Don’t Look Back

June 30th, 2019

Pentecost 3-C
June 30, 2019
Written by Rev. Brian T. Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church San Diego, CA 92114 And
Proclaimed By Rev. Richard Stark
Assoc. Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church

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I want to tell you a story about a man named Dave.  He works in one of those major high rise banks downtown.  Each day he walks the long twisting corridors, and uses the elevator to visit all 45 floors as he daily delivers and picks up mail.  “No big deal” we think, “it’s just a job!”  Well you would think that it’s only a job unless you stopped him and asked him, “What’s up?  How are you?”  Immediately you would hear his answer: “God is good and Jesus saves!”  This isn’t just a slogan for Dave; it’s his way of life!  Everyone that God puts in his path hears a word about God’s love through Jesus Christ.  If you watch him closely, you will hear him quoting scripture to himself as he pushes his mail cart along.  Some people rudely tell him to keep his Jesus talk to himself.  And after he passes by, some will even say pretty mean things about Dave.  Dave knows that this happens, but still he goes on with a smile on his face and in his heart, because he knows that he is really working for Jesus!  If you got to know Dave, you would find out that he even learned to speak Spanish so he could witness to his Latino neighbors.  While the rest of us fight to get on top of our world and make big money, Dave quietly lives out the mind and heart of Jesus through daily contact with others; whether he visits file clerks, corporate executives, or Spanish speaking neighbors, Dave loves to tell them about Jesus Christ.  Most of us would see him as one of the least of the community, but Jesus most likely places him amongst the greatest!

This morning let’s consider both God’s Word and His desired effect that His Word would have on us!  Our Old Testament reading asks us to consider the call of Elisha who left his family farm and followed God’s call with no regrets.  Our Epistle reading reminds us that we are living in the spirit and not according to the flesh.  We have been freed from the slavery of the Law and our fear of sin, death, and the devil.  And in our gospel reading, Jesus Himself tells us that “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God!”  In all three of these readings we are invited to do the same thing… we are invited to pick up our cross and follow Jesus!

In our gospel reading (Luke 9:51-62) we discover that James and John are angry at some people in a Samaritan village because they rejected Jesus.  

They wanted to call down fire upon that place and destroy it, but Jesus reminds them that He must go to Jerusalem.  Why?  Why is Jesus’ face set towards Jerusalem?  So that he could fulfill His mission, which is also His calling and His vocation.  Jesus must go to Jerusalem so that He could carry His cross and suffer and die for the world; even for the people in this little village that rejected Him and deserved punishment; even for you!

Just after this we read starting in verse 57, “Someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.””  What a strange thing to say.  What was Jesus trying to tell this man?  I believe that Jesus was telling him that he was too ready.  It was the same thing he saw in Peter, when Peter said, “Even if all the others leave you, I will never leave you.”  And to this Jesus warned Peter, “Before the rooster crows, you will have denied me three times.”  And he did!  Why?  For the same error this man was making; he failed to count the cost of what it means to be a true disciple of Jesus.  

I have a friend who was a US Marine recruiter.  He said that his job was to talk people out of becoming a Marine.  He said that many times people are enamored by the uniform and the excitement of serving, and they failed to see both the demand and the dangers that this high calling brings.  So he would tell them many truthful stories with just one purpose, to force them to see the cost of becoming a United States Marine.

Jesus neither accepted nor rejected this young man’s request to become a disciple; He simply informed him of the truth.  This man needed to see what his offer would involve, not in some idealistic world, but in a sober and sane sense of reality.  Jesus wasn’t merely asking the young man to exchange his easy life for a hard one, instead He was using His homelessness as a way to illustrate the path that every true believer must walk.  Each Christian must choose to live by faith and not by sight.  We must realize that by following Jesus we are choosing a spiritual reality instead of a physical one.  By following Jesus each disciple is asked to live a life with eternal purposes instead of temporary physical ones.  

Next in verse 59, Jesus initiates the conversation.  He says to another young man “Follow me.”   But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”  And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead.  But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”  What strange words these are, and we may even be thinking, “That was a cruel thing to say!”  But Jesus knows the man’s heart and He knows our hearts because He created them.  This man hesitated in following Jesus.  He had parents who were still living and he depended on them.  He would follow after they died; after he buried them.  He would commit to an uncertain future but not the present moment.  

Jesus’ answer probably shocked that man just as it shocks us.  “You aren’t responsible for the dead, but for the living.  People with no commitment to me—people who are dead spiritually—can bury those who die physically.  Leave the burying to them and follow me.  Commitment to me must take precedence over all of your other commitments, traditions, politics, and even your family!”

Finally, in verses 61 and 62 we read: “Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to those at home.  Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”  In all three of these conversations, God is asking each of us to truthfully ask ourselves how we would answer Jesus.  No, He is asking each of us this morning, “How DO you answer me?  I have heard your profession of faith.  I have invited to you to follow me.  What is your response?  Have you counted the cost of being a true disciple?  Are you willing to forsake all other concerns to follow me?  Are you willing to not look back on what you use to have, should have had, or could have without me?”  

This morning dear friends God is telling us not to look back.  

He is asking each of us to pick up the Words of St. Paul and say, “This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto the things which are before (me), I press on toward the mark of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” [Phil. 3:13-14]  What is that high calling?  It is the cross of Jesus Christ.  It is the sacrifice of self so that you can be one with Jesus Christ and one with your brothers and sisters who make up the universal church.

Friends, Christ is asking each of us to not just be committed to him but to live out the freedom that He gave us through His suffering, death, and resurrection.  This is the freedom that He gave to each of us in our blessed baptism.  But He also warns us not to take this freedom for granted.  Do not use your freedom to serve the desires of your flesh in this life.  Instead, remember that your high calling is to walk with Jesus in the spirit and to love your neighbor as yourself.  To remember that we must put our neighbor’s need of eternal life and happiness above our own needs.  

This morning God warns us that if we are not living out this spiritual reality, the result will be that we will bite and devour one another and eventually consume one another. [Ga. 5:15]  What is the only way to prevent this sinful behavior and protect the gift of salvation that we’ve been given?  To walk by the spirit!  To pick up our cross and follow Jesus!

In God’s Word we are ensured that by faith in Jesus Christ we do enjoy the full favor and approval of God.  

God is not against us but for us. [Rom 8:17]  But on the other hand, God has determined that our high dignity of being a Christian is that we should not become entangled in this life, but instead we should receive the same humility and character that the earthly life of Jesus portrayed. [1 Peter 4:1]  And this humble life that we are called to live, which conforms us to the image of Christ is called the cross of Christians.  The things that we Christians suffer because we are living out our faith in Christ in a sinful world is our cross!  If you follow Christ and confess the Gospel which is Him crucified, you will be stumbling block and an offense to this sinful world; you will receive the same treatment the world gave to Jesus.  But by your faith in Christ and His daily assurance that your sins are forgiven, you will no longer look at your suffering as a punishment but as the assurance of God that He loves you and is with you in your suffering.  

Friends, God is ever present with you through His Word assuring you not to fear the wrong judgment and ill treatment of this sinful world and the devil.  Because you hold fast to His Word in faith, put your hope in the Son of God, comfort yourself with His death and resurrection, fear God and desire to live according to His will, and sincerely desire to share your hope with others that God puts in your path, you can have confidence that nothing could ever separate you from God’s love which is yours through Christ Jesus!  But because our sinful flesh hungers and lusts for things that are by nature against God’s Word, will and order; and because our sinful flesh refuses to submit to suffering, and bearing crosses, God invites each of us into confession to admit that without His aid we are powerless to help ourselves.  He asks us daily to live out our baptisms by renouncing everything that interferes with our relationship with Jesus Christ and the building of His kingdom within our hearts and within this world, even at the expense of our own peace and tranquility, honor, possessions, affection of family members… even at the expense of our own lives!  Bearing our cross means that we must forsake all things that separate us from the love of God which is ours through Christ Jesus!  

Dear friends, you can do this because Jesus did it for you!  You can do it because He is working within you to do this very thing.  Stay in His Word… trust in His Word… and hunger for His Word.  Speak to Him in prayer and ask for His strength and protection… and believe that what He has said is a certainty.  He will never leave nor forsake you.  Believe and don’t look back!  May God give each of us the strength to do this very thing; I pray that you will believe this, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

“Away from us!” Cries Our Sinful Flesh!


June 23rd, 2019

Pentecost 2-C
June 23, 2019
Rev. Brian T. Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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“Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear.” [Luke 8:37]

This morning, these words cause me to wonder how many people turn away from a real relationship with God because they are afraid of Jesus.  How many people are afraid of the change that they know will come once Jesus is truly Lord of their lives?  But I also wonder how many people are afraid to follow Jesus because they think that God is angry with them.  Maybe they received Him and His love, saw real change take place in their lives only to fall back into the same sinful behavior that He once freed them from.  

At this very moment, God’s Word declares to each of us who have been harassed, captivated, and even possessed by sin, that He is spreading out His hands “to a rebellious people”; people who aren’t even seeking Him or asking for Him.  He calls out to you with an invitation to come to Him in peace through His Living Word, Jesus Christ.  Will you listen?  Will you come?

In our gospel reading this morning we are taken to a rural area outside of Galilee, on the shore of Lake Galilee.  Jesus has just gotten out of a boat with his apostles when he’s immediately confronted by a man who’s been possessed by a demon.  Where did this guy come from and why is he confronting Jesus?

Well, he came from some vacant tombs near the shore of the lake.  Yes there were vacant tombs there and occupied ones as well, because you see, this was a cemetery.  In the Jewish mindset, this was unclean land, because it housed the dead.  Isn’t it fitting that an unclean spirit would be inhabiting an unclean… and unholy place?  But why has this demon possessed person there and why is it confronting Jesus?

We don’t know how this poor man came to be possessed by a demon; in fact we don’t know much about him other than he was most likely from one of the two towns close by.  We don’t know what his life was like before he became possessed, but we do know one thing… he wasn’t alone!  In Matthew and Mark’s accounts of this same incident, we know that there was still one more man living in the tombs with him who was also possessed.  We know that they demonstrated both supernatural strength and a foul disposition.  We know that they were naked!  But we also know that Jesus had come to set them free!

Ok, you would expect these things from someone who isn’t in their right minds… someone who’s possessed by an unclean spirit, but why confront Jesus?  Wouldn’t you think that the minute they saw Jesus from a distance they’d run away and hide from Him?  Why are these demons drawn to Him like a magnet?  They actually run up to Him and scream, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?  I beg you do not torment me.” [vs. 28]

Friends, isn’t it apparent that the very will and power of Jesus drew the demon to Him?  This shouldn’t surprise us at all, because you see, just as Jesus is the supreme master of the wind and waves, He is also the Supreme Master of even the demon world.  When and how He determines to summon anything in creation, that thing must respond, because He is the Creator, the Son of the Most High God!  The demons know this and they can only tremble in fear and acknowledge His control over them when He calls.  And so it was in this case as well.  But why did He think that Jesus would torment him?  Because that is the inevitable future of all evil spirits; each and every demon knows that they have no future other than eternal suffering and torment in the very pit of hell where their leader Satan is already bound!  So the demon begs not to be sent away before the appointed time of final judgment. 

And what is Jesus response?  He asks the demon his name.  And what is the demons response?  Legion!  The reading says that many demons had entered this poor man.  Legion is actually a Roman term.  It refers to a Roman Legion that signifies more than 6,000 soldiers.  Imagine, this poor guy had over 6,000 demons inside of him!  And now because they are being confronted by the very Living Word of God, they are in a panic wondering if this was in fact the end of them.  

And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.” [Vs. 31-32]  What a fitting place for these demons… they fled into an animal that God had designated for the Jews as being unclean!  These demons had no place living in a child of God, a man created after the very image of God.  The truth is, they possessed this poor man only to mock God.  And now, God mocks them; He places within their hearts, the desire to inhabit pigs.  “Done!”  Jesus says, then they left the man and entered the pigs, and everyone of them ran off a cliff and into the lake and were drowned!  But why?  Why destroy the only home they had left?  Because dear friends, it is in complete harmony with their nature.  They are self destructive.  They destroy anything that they possess, because anything they can possess is a creation of God, and remember, demons hate God and because they hate God they hate all of His creation; they hate you!

“When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country. Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. [vs. 34-35]  

Dear friends, that is you sitting at the feet of Jesus!  You have been clothed in the robe of Jesus own righteousness, washed clean in the waters of your baptism, given a new mind and a right spirit; you’ve been placed at the feet of Jesus here in this Holy house to hear Him speak to you and teach you with His Living Word!  Each one of us have been freed from the bondage of sin, death, and the devil.  Each one of us can and should give an account of just what evil we have faced in our lives; what evil spirit has harassed us and for some even possessed us!  But Christ has set us free!  By His stripes, by His suffering and death we have been healed.  And because of His resurrection and our own promised resurrection which He gives us within our baptism, He asks us to believe that He will never abandon us within the very pit where each and every demon and unclean spirit will inevitably be sent!  God does not want you in hell… that place was not meant for you!  Through Jesus, the very Son of God, He has freed you!

But some may say, “I know that Jesus loves me, and I know that He wants me to be free, but the demons that chase me are just too strong to resist!  I keep falling to the same temptations.  At some point He will just give up on me.  Maybe that point is now?!”  And to this, God answers, “No!”  I will never leave nor forsake you in that pit of hopelessness.  Whether the unclean spirit has moved you into addiction, lust, depression, anger or pride, God shall never abandon you because He has sealed you for eternity in the waters of your baptism as His very own!  All of us, with no exception, have been enslaved and driven mad by the attacks and accusations of the devil, and each of us have equally been set free by the Word of Jesus Christ!  He has drown and destroyed the old Adam within us and each day He brings out of that death a new creation, the new you that was born in the waters of Holy Baptism.  We are no longer living naked in our shame amongst the dead; instead we have been brought into the kingdom of God, the Lord’s house, fully clothed by Christ.  And all He asks us to do is to not give up; don’t lose hope! He asks us to daily put to death our old sinful nature and walk in his forgiveness and love.  He wants us to walk in His Gospel Word that ensures us that no matter how many times we sin, no matter how many times we fall, we are forgiven and He will always pick us up again!  But we are not just forgiven and lifted up again…

We are forgiven and lifted up with with a purpose!  

The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.” [vs. 38-39] 

Dear friends, when we come to church and hear the sweet words of the gospel and listen to the Holy Absolution, when we eat and drink the Lord’s body and blood at His table and taste forgiveness, we have a tendency to wish we could stay in this protective environment and be with Jesus.  We want to stay where we feel protected and loved.  But Jesus says, “Return to your home, and declare how much I have done for you.”  And to this command of Jesus we might respond, “But Lord, those are the same people that continually reject you and ask those of us who love you to shut up!” “Yes, that’s true.  But they only do that because they are afraid of Me.  That’s why I am sending you to them.  Through you, they will know about my love for them.  They will see Me in you, and they will hear your story, your witness about My love for you and then they will hunger for the same thing, and I will never turn away any of them who come to me.”  

Remember, just as your sinful flesh does not want to die, neither does your family and friends sinful identity!  Just as God works to kill the sin within you every day, He wants to do the same work within them.  So tell your story!  Proclaim it to anyone who will listen, and then watch Jesus give them freedom and a new life just as He gave it to you!  I pray that each of us will take on this calling and always declare how much God has done for us!  In Jesus name… AMEN!

The Triune God

June 17th, 2019

June 16, 2019
Rev. Richard Stark, Assoc. Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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In last week’s Old Testament lesson we heard the account of the Tower of Babel. In that account God made the point that humanity basically uses our imagination to think of more evil things to do.  One example would be the wide variety of gods and religions that man has created to take the place of the One True God.

Some religions teach that everything is god and god is everything.  If you take everything in the universe – all the humans, planets, stars, galaxies, alien creatures, dirt clods, etc., throw it all together and what you get is god. This is called pantheism,the belief that everything is just one, big, all-encompassing god. Some examples of this are American-Indian tribal beliefs, Pagan and Wiccan beliefs.

Then there is the belief that there are many gods who rule over the universe. This is called polytheism. There is a god for love and a god for war. There are gods in charge of the rain, the sun, the moon, the stars, and everything you can think of. Since there are lots of gods, sometimes they don’t always get along that well, so there is an opportunity for conflict between the gods. That is the reason that the mythologies of ancient civilizations provide us with so many interesting stories. Some examples of polytheism are Greek, Roman, and Viking mythology beliefs.

Monotheismis the belief that there is one and only one god who is separate from the universe, but who created it and still maintains it.  The monotheistic religions that come from mankind’s imagination all teach that God is one in substance AND one in person.  Islam is an excellent example of such a monotheistic religion.

Atheism, on the other hand, teaches that there is no god. In reality, the atheist has a god.  The atheist’s god is his or her own self.  In order to assert that there is no god the atheist must believe that there is no fact hidden anywhere in the entire universe that would lead him or her to believe that there is a god.  The atheist stands in judgment over the entire universe and declares that he or she knows enough about everything to conclude that god does not exist.

This idea that ‘I am the center of the universe and the rest of the universe is here to serve me’ is centered in our sinful human nature. The basic foundation of our sinful nature is our firm belief that we are the most important being here and in any other universe.

The only true religion, Christianity, is a considered by most a monotheistic religion, but Christianity is different from all other religions in the fact that Christianity is the only religion that teaches that God is one in substance, but three in person.

The early church spent a lot of time talking about the nature of God.  The Bible clearly teaches that God is a community of three persons in one substance.  Although the Bible teaches this, it does not give simple, easy terms for teaching or talking about this God who is three persons in one substance. The Bible does not even give us the terms personor substance.  It took a long time for the early Christians to wrap their heads around just what it was that Christ had taught them concerning the One True God. Eventually, someone came up with the words “triune” and “trinity” to describe the mystery of one God in three persons.

I don’t know who came up with the word “trinity” and what the exact circumstances were that caused that person to use the word, but the word “trinity”gives a name to a teaching that is found in the Bible.  So although the words “trinity”and “triune”are notfound inthe Bible, the teaching that they describe is a very important teaching ofthe Bible.  So, we Christians can now refer to the One True God as the Triune God.  And as traditional Christians, we set aside a Sunday each year to celebrate and focus on the idea that the one true God is Triune … we call it Trinity Sunday.  It is the namesake of our beloved church.

The Bible readings chosen for today are full of good teachings.  We don’t have time to cover them all, but today, on Trinity Sunday, we will concentrate on what it means when we teach that God is one substance, but three persons … the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  In order to understand today’s Gospel lesson more fully, we need to go back into the Old Testament and visit a bush – a burning bush to be more precise.

One of the events that we associate with Moses is his encounter with a burning bush, a bush that was on fire, but the fire did not consume it.  It turned out that God used this burning bush to call Moses to lead His people out of Egypt.  In the middle of this conversation, God told Moses His name.  It reads, Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am’ has sent me to you.’”(Exodus 3:13–14)

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus was debating with the Jewish authorities.  Jesus said,“Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”(John 8:58)  Jesus is not using bad grammar here.  Instead, He is saying, “I am the God who spoke to Moses through the burning bush.”  This is not the kind of thing you say in a crowd of devout Jewish men in first-century Israel; these are the kind of words that would get you killed.  The last verse of the Gospel lesson confirms this, “So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.”(John 8:59)The Jewish authorities were going to stone Jesus because he claimed to be God.

Now Jesus claimed to be God, but which person of God is He?  Jesus gave an answer to that as well, just a few verses earlier.  He said, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’(John 8:54)

Here Jesus identifies Himself as God, the Son of God, the Father.  So all we’re missing is the third person of the Triune God. Where can we learn about Him?

There are plenty of places in the Gospel accounts where Jesus taught about God, the Holy Spirit, but if we stick to the readings chosen for today, the clearest mention of the Holy Spirit is in Peter’s sermon on Pentecost.  Toward the end of the sermon, Peter said, “32God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. 33Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.” (Acts 2:32–33)Here we see the Father exalting the Son and the Son pouring out the Holy Spirit on His church.

From this, we learn that although no one person in the Trinity is before or after the others, they all have a role in our salvation.  The Father sends the Son into the world, the Son redeems the world, and the Holy Spirit gives that redemption to the world through the gift of faith.  The three persons of the One True God work together in perfect harmony to bring salvation to us.  The salvation that they provide is the other unique thing about the One True God.  Our salvation depends entirely on God, each and every person of the Triune God.

Without the salvation that the Triune God brings to us, we would all be lost. Each one of us sins daily in thought, word, and deed.  Instead of loving God above all things, we love ourselves above all things.  Instead of honoring God’s name with our mouths, we bring shame to it.  Instead of eagerly and joyfully hungering for His word, we despise its teaching. Instead of honoring those in authority, we find ways around authority.  While we may not draw blood, our unkind words and our hateful thoughts have murdered, never the less.  As we confessed earlier in this service, we all deserve God’s temporal and eternal punishment.

Fortunately, we are not without the salvation that the Triune God brings. God, the Father sent His only Son into the world to take on our mortal flesh.  God, the Son not only took our human flesh to Himself, but He also took all our sin upon Himself.  And the Son of God took our sin with Him to the cross, where He and the Father conducted a terrifying transaction.  In a way that we cannot ever understand, God, the Father turned away from our sins in disgust.  The result was so horrible that God, the Son cried out from the cross, “My God!  My God! Why have your forsaken Me?”(Matthew 27:46) What a terrible punishment that must have been that caused the Son to cry out that way.  How horrible it must have been for the Father to inflict that pain on His own beloved Son.

Thatis the punishment that our Savior, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, endured for us.  ByHimenduring that punishment for us, the Son of God made absolutely certain wewould never have to be punished in that way. God the Father gives us His grace for the sake of God the Son.  With Hissacrifice, God the Son earned salvation, forgiveness of sin, and eternal life for every man, woman, and child who has ever lived or ever will live.

That wonderful salvation, full of mercy and grace, does us absolutely no good if it is not delivered to us.  That is the role of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit brings God’s gifts to us.  The Holy Spirit works through the Word of God to create and sustain faith in us. He does this as we read, hear, and study God’s Word.  He also does that when we experience that mercy and grace in the waters of our Baptism… and when we receive it with the true body and blood of Jesus in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper.

Even people who do not believe have forgiveness set aside, waiting for them. It’s like it’s on lay-away, waiting for the day when the Holy Spirit brings them to life and works faith in them. When that happens, they too will experience the love of the Triune God.  They too, will look forward to the day when they see God face-to-face in eternity.

But for those who reject that faith and forgiveness, and continue to reject it until the day they die, they will never experience the sweet salvation that the Triune God has for us.  That salvation will remain unused.  They will not receive the benefits of the great love that our God has for them. Instead, they will experience the full, dreadful terror that caused the Son of God to cry out on the cross.  They will spend eternity paying for their sins, not because God does not love them, but because they simply refused to accept God’s love.  They rejected the only gift that cantruly save them.

We poor sinners who have been blessed with the gift of faith by the Holy Spirit will receive this gift that only the One True God, the Triune God can give – the gift of salvation, the gift of forgiveness of sin, and the gift of eternal life

We receive those gifts by:
God, the Father’s mercy and grace for:
God, the Son’s sake through:
God, the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith.

Amen.

 

 

 

Pentecost

June 9th, 2019

June 9, 2019
Rev. Richard Stark, Assoc. Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

Have you ever noticed, no matter how often we read the Bible, or a specific passage within the Bible… no matter how familiar we are with the passage, there’s always something new for us to learn.

For the longest time I read Acts, chapter 2, believing it to be the story of the first Pentecost where the Holy Spirit was poured out on the apostles; how they received what Jesus had told them to wait for, and what Jesus had promised them to carry out their ministry.

What I didn’t know, and what most people don’t realize, is that although this day that we call Pentecost, was a very special day, it was not the first Pentecost.  The Lord instituted Pentecostabout the same time He instituted Passover back in the Old Testament. Pentecostwas originally called the Feast of Weeks.  Since the Feast of Weekscomes fifty days after Passover,people began calling it Pentecost based on the Greek word for the number fifty.Pentecostand the Feast of Weeksare the same festival, and the Jews have celebrated Pentecostsince the days of Moses.

Pentecost is also one of the three pilgrimage festivals that required all the men of Israel to gather together in Jerusalem. “Three times a year all your men must appear before the Lord your God at the place He will choose [referring to the Temple in Jerusalem], on the festivals of Pesach (also known as Passover or the Feast of Unleavened Bread), Shavuot (the Feast of Weeks), and Sukkot (the Festival of Booths). They shall not appear before the Lord empty handed. Each must bring a gift, appropriate to the blessing which the Lord your God has given you.” (Deuteronomy 16:16-17)

 

The Feast of Unleavened Breadis one week long and begins the day after Passover. TheFeast of Weeks or Pentecostoccurs fifty days after the Feast of the Firstfruits, which happens to be the first Sunday during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And, the Feast of Booths occurs about six months after theFeast of Unleavened Bread. 

Now, I know all this sounds confusing, but there is a method to my madness.

If we take these Jewish festivals and we look at them in relation to the life of Jesus, or more importantly, the death and resurrection of Jesus, we see that Jesus died on Passover, rose from the dead on the Feast of Firstfruits. And the Holy Spirit, as promised by Jesus, manifested Himself in a very special way fifty days later on Pentecost,or duringtheFeast of Booths. And all these things occurred in Jerusalem.

What’s important about this is that this means that the Jewish faithful who presented themselves in Jerusalem according to the instructions given in the law of Moses were there and they were witnesses to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus and the manifestation of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. It’s important to see that the Holy Spirit gathered His Old Testament Church to witness the mighty works of Godjust like Luke wrote in the Book of Acts.

This brings up something else that hadn’t occurred to me as I grew up in church hearing about Pentecost.  I always enjoyed hearing about the Holy Spirit being poured out on the Apostles at Pentecost and the wonderful gifts God gave them that day. But I discovered another giving of the Holy Spirit in the Bible.

It happened on the day Jesus rose from the dead; remember the Doubting Thomas passage?

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together with the doors locked [because they feared] the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.  21Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:19-23)

Did you hear that? Jesus said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit…”

Sometimes when we hear the passage about this Pentecost, we get so distracted by the “Wow factor” of “a sound like a mighty rushing wind… and by divided tongues like fire… [and, by the Apostles as] they began to speak in other tongues” that we don’t see or realize is the real miracle or the real work of the Holy Spirit that day. The real story wasn’t about what happened to the Apostles but what happened to the other people that were gathered there that day.

First, like we talked about before, the Holy Spirit brought all these faithful men to Jerusalem for the Feast of Booths, then He brought them together where the Apostles were, when they heard the mighty works of God, and then the Holy Spirit caused them to respond to what they saw.

Acts, chapter 2 goes on to say:

“Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you [too] will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41So those who received [Peter’s message] were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. (Acts 2:37–41)

This is the great miracle of Pentecost!  The Holy Spirit, working through the Apostles, added three thousand souls to His church that day. Pentecostis not about the work of the Apostles; Pentecostis about three thousand souls coming to faith through the work of the Holy Spirit.

In His explanation to the third Article of the Apostles’ Creed, Martin Luther wrote that [the Holy Spirit]calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.  The Holy Spirit’s work on Pentecost is an example of that.  1500 years earlier, the Holy Spirit worked through His servant Moses to establish feasts that would bring these witnesses together from the Old Testament Church to Jerusalem so that Luke the Evangelist could write,“Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven.”(Acts 2:5) It was not an accident that these men were in Jerusalem that day.  The Holy Spirit had called together the Old Testament Church to tell them that the long-awaited Messiah had come in the person of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit was getting ready to convert the faithful of the Old Testament Church into the faithful of the New Testament Church.

That is the real reason for the great signs that were described in today’s reading.  The Holy Spirit was gathering His church together so that they could hear the call of the Gospel.  As the people of the Old Testament church drew near to the Apostles, they encountered people who told them who Jesus was and what He had done for their salvation. These people did not speak in the lofty language of the Hebrew of the temple, they didn’t speak in Aramaic (the street language of the day), they weren’t speaking the commercial language of Greek, or even the legal language of Latin, but each individual heard the story of Jesus’ saving grace in his own native language… the language he learned from his mother and father in the home of his childhood.  Each one heard in his own languagethe mighty works of God. (Acts 2:11)

All of these great works, these amazing things, were simply the means by which the Holy Spirit used to accomplish the goal of gathering together His Old Testament church and telling her that the wait for the Messiah was over… and the New Testament has begun.  Those faithful people that had traveled to Jerusalem for the Feast of Booths, they were waiting and looking forward to the coming of the promised Messiah. They did their best to keep the ceremonial laws of circumcision, sacrifices, feast and festivals, and all the other customs as a reminder of God’s promise that one day the Messiah would come and fulfill the law and offer Himself up as a sacrifice, a sacrifice to end all sacrifices.  Now the Holy Spirit gathered the faithful together to tell them that the Messiah had come in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. He is the Messiah, the anointed one, the Christ.  On this particular Pentecostthe Holy Spirit called together the faithful of the Old Testament church and transformed them into the faithful of the New Testament church.

With all the amazing things that were going on that day, it’s easy for us to confuse God’s goal with the means He used to accomplish that goal.  After all, it’s easy to get distracted by [the] sound [of] a mighty rushing wind… the appearance of flames of fire… and the sudden ability to speak and understand a foreign language. It’s easy to get distracted and miss the Holy Spirit’s goal… the goal of creating faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ! That was the Holy Spirit’s goal on that day and that’s still the Holy Spirit’s goal today.

And amid all the signs and wonders of that day, there were still some who resisted. There were men in the crowd who mocked and yelled out, “[They’re drunk!] They are filled with new wine.”(Acts 2:13)There’s always a few in every crowd, and there’s always those who resist the call of the Gospel.

We can learn from this as well. This serves as a great comfort to us when we confess our faith to the people we meet in our lives. Sometimes they’ll be interested and want to know more. Other times they’ll reject our confession. And, when that rejection happens, we can take comfort in knowing that even when there was [the] sound [of] a mighty rushing wind… the appearance of flames of fire… and the Apostles speaking a foreign language, that there were some people who resisted and rejected their message. It helps us to leave up to God and continue to confess our faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins.

Remember, on the next day, on the day after that Pentecost, there was no more sound of a mighty rushing wind, the tongues of fire had gone away, and people simply spoke in their own languages, but never the less, the Holy Spirit was still at work.  The story goes on. Luke tells us in Acts 2:47, “And the Lord added to their number day by day [with] those who were being saved.”  The church still had God’s Word and the Holy Spirit continued to work through that Word.

Today, the Holy Spirit still works through the Word of God. It has always been that way and it will always be that way. The true sign of the Holy Spirit at work is the proclamation of God’s Word. The Holy Spirit gathers His people from all nations together into one holy and apostolic church. The Holy Spirit points us to Jesus, the Son of God, who was made man and saves us from all our sin with His suffering and death on the cross and promises us everlasting life through His resurrection. The Holy Spirit works through God’s Word when we hear it with our ears… when we read it with our eyes… when we experience that Word in the waters of our Baptism… and when we receive it with the true body and blood of Jesus in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper.  The Holy Spirit is at work when we confess our faith before each other and when we share our faith with those who do not know Jesus.

In today’s lesson, the Holy Spirit used light and sound to gather the church to hear the proclamation that the Messiah they had been waiting for had come in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  The Holy Spirit transformed the church from the Old Testament church to the New Testament church and the Holy Spirit continues to build His church to this very day.

The Holy Spirit still calls each of us by the Gospel, enlightens us with His gifts, sanctifies us and keeps us in the true faith. And, just as He call us into the church, He also calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and keeps her in one, true faith.

As Martin Luther tells us of the Holy Spirit:

In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.  On the Last Day, He will raise me, and all the dead, and He will give eternal life to me and all who believe in Christ Jesus. 

This is most certainly true.  Amen.

 

 

Shout Glory In The Night!

June 2nd, 2019

Easter 7-C
June 2, 2019
Rev. Brian T. Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

“Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” [Jn. 17:24]

Do you want to see Christ’s glory with your physical eyes and not just your eyes of faith?  Are you sure?  Then pray… beg Him to come quickly, even right this second!  Are you praying for Jesus to come soon?  Are you ready for Him to end your existence in this world so that you can meet Him in His glory in paradise.  Are you really ready for that?  Are you assured by faith given through the Word of God that you will be met with a Holy kiss and welcomed into paradise or are you afraid that you will be met with admonishment and cast outside of the City with the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood? [Rev. 22:15]  Do you know what it is that determines your eternal destination? It’s what or Whom you place your trust in!

Our world is broken. Every day the violence, tragedy, illness, and hate of the day reminds us of this truth. No matter how badly we desire that love would rule and goodness reign, evil and hate break-into our lives like vicious home invaders.

Much is wrong with our society and even in our own lives. We can all make a list; broken homes, the increase in violence and dishonesty, the lack of integrity in public life, the slow slide of the church into adopting the ways of the world, the decay of sexual morality and the inability to speak boldly and consistently as God speaks regarding important things like marriage and the sanctity of life. And yet in the midst of the relentless attacks of hate and tragedy, God has made it both the obligation and duty of the church and every saint within the church to be His watchman on the wall who sound the alarm to simultaneously defend against evil and flee to God for protection!  And our only tool that God’s given to us for this task is His Word… the inerrant Words of Holy Scripture! This is the most important source of approval that we have, and at times it will be our only source.

Our gospel reading (John 17:20-26) for this morning is a prayer, Jesus’ prayer to be exact.  

His time to leave this world had come and He desired that His apostles would be encouraged to know that their master was praying for them and would continue to pray for them.  But we also discover that He is praying for us.  Listen: “I do not (pray) for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” [John 17:20, 21]

Who is Jesus praying for?  Well He is praying for you!  What is He praying for?  That you might have faith; that you might believe in Him unto salvation!  How does He say this faith, this ability to believe will come to us?  He says that it will be through God’s Word, which comes to us through the Words He has given the apostles. What will be the result of this faith that Jesus asks the Father to give to us?  Nothing other than complete unity in that faith and the desire to spread the Christian hope of the gospel, which is Jesus complete victory over all sin, death, even our sin and the total destruction of Satan and all his demons!  Just as the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit exist in unity in regards to this total victory, our Savior desires that we also be one with Him and with each other in this mission as well!  But He also asks that this unity be used for a purpose, so that the sinful dying world might know Him through God’s Word unto salvation as well.

Now there may be some of you here this morning that are right now at this very moment wondering, “But what about my salvation?  How can I know for sure that I am part of our Lord’s mission team? How can I know for certain that I will be welcomed into paradise and not admonished and thrown into the darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth?”  Friends, the only way you can be certain is as I’ve stated consistently to you all these years as your pastor, your personal Watchman On the Wall, you must hold onto God’s Word; trust and declare that even those parts of His Word that are hard to cling to because others find them offensive. It is especially those parts of Holy Scripture, which must be allowed to become your rock upon which you stand. You stand especially on those portions of Scripture because they are in fact God’s source of light and life, even if it seems that every one around you sees and declares them as backward, superstitious, and leading only to division and darkness.

Friends, God is so serious about us keeping His Word that He gives us grave warnings to protect that Word from anyone who would add to it or take away from it.  

You see, each Word is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit; the power to bring faith to sinners who without it are eternally damned to live in darkness.  Listen to the warning He gives us in our epistle lesson: “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” [Rev. 22:18-19]  Now some may say, “But that only refers to the prophecy found in the book of Revelations!”  And I must warn you that scripture can not be broken; it must be taken, all of it, together as a whole.  You can’t cherry pick some as true and reject other portions as false or culturally irrelevant.  All Holy Scripture is true and it has come to us by the Holy Breath of God!

You see, every word of Scripture must be seen as a sanctuary; a sanctuary which is just as infallible and unchangeable as God Himself. [Deut. 4:2; 12:32; Prov. 30:5–6; Rev. 22:18–19]. Every addition or false interpretation is a sacrilege, since it dilutes God’s Word with the words of men. In the book of Proverbs, God provides this warning to those of us who want to tamper with His Word: ‘Do not add to His words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar. [Proverbs 30:6]  Jesus Himself defends the completed Word of God this way: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” [Matthew 5:17–19]. 

All of God’s Word is ultimately given to us so that we may know God, know ourselves, and know Jesus the Son of God unto eternal life.

Dear friends, God does not want you to leave here today afraid and worried.  

He wants you to leave here assured that He has made a way for you to join Him in paradise, a way back to the tree of eternal life, and He did it through the fruit of another tree, the tree of woe… the blessed cross.  You see, to hang upon that tree is to be accursed, so Jesus hung on that tree for you!  He bore our curse and removed it from us.  That then is the fruit of eternal life that He gives to you, the fruit of His righteousness… righteousness unto eternal life! [Rev. 22:2, 3]  Friends, He’s given you this fruit within the waters of your baptism, where you have been washed by the water and the Word… both you and your robes have been washed clean in the blood of the lamb!  He promises you that although you may experience periods of night, doubt, and fear, it is not the same total darkness that awaits unbelievers. For those who have rejected the pure light of Holy Scripture, their darkness is true and it is terrifying; it is terrifying because it is without God and without His love. It is without God’s presence and love because it lacks His Word that speaks of God’s judgment and Christ’s passion and forgiveness of sin.

You dear saints are now the servants of Jesus Christ; you are allowed by faith to see the Only Begotten Son of the Father, the living Word of God, seated upon the throne.  You bear His name upon your foreheads because in your baptism you were sealed by the Holy Spirit and moved by that same Spirit through the Word to believe in God’s real presence in your life and His love for you!  You know by faith, that God has a plan for you; a path you must walk upon and trust in.  And the day will come when night for you will be no more; you will enter the Eternal City as both a king and a servant of the Most High God and King, Jesus Christ, and you will be infinitely blessed in that service, because as a servant of the Lamb of God you will no longer have to learn the will of God, because it will be part of your very nature.  And the Lord God will be your light, and you will reign with Him forever and ever! [Rev. 22:3-5]

You see, unlike the sinful world that fears their own death, you are assured that the end of this world isn’t something to be feared but anxiously awaited and celebrated when that day comes. Sure, Jesus may come at any moment to repay the entire world for what each individual has done, or he may also come at any time, like when you close your eyes for that last time in a natural death.  In either case, you dear saints have nothing to fear if you are trusting and resting in God’s Word.  Because in that Word you have been shown that through Jesus Christ you do not have an angry God but a God who loves you.  You have a God who has done all of the work Himself to ensure that you will be with Him, even today… this very moment in paradise!  

Is it your desire friends, to be with Jesus in paradise?  Then always remember this: We have no Christ, no God, and no salvation without His perfect and Holy Word.  And we have no unity with God and ourselves without that same Word.  But the more we have His Word, a Word that is always desiring and working to rule our hearts and lives by faith, then the more perfect our unity with Him and each other becomes.  And the deeper we are drawn into that unity the more we’re assured by God that we have nothing to fear!  

So friends, spend time in that Word.  Let it become for you the living presence of almighty God.  Let it change you and rearrange you.  Let it alone become your moral compass.  Pray over His Word and meditate on God’s will, and then listen to Him speak!  Can you hear Him whispering to you even now in the night of this sinful world?  He is saying, “I am coming soon.”  And what shall our response be?  Sometimes it may come in a whisper, sometimes it will be a strong voice, and sometimes… sometimes it might be a shout in the night of this sinful world, “Glory!  Amen!  Come, Lord Jesus, come!”  AMEN!

On Mission With Jesus

May 26th, 2019

Easter 6-C
May 26, 2019
Rev. Brian T. Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

We are on a mission with Jesus, the Son of God—a mission that comes directly from the heart of God the Father—a mission that is empowered by the Spirit of God! We ourselves have been rescued and saved by this very same mission. Our mission is to share God’s love and forgiveness, first through Word and Sacrament and then through our actions!  The words Jesus spoke to his first disciples still apply today; Listen: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” [Jn. 20:21 and Jn. 17:18]  The universal church, that is every local congregation and every Christian in it, is sent into the world to fulfill a definite, defined task. Jesus, the church’s Lord, has issued marching orders. Individually and corporately, all God’s people are now in the kingdom building business… we are to seek and save the lost!  We are to pass on the love of God!

This mission from God has three directives.  First and foremost, we have been called into the work of giving a worldwide witness, making disciples, and planting churches. [Matt. 24:14; 28:19-20; Mark 13:10; Luke 24:47-48]  We have been told that Jesus Christ is to be proclaimed everywhere as God in human flesh, Lord, and Savior  We are to make it clear that this is God’s only invitation to eternal life, and it can only be received by turning to Jesus in repentance and faith. [Matt. 22:1-10; Luke 14:16-24]  This message is to be delivered to the entire world. This morning, in our first reading (Acts 16:9-15), the ministry of church-planter Paul the evangelist models this primary commitment.

The second directive that all Christians, and therefore every Christian on earth, are called to practice is sacrificial love; acts of mercy and compassion.  We are to model a form of neighbor-love that responds willingly to all forms of human need as they present themselves. [Luke 10:25-27; Acts 16:15; Rom. 12:20-21] 

The third directive is to ask God the Father in the name of Jesus to give us both the means and the will to do these very things.  Well that’s a lot to receive this morning, so let’s get right into it!

In our first reading (Acts 16:9–15) we are immediately asked to consider a vision, St. Paul’s vision.  Now even though it comes to him at night, we are told that it is not a dream, but a vision from God!  What does God show him?  A man in Macedonia standing in front of him urging and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” [Acts 16:9 

Now one thing we need to be clear on right away; this vision was not a surprise for Paul and his three companions.  You see, they had been praying and planning on a vision from God for quite some time, but this is the first time that God actually made it clear to them where they needed to go!

Does this sound familiar to anyone this morning?  Have you ever had the Lord make something absolutely clear to you after praying and searching His Word for direction?  Certainly we as a congregation have experienced this!  Ten years ago before we began our outreach into our community, we began it with 40 days of prayer; we didn’t need to ask where we must go, because God had already established us at 7210 Lisbon St., right in the middle of the communities of Jamacha and Encanto!  So, that’s a no brainer, but then again so was the vision that Paul had.  They were asking “Where should we go and what should we do?”  And the answer was, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!”  Help you do what?  “Help us obtain God’s love and mercy.  Help us receive salvation and then joy and peace!”

What’s interesting about this part of our reading is that in the Greek presentation of the first verse we would really read it like this: “A man of Macedonia was continually standing there, and he kept on urging him and saying,  “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” [Acts 16:9]  Do you see the difference?  In a vision, Paul was told that first it was urgent that he and his friends go to Macedonia, and second that their work there had to be continuous.

Friends, that is God’s call to us as well with the vision that He has given us.  We are to continually bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to our neighbors with a long term strategy.  We aren’t to say, “Well, we’ll give it a try, and if it doesn’t seem to be working will just give up.”  No, remember, God has made it clear to us that our call to bring the gospel is urgent and continuous.

Now let’s go back to our reading to see how Paul responded to the vision.  Starting in the 13th verse we read, 

“And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.  And after she was baptized”. [Acts 16:13-15a]

The first thing we see in Paul is obedience.  He heard God’s call and he responded.  Once in Macedonia, he did three things—he searched for a place where spiritually minded people gathered, he looked for a person of peace that God had already been working within, and finally he shared the gospel.  

Now, let’s look at our circumstances here at Trinity and see how we compare.  First, we as well have responded obediently to God’s vision.  We have continued to reach out to our community with various ministries over the years, with our Pantry, Community Breakfast, Christian Martial Art’s Ministry, and our Recording Studio, which are still actively serving our neighbor’s Christ’s Word and Love. It is our prayer that people will continue to come to Trinity because first it is already known as a spiritual gathering place and second because we are willing to “sit down and talk with them” about things that are meaningful to them!

Another thing we see in our reading is God’s work because of Paul’s obedience.  We are told that one of the women that were present to hear Paul speak was a woman named Lydia.  She was a non-Jew who was already familiar with and worshiping the One True God.  Now remember when I pointed out the difference in the Greek language compared to the English in regards to the vision of the Macedonian?  Well we have something similar happening again.  In vs. 14, we simply read, “One who heard us was a woman named Lydia”, but in the Greek language it reads more like this, “One who kept on hearing us was a woman named Lydia”.  What’s the difference?  Well from this we learn that Paul did not just spend one Sabbath day with them and “presto-chango” she’s a Christian.  No he invested time in developing a relationship.  She probably heard many messages from Paul over a period of several weeks, but eventually in God’s time and power Lydia came to know Jesus Christ as “her” Lord and Savior.  Through the continued Word of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ she wanted God’s salvation to come to not just her alone but to her entire family.  And how did it come…. Through the washing of the water and the Word… through Holy Baptism!  Imagine that, her and all of her children were forgiven and born again.  Why?  Because God was faithful and Paul was obedient!

Paul could have passed by that little group of women as being insignificant.   But he didn’t.  He saw their needs and through the leading of the Holy Spirit he was moved to have compassion on them.  Lydia was baptized… born again unto eternal life.  She could have simply thanked Paul and dismissed him and his friends while she got back to her normal daily business routine, but she didn’t.  Instead, moved by the same Holy Spirit, she had compassion on Paul and his missionary friends, and asked them to not just live with her and her family, but to make her family’s home their missionary headquarters.  It only took a spark from the Holy Spirit’s presence to get a fire of Christian love and service going within the heart of the born-again Lydia!

Friends, consider this for a moment—hasn’t God already asked us here at Trinity to open up our worship home to new neighbors who are seeking a relationship of love and peace with God?  Haven’t we already been convinced that He is asking us to bring in new people who need to know about Jesus in a personal way?  When you stop and think about it, God is asking us to be simultaneously both like Paul and Lydia.  

We are like Paul in that we are asked to be on a mission from God and with Jesus, a mission to seek and save the lost.  And we do that by both proclaiming and teaching the gospel.  Some of the people we meet will have no idea about our faith or our Savior Jesus Christ.  Some, like Lydia will be familiar with God, even worshiping Him, but they aren’t yet experiencing His forgiving and unconditional love, which is theirs through Jesus Christ. 

But we do know, and because we know, our lives have been changed, and because of that change God has given us a heart that responds both to His Word and His living presence within us.  With our new hearts, God is asking us us to respond to The leading of the Holy Spirit with our time, talents, and even our treasure.  But that can be a scary thing because you see it requires faith!  

Lydia must have been a little hesitant about opening her home up to strangers, even strangers that brought her eternal life through the gospel.  Like Lydia, we have God’s Word; we know His will and yet we begin to be uncertain.  So where do we go with our fears and worries?  We go to the Lord!  And what do we do?  We pray!

In our gospel reading (John 16:22-33) Jesus is speaking once again in that upper room just before His death and resurrection.  

He knows His disciples are worried and afraid, so He speaks to calm their fears and prepare them for the joy and confidence that will come after His resurrection and ascension, on the day of Pentecost.  After that day, the Holy Spirit will come and live within every Christian as a result of their baptism.  And His presence within them will lead them to ask for all things that are centered in the name of Jesus.  Listen once again to His Words of assurance: “Whatever you ask of the Father in my name, He will give it to you.  Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (vs. 23,24)   “In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” (vs. 26, 27)

Dear friends, Jesus tells His disciples, He tells us to ask “in (His) name.” And he seals this directive with a promise, “you shall receive” what you ask in my name. Why such a promise?  Well friends, so that our “joy may be fulfilled.”  By remembering that the Father loves us because we love His Son Jesus Christ our joy becomes fulfilled.  And as we experience this joy we begin to experience obedience as Jesus leads us out and  onto the mission field that is our community.  As we go out on our Heavenly Father’s mission with Jesus… to seek and save the lost, we remember Jesus Words, so we ask the Father, in Jesus name to open the doors and hearts of our neighbors to our gospel message, so that they too may know Jesus Christ unto salvation!

Do you want to find true joy in your life?  Stay close to Jesus and ask for the things He has promised to give you!  Walk where He leads you and let Him sacrificially love your neighbor through you.  And as you walk with Jesus, He will allow you to see a transformation in the people He loves through you.  After the people you witness to become disciples through faith, you will see them being transformed through daily contact with their Lord.  Through God’s Word and the power of the Holy Spirit, they will develop such a strong and abiding love for the Father that nothing can ever move them.  So don’t grow weary from doing well friends.  Keep trusting and following your Lord, even when you have doubts.  Remember, even though you’re on a mission from God, you are with Jesus, His Son. And always remember, “in this world you will have tribulations (and trials).  But take heart (Jesus) has overcome the world! [John 16:33]

Such Joy!

May 19th, 2019

Easter 5-C
May 19, 2019
Rev. Brian T. Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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“So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” (John 16:22)

This morning, God’s Word teaches us about sorrow and joy.  We all know the bitter tears of sorrow.  What is sorrow?  Is it the absence of joy?  Well maybe; or just maybe it’s the feeling of being helpless and alone; the feeling that it’s you against the world!  But what happens when someone steps in to help us shoulder the burden were under?  We begin to feel a sense of relief… a sense of joy!  That’s what Jesus wants you to experience when He says, “Come unto me, all you who are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”  If you’ve experienced true forgiveness of sins through God’s Word and His Sacraments, then you know both rest and joy.

Friends, God doesn’t want you to feel like it’s you against the world, and He doesn’t want you to feel like it’s just you and Him against the world.  That’s why He’s called you into fellowship with other saints who have been saved by grace, through faith because of the living Word of God, Jesus Christ.  God the Father has called  you to be a part of the body of His Son, so that the other saints in His body can help you carry your burden and sorrows, as you help them carry theirs. 

But God doesn’t want you to think that it’s us against the world either.  He wants you to remember that your real enemy is the devil, not sinful people.  And to make this truth clear to you, think about where He sends you after you’ve been given both rest and joy;  He sends you right back out into the same sinful world that looks down upon you and your Lord.  He asks you to love those who belittle and demean you, even harm you, and He asks you to pray for them; He wants you to invite them to become part of His kingdom. 

In our gospel reading for today (John 16:12-22), we are shown a picture of confusion, worry and fear.   It’s the perfect illustration of “us against the world”!  

The disciples are gathered together in the upper room, just hours before our Lord’s arrest and crucifixion.  Jesus has washed their feet and said they must be servants.  He has revealed once and for all that He is God.  He has taught that He and the Father and the Holy Spirit are together God.  Three persons, yet one God.    Then He began talking about the world’s hatred towards Him and by proxy, for them.  But now comes the crushing blow; one of them will betray Him unto death and another will disown Him.  “How can this be?” they wondered.  “What am I going to do now?”

And to these fears, Jesus says: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” [v.12]   ‘Many things?  Oh Lord, if there anything like these other things, I don’t really care to hear them.’  But He continues, “A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me.  Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.”   In a little while, the disciples indeed shall feel alone in their grief.  They will be drowning in their own tears.  Their beloved Lord and master will die the death of a criminal upon a cross!  But the world… well that’s another thing.  It will rejoice and be glad in it!  

The devil, has worked his murderous plan upon the Author of Life and the world celebrates with unholy glee!  This is the “little while of sorrow” that Jesus spoke of.  But He also says “again a little while, and you will see me.”  Your sorrow will become joy!  And what was the source of their joy?  It was the Easter morning Resurrection!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  But in just a few short weeks He would leave them again when He ascends into heaven.  That’s why He reminded them and us that the Holy Spirit of God remains with us as our counselor, advocate and friend.  He reminds us that He has not left us as orphans.  No, we must never think that we are alone, because Jesus assures us that He remains with us in His Word and Sacraments through the power of the Holy Spirit.  And, He is within us and He is all around us through this  fellowship we have with each other!  “Lo, I am with you always” He says!

Dear friends Christ promises us that in this world we will experience both sorrow and joy; but He also assures us that He is still with us!  He comforts us with His Holy Word which is empowered by the Holy Spirit who lives within us!  He has washed us clean in the waters of our baptism… we are born again!  And He feeds us His very body and blood, through the bread and wine so that we may be continuously reminded that we are forgiven.  But He wants us to remember that we aren’t in this alone!  You see he has called us into His body, the church!  And together we learn to submit to His will, suffer and bear more than all other people.  We learn to take anything and everything the devil and this world can throw at us, because Jesus is still with us!  Who of us could have ever guessed in our youth that we would have gone through what we have gone through and are going through, with our faith in-tack?  

Let’s be honest friends, there is simply no way we could have made it through the troubles we’ve seen unless the Holy Spirit was guiding us!  He is called “the Spirit of truth” because in spite of what your sorrow and fears tell you, His message is always the same: “You are not alone!”  Through the work of the Holy Spirit, the promises of the gospel breaks through our fears and feelings of defeat and abandonment, and He assures us that He is within us and around us!  Jesus lives within you and you are his child, his friend, and his brother.  What a joy to know that we are not alone!  God is with us and we are with Him together as His Church.  Can you see what a great joy it is to be part of His body, the Church?  Isn’t it a blessing to call the person next to you brother or sister?

But we still have sorrow, fears, and worry to contend with.  

So what do we do when trouble and sorrows surround us?  Well our sinful tendency is to huddle together and protect what we have instead of sharing it!  

Were a little bit like porcupines.  You know, the colder it gets outside, and the more we feel threatened, the more we huddle together; but the problem with that is, the closer we get to each other, the more we hurt one another with our sharp quills.  So the deeper our sorrows and fears become the more we begin to drift apart and wander out on our own in to the freezing cold.  If we aren’t mindful of this, we could freeze to death in our loneliness!  That’s how congregations eventually die out.  Why does this happen?  Because we forget to let the Living Word of God and the presence of the Holy Spirit lead us and change us!

Dear friends, when we develop this “us against the world” mentality we have forgotten that God’s Spirit is ever with us and sending us out into the world.  Instead of seeing ourselves as a missional outpost that raises up, equips, and sends out ambassadors to seek and save the lost, we can become more like a fortress; digging in and protecting what God says we must share.  If a congregation remains in this fortress mentality they will become unresponsive to the working of the Holy Spirit.  They become so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good!  It’s as if they’ve draw a line in the sand and said, “This is us and that’s them!”  But who is them?  Well, “them” becomes anyone who doesn’t think, act, talk, or worship like us!  In our first reading this morning [Acts 11:1-18] Peter along with all of us, have been warned by the Holy Spirit not to look upon as unclean what God has both declared and made clean.  

Like Peter, when we put up our walls of protection thinking that we are fulfilling God’s will, we may just find ourselves fighting against the work of the Holy Spirit.  Now don’t get me wrong, certainly like St. Peter, each of us are called to protect God’s Holy Word and Sacraments.  We must preach, teach, and confess both the Law and the Gospel in its proper form.  Our doctrine is pure, and we must fight to keep it that way.  Our Sacraments are precious and we must never let anyone rob us of God’s work that is given to us through them.  And our liturgical form of worship is a gift from God, which finds its origin in the very first days of worship that were centered on God’s Divine Service through His living Word.  Certainly there is no reason to abandon it now.  But what about those things that are not central to our faith?  

May God protect us from becoming so fixated on our historical Western heritage that we block out all other cultures and heritages.  God forbid we call unclean and unholy what the Holy Spirit has sanctified and called clean!

So what is the only way to ensure that we are working with the Holy Spirit and not against Him?  

By keeping our hearts centered on the gospel.  If we remember that God so loved the world, even you and me, that He gave His only Son that so that we all who believe might have eternal life, we will easily move from worry, fear, and sorrow into the joy of salvation and eternal life!

Dear friends, God wants each of us to leave here this morning knowing that there is the promise of joy even in the middle of sorrow, fear, worry and pain. And until our hour comes to leave this veil of tears, I pray that we will not only rejoice in the hope of salvation, but that we will also learn to rejoice in God Himself and each of us who comprise the body of Christ.  If we will simply rest in Christ, then through His Word and the presence of the Holy Spirit we will learn that Jesus’ love and presence are greater than any circumstance in our lives.  That he is fully adequate for every situation in our lives, and that just as He has promised, He is with us guiding us through all the adverse circumstances, all the crushing disappointments, and all the heartaches of life, giving us the very thing He is after, faith, forgiveness and joy in His gift of salvation and eternal life!

So hold on dear saints!  The day is coming soon when God will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things will have passed away. [Revelation 21:3-4]  Amen and Amen!

Pay Careful Attention!

May 13th, 2019

Easter 4-C
May 12, 2019
Rev. Brian T. Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers,

to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. (Acts 20:28)

Dear friends, I am not the Good Shepherd, I am just a called and equipped sheep from within the flock.  St. Paul is not the Good Shepherd, he is simply a called and inspired sheep from within the flock.  But Jesus is “the Good Shepherd,” [Jn. 10:11], because He alone is “the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.” [I Pet. 2:25]

This Sunday we celebrate “Good Shepherd” Sunday.  Today we remember that Jesus as our Good Shepherd is the author and perfecter of our faith.  We remember that Jesus is still very much in control of His church, even our own little congregation that we call Trinity.  In all of our readings we are reminded of this.  In our Epistle reading we are comforted with these Words: “The Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” [Rev. 7:17] And in our Gospel reading Jesus Himself reassures us with the words: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” [Jn. 10:27-28]

Friends, we are Christ’s flock; the sheep of His pasture.  We are His church, a united flock, who both hear and recognize our Good Shepherds voice. We are a fellowship of sheep who hear our Good Shepherd proclaim forgiveness of sins and we believe that our many sins are forgiven. As His sheep we also share in other spiritual and mutual gifts. God creates this common fellowship by calling us into a relationship of faith with His Son so that we share in all of Christ’s works, blessings, glory, and goods. This fellowship, this flock is a union of believers in Christ, and it transcends race, politics, social status, and even death.  And it is a fellowship that is to be ever growing and expanding as God wills and equips it.

In our first reading (Acts 20:17-35), Paul speaks Christ’s Words for all of His flock, His Church, but they are especially meant to be a warning to all of us sheep who are called to be pastors with these Words, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” [Acts 20:28]

Dear friends, when you call a pastor to serve this congregation, you are calling him to serve with you and among you as another sheep who has been equipped and well trained.  It is another of our Lord’s great mysteries; a sheep equipped by our Lord to shepherd other sheep.  My ministry as your pastor is in fact, your ministry… it is our ministry together following our Good Shepherd.

Paul’s ministry and our ministry here at Trinity, must be entirely open and known to all.  It must be subject to the judgment of friends and enemies alike. So like Paul, each pastor’s ministry must be transparent and centered on working tirelessly towards building up the saints within his own congregation and then together with the saints, focused on working towards gathering other lost sheep within the community.  Dear friends, each of you have been called to work beside me, Pastor Rick, and Pastor Shamburger within this ministry as God has equipped you.  

As your pastors, Paul challenges us and all pastors to lead the Lord’s flock “with humble-mindedness and tears and trials.”  These three traits marked Paul’s own “work for the Lord” and they should be the marks of every pastor who has been called to shepherd Christ’s flock!   But friends, don’t be fooled into thinking that the tears that Paul is talking about were tears related to his trials or the attacks of men.  Paul withstood these things without so much as a whimper! No these tears that Paul speaks of were the tears that were drawn out of a heart wrenched with pain over the repeated rejection of the grace of Jesus Christ! Just as Jesus wept over the sinful and continuous rejection of His grace by the people of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41), Paul also shed many tears for those from within his community who refused to be saved!  We, too, by the work of the Holy Spirit will also find ourselves moved to tears, by the continual rejection of God’s love and forgiveness from those within our families and community, which we have been sent to seek and save.  

And yet we are continually moved as pastors and as a congregation to continue on with our best efforts, proclaiming God’s love and forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  Together we are moved to proclaim the gospel and support the ministry of its proclamation no matter the cost!  

The entire gospel, which we have been commissioned to proclaim is centered only in “the repentance of sins toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”  

Friends, you must never let anyone from within this congregation preach or teach any other message except Christ crucified and resurrected, because God’s favor and grace can come in no other way!  We must always teach that within the heart of every forgiven sinner is an actual turning away from a sinful life and a turning to a life of forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  Only then can God’s forgiveness and love come and save a person.  So, repentance includes all of God’s law, and faith includes His entire gospel.  

Now Paul adds one more trait of a true pastor who is being led by the Good Shepherd… he must not shrink from proclaiming the full counsel of God! (vs. 27)   

If Paul was looking for an easy ministry, he might have easily placed his best efforts on the rich and influential.  He might have focused his best efforts on activities that would serve his own personal needs.  He might have kept back some parts of his teaching, because they seemed to run against Jewish bigotry, accepted cultural practices or the ignorance and narrow mindedness of fellow Christians. But Paul always remembered who he must give an account to on the last day. So he proclaimed “the full counsel of God,” the entire will of Jesus Christ.  

Paul spelled out every doctrine and every Holy truth, and he never altered or toned down a thing. He had no hidden agenda or any strange personal views. He never neglected a part of God’s Word because it seemed to be out of step with the spirit of the times. He put justification by faith into the center of his teaching because that’s right where God puts it!  This morning, God calls upon each of us to examine ourselves to ensure that we believe this message and that we are both contributing to support it and always ready to protect it.  Paul did this very thing with boldness.  He could confidently say that he was innocent of the blood of any man, because He had obediently declared the full counsel of God. [v. 27] I pray that we as a congregation can be as bold!  

Now, in verse 28, Paul moves from using his ministry as an example for future ministries, to addressing current and future threats that each congregation must contend with.  Listen…

“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” [v. 28] 

Pastors who have been tasked with caring for others must first be mindful of their own sinfulness.  Paul is telling those of us who are pastors to be clean ourselves before we try to cleanse others. We must remember that we too are sheep who are prone to wonder.  And because we are sheep we must remember that we have also been justified by grace–God’s  own blood. The blood of Christ was and is the price of our salvation.  Pastors along with all of the Lord’s sheep have been bought with a great price.  Because of this price we have truly become His own! 

Why must pastors pay so close attention to their own living; to their own beliefs?  Why must congregations be so careful in how they call their pastor?  Well in verse 29 we get our answer: “Because there shall come fierce wolves (from) among you, who will not (spare) the flock.”  But that isn’t all; Paul warns us about yet another attack of the enemy.  In verse 30 he writes: “And from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.”  Yes friends, the enemy, the devil, will attack from outside and from within the body of Christ.  Paul sees the wolves coming. He knows how easily people can be misled and he knows the times. But he also remembers Jesus own warning to the church: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  You will recognize them by their fruits.”  [Matt. 7:15-20]

Dear friends, Paul and our Lord are stating a certainty.  There will be wolves in sheep’s clothing who will invade the church. In fact, this has been the greatest battle throughout the history of the church.  Each generation brings its own false doctrine that must be defeated.  Every one of these false teachings tears at the very essence of Christ’s body. But Paul wouldn’t have us become paralyzed with fear; He would remind us that neither he nor your pastors are the good shepherd; Jesus Christ is the only Good Shepherd, and He Himself has built and protects the church.  This is a promise of protection that even the combined efforts of Hell and every demon cannot defeat.

And yet Christ calls us to join with Him in the work of building and protecting His kingdom.  So, like Paul, we are moved by God’s Word and the working of the Holy Spirit to pour our whole soul into God’s ministry here and throughout the world.  The love of Christ and the presence of God’s Spirit is compelling us to not only believe in His Word, but to ensure that it is proclaimed accurately to as many of our neighbors as possible. His living Word wells up from within our own hearts like a living stream. We don’t have to put our hearts into it; it comes out of our hearts. This is the very power of our congregation’s ministry here within our community.  And this is only possible through the mighty working of God’s Spirit.  God is with us, and He is protecting us!  Through His Word and Holy Sacraments He feeds us and teaches us.  He blesses us and leads us out into His mission field; out into our community.  

Dear friends, if we keep our hearts and minds centered on God and His means of Grace, then our Good Shepherd promises that we will not only be a congregation centered in Christ’s heart, but we will also be a healthy and growing congregation.  Here is a divine truth: Heavenly-mindedness does away with earthly-mindedness. It is the thought of our heavenly inheritance that waits for us, which continually leads us along with Paul to regard all material things as simply a tool to build God’s kingdom of grace here within our community.  With this common heart and mind, we will regard our time, talents, and treasure as a means to take care of the weak and the poor, and seek and save the lost!  And in order to help us remember this truth Paul shares with us the Words of our Lord Jesus Christ which are only found in this address of Paul: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

Dear saints, through God’s work among us and within us, these Words amazingly become our heart’s desire; the desire of a congregation that is diligently working within the Lord’s kingdom.  Do you want to be truly blessed?  Then God says give!  Whatever the Lord has equipped and moved you to do for Him, that is your ministry! Are you a prayer warrior?  We all can pray, but some have that ability as a special gift.  If so, then give.  Be continually in the spirit of prayer for our ministry!  Do you have time and talents that would benefit our ministry?  Then give!  But what about your treasure?  Certainly God moves us to dedicate our money to ministry here in this church!  Do you see what a great calling you have in the ministry of this church? 

I know that however God leads you to support this ministry you will be blessed.  If you decide to pray for those of us who are here speaking and demonstrating God’s Word and love here in ministry, you will be blessed.  If you are led to volunteer and get involved with our ministry here, you will be blessed.  And if you decide to give towards this ministry above and beyond what you normally give you will be blessed, because “It is more blessed to give than to receive!  I pray that each of us will be made bold by the Holy Spirit to live out this truth, in Jesus name… AMEN!

FOLLOW ME

May 13th, 2019

Easter 3-C
May 5, 2019
Rev. Richard Stark, Assoc. Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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When I was younger, when my older brother Ted was in high school, he had somehow come into possession of my grandfather’s old 1956 Chevy truck. It had been sitting in a relative’s yard and needed a lot of work to get it up and running.  I remember for a good amount of time, my dad and my brother spent every bit of their spare time, especially on Sundays after church, over at my uncle’s house working on that old truck. They had stripped the engine down to the blocks and completely rebuilt it by hand. Then one day, they were finally able to crank over the engine and start her up.  I’ll never forget the smiles on their faces as they pulled out of the driveway to take a test drive around the block. My brother loved that truck.

You know, that’s not a bad analogy for what we see happening in our Gospel lesson today. This passage is one of the most dramatic lessons of the post-Resurrection narratives. It captures the powerful restoration of the disciples that were present that morning. At the heart of the story is St. Peter, the bold and brash fisherman, who learned the hard way what it really means to love Jesus. Peter made wild and wonderful promises, only to fall short when the moment of truth came. On the night our Lord was betrayed, Peter claimed that he would “lay down [his] life for [Jesus].”  A short time later, when the chips were down, Peter’s self-confessed love failed and he would deny that he even knew Jesus. And we get to see Jesus, restoring his disciples by showering them with love, and care, and attention — restoring them to their former glory, and loving them throughout the process.

This was the third time that Jesus had revealed Himself to his disciples since the resurrection. The first time was in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, in the upper room, when Thomas wasn’t there. (This was the same room where they celebrated Passover with Jesus on the night one of the disciples betrayed Him and He was arrested.) The second time Jesus appeared to them was in the same room, eight days later, when Thomas was there and Jesus invited him to touch his wounds and place his hand in his side. And here, Jesus again reveals himself to the disciples, this time by the Sea of Tiberius, which is also known as the Sea of Galilee.

When Jesus appeared to his disciples, He was appearing to broken and vulnerable men who had possibly lost hope for the future. Disciples who, like us, were desperately in need of a fresh start with God, who were desperately in need of finding value, and worth, and a sense of identity, and they needed to know that they were still loved.

Our lesson begins with the scene of weary fishermen after an unsuccessful night of fishing. Suddenly, a stranger appears on the shore and He called out to them: “Children, do you have any fish?” 

Jesus called them “Children.” He didn’t call them ‘Men.’ or ‘Friends,’ or ‘Brothers,’ He called them ‘children’. What a beautiful and personal way to address His disciples.  He knows how weak and vulnerable they were feeling. He knows how confused they were. He knows how much they were hurting. And so He called them His children – an indication of the depth of love and sense of protection He has over them.

Jesus was restoring them.

Jesus told them to throw their nets off the right side of the boat. What he says does not make sense to them.  They sill don’t realize it’s Jesus. But for some reason they did it anyway.  And suddenly, their nets are full of fish; so full in fact that they couldn’t pull the net in.  And with this very act, Jesus showed them how much he loves them and wants to abundantly provide for them everything they would ever need. 

This story may remind you of another encounter, three years earlier, when Jesus is standing on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and He told a fisherman Simon, and his brother Andrew, to push out further into deeper water and let down the nets. Simon told Jesus that they had fished all night and had caught nothing. But they put down the nets anyway. And when they did, they caught so many fish their nets where beginning to break. They called for James and John to come help them. When all was said and done they had filled both boats so full of fish, they were on the brink of sinking. Simon was in such awe he bowed at Jesus’ feet. Simon said, “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid. Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” And the Bible tells us they left their boats and everything they had and they followed Jesus. (Luke 5:1-10; Matthew 4:18-22)

Here is Jesus coming to the disciples, after all their failures since they celebrated Passover together, after they had run away, after they had denied knowing Him, after they had given up hope and went back to their old lives…

Here is Jesus greeting them the same way he greeted them on that first day, doing the same thing that introduced them to Him as their Lord in the beginning. And it’s as if Jesus was saying, “Do you remember how it was before all this mess happened? It will be like that again. Let’s start anew. I love you, I forgive you, and I am still calling you. You will always be my children.” This is such a beautiful act of grace and mercy.

Jesus was restoring them.

And it is at this point in time that John recognizes Jesus and proclaims, “It is the Lord!” 

Peter, ever the impetuous disciple, grabs his clothes and swims to shore, leaving the other disciples with the hard work of getting the boat and the net full of fish back to shore.

When they get back to land, they find Jesus and Peter sitting together near a charcoal fire. And yet again, another beautiful detail that shows the depth of Jesus’ love. The last time that Jesus and Peter had been together near a charcoal fire was in the courtyard of the High Priest, Caiaphas on the night that Jesus was being tried. 

That night, Peter sat by a fire in the courtyard while Jesus is being interrogated and when he was asked if he was with Jesus, Peter denied even knowing Jesus and immediately the rooster crowed, and at that very moment Jesus turned and locked eyes with Peter. The Bible tells us Peter remembered Jesus telling him that he would deny him, and Peter responded, “Not me Lord! I could never do that!” It must have been the worst feeling in the world for Peter because he ran away and he wept bitterly.

But here they are now, sitting together by a fire and Jesus, again, is looking straight at Peter. There is no judgment in His eyes; Jesus looks at Peter with nothing but mercy, compassion and loving kindness.

Jesus was restoring him. 

And as they sit down to eat breakfast together ‘Jesus gave them bread and fish’. How reminiscent that would have been for the disciples of the last time that Jesus gave them bread at the Last Supper, before the betrayals, before the cowardice, and before the denials all began. But here is Jesus sitting with them and sharing bread with them. Jesus was still offering them hospitality, Jesus was still serving them, and Jesus still loved them.

Jesus was restoring them.

But the critical moment is not the disciples’ breakfast on the beach with Jesus, but rather the dialogue between Jesus and Peter that followed.

Jesus asked Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” OK, Jesus just called Peter by his true, by his full name and title – Simon, son of John. In my experience, full names are used in one of two circumstances. The most common is when we are in trouble. Growing up, our sons knew when they were in trouble when either my wife or I would call out, ‘Corey Michael (or Adam Christopher) come here!” Usually our full names are used when we are in trouble. Maybe Peter thought he was in trouble when Jesus looked at him and called him, ‘Simon, son of John…’ 

But the other circumstance where we are called by our full name is when we are about to make a covenant type contract or vow… when an important relational commitment is about to be formed. When you sign a contract you sign with your full name. When you were baptized and when you were confirmed your full name was used.

But in this passage, by using his full name, ‘Simon, son of John’, Peter was not in trouble but Jesus was about to commission him for something special. 

Peter had nothing to fear, Jesus was restoring him.

It’s important to look at the details of these questions when Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” To understand what’s really happening here, we need to know that in English, we only have the one word for “love” but in Greek, there are different words for the different kinds of love. And, in this passage, in the original Greek, there are two different words used. One is “agape,” which is an unconditional love, like the love God has for us; it’s the deepest and most profound type of love there is. The second word used is “phileo,” which indicates a brotherly type of love found in a deep friendship.

The first question Jesus asked Peter was, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” And the word Jesus uses is “agape”: “Do you love me unconditionally, with a total and utter commitment? Do you love me more than these men? Do you love me more than these things? More than your boat and your nets?  Peter replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” But the word Peter replied with was “phileo.”  Kind of like he was saying, “Jesus, I love you. But to be honest, the way I betrayed you, the way I ran away shows that I only love you like a brother – and not as I should.”  Jesus looked at Peter and said, “[That’s OK.] Feed my lambs.”

Jesus was restoring him.

Then again, Jesus asked, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Again, He asked using “agape” type of love. — “Aren’t you the one who promised you’d never leave me? Aren’t you the one who promised to live and die for me? Are you saying that you don’t have “agape” love for me?” Peter is again confronted by his own weaknesses and failures, and again, he answers Jesus, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” – again, “phileo” type love – brotherly type love. “I’m sorry, Lord. I tried and I failed. I do love you, I really do. But I can’t live up to those words. I know I bragged about my loyalty. I know I thought I was the greatest of the disciples, but at the end of the day, I can’t live up to that.”  Jesus said, “[That’s OK, do the best you can.] Tend my sheep.”

Jesus was restoring him.

The third time, Jesus asked Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” But this time, Jesus used the word “phileo.” “Simon, you say you have brotherly love for me. But what kind of a man betrays his brother? What kind of a brother denies even knowing him? And what kind of a brother runs away to save his own skin? Peter, do you even have “phileo” brotherly love for me?” And it says that Peter was sad because he knew deep in his heart that he could not even claim to have brotherly love for Jesus, as such was the depth of his sin and his betrayal. Peter replied, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” And it is “phileo” love, which Peter used here. And again, Jesus said, “[That’s OK.] Feed my sheep.”

Three times Peter had denied Jesus; three times Jesus forgave Peter; three times Jesus restored Peter.

Each and every one of us, when we search our own hearts, we can empathize with Peter; we can put ourselves in his place. We can look at Jesus, and we can sense him looking at us, and we say, “Lord, I love you. I want to serve you. I really want to do what is right. My intentions are good… but I am weak and I am frail and I get it wrong so often. Lord, I let you down, I betray you, at times I run away from you. Sometimes I feel my best just isn’t good enough. But Lord, you know everything; you know that despite my behavior, I really do love you to the best of my ability. The love I have for you is not what you deserve, but sometimes it’s the best that I can offer.”

And Jesus looks back at us; He looks you in the eye and He looks me in the eye and He says to us: “That’s OK. Do your best, I can work with that. I love you. I forgive you. You are my children and you will always be my children.”

Jesus restores us.

And, as Jesus restores us, he asks only one thing of us: ‘Take care of my sheep’.

  • Take care of one another.
  • Forgive one another.
  • Have compassion on one another.
  • Show kindness and tolerance and patience towards one another.
  • More importantly, love one another.

That is all that Jesus asks of us.

After all our sin and betrayal. After all our denying him in our thoughts and with our words and with our actions, after all the apathy we have shown in our faith, after all our cowardice we have shown in our discipleship — after all that — Jesus continues to restore us and says, “It’s OK. I still love you. You will always be my children, just love one another as I have loved you.”

And so we come to the end of this incredible encounter on the shore of the Sea of Galilee; an encounter through which Jesus restored the disciples, an encounter through which Jesus restored Peter, an encounter that give us the assurance that Jesus restores us. And the closing words are this: Then Jesus said to him, “Follow me!” 

Now, after all that has happened – the ups and downs, the highs, the lows, the crowds, the healings, the raising of people from the dead, the adventures of faith and missions, — the torture, the betrayal, the death, and the resurrection — after all this, Jesus was back on the same shore. He was looking at the same fisherman named Simon, now called Peter, and Jesus re-commissioned him with the same words, “Follow me.”

Jesus has restored him. All has been made right in this moment of reconciliation and restoration.

The same is true for us today. Jesus has reconciled Himself to us He has restored us. Jesus is with us every day. He continues to reconcile and restore us, every day.  All our failings and all our sins have been forgiven and forgotten. This is a new moment, a new beginning.

Jesus has restored us. Such is the grace, and mercy, the “agape” love and compassion of our God.

Everyday Jesus calls to each and every one of us, “Follow me.”

These Things Are Written That You May Believe!

April 28th, 2019

Easter 2C
April 28, 2019
Rev. Brian T. Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

Christ is Risen!  He is Risen indeed!  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead so that you can know for certain that sin, death, and the devil have no power over you!  That is the good news of the cross and the empty tomb!  We need to know this because each of us has a real and natural fear of death.  

On February 27, 1991, a few hours before President Bush announced the end of the Gulf War, a young soldier named Clayton Carpenter stepped on a land mine somewhere in the desert sands of Iraq.  In the confusion of battle, he was reported to have died.  That report was first given to his command and then delivered to his mother back in the U.S.  But three days later that same command discovered that this was a case of mistaken identity; Clayton Carpenter was still alive!  Clayton’s command quickly picked up the phone and called Clayton’s mother with the good news, “Clayton is alive!”  She would not believe it; she was still too deep in her grief!  Then her son called her; still it seemed like a dream… it seemed too good to be true!  So, she began to ask him questions she felt only he would know the answer to.  A short time latter two army officers arrived at her front door and assured her that it was true, her son was alive!

In a similar way, on a rocky hill called Golgotha, Jesus was crucified, but three days later, the Word was delivered, “He is risen!  He’s alive!”  The evidence kept pouring in hour after hour, more and more people were encountering their risen Lord and Savior, but for some it seemed too good to be true!

This is the tension that should be read into our gospel reading this morning.  

You see, it isn’t simply a historical account of events that happened long ago, but instead it is something that is happening in the here and now!  Jesus has risen, and yet so many people, maybe even our own loved ones refuse to believe.  To them it seems too good to be true!  

We can become discouraged when we share our faith; we may begin to doubt the effectiveness of our faith story, because after all we weren’t eye witnesses.  But that is not how God wants you to approach His mission of spreading the gospel, because believing and receiving the resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ is a work that He does within the hearts of sinful people; it is a work that He did even in your own heart!  You believe because of God’s Word and the gift of faith that He gave to you in His Word!  You believe because you see, but you do not see with physical eyes but eyes of faith!

You see, God has caused you to be born again into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.  And by God’s power (you) are being guarded through faith for a salvation (that is) ready to be revealed in the last (day). [1 Pet. 1:3b-5]

All of this is the same work that God began on Easter morning and it is a work that He continues today.  He does this work through two gifts: The gift of faith and the gift of mission!

Because faith is a gift from God, it only makes sense that He gives that gift in a way He desires, isn’t that true?  

Listen to how he first gave faith to a bunch of frightened disciples who were locked away in a room. “On (Easter evening) the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”  When He said this, He showed them His hands and His side.  Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” [John 20:19-20]  Now, many will read this and think, “See He let them see Him!  Why can’t He do that today?”  But friends, the fact that they saw Him isn’t what gave them faith; instead it was only the tool God used to open their hearts to the same gift of faith that has saved you.  And what is it that God always uses to give faith?  What does scripture say?  “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word about Christ.” [Rom. 10:17]

What Word did Jesus speak that gave them faith?  It was “Peace be with you!”  Don’t hear these words just as a standard greeting; you see when Jesus speaks them He gives exactly what He offers.  He gives faith that believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.  He gives faith that believes that Jesus has overcome the grave.  He gives faith to believe that Jesus has defeated the devil and completely removed the consequence of your sin!  That is the kind of peace that Jesus offers and gives to those who don’t reject it!  That is the very message of the cross and empty tomb that He wanted these frightened disciples who were locked away to receive!  

But He had another gift to give to them; one that would carry the same power of God out into a sinful and dying world.

Jesus gave them a mission; to not only announce the forgiveness of sins and victory over death and the devil, but to also provide these very things in His name and through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.  Listen: “Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”  And when he had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” [Jn. 20:21-23]

Now Jesus makes it clear that this peace that He is giving is not just for the “eyewitnesses” but it is for the entire world!  It is divine power for building, nurturing, and protecting His church.  It is the very thing that God uses to build His kingdom.  This peace first comes to the church, you and me and then it is sent out through us to a dying world!  So you see, in order to bring and give Christ peace we must first have that peace.  So what is that peace?  It is God’s power to forgive sins!  When Jesus breathed on them, He was giving the Holy Spirit not just to them but through them!  He was blessing their sharing of the peace through their sharing of God’s gospel or good news.  What is that good news?  Again, it is the forgiveness of sins.  Which sins?  All sins; the sins of the world!

But there is a condition isn’t there?  Yes, the one being forgiven must first admit that he has sinned.  If he will not agree that he needs God’s forgiveness then He will not receive that forgiveness!  The greatest sin is the refusal to believe that Jesus has risen from the dead!  If you will not receive that resurrection peace, then you cannot receive the gospel peace which frees you from sin, death, and the devil.  And that takes us to Thomas and his unbelief.

On that Easter evening, there was one person who was absent when Jesus appeared and gave them peace; a person who said that he was ready to die with Jesus!  So they went out and found him and told him, “(Thomas) We have seen the Lord!  He has risen!!”  

Poor old Thomas, he seems to be a skeptic lifted right out of our own community.  He responds to all of their joy and excitement with, “Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.  (No way and no how!)” [vs. 25]

And so it is with the world today, maybe even some of our own friends and family!  But we shouldn’t be too hard on them, because doubt is understandable.  After all Jesus was crucified, dead, and buried!  No doubt about it, Jesus was dead!  And to that doubt, the disciples must have pleaded, “But we saw him!  We touched Him!  He spoke with us and even ate with some of us!”  And to that Thomas then and the doubting Thomases that live with us today, the response is, “Nope!  I won’t believe until He shows me Himself!”  How sad these cases of doubt are; it locks people away with their own sins and fears.  As long as they doubt and remain fearful they also remain miserable and lost.  How can we change them?  Well we can’t; only Jesus can give them His peace; all we can do is wait and pray!

“Eight days later, His disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them.  Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  Then He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put your hand (out), and place it in my side.  Do not disbelieve, but believe.”  (And) Thomas answered Him, “My Lord and my God!”  Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed!” 

How did Jesus give Thomas saving faith?  The same way He always does; through the power of His Word, a Word of gospel peace!  It was the same Word of forgiveness that He still gives today!  What about your unbelieving friends and family, and those throughout our community who doubt?  Where and how shall they receive the peace of the Lord, the forgiveness of sins?  Through that same Gospel Word of peace and forgiveness!  Keep on praying for them!  Keep on asking God to open their eyes of faith!  Keep on loving them, sharing God’s Word with them, and inviting them here to hear it for themselves!  It is the Word alone that brings that peace and Jesus will not give up on them, and neither shall we; after all, He died for them too!

(Let me close by reminding you that it is Christ’s resurrection alone that gives you complete victory on the final Day of Judgment.  That is why we confess, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.”  Christ has risen bodily, strong and victorious over death.  His resurrection wasn’t just a spiritual victory but also a bodily victory for us!  As He rose from the dead so shall we!  We can’t understand this, or imagine what kind of body we will have, but we know that it will be like our Lords; Holy, perfect, and righteous, just as it was in the beginning in the garden.  And because by faith, we know this is true, we can stomp on the grave and say, “Where, O death, is your victory” Thanks be to God!  He gives the victory (to each of us who know this truth by faith through the power of His Living Word) our Lord Jesus Christ!” [1 Cor. 15:55, 57]  Christ has risen!  He has risen indeed!