Rejoice, Give Thanks and Pray!

December 17th, 2017

Third Sunday in Advent-B, December 17, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

Isiah 61:1-11


“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” [Isaiah 61:1]

You dear Christians know these Words well, don’t you? Of course you do; it was your Lord who read them in the synagogue and added these additional gospel Words: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” [Luke 4:21] In other Words, Jesus is telling us that this prophecy spoken first by Isaiah is ultimately fulfilled by His work as the Son of God. But do not diminish the importance of the prophet Isaiah, all other prophets, including John the Baptist, the holy Apostles, and all faithful preachers and proclaimers of God’s Word, including this humble preacher who stands before you.

My earnest prayer is that God would train each of our hearts to hear His Word when faithfully proclaimed and know by faith that the preacher’s Words are really in fact God’s Word, and that the man addressing you is to be received as a scholar from God. Speaking through the mouth of the preacher is not simply the voice of a thousand angels but Christ Himself declaring that God is present to bring into your hearts a message of true and lasting forgiveness of sins. He is speaking to repair hearts that have been broken by other’s sin, to free you from the condemnation of the Law of God, and to free you from the accusations of guilt that come from your own conscience. In other Words, this is your season of blessing and good favor from God Himself!

Isn’t this the one message that we sinners long to hear?

Isn’t it true that with out the work of Christ that sets us free from our sin and guilt, we in fact remain imprisoned by our own passions and lust for something that never seems to complete us or fulfill us? Don’t we all really just yearn to hear God say, “Your sins are forgiven”? And this dear friends is exactly the message that God is bringing to you this morning. You are forgiven! If you will receive this message and work of Christ, then you will find that your ashes of failure have been replaced with the oil of gladness instead of mourning. And instead of walking around like old “Sad Sack” in your dark and lonely attire, God has in fact clothed you in Christ’s own robe of righteousness, which for you is to be a garment of praise unto your God and Savior.
Now you may be wondering if all of this is true for you, and if so how it can be true. And simply put, your answer is this: “It is the Lord Jesus’ work and it is marvelous in our sight!” In your baptism, Christ planted you within His garden, within His kingdom to be a mighty oak of praise unto your God. All who see you are to acknowledge you as the very offspring of God, a child who is highly favored and blessed.

You are here to rejoice in the Lord so that others will also be drawn into His year of favor and Kingdom of Grace. But how? The answer is in our Epistle reading (1 Thessalonians 5:16-24).

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit.”

Now, at first this might sound like just another demand of the Law of God; a demand that like all others is outside of our ability to complete. You might hear it like this: Rejoice, don’t ever stop praying… ever, and don’t ever forget to say “thank you” to the Lord, or else! But remember, God has sent me this morning to proclaim good news and to set you free from your fears of failure to measure up.

God has sent me to point out to you this part of the reading: “For this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Do you hear that? It is God’s will, His desire that you be in a continuous spirit of prayer, that you offer up praise and rejoice in His presence, and that you be thankful in all things, and because it is His will for you He will make sure that you are able. This morning it is my duty and privilege to proclaim to you that it is “He who began the good work in you (who) will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” [Philippians 1:6]. And as others see God completing this work in you, as you live a life centered in thanks and praise to God, others will see and be amazed.

Do you understand dear saints that it is not your responsibility to complete you in God’s holiness, but instead, it is the Lord’s work that completes you?

It is the work of the Holy Spirit, which since your baptism has dwelt in you richly in order to complete what was begun in your baptism. And it is also the Holy Spirit’s work to ensure that you are in fact bearing the fruit of Christ’s cross.

From Christ’s passion upon the cross, your heart has been taken to the Font where you received that holy cleansing of the water and the Word, and from the Font, your hearts have been given the faith necessary to daily receive the Word of God as it comes directly from His heart and into yours. And as this Word continues to sanctify, that is preserve you in faith and eternal life, you experience the work of the Holy Spirit, which gives you a spirit of joy.

Rejoicing in the Lord is a natural and consistent expression of one who has been forgiven much through Christ. And because it is a work of the Holy Spirit, and not your own, it causes you to be filled with joy, a glad confidence in knowing that all things will work together for your good. But the ugliness of this sinful world does its best to take our eyes of faith off of God’s own goodness through Christ, and for this reason, God has commanded you to call out to Him in prayer.

Prayer, that is the ability to speak directly to God at any given time, is a privilege given only to those who see a need for a Savior. Those who scoff at the infant lowly, born in a manger and crucified upon the cross for the sins of the world, obviously see no need for a Savior; they have neither God’s ear nor heart when they pray. Why? Because prayer is a privilege given only to those who know that without Jesus, they are helpless and hopeless. You see it is your ability to call out to God in prayer knowing that in Christ, you are never helpless and vulnerable, which empowers you to naturally produce another trait that God wills we Christians to have… a spirit of thankfulness.

Be thankful in all circumstances. In other words be thankful in all things. This does not mean that we are to be thankful for all things, because as we all know there is much evil in this world, but in the midst of the evil, we can be thankful that in Christ, all of God is right there with us. (Cancer, Illness, Addiction, Homelessness?)
One of the most difficult things that God’s Word asks us to do is to adjust to the many changes that happen in our lives. But it becomes so much easier when we remember that He is right there with us in the midst of those changes. And this is another reason why we must gather often to hear His Word proclaimed; we must be reminded constantly that because the God who delivered me from my sins through Christ is ever and always at work throughout life’s changes, then at the very least I can by faith be thankful to Him for the work He is doing to preserve me in the one true faith.

Thanksgiving, prayer, and rejoicing are God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. These three crisp words jump out at us not as a command, but as a description of the desire of God’s heart. They are gifts of the Holy Spirit, that keep our hearts centered on the work of Christ’s cross and the promise of the resurrection, which is proclaimed through Christ’s empty tomb. We must remind each other that because we are adopted children of God through Christ, we have been enable by God to live out holy lives and embrace the fullness of life that is ours by grace. But even this too is a work of God, performed so that we might never quench the work of the Holy Spirit that sanctifies us until the day of Jesus Christ.

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; that is may no nook or cranny of your life be left without the peace of God. May He reign undisturbed in every portion of your being, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it, and it can be done in no other way. AMEN!

Behold Your God!

December 10th, 2017

Second Sunday in Advent-B, December 10, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

Isaiah 40:1-11

INTRODUCTION: What kind of God do we serve? When we give a testimony about Him to our neighbors, what should we say? Well listen to His own Words and then behold your God: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”

Not just once, “Comfort”, but twice, “Comfort, comfort.” So the Lord begins with a single repeated command; it’s a command to the preacher of God’s Word, that would be me, and it’s a command to God’s ambassadors, that would be you. This command flows from the mind of God, and God himself directed it to his messengers, messengers who will announce the good news of his love. God wants everyone to hear this message. He claims all people as His own when He calls them, “my people.” Think about that for a moment; after all of our unfaithfulness, all our rebellion, all our sins, we are still his people. God remains our God; for us He is still faithful and gracious, just as he promised to be: “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin” (Exodus 34:6, 7).

I. What is our warfare?

A. It is our struggle to fulfill God’s Law. It is realizing that because of our sin we can’t make things right with God. But in order for our warfare to be over, in order to receive a double portion of God’s own comfort we will need to see our sin and want it removed; we need to hunger for His forgiveness; we need to receive it according to His terms and not ours. Each of us must admit that we alone bear the responsibility for our hard life, the hard service that our life represents. It was our own sin that separated us from God’s love and it is our insistence on atoning for that sin our own way that causes such warfare.

B. This morning God is asking each of us to agree with Him that all of our accomplishments, the things that we count as good are like grass and the beauty of wild flowers in a field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it, when He calls us home. Then all of our goodness vanishes as we stand before a perfect and holy God.

This was the message of John the Baptist as he lived his life proclaiming the way of the Lord; preparing the way of the Lord!

TRANSITION: This morning, that same Word, that same message is crying out to us from the wilderness of our hearts: “Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

II. Prepare the way of the Lord.

A. To our sinful ears, this is a hard word to understand, because it sounds like God is asking us to do even more to earn His love; but that is exactly what He isn’t saying. No, instead, He’s telling us that He will no longer let us do things our way. To prepare the way of the Lord means to prepare ourselves for the Lord’s activity in us, so that He alone may be our source of help and pride; so that our lives and eternities will be one with His Son Jesus Christ. But how is this way prepared? What are the obstacles and obstructions we are to remove? Nothing other than our own arrogance and pride. Those are the very things that prevent people from receiving the grace of Christ.

B. So how hard can it be? Well to walk this way, you have to get onto God’s royal highway naked as a Jay bird! You can’t travel with any merits of your own; you have to receive only the clothing that God provides! You must be clothed only with His double gifts of grace and faith! Your heart must agree with the psalmist and say: “If You, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand,” (who could walk on your royal highway to your royal kingdom)? “But with you there is forgiveness (there is grace and faith)” [Ps. 130:3]

C. Now, this is where all sinners equally stand at the edge of a cliff; they will either allow God to turn them away from certain death and see the beauty of God’s way, or they will ignore the way of the Lord all together and jump head-long into pride and an eternity of death. Those who choose death, hear the command to prepare the way of the Lord and say, “What more do you want me to do? I go to church every Sunday and I try to be good. What do you want from me now?” But what they fail to see is that if there is any doing to be done, it must be done by God. They fail to see that the mountains and valleys that God wants leveled are in our own hearts. Martin Luther said that the Mountains are saints, and valleys are sinners. As we stand before God all of us are the same without distinction, whether we are saints or sinners. In fact, you who are baptized are both at the same time! This is the way of God; He levels the playing field. But why? So that the gospel can be receive by everyone with the exact same assurance; God’s Word gives exactly what it promises… an eternal life of peace with God. Before God all things must be leveled.

TRANSITION: In God’s declaration of double comfort is the assurance that the Law has been fulfilled for us. Our sin has been removed from us. He is telling us that we have been set free from our sins, not by working and struggling but by the forgiveness that the Son of God, Jesus Christ provided for us through His suffering and death upon the cross. This is the continual message of God’s Word, which teaches deliverance from sins by forgiveness and grace; grace completely removed from anything we do or fail to do. This is not the way of the world, but it is God’s way! God’s way is the gospel, and the gospel doesn’t look backwards at the life we led, but it looks to Jesus Christ upon the cross Who says, Believe God, trust in God. For your faith receives forgiveness for sins.

III. Faith is completely a gift from God.

A. It allows you to hear His Word and believe it. It is a Word, which declares that you are no longer a slave to sin; you are no longer locked in the dungeon of fear and pain! Your hard service is over, not because you’ve earned it or because you’ve done your time and satisfied the law. No, your bondage is over because God has provided your release through his Son, Jesus Christ!

B. Jesus alone paid the debt, a debt caused by every twisted and perverted sin ever committed, even your sins! Your debt has been paid off. Your sins are forgiven; they were paid for by the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).

C. So as our reading says this morning, we have been paid double. Not only have we been forgiven and promised to receive the blessing of an eternal life of peace with God, but by faith, we may also enjoy that blessing in the here and now, in this sinful world. But you have been blessed to be a blessing to others. How? By speaking the gospel. The gospel alone saves people from all sin. It alone is what saved you, correct? So the voice of God speaks to us this morning and says, Cry out! You who have heard the good news and been freed from the bondage of your own sins, “lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, and do not be afraid; say to the people” in your community, “Here is your God! See the Sovereign Lord born in a manger; see Him high and lifted up, crucified for you… for your sins. He is the Sovereign Lord who is coming again with power and His arm rules for Him. His arm is His Holy Word, and His reward and recompense is in the gospel for you. Jesus died to save you!

D. Speak the gospel, and do not be afraid to give your witness, because that witness and the Word of God are the very power of God! No one can become a Christian, no one can be saved unless they hear the Word of God and receive the gift of faith from God which comes through the hearing of His Word.

TRANSITION: I’d like to close with a Christmas story that explains very nicely how God prepares us and puts us on His road of salvation. It was Christmas almost Fifty years ago when a man named Rex was stationed in Korea as a young Marine lieutenant. His wife and new born daughter were home in the United States.
On Christmas morning the thermometer hovered around zero with several inches of snow covering the ground. Outdoor worship services were planned and Rex decided to attend out of respect and “to set a good example for the other men.” Nearly two hundred Marines turned out for the service. They sat on their helmets in the snow. They faced a small portable altar. The chaplains had no microphones, and the portable organ suffered from the extreme cold.

Something happened to Rex in that worship service. God broke into his life. He thought of all that was precious to him: home, his wife, his unseen infant child. In that moment as they tried to sing Christmas carols in the cold air he realized that knowing God does not depend on anything he has done or will do; it doesn’t depend on a building or nice clothes, instead knowing God is an act that God does in our hearts so that it can be celebrated and shared with others.” Far from home and loved ones, Rex realized that Christmas Day — in itself — is not important, but the faith it represents is.”

The truth is, God often breaks into our lives in unexpected ways and at unexpected times. He always does it through His Word and He does it through people speaking and sharing that Word in love.

CONCLUSION: Behold the mystery of your God; He comes to you in your own flesh, and in your own language! Born as a baby in a manger; beaten and bloodied by the government and mocked with the words, “Behold your king!” Crucified to silence Him, and now reigning with power and might! Behold your God! Behold the Lord God comes as your Savior who will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, (even you); he will carry (you) in his bosom, and gently lead you to your eternal heavenly home. Come Lord Jesus, come! AMEN!

Are You Ready To Celebrate The Rending?

December 4th, 2017

First Sunday in Advent-B, December 3, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence—as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil—to make your name known to your adversaries, and the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for Him. You meet Him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember you in your ways.” [Isaiah 64:1-5A]

As Jesus rode into Jerusalem He knew that He and God the Father and Holy Spirit were going to rend, tear apart the existence of sinful men and women in just a few short days; He knew that He was riding to His death. It would be a death that would smash the head of Satan and rend the tyranny he had wielded against us. You see, not only would Jesus defeat the devil, but He would also defeat our sin and our death. And when He was crucified upon the cross, He drew His last breath to declare His victory with the Words, “It is finished.” A great illustration was performed by God to declare this absolute truth to sinners like you and me; the great temple curtain that hid the Holy of holies was torn into. This rending of that curtain declared for the first time that God had indeed kept His promise; the Messiah had come, and by the payment of His life blood had brought sinful men and women back into communion with their perfect Creator!

God had come down and “rended” the heavens other times in the past as well.

He came to meet sinful yet faithful men and women as they were. He answered the prayers of His people when they were in bondage in Egypt and caused great plagues to strike the land and its people until mighty Pharaoh let His people go! He parted the Red Sea so that they could escape on dry land, but then allowed the waters to recede and destroy the pursuing Egyptian army. He listened to the faithful prayer of King Hezekiah, and thwarted the Assyrian army that had amassed itself around Jerusalem by striking down thousands and thousands of Assyrian soldiers in their camp while they slept.

Faith, which is a gift of God turns to the Lord in prayer. Even when God seems shut away and silent in heaven, faith prays. The message that God desires us to take with us this morning is that even in ominous times, God wants His children of faith to call out to Him in prayer. He wants us to call out to Him,

“Our Father, our Redeemer from of old” (Isaiah 63:16), “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence!”

These are the words of a believer—a child of faith who is facing difficult times, but still clinging to God’s promises of power and grace. For those who cry out like this, everything seems to be “out of whack” in this world; evil seems to be over powering good, and the devil seems to be stopping even God’s will. In times like this, when God’s enemies seem to be defying His rule and authority, the prophet Isaiah encourages all believers to call out to God to step in and correct this apparent imbalance. “O Lord, come quickly. Assert your power; protect and deliver your people. Destroy your enemies and the enemies of your people.”

But there is just one little problem. If we are honest, we too are many times found to be acting as if we are faithless; we too because of our sins, have been and will be again the enemies of God. We remember the God of old and His mighty deeds and we are afraid. We are afraid because we know that we too fall short of the qualification of joyfully working towards righteousness.

“Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (This is why) There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses Himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.” [Isaiah 65:5B-7]

So what is the solution to our apparent inability to call out to God, to see and hear God in a righteous way? He must work once again in a way that this sinful world must never expect. He must do what we can not. He must come quickly to be our defender and our Savior. No one could have foretold of the mighty deeds God did in Egypt to free His people; no one could have foretold that God would rend the heaven and shake the mountains as He met Moses on the mountain top and spoke with Him. No one could have foretold that God would save Jerusalem by striking down the Assyrian army as they surrounded the remnant of Israel. And no one would have guessed that all of this was leading up to God’s greatest miracle for sinful men and women such as us.

Sinful men and women since the fall of Adam and Eve have been held in the cruel bondage of sin. Loving God and our neighbor as God demands is and was out of the question… it is beyond us. But God made a way out of no way. Who could have ever imagined that God would come to us in our own flesh, born of the Virgin Mary? Who would have guessed that God would bring us back to Himself by grace through faith, through the sacrifice of His own Son upon a wooden cross at Calvary? What human mind could have anticipated the empty tomb? Could anyone have anticipated that by faith in God’s Son and Servant Jesus Christ, that a man or woman could become an adopted child of God? But this is always how our mighty God acts.. He reveals His truths to humanity… His creation in a way that must forces all of creation to simply stand in awe and receive His gift of presence with thanksgiving and praise.

The wisdom of God’s gracious and powerful plan lies completely outside of our realm of understanding. If any man or woman is to understand and receive God’s work of redemption they must be given the ability to believe and receive it through the faith giving power of the Holy Spirit that comes to them through His proclaimed and fulfilled promises through the prophets and the evangelists of the New Testament. In other words, they must hear and receive the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In our Old Testament lesson, which is simply a prayer of the prophet Isaiah, we are drawn into God’s heart along with the prophet to call out to God in prayer and hold fast to the principle, which teaches that God always acts on behalf of those who wait for Him. But He only acts for those who know Him as Father, Savior, and Comforter. He acts for those who know that He is the potter and we are His clay; we are His creation.

“But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Be not so terribly angry, O Lord, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all your people. [Isaiah 64:8, 9]

Why should God even listen to our prayers, let alone respond to them? Because we are the clay, and He molds us after His will. We are the work of His hands.

Our disgusting sins are all that is needed to separate us from God’s love, but faith tells us of another way; it tells us that through His Son, Christ Jesus, God broke into our existence by rending the separation between time and eternity so that God and man may once again have communion. So that through the Son of God born of the Virgin Mary, we may turn to God by faith and trust in His gracious promises to both redeem and save us, and to remake us into the image of His Son. For many of you, you have been taught since your were children to both begin your prayers “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” and then to always pray “in Jesus’ name.” Why do you suppose that is? It is because God has no reason to listen to any of us outside of the miraculous work of Jesus, the Son of God! We come to Him in the name of Jesus, who has shed His blood upon the cross to wash away our sins and cover us with His robe of righteousness. When we call upon and trust in the name of Jesus, God invites us to pray to Him as dear children ask their dear Father for those things that we need. We can pray with confidence and boldness because, in Jesus, God IS our dear Father.

As we enter into the season of Advent, may the peace of God allow your heart to boldly call out Him to come again through His Son and rend the heavens and make all things right and well for each of you, as you are transferred from the Kingdom of grace into the Kingdom of glory. I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Are You a Sheep or a Goat?

November 26th, 2017

Last Sunday of the Church Year-A, November 26, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. Before Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” [Matthew 25:31-33]

In the time of Jesus, it wasn’t uncommon for shepherds to allow the goats and sheep to graze or pasture together. But at the end of the day, the shepherd would separate them according to their kind. And that is a picture of the Day of the Lord, judgment day. Some will be considered sheep; they are the apple of our Lord’s eye. On judgment day they will hear Jesus say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” But others, others who are goats, will hear something completely different; they will hear Jesus say, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”

So what is it that determines whether we are sheep or goats? Is it something we can get our hands on and protect; something we can have as our most cherished possession. Is there a ticket to heaven? Well… yes and no! If we were to look at our gospel lesson this morning, we might be tempted to think that our ticket to heaven or our identity as a sheep or goat is based on good works, or something we do to earn God’s love and forgiveness. But you’re all much to informed about what your Bibles say to believe that. So what then; what is this blessed assurance that promises us that we will be citizens of heaven in a place that has been prepared and waiting for us since the foundation of the world? Well, it is nothing less than faith… faith in the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When the Son of Man comes in His glory, will He find faith; will He find faith in you? Are you a sheep or a goat?

If this question is making you a bit uncomfortable, then may I be the first to say congratulations; congratulations for not being happy at the prospect of being a goat!

You see there’s one thing I know about goats and it’s this, they’re just fine with being a goat. In fact, for the most part they’re stronger, faster, and more clever than sheep. They don’t have a problem with being a goat. But not so with you; you want to be a sheep; you want to know that there is a place for you in heaven, just waiting for you to move in. And because this is true, then you won’t have a problem with admitting something about yourself and something about God.

You are faithless! That’s right, I said it; on your own you are completely powerless and useless for assuring that your eternal abode will be something other than weeping and gnashing of teeth. Now don’t feel too bad about this, because you see it’s something you were born into! St. Paul in our epistle reading (1 Corinthians 15:20-28) explains it like this, he says that death came by a man, the first man Adam to be exact. In Adam all of us are guaranteed nothing more than an eternal death; a separation from God and His kingdom. Instead of inheriting a mansion, well we’re cast out into the outer darkness; a place where there will be eternal longing and desire.

What was it that Adam did that was so bad that it condemned all of his ancestors? He doubted God’s goodness and love; He doubted that God would provide everything that was good and withhold nothing helpful, while He protected him from everything that was harmful. So from the doubt of Adam and Eve has proceeded every sin that each of us has committed. From the doubt of Adam each of us has been judged guilty. From the doubt of Adam our relationship with God has been lost. The church has always called this doubt the original sin.

Now most goats don’t like this doctrine. They don’t like the fact that they’re being punished for something someone else did long ago! They get angry with God and they say, “I didn’t ask to be born this way! This isn’t fair; since my birth, you’ve put me on a road that goes only to hell!” Yes, the goats are so upset with this idea of original sin that not only do they protest against God, but they get angry with anyone who will repeat the doctrine. Why is that? Simply put, if this doctrine is true, then that means that their salvation, their ability to inherit the Father’s Kingdom is entirely outside of their control. It means they have to have faith, and remember, that is the one thing goats do not have; goats are faithless.

So what is the solution?

Well, goats must be saved by someone who can give them faith. They must be saved by someone who is faithful. They must be saved by someone who can fill them with this faith; someone who can make them faith-filled!

Jesus is that someone and His Word is the means that God uses to fill goats with His gift of faith; it’s how he turns goats into sheep. But faith in what? Faith to believe that Jesus, God’s own Son came to this earth, lived a perfect life for you, suffered and died for you in order to remove the curse of sin, Adam’s and your sin from you. Now, if you are agreeing with this premise, that’s all well and good, but some goats believe this too. No, I’m afraid that you must hear the rest of the premise before you celebrate. You see, Jesus also rose from the dead in His body, and promises that you will do the very same thing because you’ve received His gift of faith.

Now this is where many of the learned people discover that they aren’t sheep at all and they don’t care. They can receive the idea that sin has to be paid for, even original sin. And the fact that God paid for it Himself, makes perfect sense to them, because well, He was the One who allowed everything to break-down in the first place. But raising a body from the dead, a body that’s been dead and decomposed for hundreds, maybe thousands of years, well that’s just foolishness to them. What about people blown into thousands of little bits in explosions during war or a tragic accident, how in the name of science, will they be raised?! Or what about people who die at sea and are eaten by a million little fish who then scatter what’s left of their bodies all over the ocean floor?! No, I’m afraid that to the goats this is just too big of a leap of faith! They believe in Jesus, a spiritual Jesus; a Jesus who inhabits the best of man’s philosophies and religions, but not a physical Jesus. They believe in a spiritual resurrection but they can never accept a physical one! That goes against everything that is sensible to them. It goes against the very laws of physics!

But if this is how you feel, then you are condemning God’s entire Word as fantasy. You have recreated God’s plan into a plan of your own making. You do this because you are a goat; you are a goat because you are faithless. But if the goats are right and we sheep are wrong, then we are to be pitied ahead of all others; because that means we sheep have staked our very lives and eternity on a lie! Poor sheep; poor lost sheep, who will save us! Jesus Christ the true shepherd will! He will smash the head of the king of the goats, the devil himself and speak words of faith that turn goats into sheep! Listen: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by (the God) man (Jesus Christ) has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all died, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in His own order: Christ the first-fruits, then at His coming those who belong to Christ.” [1 Corinthians 15:20-23] Those who are called sheep!

This is the gospel! This is your hope!

By His death upon the cross and the empty tomb on Easter morning Jesus has declared and demonstrated His victory over your enemies, sin, death, and the devil. When you hear that Jesus suffered and died for you, you are given faith… you are filled with faith to believe that He also rose from the dead for you! And you also know by faith, that as the head of the church, which is His body, which you are a part of, you must follow your Lord and Savior; for where the head goes so must also follow His body!

This is the truth, God’s own truth. It is what sheep believe because they are faith filled by a Savior God who is faithful. It is the truth that goats can never believe in because they are faithless. This is the truth that has sent untold numbers of sheep peacefully into the arms of their Savior at the time of death, and it is the truth that will lead you home as well! But I must warn you, that the devils don’t want you to lie down on your last day with this truth. They look at you as another victim. Another morsel that they can eat. They’ll do everything they can to get you to doubt God’s own truth. If they can get you to live in doubt then I’m afraid that they’ve trapped you again in the same old sin of Adam.

Remember, to them, you are nothing more than a tasty morsel that they plan to devour. You are a sausage sandwich waiting to be gulped down. But if you’ll simply rest in God’s Word and the work He did for you on the cross and in your baptism you will see that Jesus is the one who does the devouring. And He’s not only devoured the devil, but your own sin and death. If you will continue feasting upon the Lord’s Table where He offers you His body and blood, then by faith you will not only be eating and drinking forgiveness for your doubts, but the very gift that makes you a sheep; you will be fed faith!

So at your time of death when the devil goes to bite into you, all he’s going to get is a mouthful of the poison that He gave to you. We might say he only has a mustard and ketchup sandwich to look forward too, because you will not be there; you will be with your Lord, in a new body; a body that will never know sickness and death, sorrow or sin. This is how Jesus, the Son of God, puts all things under God the Father. He does it so that God may be all in all and sin, death, and the devil will be no more, ever again!

But now let me close with the proclamation of a mystery. This process has already begun and it is already completed. All that is left is for you to experience it outside of this world of sin and death. Indeed the day has already come when you can say, “I will praise you, O Lord. Although you were angry with me (because I behaved as a goat), your anger has turned away and you have comforted me. Surely God is my salvation (and His resurrection is the source of my joy); I will trust and not be afraid. For the Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation. With joy (I can draw from my baptismal water) that is the well of your salvation, and give thanks to the Lord. So let us call upon the Lord (who is faithful); let us call upon His name. And let us make known His saving work of the cross and the empty tomb throughout our community, and let us proclaim the exalted name of Jesus! Let us shout and sing for joy because the Lord who has done wondrous things is with us and promising to take us with Him in paradise.” [Isaiah 12:1-6]

May God’s Word continue to make each of us faith-filled sheep, as He continues to be our God, in this life that began with our baptismal death as sinners and in our baptismal resurrection to new life in Jesus Christ. AMEN!

Arise!

November 19th, 2017

24th Sunday After Pentecost-A, November 19, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

Matthew 25:14-30

Does the day of the Lord frighten you? For many it can, because it can be looked at as a day of judgment rather than a day of reward. But if you are trusting in Christ and the gift you’ve been given in your Baptism, you have nothing to fear. So get up and don’t be someone who thinks and lives in darkness, but live as you have been called to live… live in the glorious light of Christ Jesus your Savior. It is your Savior who brings you into the Kingdom of His Heavenly Father, while the light of the Holy Spirit takes you by your hand and says “ARISE”!

Now this sounds good to everyone who has been baptized, and yet when we leave this place but not God’s presence, our sinful flesh will do everything in its power to convince us to lie back down and sleep a little longer.

Your sinful flesh backed up by a chorus of devils will try to convince you that there’s no need for urgency. As you’ve heard me say before, in our sinful nature we’d rather worship at a place called St. Mattress than a place called St. Matthew!

Knowing we are but flesh and subject to falling back into our sinful nature, God’s Word calls out and says arise… wake up you sleeper and walk in the light!

What is that light? It is God’s Law and His Gospel. This morning we will use God’s law first as a Mirror, a mirror that will show us the darkness of sin that surrounds us, and then we will hear His Gospel; the good news that is God’s Word of love, love which dispels the darkness and surrounds us with His love!

Why is God’s Law a mirror?

Because if we aren’t trusting in God’s forgiving love, it clearly shows us that the day of the Lord is something that we should dread; it is a day of punishment for sin, our sin! That’s why so many people today don’t want to hear God’s law preached; they only want to hear a message of prosperity, health, and wealth; they don’t want to hear the truth. What is the truth? We are broken in sin; we are separated from God; we are sick and death is inevitable! This is what the law of God shows us!

You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your mind, and with all of your soul! That is the demand of God. You heard me right it’s a demand, and it offers you no help in accomplishing it! It’s a demand that forces you to admit that you can’t do the law, you’ve never been able to do it, and on your own, you never will! That’s why it’s a mirror; it simply shows you the truth about who you are… you are a sinner who has only judgment to look forward to!

Truthfully, on are own, we are the wicked and lazy servant that God gave one talent to. Instead of using that talent we want to hide it away; we don’t really want to take care of it. For some, perhaps they spend their whole life hiding the talent, and they convince themselves that God loves them no matter what, and the proof is is the talent that He gave them, but they never use it! They can skip Divine Service and never think twice about it. They can come to the Lord’s Supper with bitterness and an unforgiving heart and then think that there will be no repercussions. They can give a small sum of money as their weekly offering and dismiss any feelings of inadequacy or sinfulness by simply repeating what they were taught in Sunday School: God loves a cheerful giver! You wicked and lazy servant, the day of the Lord will come upon you like a thief in the night; punishment is at hand! Now, don’t look away or close your ears, because we aren’t done looking in the mirror.

You shall love your neighbor as yourself. That’s the demand of God’s Law. It’s a demand and not a suggestion.

Who is your neighbor? Your neighbor is your spouse. The very person that you promised God you would love and honor till death do you part. The very person you promised that you would be lover, supporter, and comforter to in good times and bad, sickness and health, in periods of wealth and poverty. And how do you show that love? With unfaithfulness! You give the best of your passion, your time, your comfort, and support to something or someone before your spouse. And maybe you justify your actions with the argument that times have changed and so have relationships! Now maybe you are dismissing this guilt by saying to yourself that you’ve never actually cheated or turned to the arms of someone else, but isn’t it true that marriage is oh so much more than the physical aspect?

Who is your neighbor? It is your children and grandchildren! Each time you hear God’s Word reminding you to spend more time with your family and demonstrate your love to them by teaching them the truths in God’s Word as found in your catechism, and each time you do the opposite, you are not loving your neighbor! Have you forgotten that your Master is coming and will expect a full account of how you used His talent that He gave to you?

Who is your neighbor? Your neighbors are those who can benefit from any of the many ministries we have here at our church, if you would only invite them and bring them. Now I know that many of you don’t like to do church things on a day other than Sunday, especially in the evening, but have you forgotten that it’s not about you, it’s about your neighbor, your neighbor who is dying without knowing God’s love through Jesus Christ. Your neighbor that hasn’t even been given a talent from the master yet!

Who is your neighbor? Your neighbor may be someone in this congregation that you have held a grudge against or harbored a bitter spirit against for some time. Instead of going to your brother or sister and explaining how they’ve sinned against you and allowing God’s grace and Spirit to bring reconciliation, you harbor resentment and anger. Oh we wicked and lazy servants, it is time for us to arise… to wake up from our deep dark sleep and let God’s Word rescue us.

But how… how will this happen? By turning to His face of love; by embracing his gift of love that He has given to us!

What is God’s face and gift of love?

It’s the cross of Jesus Christ. In His cross you see God’s love, and when you see His love, you fall in love with Him yourself. In His arms of grace you feel connected and never disconnected; you feel his forgiveness. In His cross you see His sacrifice, His death upon the cross as a gift for you. In His cross God shows you that Jesus death was your death. In the cross of Jesus, God provides a very great gift for all of us… He provides His talent.

What is this talent? It is first and foremost the gift of faith; faith that allows us to be free from the terrible threatening of God’s Law and then faith to see God’s forgiveness. But this gift of God’s love doesn’t just come with wishful thinking, but instead it comes through God’s means; it comes through His Word! In His Word, God the Father is always telling you to turn to His Son, to turn to His Son’s cross and confess that you have failed in satisfying the demands of His Law. In the cross of Jesus, God is always reminding us that it is He alone who rescues us from our sins, from the attacks of the devil, and from our own death and the day of judgment.

God’s Word about Jesus’ sacrifice for you is the breastplate of faith and love… it is the helmet of your salvation. Without the Word of God you can have neither faith nor love; you can have no talent from God. Without the Word of God, you can have no helmet of salvation that protects you from the sinful thoughts that so easily entangle you and lead you back into a world of darkness and slumber! Without the Word of God you cannot walk as a child of the light.

Oh you can pretend to be following Jesus, but without the Word of God leading you and changing you, you are just going through the motions.

So this morning God’s Word simply has one command and it is Arise!

That’s it. Get up and take up His holy Word. Stay in the Word and embrace the light that it gives to you. Oh, and because God has given you a talent, the gift of faith, He now assures you that you don’t need to be afraid of His Law anymore; you don’t need to avoid reading and meditating on that Law. He doesn’t want you to see His Law as something to be avoided, but see His Law as a Law of love; see it as His way of continually recreating you into His image; it is part of the talent or gift of faith that He’s given to you so that you’ll no longer see yourself as a wicked and lazy servant, but as a wise, appreciative and loving servant who will only hear Words of praise and reward on the day of the Lord! Under the council of God’s Holy Law He is teaching you how to multiply the talent that He has given you. In His Word He is not only teaching you how to love Him but also how to love and forgive your neighbor as He has loved and forgiven you!

As God’s Word continues to save you, it will also continue to change you and rearrange you; it will teach you how He has specifically gifted you with special talents, and then He will teach you how to use those talents to help bring others out of darkness and judgment and into the glorious gospel light of love and forgiveness.

I’d like to close our message this morning with this story: One day, Satan held a strategy session for defeating Christ’s work of salvation. “What shall we do?” asked Satan. A daring demon stood and shouted, “I have it! I know what we can do! We can tell people that there is no life after death, that they die like animals.” Satan’s face fell as he answered, “It will never work. Man is not stupid; even atheists will admit that they have times when they sense a tomorrow after death.” Another demon spoke, “Here’s the solution! Let’s say that the god who started life is dead—let’s say that while he started the universe, he’s long gone now.” Satan replied in dismay, “That won’t work either; most of them know there is a God, even though they don’t look for him.”

Other ideas were presented, but none brought hope to the devils. Finally, as they were about to give up, one demon jumped to his feet in joy, “I have it! This is sure to work!” The other demons crowded around to hear the plan. “Go tell them that God is real and the Bible is God’s Word.” A gasp came from the audience as the demon continued, “And tell them that Jesus really is God’s Son and that He died to free them from their sin.” The other demons were horror-stricken, thinking that their associate had lost his mind, until, with a smile, he added, “Then tell them that this is not the best time to turn their lives over to Jesus. Help them make excuses for living in a life of darkness. Tell them there is no hurry!” If we do this we will fulfill the warning in Proverbs, “How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.” [Proverbs 6:9-11] The demons danced in delight, realizing a workable plan had been discovered.

But those devils aren’t celebrating this morning at our Church; no, because this morning we have heard the gospel command to Arise! We’ve heard God’s Word, and because of that Word of God and the gift of faith it brings, we can truly say, “I want to walk as a child of the light, I want to follow Jesus!”

May God through His Word continue to turn our hearts and minds to Jesus and His cross, and may He continue to give all of us the faith, the talent and the strength to keep doing that very thing until the day of the Lord. In Jesus name… AMEN!

Give to Caesar What’s Caesar’s and…

October 22nd, 2017

20th Sunday After Pentecost-A, October 22nd, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

Matthew 22:15-22

Our text for this morning is one that is very familiar with many of you. “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” [Matthew 22:21b] I’m sure that you’ll all agree with me that the one thing our modern day Caesar wants the most from us is our money! Oh they’re going to get it, you can be sure of that, after all their name is all over “your” money… even though it’s in your pocket right now, it isn’t really yours, it’s Caesar’s, and he’s just letting you use it!

In this political season there’s a lot of talk about the best way to take our money and then the best way to spend it. In our political system here in the U.S., we are assured that we have a say in how this decision will be made; we have elections and the person or the party with the best ideas in how to collect and spend our money will supposedly be the one elected. But in the end, no matter who is elected we are always reminded that it never really was our money. We are reminded that the golden rule of any form of government is, “He who makes and distributes the currency, makes up the rules.”

But if we would just remember that our money really belongs to someone else, life sure would have a lot more peace and contentment in it. Like the old folks use to say back home, “Money will buy ya a nice dog, but only love will make him wag his tail and be your friend!”

In our gospel lesson this morning we discover something else about money… it can be a trap, even when you use it to trap someone else!

We meet Jesus teaching in the temple and it is the week of His passion; in other words He is only days away from His suffering and death. He knows this; He knows what is waiting for Him, so this is His last attempt to bring faith to an evil self-serving nation. He is teaching in the temple for good reason; it is the very heart of their identity as a people called by God to relate to Him in love and trust and then reflect that relationship to other people… other nations. He has just finished condemning the religious leaders as phonies, imposters. The word I used last week was posers! And now they’re flaming hot with anger and thinking only of revenge; they want to trap Jesus with His own words so that they can arrest Him and turn Him over to Caesar for execution.

The Pharisees went off away from the others and devised a way to trap Jesus. Jesus own words will be coaxed out of Him and they will be words of treason! Once that was done, with the members of the Herodian political party as witnesses, the governor will quickly arrest Jesus. So the Pharisees picked some of their youngest and brightest disciples and taught them what and how to ask Jesus. So while Jesus is teaching, this group of strangers approaches Him and begins to ape the words of admiration and praise that their teachers taught them: “Teacher, we know that you are (the real deal and that you) teach the way of God truthfully, and (we know that) you don’t care about anyone’s opinion (of you, because you’re) not (fooled) by appearances.”

Now stop and think about that for a moment. If they really believed that, would they have said what they just said? After all weren’t they just doing the very thing they said Jesus could see through? If only they had eyes of faith to see that they were actually talking to God! Well so much for that; the puppets had to ask the question that the puppet masters put into their mouths. So here it is: “Tell us, then… Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”

Now remember, because of their lack of faith they do not see God in Jesus. To them there is nothing divine about Him; he is just a man who’s causing troubles with the status quo; He’s rockin’ the boat and they want Him thrown out so that they will continue to have smooth sailing. But Jesus is God and He sees the evil intent in their hearts, so He says to them: “Why are you putting me to the test you hypocrites? (You who say one thing with your mouth but then you do the evil that is in your hearts. You don’t really want to hear God’s powerful Word and allow that Word to change you. You are in it for the money! You are here to just keep getting richer while God’s Kingdom suffers at your hands and His people pay for your greed!) Show me the coin for the tax.” And out of their own pockets comes the very thing they supposedly hate… Caesar’s money; money that undeniably belongs to Caesar, because it has his name and his face on it! So Jesus asks, “Whose likeness and inscription is (on) this?” And the answer they gave not only reveals their hypocrisy but Jesus divine wisdom. “And they (answered) “(It’s) Caesar’s.” (And Jesus) said to them, “(Then give back to Caesar the things that belong to Caesar), and to God the things that are God’s.” Scripture says that they were amazed at Jesus answer; they marveled at the wisdom in His Words, but they would not let that wisdom change them. Why? Because they were hypocritical impostors that didn’t care one bit about being rich in the Kingdom of God; they only cared about becoming rich in the kingdom of men!

The funny thing about money is that it will buy you a bed, but not sleep. It will buy you books, but not brains. It will give you a beautiful house, but not a home. It can afford medicine, but it can’t give you good health. It will bring you amusement, but not happiness. It can buy a beautifully hand carved crucifix, but not the Savior who hung upon it! No, to have the things that money can’t buy, we have to be resting in God’s mercy and forgiveness, and that rest can only come through Jesus Christ!

When the Pharisees presented a coin to Jesus, He pointed out the image of Caesar.

By doing this He’s presenting the reality that each of us lives simultaneously in two kingdoms: the kingdom of man and the Kingdom of God. He was teaching them and us that just as the coin was created in the image of Caesar, we are created in the image of God. This means that every thing on earth and every part of our bodies, even the smallest of thoughts in our minds, belong to God!

Now there may be some here this morning that are like those disciples of the Pharisees; they’ve given God their mind but their heart is far away from Him. Some may have given Him their heart, but they’re unwilling to truly hear and learn from the Word, because they have their own way of thinking about how God’s Kingdom should be built. Some may be willing to give their muscles, but unwilling to bring their bodies consistently to worship and Bible study! Many give God 1 or 2 hours a week of their time, but God wants all 168 hours of every week! Some consistently give God about 2% of their income, thinking that someday they’ll reach the 10% goal, when in reality it all belongs to God, even if Caesar’s image is on it!

It becomes so easy for us to forget that God is actually with us in this sinful society when all around us evil greed and injustice seems to control everything. But just a few short days after the occurrence of our gospel reading, Jesus would be standing before Pontius Pilate, teaching him this very truth. There before Pilate, Jesus stands beaten and bloody, and Pilate asks Him if He realizes that he has the power to free Him or execute Him. And to this Jesus Words ring in our ears with the truth about the kingdom of men: “You would have no authority over me at all unless it were given to you from above.” [John 19:11] And here is the meat of Jesus teaching for us this morning: While the kingdom of man and the Kingdom of God are two separate kingdoms, they both are ultimately controlled by God!

In God’s Kingdom of grace we are changed… we are recreated so that we can be in God’s presence even while living in the kingdom of man. God’s Word gives and teaches us and eternal righteousness of the heart so that through us and the sharing of the gospel, others may know of God’s mercy and love and be drawn into His Kingdom of Grace also. But God’s Kingdom does not destroy or take over the kingdom of men, instead it enters into individual families, communities, and governments it and changes them by changing the people who live in them.

What is the change that the gospel brings into these various groups that make up the kingdom of man? It brings a realization of God’s presence! As individuals, families, communities, and governments begin to realize that everything they do is not only seen by God, but ultimately judged by Him, God’s Kingdom is breaking in and His way of love, forgiveness, and mercy begins to be seen in how all of these groups serve each other. Individuals begin to give of their time, talent, and treasure in a way that honors God and helps build His Kingdom. Families begin to work, live, and worship together in a way that is pleasing to God! Communities begin to care for the weakest and poorest members in a way that reminds them that they aren’t alone! And governments remember that they are there to serve first the will of their Creator, and then address the needs of their constituents.

Now I know that all of this can seem a bit ideal, and that is because it is ideal!

It’s a picture of the Kingdom of God breaking into the kingdom of men! It is what was happening that day in the temple when Jesus was teaching the people about God’s love as the Pharisees were demonstrating men’s greed! Jesus, God in human flesh came to His people that day to plead with them one last time to repent. He asked them to turn to Him and walk to the cross; a place where God’s own blood would be spilled for them as a payment for their sins. He asked them to follow Him by faith and see a better way; a way that trusts in God even when it seems that evil has won the day. He asks them and He asks us today to hear His Words of forgiveness spoken for those evil men that persecuted and crucified Him: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!” And He shouts so all can hear God’s proclamation of victory, even you and me today: “It is finished!” Your debt is paid in full! I your God have broken into your reality; I came to you myself and became your Savior, your Brother, and Friend!

So there you have Jesus teaching. It is not as simple as the simple minded hypocrites like to make it. Living in two Kingdoms at the same time never is easy. One kingdom says the rich should keep getting richer so that they can provide for the poor, and the other kingdom says you will always have the haves and have-nots, the question is what is it that they have or don’t have? Do you have Jesus? Is he the most important thing in life to you? Are you resting in the Kingdom of God knowing that Jesus is with you while you’re waiting and working in the kingdom of man, or is the Kingdom of God something that you will take seriously someday, just not this day?

I’ll close with this story. A businessman had an angel come to visit him, and the angel promised him that God would grant one wish. The man asked for a copy of the Wall Street Journal, with the stock market quotes for one year in the future. As he was studying the future prices on the stock exchanges, he became excited at the certainty of acquiring even more wealth, wealth beyond his wildest dreams. But then he glanced across the newspaper page, only to see his own picture in the obituary column. Suddenly, all of his current and future wealth meant nothing to him. He fell on his knees and confessed before God his sinfulness and his lack of faith and trust in Jesus gift of eternal life. How do you think that man spent his wealth from that point on?

And now dear friends, God grants the same blessing to you. He tells you now, that one day, perhaps soon you will die! Knowing that will you turn to Jesus? Will you rest in what God has done for you upon the cross and within your baptism? Will you allow the Kingdom of God to transform you and work within you, and then use the time, talents, and money that God has given to you to break into the kingdom of man? Will you be satisfied with what you have and use it to help those who don’t know Jesus have peace with God? I pray that God will enable each of us to do this very thing. And I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Dependable Strength

October 18th, 2017

November, 2017

Pastor Brian Henderson

Psalm 23: 4Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

As I write this devotion, I can still see in my minds eye the smoke that filled the air due to the wild fires of 2007. That fire, like the ones raging in central and Northern California destroyed lots of homes, injured and killed many. Today like then, those reports of deaths seem to occupy many of my thoughts. Like many of you, I turn to God’s Word for comfort, and the 23rd Psalm is an excellent place to start.

A story, which I have no reason to doubt, is told about a seasoned martial arts instructor who happened to come across a deranged thief who was running away from law enforcement officers, inside the grounds of one of our crowded local Swap Meets. The man had a knife in his hand and was wildly slicing the air towards anyone who approached him. As the seasoned martial arts instructor observed this “mad man” approaching, he calmly reached out and flipped/tripped/disarmed the maniac, who was quickly arrested by the pursuing deputies. The deputies later commented that our seasoned martial arts instructor seemed to be a stable rock within all the confusion and fear. Our hero, the “karate man”, reacted to a violent situation completely different than the other people around him. While others were wisely running away from the maniac, our friend seemed to find a predictable order of movement in what others perceived as the utter chaos of a mad man. Our friend’s training and experience became a hidden resource of wisdom and strength. This same idea can be applied to the “Christian soldier” who is founded in the correct Christian faith.

There is no marvel on earth more wonderful than a mature Christian conducting themselves independent of life’s present outward circumstances. The wisdom, love, and guidance of God’s presence becomes their guide through the circumstances, because the inward light of God illuminates even the darkest corners of the unknown! There is a calm easy peace that can be ours, when we trust the providence of God completely. Even death itself, cannot silence the song in the heart of a child of God who walks by faith under the shadow of the cross, illuminated by the grace of Christ Jesus! The worst death and destruction can do is to remove the song of the heart from this temporary earth it brightens. But death cannot silence the song within the heart of a believer, because even if it is removed from this earth, it will instantly become part of God’s heavenly choir. The heart of a Christian can sing with joy, a chorus of, “O death where is your sting; where is your victory!?” The song of an earth-bound Christian is temporary; the song of a citizen of heaven is eternal.

Friends, if you are trouble by the tragedy of the firestorms or any thing else in this temporal world, you can have confidence in the Holy Spirit’s power to comfort and heal. If your trial is financial, do not be afraid, God can give you an abundance of His presence in your time of poverty that even the rich can not experience in their greatest time of wealth. Even our own imaginations cannot wonder what joys and blessings our Lord has waiting for us in His eternal kingdom. Maybe you are watching your body’s strength slip away because of illness. Possibly the fear of restless nights filled with pain are the thing which makes you afraid. Don’t worry; God can make your own sick bed or even your deathbed a royal throne of grace. Even in this trial, God can launch a powerful ministry through you! He maybe using this time as a period of refining, burning away the impurities of your life, which for so long have prevented you from developing your relationship with Him. Are your eyes and ears becoming weak through age? Let Jesus be your light and the song of your heart! Let whatever temporary circumstances you face today be transformed by the strength, wisdom, and love of the Father’s grace through Jesus Christ, so that tomorrow, when others observe you they will marvel at your God’s ability to strengthen His child!

In your Word, O Lord, we put our trust. What ever may come, we pray that we may be enable to find comfort in you alone. In Jesus name…. AMEN!

Living On the Edge!

October 16th, 2017

Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost-A, October 15th, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

Matthew 22:1-14

Following Jesus is, well it’s… wonderful, amazing, fulfilling, exciting, and peaceful, but it isn’t easy. It isn’t easy because it requires faith, and faith requires you to release control of your life and your decisions to God’s direction. Faith is the substance of things that we hope for, but as of yet, they are unseen! To live a life following Jesus requires living by faith and not by sight. In other words it requires us to live on the edge of faith and fear.

This is the message that our gospel reading leads us to this morning; it was the message that Jesus was speaking to the Jewish leaders and others that were listening to Him teach, and it is the message that He is giving to us this morning. This morning, Jesus speaks this message to you and me: live a life of faith by living on the edge! But as I said, this kind of life isn’t easy; it never has been.

Throughout the history of the Kingdom of God here on earth, we have seen a picture of disappointment, fear, doubt; we see sin becoming stronger, while the joy, courage, and faith of those who live in and proclaim the kingdom seems to be getting progressively weaker.

Jesus story about a King who invited many to his son’s wedding banquet is told to illustrate this very point. Like His story, the history of the Jews and even our history displays sinful people refusing God’s offer of grace. Within the ranks of these sinful men are a mixture of open and defiant sinners and those who seem like real believers, but secretly they’re posers, unbelievers; Jesus says that the time is coming when they’ll be unmasked! Within His story, Jesus has miraculously compressed all of the New Testament time and even our time, into one story.

What we need to remember throughout the story is that the wedding and the invitations to attend it are a picture of God’s grace; His undeserved mercy, forgiveness, and love for all of sinful mankind. But this grace can only come through Jesus Christ, the living Son of God! The banquet table and the feast that’s being served on it represents the feast of victory for our God; a victory that celebrates first the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, and then the very same thing that’s promised to each and every person who is seated at the feast of victory. Well almost every person. You see in Jesus’ story, there is one person who doesn’t belong there. There’s one person who isn’t wearing the robe provided by God! That one person represents a vast number of people who refuse to turn to Jesus as their Savior, Lord, and King. And the change of clothes they refuse to be fitted with represents the new identity that each of us is offered and given in our baptisms.

Throughout the life of every person ever created, there are God-created opportunities to receive this new identity, to put it on if you will, to walk around in it and become comfortable in it. But God in His wisdom allows each of us to reject this new identity and that is what causes tension; it’s what makes us feel like we’re living on the edge of joy and disappointment; the edge of courage and fear; and the edge between faith and doubt!

Living on the edge means living between joy and disappointment.

Let me tell you a story about a fictitious Christian woman named Adrian. Adrian was strong in a Christian faith that she had grown in since she was baptized as a baby. She had been taught in her teenage years that she should not be unequally yoked to an unbeliever, specifically, some day she should seek to marry only a Christian with a faith similar in strength to her own. One day Adrian met the man of her dreams who brought her joy; he was compassionate and filled with sympathy and empathy towards others. He seemed to live the model life of sacrifice for others, and that included especially Adrian. There was only one major problem, he was not a Christian, and he seemed to have almost no knowledge about Christ, but he seemed to not only be open to Adrian’s witness to Christ, he even seemed to enjoy his time as Adrian instructed him in the scriptural knowledge of God, the problem and reality of sin since the fall of Adam and Eve, the promise of and need for a Savior, the birth, Ministry, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Christ, and His institution of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. Finally she showed the love of her life how all of this was part of God’s plan to both save the world and him. He listened to this explanation each time with patience and a smile. But one day, he looked lovingly at Adrian and said, “Sweetheart, I’m glad your faith brings you such comfort and joy, but you should know that not only do I see no need for your Savior God, but I can confidently tell you I never will. To believe in Jesus would require me to give up to much of myself.”

And with those words, Adrian sadly kissed the man of her dreams on his forehead and bid him farewell and the hope that one day he would change his mind.

Now that’s a serious story about a serious problem. Invitations are sent to many to come to church but so few people respond. It’s frustrating. Many of you have reached out to neighbors or friends, and even like Adrian, to serious suiters, and you have asked them to come to church and meet Jesus, and you too know all too well the disappointment, of how few respond.

Maybe that is why we find this morning’s parable so familiar. But we must remember that Jesus has told us that the Kingdom of God has always been like this; it’s like a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son and many would not come. They are just too busy to respond. But not you… here you sit at the table! You got in, so put aside your disappointment and receive the joy of the Lord!

Living on the edge means living between courage and fear.

In Jesus story the royalty, which represented the Jewish nation were the first ones invited to the feast! As a group, they would not come, so they were destroyed. In the year 70 AD the nation of Israel, the city of Jerusalem and more importantly their temple, their way of life and worship was destroyed, all because they would not come to a new Holy City, the Kingdom of God which can only be entered through the Son of God, Jesus Christ. But their empty seats will not even be noticed because God is no longer inviting a nation of people, but all people from every nation, tribe, and tongue; that means He is inviting you!

Now for some people this can cause fear; even fear that can almost paralyze them. They see how God punished the nation of Israel for the way they mistreated their invitation, and so they see God as an angry and punishing God. But if they see Him in this way, as if He has dark storm clouds draped across His face, they aren’t seeing Him correctly! The very fact that He has invited you first in the waters of your baptism, and the fact that you are seated here right now hearing about His mercy and forgiveness proves that He is a God of love! And because He loves you, He says to you this morning, “Take courage, put on your new baptismal identity and rest at my table of peace!”

Well finally, living on the edge means living between faith and doubt.

In Jesus’ story, the king invited everyone to the feast. Many have responded, and the dining hall is filled with guests, but there’s a problem. The king sees a man who isn’t wearing the appropriate wedding attire. He is wearing an old, perhaps tattered robe, obviously the garb that he wore in everyday life, his street clothes. “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe,” the king asks. The man was speechless, so the king had him bound and tossed into a place called outer darkness. Jesus concludes the parable with these solemn words: “Many are called, but few are chosen.”

What we learn from Jesus story is that everyone is invited into the Kingdom of God, but not everyone will respond to that invitation. But we also discover that even if you get in you’re not really in unless the King chooses you to stay! And here is where doubt can creep in; here is where we begin to ask what does it take to really get in?

Well it all depends on what you are wearing! In your baptism you have been clothed with Christ’s righteousness; in essence, you’ve put on Christ. No work or accomplishment of your own can be included. Naked you came into this world and naked you must leave, accept for the righteous robe of Christ. Remember, when we’ve done all that we can we are still worthless servants, because we’ve only done that which was our duty to do. [Luke 17:10]

If our garment isn’t the good life we live on this earth for Jesus, then what is it? It’s faith in what Jesus has done for us! Theologians call this the imputed righteousness of Jesus which becomes our hope and the object of our faith. Because faith is the garment that is put on us, all we can do then is rest in it or wear it. Another way to think of this is to say that our faith is like a cup or the sea shell I use sometimes to pour water on someone during a Baptism, it simply holds God’s free gift of righteousness. In your baptism you can say that, “God has clothed me with His garments of salvation, and He has covered me with the robes of righteousness.”

And here you have the close of Jesus parable. Oh wait, there is another little matter to address isn’t there? If the banquet table represents the Kingdom of God, then how did that unbeliever get in there? Isn’t there a great divided between heaven and hell so that none may cross? Yes there is, so that means that the banquet table isn’t necessarily the Kingdom of Heaven, but it is the Kingdom of God! Is there a difference? Yes and no!

What we need to remember is that the Kingdom of God is where God’s people gather around His gifts. What are His gifts? Well they are His means of grace, or His means of faith! Chief of all of these gifts is His Word, Holy Scripture, which is not just your invitation to the banquet but the very Son of the living God, Jesus Christ. Within God’s Word you are given the gift of faith to believe that you really belong in God’s Kingdom, both here on earth and in heaven.

So what is the Kingdom of God here on earth? It is the church, the very bride of Jesus Christ, which receives not just His Word but His Sacraments. In your Baptism, you have been ushered into the Kingdom of God! Someday in your future, after a long life of reading and studying God’s Word, hearing countless gospel messages, and receiving many meals of forgiveness served at the Lord’s table you will pleasantly find your self in Paradise! As each of us receive these gifts, we are reminded that we are living a life of dependence on God, a life of faith that’s filled with tension between heaven and hell. But Jesus assures us that because we are resting in Him and receiving His gifts we will one day join Him at His eternal table of feasting where there will be no more suffering, pain, disappointment, fear, or doubt, and this is the gospel, the good news that gives us peace and joy. But there are some here, in Christ’s church who will not put on this new baptismal identity. There are some who are simply posers, mere imposters. They refuse to be changed and they will not respond! They already have the reward of living in God’s Kingdom, His Church, but they will not be allowed to enter the Kingdom of Heaven and eternally find their seat at His banquet table.

For these poor souls, there is only weeping and gnashing of teeth in a dark place where they will be forever bound and kept. All because they would not receive the Word of God; all because they would not keep fighting to retain their baptismal identity; all because they would not confess their sinfulness and be fed their Lord’s meal of forgiveness!

Yes, living the life of faith is living on the edge, but if you are resting in the gifts of God through Jesus Christ you have been assured that even if you experience disappointment, fear, and doubt, one day very soon you will only know joy, love, and peace, all because you walked by faith and not by sight!

Now may the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen!

Living in the Promised Land

October 8th, 2017

Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost-A, October 8th, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.” [Isaiah 5:1]

And let the church say Amen! Amen to the reign of our beloved Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen to life in His vineyard, the church. But most of us south of Temecula don’t really understand the nature of a vineyard, do we? I understand that producing grapes is a lot of work, and yet it is completely foreign to me. So, let’s talk about gardens instead.

Gardening, for many of you is a very satisfying and relaxing endeavor. Many of us have had sore backs days after working in our gardens. We would almost swear to the truth that we perspired gallons of sweat and developed blisters larger than any we have ever had. And yet, weeks latter we are rewarded with beautiful flowers, plants, and produce.

But sometimes you plant something that just doesn’t turn out to be what you expected it to be; it either never takes root or it grows in a wild way that you did not desire, and you know that if you don’t do something about it, it will ruin the entire garden. So with those kinds of disasters, what is a gardener to do? You uproot it and start over!

Yes, gardening is a lot of work, but God warned our first parents, Adam and Eve of this sad truth after they fell to sin. Listen: “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” [Genesis 3:17-9] But God promised the faithful descendants of Adam and Eve, that one day He would send a Savior, who would first deliver them from their sins, and then He would also, through this coming Savior bring them back to Eden, the real “Promised Land!”

And that is the situation that the prophet Isaiah speaking for God, is describing in our Old Testament lesson (Isaiah 5:1-7) this morning.

The children of Israel, descendants of faithful Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, had been resting in God’s vineyard, the promised land for many long years now. And when they first arrived there, they were told that it would be a land of milk and honey; in other words, God would provide all that they needed to live right and peaceably with Him, each other, and within the land itself. All that they needed to do was trust in the promise of the coming Savior and then follow God’s commandments, which were to be a hedge of protection for them, and a wall that would separate them from the godless nations that surrounded them. But…

They began to develop a national pride that caused them to not only look down on other nations but they also forgot about their God who actually planted them there. There God was the One who prepared the Promised Land for them; He was the One who dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted them there as His choice vines. He set up the watchtower, which was their form of worship of the One True God, and He was the One through the use of the Law and Gospel, worked within them to put to death their old sinful nature, and bring to life their new circumcised nature, a faithful nature, which waited patiently for the coming Savior.

And as they continued to live as if God did not matter, God took notice. He sent many prophets and judges who spoke Words of warning and Words of encouragement, so that the people would remember the true God and then see their sinful need for a Savior. But they would not take notice; they would not yield!

So now O church, judge between God and His vineyard. What more was there for Him to do for His vineyard? He looked for a yield of grapes, that is works produced by faith in the coming Savior and the promised return to Eden, but He found only wild grapes, works that glorified man and not their God. Well there was one more thing that God would do; He would send His Son!

In our Gospel reading (Matthew 21:33-46), Jesus tells another story about a vineyard.

It is a story told to the same sort of religious leaders that Isaiah was speaking to in our Old Testament lesson. A man planted a garden and rented it out to tenants. But when the owner sent servants (prophets of God) to collect the rent, the tenants killed the servants. In exasperation, he sent his son (His Only begotten Son), and they killed him. Jesus asked his hearers what the owner would do, and the crowd answered, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.” (21:41).

You see friends, this morning’s readings aren’t really about vineyards or gardening at all, instead they’re about the people of God, ancient Israel and you and me today. It’s a warning that we must not become wild in our nature, but remain people of faith; faith in the Savior promised long ago who has now come, and faith that one day very soon, He will come again to bring us once and for all back to Eden, the true Promised Land.

We may be tempted to ask God why He chose to place those disobedient people into His vineyard, knowing that they would be wild grapes and produce only bloodshed and outcries, but then we would have to ask Him also, why he brought us into His new vineyard, Christ’s church. You see, today you and I are supposed to be God’s pleasant planting; we too are suppose to produce fruits, good works of righteousness, but many times we don’t; instead we produce wild grapes; fruit that glorifies ourselves and not God. So why does God even bother to plant? Because He loves His vineyard, His garden; God loves you!

The church, which for now is our promised land, is God’s planting, His vineyard. It is easy to forget that this isn’t our church, but His. And it is even easier to forget that it is God who does the real work within us and through us. Like preparing a vineyard or garden, He plants us in Holy Baptism and then lovingly tends to our growth through His means of grace; His teaching, preaching, and Holy Supper. It is His work within us that shapes us and prunes us into the very image of His Son, who was killed by the former tenants so that He would rise from that death and fulfill the promise of the coming Savior who would bring us one day back to the final promised land, the Kingdom of Heaven, which is Eden restored!

You see friends, this pleasant planting of the Lord we call the church is for now, as we wait, our promised land; it is where God provides for our needs, and prunes and tends to our growth. All of this work of God is centered in His beloved Son, Jesus Christ who died, rose, and gives us His Holy Spirit. Jesus assures us of this when He says, “I an the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” [John 15: 1, 5]

And here we are abiding; simultaneously resting and working within the promised land we call the church, and knowing full well that by God’s grace we will one day enter the final Promised Land. And as we wait, we have two missions to fulfill. The first is to grow in faith everyday as we are planted in the church, and the second is to seek out and bring other wild grapes into God’s vineyard through His Son Jesus Christ.

Today I would like to call your attention to a very fruitful ministry within the LCMS, and it is the Lutheran Women’s Ministry League, or more simply called the LWML. It is an organization that has over the many years proven to be a very fruitful portion of God’s vineyard; a portion that continues over and over again to bear much fruit. Through the collection of mites and their faithful service in mission, these faithful ladies not only wait for the return of their Lord, but they serve Him in their waiting with gladness and zeal. They freely recognize that all of the hard work that they perform throughout the world is possible only because it is their Savior Jesus Christ, who is working in them and through them.

This morning, let us recognize and thank God for theses faithful ladies of the LWML, because they are living proof that God still does marvelous things within His vineyard. Where the ladies serve with gladness, the oil of gladness begins to impact those parts of the vine that they are attached to. Where once a congregation may have been wild or shriveled and old lacking fruit, when the LWML is revived within that congregation, a new spirit of service, as a result of the Spirit of Christ begins to reshape that congregation. This is why we should always celebrate and support the LWML Ministry. We are not celebrating the ladies who serve, but rather the Savior God within them that proves to all of us that God is still doing great and marvelous things around us, and that He wishes to call each of us into that mission so that He can do great and marvelous things within us and through us too!

While I understand that many who love gardening believe that they are closest to God when they are in their garden, I believe, no I know that we are really closest to God, nearest to His heart, when we are in His church. His presence among us through His means of grace moves our hearts to be thankful beyond words because He has made us a part of His pleasant planting through Jesus Christ. It is then that each of us will be moved to serve the Lord with gladness! AMEN!

Is Salvation a Work of God Or Not?

October 1st, 2017

Sevententh Sunday After Pentecost-A, October 30th, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?” [Ezekiel 18:2]

Another way of saying that is, “How dare you say that God is not a just God.” Have you ever found yourself questioning God; accusing Him of allowing things to happen that were not fair towards you or your family? That was the situation that surrounded Our Old Testament lesson (Ezekiel 18:1–4, 25–32), which is essentially a conversation between God and His children of faith, the nation Judah, through the prophet Ezekiel. They were the last remnant of Israel, and they were being led out to Babylon and into captivity. And as they were saying goodbye to their old lives, they were accusing God of punishing them for the sins of their Fathers; the national sins of the past. In essence, the people were accusing God of being unfair. Behind their complaint was the idea they were not as guilty as their fathers had been and didn’t deserve being exiled into Babylon. By quoting that proverb, they meant to say: “Our fathers sinned and the children have to suffer the consequences.”

So, in the words of Michael Turko (an investigative TV reporter in San Diego, CA), “It ain’t right!” But God will not let this accusation of being unjust or unfair, go unanswered. Listen…

“As I live, declares the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.” [Vs. 3,4]

I think we tend to forget that the wages or payment for sin is death. But we like to measure or quantify sins don’t we? Don’t we like to think that a little sin is not as bad as a lot of sin? You know how we think: There’s big sins and then there’s my sins!

Don’t we like to think that our sins aren’t nearly as bad as say the sins of an extremist group like ISIS? Ok, that’s a little extreme so let me give you a somewhat easier example of how we play with this idea of grading sins, and how we affix blame to other people’s sins.

On December 11, 2008, Bernard Madoff was arrested by FBI agents and charged with one of the most devastating violations of Security Fraud ever committed against numerous financial agencies; it left thousands of investors broke, and it was the beginning of the great recession, which we are only now beginning to rise out of. In a kind of ripple effect, bad mortgage loans have been foreclosed and are still being foreclosed today and home loans are harder to come by, thus restricting access to the American middle class dream of home ownership. So, in a sense, our teeth are set at edged because of the sins of Bernie Madoff. We don’t have a problem with Bernie paying for his sin, but it doesn’t seem fair that nearly ten years later, we are still paying for his and other peoples greed.

Did God allow Bernie Madoff to commit that great crime? Yes. Did God cause Bernie Madoff or anyone else who commits a crime, to sin? No, but God does punish sin. That punishment will come in eternity and there is no reprieve once it has been instituted. But while sinners wait for that eternal penalty, or judgment of sin, we all suffer the temporary repercussions of that sin within the world that we live in. Scripture makes it clear that these temporary discomforts caused by our sin or other peoples sins are nothing in comparison to the eternal punishment that awaits all unrepentant sinners!

So what is the solution? Is there a way out of this mess we call sin, or are we bound to it and it’s inevitable conclusion, like the collision of a train plowing through a vehicle stuck on the tracks? Well, in verses 30 through 32, God gives us not only hope, but a solution to our sin problem. Listen…

“Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.” [Vs. 30-32]

Now O Christians you stand before a righteous judge; the Judge who knows your every sin; nothing is hidden from Him. He has shown you that by your sin, through every sin, you are guilty of breaking the very first commandment. You love yourself more than you love God. You have made your own desires the master of your soul. And our Righteous God, our Creator judges you guilty and worthy of an eternal sentence of suffering and death. How do you plea? You must be honest if you hope for any leniency! If you plead guilty, then listen to your only hope. “Repent O Christian. God does not desire the death of anyone, let alone one who has been purchased by the lifeblood of His Only Begotten Son!”

You see friends, Christianity is not a movement, an organization, or an attitude. It is a relationship between God and an individual person, and it’s based on your faith in God’s only provision of mercy, Jesus Christ the Savior from sin. God is asking each of you to respond to what the Lord has given you in Christ, and then daily ask Him to help you live a life that reflects the righteousness that Jesus has given you. And so It becomes true, the righteous man “lives,” that is, he exists and will continue to do so under the blessings of God.

To attempt to base our relationships with God on ourselves without Jesus is to tell God that we think Christ’s work is neither necessary nor beneficial. Such a misguided life can take any track it wants, but it is always headed away from the Lord and his blessings and waiting for the inevitable collision with eternal judgment. But there is a solution to this sinful life style, and it is one of repentance and baptism.

How you live out this new baptismal life will depend on how you answer this next question. Is baptism a work of God or man? Is salvation a gift from God or is it something you earn?

This is in essence the question that was set before the Pharisees in our Gospel lesson (Matthew 21:23-32) and it is the question set before every Christian today.

How you answer this question will not only effect how you live your life today but even how you spend your eternity. Let me ask that question in another way, “Do you want to risk your eternity on your own efforts, trying to outweigh your sins with your own “good deeds”, like some kind of ponzie scheme, or do you want to take God’s promises by faith and rest in and trust them alone?

You see friends, Baptism isn’t simply a custom of the church, but rather its a divine ordinance, the only way that God has provided so that sinners can be saved from their sins, and it stands in force until the Last Day. It is for all people no matter how early or late in life they embrace this wonderful means of grace. It is equal to the preaching of the Gospel and the teaching of God’s Word. Jesus made them equal in force and power with His command: “Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you, and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world!” [Matt. 28:19–20)

As God’s solution to sin and His means of allowing us to stand before Him and be pardoned and given a new life in Christ, He has protected this holy washing of water and His Word and ensured that Christ’s church would continue this sacrament, which Jesus instituted before He ascended into heaven. Since the day of Pentecost, we hear of this Holy Sacrament being offered to sinners who desired to be saved from their sins. Listen to Peter’s proclaimed solution to the people’s sin: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38).

Dear Christian friends, above all else that you hear today, please remember this, Baptism is a means of grace.

It is God’s means of removing your old sinful identity and replacing it with the perfect identity of His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ. It creates faith in God who comes to you with His solution to your sin, which is the suffering and death of His Son upon the cross for the sins of the world. In other words, Baptism is God’s means of making you sinless and exempt from both the judgment and the punishment you deserve for your many sins. Or as the Apostle Peter declared “Baptism… now saves you also.” [1 Peter 3:2]

In your baptism, God put your sinful nature to death, by joining it in Baptism to Christ’s death. He buried that old nature in Christ’s tomb, the only place where He no longer looks. And then, miracle of miracles, He raises you up to new life as his child. Your old self is crucified in Baptism by God’s Word, and in this death that Christ shares with you, you die to sin every day as you continue to hear that same Word, and are set free from the punishment of your many sins. So, through your baptismal death and resurrection, you have been given new life. [Rom. 8:17]

So I ask you, is God fair? Do you prefer His means of grace, His way of dealing with the sins of the world, even your sins, or do you prefer that He punish all people according to their sins? If you prefer the way of His grace, then can you see baptism as His means of grace? Do you see it as a mystery or sacrament of His love for sinners or do you prefer to earn your forgiveness and work for your salvation? In essence, “Is Baptism a work of God or a work of man?” May God give you faith to see the answer clearly as you ponder the mystery and work of His Son Jesus Christ within His church and indeed, within your very life… AMEN!