, (it is also true that) what we will be has not yet appeared (that is to this world of flesh that lacks faith); but we know that when Christ appears (that is when He returns in glory) we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.”

And now a fruit of faith that reveals the result of repentance… “everyone who thus hopes (in Jesus; who clings to Him and His Word of forgiveness) purifies himself as (Jesus) is pure.

You see, “everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.  You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.  No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.  Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.”

What does it mean to purify yourself?  Don’t be deceived, you can’t just simply say, “I am baptized!” and then do what ever you wish.  You can’t cling to the world and Jesus at the same time.  Another way to say you are purifying yourself is to say that you are repenting; you have learned to agree with God that He and His Word are right and this sinful society is wrong.  To purify your self is to cling to Jesus, to be filled with His presence within His Word and Sacraments, which are the very means that not only give you faith, but also the strength to fight the sin that is in you.  You see, while it is a truth to declare that I am saved by faith in the name of Jesus, and in that name and person of Jesus I cling, it is also a truth to declare that sin still clings to you; it is within your very flesh.  So what are we to do?

Return to the Lord your God for He is gracious and merciful; slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love!  Return to the promises of Jesus, which were first given to you in your baptism; promises that declare that He will never leave you nor forsake you; promises, which declare that “He who began the good work in you will complete it!”   Claim these promises as your very own and everyday put to death the sin that clings to your flesh.  Fight the good fight of faith and do not loose hope, because…

“Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as (Jesus) is righteous.”  We practice righteousness when by faith, we not only see things as God sees them, but we also fight to do that good thing.  And when we fail, when we fall to sin the answer is the same as before…

Repent! See Jesus correctly and cling to Him alone.  In our gospel reading (Luke 24:36-49), we are once again in the upper room on Easter evening, with the disciples, who are afraid and amazed.  I can almost hear their discussion now: “It must be true, too many people we trust have independently reported the same thing to us.  Jesus is not dead, but He is risen, indeed!”

They must have been filled with faith to know that their hope and dreams had not come to a violent end like the ocean waves which crash upon the rocky shore.  So, why were they afraid when Jesus appeared in their midst?

They were afraid because sinful flesh always demands to interpret circumstances according to the understanding of this sinful world.  “Eek!  It’s a ghost!”  And to that Jesus says.. ‘Knock it off, dummies!’  No not really, you see Jesus is the Author of life, the giver of faith, so He speaks in a way that will turn them away from their fears, doubts, and failures, and then back to the promise of forgiveness of sins and eternal life. “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”  And by the way, “Do you have any thing to eat?”

Do you understand what Jesus had done for them?  It is the same thing He does for you.  He comes to you in the middle of your sins, in the midst of your sinful thinking and He says, “Peace to you!  (I know your struggle and your fears.  Do not be afraid, because I am always with you, even until the end of time when I will come again to take you home).”  See I am with you; I who was crucified upon the cross for you.  By faith see my pierced hands and feet; see the gash in my side.

All these things my Word assures you of.  See I have washed you clean; recreated you into my image before my Father and your Father, and now come to my banquet table.  I myself have something for you to eat and drink.  Take and eat, this is my body.  Take and drink, this is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for the forgiveness of all of your sins.

Repent dear saints, even as this world sees you as no better than them.  Turn to Jesus and cling to Him.  Turn to the place that gives to you His Living Word and His very body and blood, and cling to the gifts that this place so freely gives to you.  It is His will that you believe.  And it is His work alone that opens your minds and hearts so that you will not only believe but continuously turn to Him and receive the promise of eternal life and glory, within the heaven that He has gone to prepare for you.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN and Amen!