If It Had Not Been For The Lord…

August 12th, 2018

Pentecost 12B
August 12, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

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“And this is the will of Him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given me, but raise it up on the last day.” [John 6:39]

This morning our gospel reading drives home the point that Jesus is the solution, our solution to feeling lost, alone, and afraid. He’s even our solution to death.  He says Himself that He has come to give life for the world!  He repeats the message that we heard last week, that He alone is the Bread of Life, but this time He points out that if you don’t receive this bread (if you won’t receive Him), you will die.  But if you will eat the bread that He offers, well then you will have life, an abundant life, even if you sometimes don’t feel like eating that bread!

In our Old Testament reading [1 Kings 19:1-8], we jump smack dab in the middle of a crisis.  

It was a dark moment in the life of the prophet Elijah.  By dark, I mean Elijah was in the middle of deep depression; so deep, all he wanted to do was lie down and die.  Have you ever been there?  I’d like each of you to pause for just a moment and recall that time in your life; a time where all you felt was loneliness and perhaps hopelessness.

Isn’t it true that sometimes, that feeling of depression can sneak up on you when you least expect it?  For Elijah it came immediately after a huge victory.  He was sent by God to confront the wicked Queen Jezebel and her false prophets of Baal.  He was sent to prove to the people of Israel who their true God was and is!  It was a perfect day; Elijah called down the fire of heaven and left the false prophets and the people of Israel speechless.  There was one problem though… the sinful Queen was enraged.  She swore that she would get her revenge quickly by taking Elijah’s life; he was a wanted man. 

So off he ran, into the wilderness where he sought refuge in a place of seclusion.  Alone with his thoughts and weary from being zealous for God, he laid down under a shade tree; he laid down to die!  He asked God to take his life and end his existence.  He was tired of doing the right thing and then paying the price.  You could say that he found a degree of truth to the saying, “No good deed goes unpunished!”  

Have you ever felt like that?  Did you ever lay down in your bed, completely happy with never opening your eyes again?  Have you ever felt like everything was set against you?  And yet you are still here; you are no longer in that dark place.  Something happened that got you out of that dark place and carried you to another place.  Maybe you can look back at some of those darker days and say, “If it had not been for the Lord… well I don’t know where I’d be right now!”  And that is certainly how Elijah must have felt; for you see, in the middle of his dark and depressed sleep, God sent His angel to wake Him.  There at his feet was a nutritious meal, and an angel who said, “(Elijah) Arise and Eat.”  

Now scripture doesn’t say what Elijah’s answer was, but I can’t help but think that he must have grumbled; he must have responded in a way that any of us would who were camped out in that valley of darkness would: “No!  Leave me alone; I’m not hungry!”  And to that God must have told him, “Eat any how; it will be good for you.”  Not wanting to devote any more time to fighting God or dealing with any of the problems He led him into, I can see Elijah saying, “Fine.  I’ll eat, if after that you will just leave me alone to die.”

And what happened next?  A few hours later, after he had eaten, the Lord sent the angel again to wake him and have him eat again!  This time though, he was feeling just a little better, and besides that, there was not only Word from the Lord, but purpose; God had given him a reason to live another day and a new mission: “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.”  And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God.” [1 Kings 19:7-9]

We can learn something wonderful from this story about a depressed man of God; something wonderful that can help us through our own dark moments, but before we do there is one question that needs to be answered.  

Why was God taking Elijah to a mountain far away named Horeb?  Does anyone know why that mountain was important to Elijah or anyone from the old church?  Well, it was the very same Mt. Horeb where God first spoke to Moses and proclaimed that He saw His people held in captivity in Egypt, and He was then going to do something about it.  It is also the same mountain where God later spoke to Moses and sent him down to his people with the Law of God; a law that would protect His people and prepare them to enter the promised land of milk and honey!

If it had not been for God, where would Elijah be?  If it had not been for God, where would the old church be?  If it had not been for God speaking tenderly but sternly to you, where would you be?  When you were lost and alone, when you thought you lost your way, He spoke to you also and said, “Arise and eat!  Remember my promise to you in my Word!  Arise and read!  Go to church and hear the Word preached to you!”  

Oh we are not much different than Elijah; we too have had many times in our lives where the Lord has had to spoon feed us so to speak; “I don’t want to go to church; I don’t want to hear a sermon; I don’t want to hear that I am a forgiven sinner.”  And to that God’s consistent message has been, “Do it anyhow, because your journey and your purpose is not complete.  You will need the strength!”  Oh, if it had not been for the Lord, I don’t know where I’d be right now!

 And just what is it that the Lord has done for us?  In our 2nd reading (Ephesians 4:17-5:2), we get the answer, and oh what an answer it is!  

He has not only fed us, he has given us a holy appetite for heavenly-spiritual food; food that not only nourishes us but continually recreates us!  Just as God made Elijah go back to the beginning at Mt. Horeb, St. Paul does the same thing for us this morning.  He takes us back to the beginning of our new baptized nature.  There in that holy washing with simple water and God’s powerful Word, he points us to His mysterious work that is daily transforming us again and again.  This morning, God is asking you to look backwards in order to reestablish your bearings; in order to see your life as He sees it; you have a purpose!

In your baptism, and every day since, you have been learning to live a life walking with the Son of God, Jesus Christ.  You have learned that in your baptism, your old dark nature has been crucified with Jesus; put to death, and yet you still live, or Rather the mind and heart of Jesus lives within you leading you and strengthening you.  You are taught every day to put off your old self.  You must put it to death because that is the self that is prone to doubt, grumble, and wander away.

In your baptism, you are told, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit” (who lives within you), because you belong to God; you are His beloved child.  If you want meaning in your life, you can’t give up; instead you have to continue receiving God’s nourishment.  You will need that nourishment if you are to imitate your Savior, your Bread of Heaven.  So arise and eat!  Even if you don’t feel like it, get out of bed; with every source of energy you can muster stand up within your depression and get to the place where you are fed the Word of God; with every exhausted muscle in your body turn yourself towards Jesus and receive the Words of life… YOU ARE FORGIVEN!  

Hear, read, listen, and receive that nourishment, because without it you really are headed for death, and not the kind of death that leads from trouble to peace, but an eternal death that forever knows nothing but trouble and never a moment of peace.

In our gospel lesson (John 6:35-51), Jesus was pleading with the people to eat that true bread of heaven; bread that would bring them life.  

In last week’s gospel lesson, they bragged that their ancestors ate manna from heaven, but this morning, Jesus counters that by saying while it was true that they ate that bread, it was also true that they were all dead.  “So,” says Jesus, “eat the Bread of Heaven, and you will live forever!”

The people in Jesus audience grumbled and complained and wanted to know how they would live forever!  “Isn’t this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?  How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven?’”

And to this grumbling spirit that is born in the darkness of sin; sin that gives birth to doubt and the hopeless feeling of depression, Jesus speaks not in the thundering threats of the Law; He doesn’t demand faith but instead in the still soft voice of the Gospel, He gives faith by saying: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.  And I will raise him up on the last day… Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes (in me) has eternal life.  I am the Bread of Life.”

And there in those sweet Words, Jesus speaks faith into each of us by taking us back to our baptism.  He reminds us that we did not choose Him, but He chose us; the Father, His Father chose us.  He sealed us to Himself within our baptism, and He daily draws us into Himself.   In those words, Jesus reminds us that just as He has been crucified and resurrected, so it is true with our own identities.  

Our old sinful nature is behind us and we are to look forward every day to our own resurrected life.  And to reassure us every day that this is not only our new identity, but also our eternal future, Jesus speaks in that still soft voice, “Arise and eat!  I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread, He will live forever.  And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.  (My flesh crucified for the sins of the world; even your sins)!  And in those Words we find hope; we find peace with God.  OH, IF IT HAD NOT BEEN FOR THE LORD…!  AMEN! 

THE Bread of Heaven

August 5th, 2018

Pentecost 11B
August 5, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

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There’s a famous Saturday Night Live segment that was known as “Hans and Franz Pump You Up!”  In this segment, two wannabe, phony body builders named Hans and Franz are speaking in contrived Austrian accents, as they tell the viewing audience that they are there to pump them up.  At the time, everyone knew that they were of course making fun of movie-star, body builder, and future Governator of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger.  In one episode, Arnold even walked out on the stage in the middle of their skit and confronted their phony portrayal of body builders.   

Now as funny as that skit was to me, it also had a degree of truth.  And it was this: If left on our own, we can be a lot like those posers pretending to be body builders; we will pretend to be Christians.  And instead of making Arnold sick, we make ourselves sick; sick with sin!  Now if you are happy with living a life that satisfies only your physical needs you probably won’t be interested in our message this morning.  And if that is the case, then your sin-sickness will lead to death.  But if you’re willing to let God’s Word speak to you this morning, you will begin to understand the need, your need to see all things in a spiritual way.  You will begin to say with the crowd in Capernaum, “Sir, give us this bread always.” [John 6:34]

In the last few weeks, we’ve heard about Jesus feeding well over 5,000 people with a few fish and loaves of bread, we’ve witnessed Him seeing an emergency at sea that no human eyes could have seen, we’ve heard about Him walking on water and then calming the sea, and we also heard about Him healing the sick and even raising the dead!  

That’s a lot to take in; a lot to process.  Imagine how the people who were there were struggling with that information overload.  And instead of processing the information and making a conclusion about who Jesus must be, they asked for more of the experience.  More information to overload their limited minds.  “Sir, give us this bread always!  We want more of your wonder bread.”  They wanted more demonstrations of God’s power through this insignificant son of a carpenter.  They were ready to settle for food that spoils and reject God’s presence and gifts that were within the “wonder bread” given by the God-man Jesus Christ.

In this simple retelling of an actual event that took place in Capernaum, God would have us notice two things about the people then and people today.  We all are very quick to settle for things that spoil, rust, and rot, and we can quickly become bored with who Jesus really is, the Son of God.  And if we aren’t mindful of this, we might find ourselves conveniently placing our relationship with God on a shelf, relegating Jesus and His Words to just another religion, another way to live right.

In our gospel reading the people of Capernaum demonstrated that they were not all that different from their ancestors, the people God led out of bondage in Egypt.  

In our Old Testament reading, we heard how the former Hebrew slaves grumbled when the miracles that provided for their physical needs seemed to dry up.  They began to long for the good old days.  They grumbled just weeks after being freed from their bondage, “(Oh, that we were still by our) meat pots (in Egypt where we) ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” [Exodus 16:3]  And the people of Capernaum in our Gospel reading, grumbled just a few hours after Jesus fed them bread out of nowhere; wonder bread that satisfied their hunger for an evening, “What (additional) sign do you do” they asked, “that we may see and believe you? What other miracle will you perform to get us to keep following you?  Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Will you give us this same bread?

And what about us; what do we grumble about?  Perhaps it’s the way God answers our prayers?  Maybe it’s the lack of respect we feel that others give us?  Maybe our economic condition is the thing that seems most unfair?  Or maybe we grumble about the need to go to church and Bible study every week.  For some it might be the type of music we sing during worship or the length of the service!  Or maybe you just don’t like the pastor and his personality?

Like the people then we too can get so hung up on the physical representation of God’s gifts, that we loose sight of the giver.  When that happens, we can get caught up in a grumbling spirit and miss the more important spiritual work He’s doing within us through His Word.  In essence when we physically or mentally check out we have cut off our true spiritual connection with God! 

So how do we restore that right condition, that spiritual condition within us.  How do we reconnect with God?  We do it by receiving Jesus for who He is and then simply listen to His Words!

Who is Jesus and what is it that He wants to give to us?  

Well let’s let Him answer that for Himself: “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” [John 6:32, 33]

Who is Jesus?  He is the bread of heaven; He is the One Who comes down from heaven to give you all good gifts from above.  He is your Creator and God.  What He gives to you in physical gifts are given so that you will hear and receive His Word, and then see the Giver behind the gift with eyes of faith.  And once He has given you faith, you are able to see the true gift that He gives behind the physical gift.  He gives to you Himself!

Jesus says to you this morning, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” [vs. 35]  “Take and eat this is my body, which is given for you.  This do in remembrance of Me.”  (Take and) drink of it all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sin.  This do as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” [Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-25]

What is it that Jesus gives to you?  He gives you Himself; He gives you His body and blood in with and under the gift of bread and wine, and when He gives you Himself, He gives you life… new life; He gives you forgiveness of sins.

So Why do we grumble and complain?  

Listen, forget the physical reason you might be tempted to gripe, and listen to the truth, the spiritual reason you grumble and fail to see your Savior active in your life.  You grumble because like the Hebrews that God used Moses to save, you are really groaning under bondage; you are in bondage, you are enslaved in your sin.  

Your sin is the reason that you so quickly get caught up in the physical blessings and ignore the eternal spiritual blessings.  Your sin is the reason that you so easily forget about your bondage to it, and then forget about your sinfulness; and when you forget about your sinfulness, you also forget about your need for a Savior.  You forget that yours is not a religion like all of the others, a religion where you must work and work to hopefully please an angry god; no yours is a relationship of love and trust with your Creator who has come to you just as you were and done the only work necessary to save you… He has died to take away your sins and set you free!

In the life, the suffering, and the death of Jesus, the Son of God, you have received The Bread of Life, come down from heaven.  He alone satisfies your hunger and gives life to the world.  By His cross only, God has taken away the sins of the World.  And in your baptism, this great gift of forgiveness has been given to you personally!  In your baptism, Jesus has shared God’s Spirit with you; He alone gives you and always fills you with the power to love and live for others.

And as you live your life loving others, forgiving others, you are also leading them to the same source of strength that has recreated you, the Bread of Heaven, Jesus Christ.  In His Word, Jesus not only washed you clean, but He renews your mind and is constantly recreating you into His image.  He feeds you His very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins.  He speaks these few precious Words to you over and over again so you will truly receive the Giver behind the gift… “You are forgiven!”

It is my prayer and God’s will that you will keep coming to this place to receive His gifts and hear the Word that is behind each gift.  As He fills you, it isn’t a phony pumping up like Hans and Franz, but it’s an actual re-creation and healing; it’s real change!  It is my prayer and God’s will that you will keep saying along with the people of Capernaum, “Sir, keep giving us this bread always.”  

Heavenly Father, keep filling us with your forgiving love and power, so that we may give these same gifts to our neighbors by bringing them to the same source, the bread of life, Jesus Christ.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

A Promise is a Promise!

July 29th, 2018

Pentecost 10B
July 29, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

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“Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida.” [Mark 6:45a]

Another way to say that is, Jesus compelled them; no He insisted that they get into the boat.  He had them get into a boat that He knew would soon be in all kinds of trouble.  He had them get into a boat that He knew was headed into a storm that was about to kick up on the lake.  But He also knew that when the storm was raging in its fierceness, in conditions that would cause grown men to cry out in fear like children, He would walk out on the water to them. Why?

When all three of my boys were younger I had the distinct joy that I sometimes think only a Dad can truly appreciate; I took the training wheels off of their bicycles and made them learn to ride their bikes.  I did it knowing that they would fall, scrape their knees, and maybe even bloody their lips; I did it because I wanted them to experience freedom from fear.  I wanted them to learn that they could trust me and their bike.  I promised each of them that they could learn to ride a bike without the training wheels.  And after a few falls and encouragement from me, they learned that I was right, they could ride a bike!

So why did Jesus compel the disciples to get into that boat.   So that they would learn that God keeps His promises!  They needed to learn that Jesus would never leave nor forsake them; even when it seemed that He wasn’t with them He really was.  He was watching them from a secret location that they were not aware of.  They needed to learn that Jesus is the God-man who even controls the wind and sea; why He even controls sickness and disease.

So what things does God compel us to do today?  

Well certainly as we pray every day in the Lord’s Prayer, we discover that He compels us to pray for His Kingdom and His will to be done every day here on earth as it is done in heaven.  But when we pray those petitions, He is also inviting us to experience His kingdom as He leads and guides us every day of our lives.  As Luther taught long ago, God’s kingdom and His will come and are done whether we pray for them or not, but in the Lord’s Prayer we are invited to ask God that they would first come in us and then be done through us.

Now I believe there is a question that begs to be asked; I really must ask it, even if it causes fear.  Do you really want God’s Kingdom to take over your life?  Do you really want His will to be done in your life?

What if having His kingdom come in your life means that you must admit that He is right and you are wrong?  What if it means that you must agree with God and admit that a certain style of living that our society says is ok, is really a sin? And what if agreeing with God about that sin will upset a whole bunch of people who are close to you?

What if having God’s will being done in your life means that you must leave a place of employment, a good job, because it builds and celebrates a kingdom of darkness instead of God’s kingdom of grace?  What if God’s will being done in and through you means that He may allow you to become sick with an illness or disease?  Do you still have the courage to pray for that will?

You will, if you remember who it is that is with you.  It is Jesus, He who sees all things, even things we cannot see or understand.  It is Jesus who not only walks on water but controls everything that makes you afraid.  And just as Jesus spoke Words of comfort to the apostles in the boat, He speaks Words of comfort to you this morning: “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” [Mark 6:50]  This morning, Jesus would like you to remember that He has always been with you and He always will be.  He promises that He will never leave nor forsake you and no one can snatch you out of His hand.

Dear friends, God’s promises are always powerful and they are always reliable.  

In our Old Testament lesson (Genesis 9:8-17), God promised Noah and His family (and all of us) that He would never again destroy the earth by way of a flood.  And to be sure that they (and we) would remember that promise and count on it, He placed that promise behind a sign in the sky, the rainbow!

Listen don’t worry about things like how the rainbow is naturally made when raindrops act like a prism and reflect sunlight, breaking white sunlight into colors.  That is simply an explanation of how we see a rainbow; we need to concentrate on the why we see it!  We see the rainbow because God knew that we needed to have a sign of life, not death.  We needed to learn that we could count on His blessing and good will.  We need that sign to bring us comfort not fear.  We need to remember that God keeps His promises!

That rainbow like all of the other signs that God gives to us, should remind us to thank God and give Him praise for His goodness and forgiving love.  Every time we see the rainbow we should remember that God’s anger over our sin has been replaced by His forgiving love that is ours through the cross of Jesus.  Through Jesus’s life blood that was poured out for our sins, we no longer have an angry God, but instead we have a loving and forgiving God!  And in your baptism, God gave you another great sign; He gave you the sign of that very cross that sets you free.  

In your baptism the sign of the cross was made upon your heart and your brow to mark you as God’s own child.  You have been sealed with the promise that God through Jesus Christ has won you; He has redeemed you as His very own.  And because you are His own, He promises that He will never leave you nor forsake you!  But the promise is not just for you it is for the entire world; for anyone who will not reject that Holy washing; for anyone who will simply trust and rest in God’s divine power to do exactly as He says He will do… save you from sin, death, and the devil himself!

An elderly Christian was in much distress as she lay dying. “Oh, Pastor,” she said, “for years I have relied upon the promises of God, but now in my time of death I can’t remember a single one to comfort me.” Knowing that Satan was disturbing her, the preacher said, “My Sister, do you think that GOD will forget any of His promises?” A smile came over the old woman’s face as she exclaimed joyfully. “No, no! He won’t! Praise the Lord, now I can fall asleep in Jesus and trust Him to remember them all and bring me safely to Heaven.” Peace flooded her soul, and a short time later she was ushered by the angels into the light of God’s eternal day.

Dear friends, in your baptism God has given you not only His promise that He is with you and that all things will work for your good and your eternal salvation, but He has also given you a sign.  

Whenever you are afraid, whenever you are lonely and unsure of your life, remember God’s promises by remembering your baptism, and then make the sign of the cross and thank and praise God for His goodness!  Remember as St. Paul said in our Epistle reading (Ephesians 3:14-21), He has given you everything you need to be strengthened with His power through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.  And then remember that wherever the Holy Spirit is, there Jesus is as well.  Do you hear that good news?  Jesus is always with you living in your hearts by faith.  And through that wonderful gift of faith, God gives you peace by assuring you that Jesus is always with you, strengthening and protecting you, just as His Word promised long ago in your baptism, when He first washed you clean.  It is that same Word you hear preached to you now, and it is the same Word you will soon receive in our Lord’s meal of forgiveness.  Oh, God is so good!

And just as God was with Noah and His family before, during, and after the flood He is with you now.  Just as the Son of God was with the apostles before, during, and after the storm on the lake, He is with you now and always will be.  He lives in His Word, in the promises it makes about forgiveness of sin and eternal life, and He lives, He dwells within you in power.  

Within each of you is the fullness of God; it fills you and if you will trust it, it will well up within you and come out of you like living water.  No matter the cost to living out God’s will, He provides everything you need to know that He is with you.  As you rest in His kingdom, He is not only protecting you, he is living in you, attracting and inviting others to experience that very same presence of God.  And God’s presence not only lives in you, but it also goes before you as you trust His promises of presence and forgiveness and as you speak those promises to others.

Dear Lord may your kingdom come and your will be done in us and through us in Jesus name… AMEN!

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” [Ephesians 3:20-21] 

Gathering the Scattered!

July 22nd, 2018

Pentecost 9B
July 22, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

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“When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were
 like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.” [Mark 6:34]

Do you know what happens to sheep when they don’t have a true shepherd?  That’s right, they scatter!   And once they scatter they can get into all kinds of trouble; trouble that usually ends in their death.  Why even sheep who have a shepherd can get themselves into a whole lot of trouble; that’s why the shepherd will leave the 99 to search for the one who has wandered off. 

An American, traveling in Syria, saw three native shepherds bring their flocks to the same brook, and the flocks drank there together. After a few minutes, one of the shepherds got up and called out, “Men-ah! men-ah! ,” the Arabic word for “follow me.” His sheep came out of the mixed herd and followed him up the hillside. The next shepherd did the same, and his sheep went away with him, and neither shepherd even stopped to count them. 

The American said to the remaining shepherd, “Give me your turban and staff, and let’s see if they’ll follow me like they follow you.” So he put on the shepherd’s dress and called out, “Men-ah! men-ah!” Not a single sheep moved.  “Will your flock never follow anybody but you?” inquired the American. The Syrian shepherd replied, “Never, unless their sick, then they will follow any one.”

This morning I want to talk about two distinct kinds of sheep; those with a shepherd and those without.  

You could also call them Christians and non-Christians, or the righteous and the unrighteous.  St. Paul, in our Epistle lesson (Ephesians 2:11-22) called them Jew and gentile.  But he also pointed out that that old classification no longer existed, because the True Shepherd had come and taken down the wall or fence that separated them.  That separation of course was the Law of God that shepherded the Jews, and condemned sinners like you and me.  In Paul’s time, many well-meaning Jewish Christians were insisting that gentiles had to first become Jews before they could become Christians, or in other words, they had to be Jewish sheep before they could be Jesus’ sheep.  Paul’s goal was to show them that this was not only incorrect thinking, but dangerous thinking; it would serve to scatter and divide God’s people of faith, rather than gathering them into one family, one body, one sanctuary, which is the body of Christ, His church.

So let’s look at the two groups of people that live all around us today, Christians and non-Christians.  But before we do, let me share another story with you. 

A newspaper in Camden, Maine, ran two photos on the front page; one showed the city council of Camden gathered together at a meeting, and the other picture was of a flock of sheep. The editor mistakenly reversed the captions of the two photos. Under the picture of the sheep, the caption identified them, left to right, as town officials; under the other photo of the city council, the caption read, “The Sheep Fold—naive and vulnerable, they huddle for security against the uncertainties of the outside world.”

Now as funny as that story is, I think that it describes both Christian and non-Christian alike; we are naïve and vulnerable.  And like the sick sheep in my other story, we Christians when we are tired, lonely, sick, or afraid might follow any old voice that seems sympathetic and able to help.  That is why we all need to learn, know, and follow our true Shepherd’s voice.  We all need the gift of faith to hear Jesus’ voice and to grow in that faith so that we will never follow another.

In our gospel reading (Mark 6:30-44), the contrast between the two groups of people is evident; the over-worked, under-appreciated, and tired disciples, who were ready for a break, and those who were lost, “like sheep without a shepherd.”  

We might also call them people with a mission and vision and the people without a vision who were wandering in life aimlessly.  This morning, in our gospel lesson, Jesus spoke to them both.  This morning Jesus speaks to both of those classes of people who are gathered here at Trinity.

This morning there are some of you who are just plain tired. You have been active in your Lord’s church for most of your life, and some have in the last eight or so years given the best of your time, talent, and treasure, to help make Trinity a city on a hill, a bright light here in Southeast San Diego, Southwest Spring Valley, and Southeast Lemmon Grove.  You have done so much and gone so far, that now you are just plain tired.  Many of you along with me, have the feeling of always being “on-call,” with more demands on your time than you could ever hope to meet.  I know your heart, because it is centered in God’s love for the wandering sheep; you are afraid of letting people down, and so you push yourselves past the limits.  You dream of getting away from it all and you pray that there would be more people to help shoulder the burden.

Well this morning Jesus, who is your Sabbath rest, knows your fatigue; He sees it and He speaks to you as He spoke to His disciples in our gospel reading.  “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” [v. 31]  

Many of you know the need for rest and you have been intentional on setting aside vacation time; you have had your rest already, and some of you have scheduled your vacation for a future date.  But the truth is, even when we are on vacation, we are never really away from it all.  It seems that the troubles of this world follow us every-where we go.  Even the best planned vacations don’t work out as planned.  There are always more demands for our time, and more needs to meet.  Sometimes we don’t even have time to eat!

So where do we go for true rest; for real peace?  It isn’t found in our vacations; it doesn’t happen when we try to get away from it all; no it’s only found when we get back to Jesus; back to the true Shepherd of our souls.  Our refreshment and new energy will not be found simply by going to a certain place, but instead it is found in Him who takes us to that place.  The disciples weren’t able to get away from it all because the crowds found them; but they were able to be close to Jesus and His miraculous presence; a presence which still stands ready in all situations to help us today.

For the non-Christians, those who are counted among the sheep without a shepherd, their days are spent in endless hours of useless activity meant to fill each day with meaning.  Whether its sports, politics, careers, partying, or just staring out a window they find little fulfillment and joy in the gift of life.  They feel like “aliens and strangers” [Ephesians 2:12] separated from the joy of really knowing God and His will for them.

Like sheep without a shepherd, their wandering sinful nature looks for meaning through self-pleasing activities, but eventually all of their attempts to find happiness end in failure.  So they set out on an endless search looking for meaning.  Some end up in cults and false religions.  Others find themselves in a church, which speaks the Word of the true Shepherd, but clouds that Word in philosophy, legalism, or liberalism.  Undoubtedly, these were some of the things that Jesus also saw as He looked out on that great crowd of people who were like “sheep without a shepherd.”

And Jesus had compassion on them.  He didn’t look at them as “no good” sinners, but as part of His scattered flock.  He claimed them as His own, and He taught them.  They were always His own, His purpose for coming; He came to bring them into His flock.  He came so that the scattered and the gathered might come together and know peace; peace with God, and peace with each other.  He came to give us all rest!

This morning, Jesus speaks to both groups and calls us together as one.  

He shows us that each of us have a common reconciliation… Himself!  Through His work alone upon the cross He makes all men and women right; He makes us righteous with His Father.  You who were at one time separated from God because of your sins are now gathered into His forgiving heart through Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  By His blood He has purchased you, redeemed you from a commonwealth of judgment and eternal punishment, and transferred you into His Kingdom of grace and forgiving love. 

You who were once separated from God are now part of His body, the church.  You are one of many countless living stones set upon the Rock of Ages, the Cornerstone of God’s Eternal Sanctuary.  You are set upon Jesus Christ along with many other saints and together you are a living and ever-growing sanctuary.  How does the sanctuary, the body of Christ grow?  By the very same means that you were converted into a living stone; through the Word of Jesus Christ, the message of His gospel.

And this is the message that God would have you hear today.  You are forgiven through Jesus Christ.  In that message alone, God really gives you rest, fulfillment and joy.  But in that message, God also wants your life to have meaning and purpose.  You are here to live under and work out the will of God in your life.  And what is His will?  That you would rest in His Kingdom of grace and see it grow, one forgiven sinner at a time.  (Talk about inviting others.)

Jesus’ disciples and the scattered hungry were all fed by the very same Word.  Christ’s own personal preaching was full of peace for both Gentiles and Jews.  But what about now; do we still have that same care and concern?  Yes!  What we must always remember is that when Christ sent his message out into the world, he told His messengers: “I am with you always, even to the end of the world,” (Matt. 28:20). He assured them and He assures us that “He who hears you also hears me,” Luke 10:16; “Truly, truly, I say to you,” He said, “whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” John 13:20. 

So congratulations to all of you here today; you who are tired may find rest in the same Jesus who invigorated the apostles.  He is here with you now!  You who were once scattered and lost, are now gathered and found, by Jesus Himself.  He has gathered you into the kingdom of God through the message of His cross; He has washed you clean in the waters of baptism and recreated you to live a life of peace. He himself is your peace and rest, now go and share that same peace, share that same rest with those who are still counted as scattered!  I pray you would do this very thing, and I ask it in Jesus name…Amen.

Victory in Rejection

July 15th, 2018

Pentecost 8B
July 15, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” [Ephesians 1:3, 4]

Did you hear that good news!  You dear saints who have gathered here at Trinity Lutheran Church around God’s Word and Sacraments are blessed!  In Christ, or because of Christ you have every spiritual blessing; you have everything that you could ever need to keep you in God’s forgiving and blessing love.  But there is a condition.  You must remain in Him!  In whom?  In the Father’s beloved Son, Jesus Christ.  How?  By staying in His Word and agreeing with Him in His Word.  What Word is that?  All of it of course, but especially this one simple word… REPENT!

What does repent mean?  

It means turning to God and agreeing with Him.  It means admitting that God is right and you and this whole sinful world are wrong.  It means turning in agreement to God and facing your only hope… Jesus Christ.  Jesus is either your Savior or your judge, and which one He is for you hinges on your repentance or your lack of repentance.  

So the good news, the spreading of the gospel is always flowing from the church’s message of repentance.  That doesn’t sound like a very effective evangelism or outreach program does it?  And because that message is so simple and so abrasive to many, an untold number of books have been written to help the “church” develop an improved outreach program.  Now don’t get me wrong, social programs and strategies that will help make the church active in improving our community are important; they’re important if a congregation wants to be relevant in the eyes of a dying world, but they are not evangelism.  So then, what is?  Well it’s the preaching and sharing of that simple message… repent!  Turn to Jesus and be saved.  Agree with God that you are a sinner and then receive His forgiveness.

As a congregation, we can’t ignore the message of  repentance simply because many feel it’s offensive or divisive.  We can’t water down that Word and replace it with something else that’s more inclusive and attractive.  If we begin to turn away from the message of repentance and water down God’s Word, we will also be separating ourselves from God’s grace; from His forgiving love.  If we cease to speak God’s message of repentance, we will no longer be counting on God’s power and presence to preserve us as a church, but instead we will be trusting in our own resourcefulness.  And if we do that, we will very soon discover how limited our ability really is.  

The truth is, if we choose to agree with the world and not God, we have failed.  But if we fail we can be saved by hearing that same message we had refused to speak… Repent! And when we repent, we will always discover that God’s grace is sufficient for us.  We discover that it’s ok to fail, as long as we keep turning to God in agreement, saying that He is right and we are wrong; that He alone is righteous and we are sinful.  We need Him always and He is with us all the time.

If you recall, last week in our gospel lesson, Jesus sent out His disciples in His own authority.  It was an authority that backed a message, a message that was full of power; power that would never run out, but authority and power that could be rejected.  One simple Word brought the kingdom of God to sinful men and women… repent, and one simple word could refuse God’s forgiveness… NO!

If this Word of repentance was received, those who did not reject it would know God’s forgiving love, but if it was rejected, well then they would be condemned in their sins.  This was a message that was entirely between the  person listening and God.  If it was rejected, they weren’t rejecting the messenger, they were rejecting their God.  

And this was exactly the position that Amos found himself in, in our Old Testament lesson.  

God sent Amos to preach repentance; and God’s message alone is what was rejected, not Amos the messenger.  The fact that the King and Amaziah the priest rejected Amos’ proclamation of repentance was ultimately not Amos’ problem.  Amos was free to live his life as he saw fit.  He could return to tending his sycamore figs and the care of his sheep, just as the disciples of Jesus when they went out and were rejected were free to shake the dust from their feet.

But Amos didn’t go back to his old way of living and the disciples of Jesus didn’t quit going out proclaiming the good news after shaking the dust off of their feet in one village.  They continued to agree with God and speak God’s plan of salvation!  God’s call to repentance remained as valid to them as it ever was.

God’s plan, the only way to eternal life will always be contemporary and relevant because we will always be sinners who need Him.   God will always be the One with the authority and power to send His disciples to preach, teach, and confess His message of repentance and forgiveness of sins through His Son Jesus Christ, Who is the author and perfecter of our faith.

It is Jesus alone who chose us… destined us in love… bestowed on us, lavished upon us, and made known to us the forgiving love of God.  In other words, Jesus alone does all of this for us.  He gives us the gift to fail and then hear God’s Word again as His only means of correction and assurance of forgiveness.  This gift of freedom of both failure and forgiveness depends entirely on Him who first chose us.  His authority is always a resource that never fails. 

This morning, God is asking us to trust in Him alone.  

Amos did, and some sinners heard and were saved.  John the Baptist did, even when he knew that it would cost him his life, and the result was the preparation for ministry of some of Jesus first and greatest disciples .  And we can do it too, if we remember that the entire evangelism process is something that is completely in the hands of the One and only One with Authority.  Jesus alone does the choosing, the empowering, the granting of authority, and the uniting of all things in Him, at the fullness of time!

So now, you may be feeling ready to go out and share your witness and tell your neighbor about God’s forgiving love through His Son Jesus Christ.  You may be ready to see our little congregation grow and grow with other forgiven sinners just like you, and you may be thinking, “So how will we plan for this outreach program, and how can we motivate others to get involved.  And to that God is responding to all of us: Don’t you see how quickly you fell back on yourselves as a resource?  Do you really think that it is your job to motivate others to get involved in building My Kingdom?  Repent!

What is in this little word of repentance? Well everything. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ; the very “message of our salvation.” “The gospel” defines “the Word,” and “our salvation” describes “the truth” of that Word. The Word which deals with the truth, the gospel is that message of Christ’s cross, which saves us from our sins. The Word is, indeed, “the glad message” that has reached our ears through the grace of God. That message says turn from your sins by turning to Christ’s cross where those sins are forever removed from you. It is a message that actually gives you both the power and ability to repent. In the cross of Jesus we have a “Savior” who is able “to save” the world completely. And in the Holy waters of your Baptism, this message of salvation was made entirely yours by the power of the Holy Spirit, for “In connection with Christ you were sealed with the Spirit through the promise of God almighty.”

The truth is that the One with Authority who was able to motivate a country shepherd to confront a corrupt and powerful religious government is still working among us today. And the One who was able to collect and send out a sorry bunch of disciples is able to give us every spiritual blessing that we will need to leave this place of worship and go out into our community, our jobs, our neighborhoods, and even our families and use us to accomplish His perfect will in accordance to His own way and time; He alone will use us “for the praise of His glory.”

Now that may not be the message that you wanted to hear.  No one wants to hear that our mission may seem like a failure and that many will reject the message that we are sent out with.  But remember, there are untold spiritual blessings ahead for those who simply trust and follow Jesus.  And it is my prayer, that as you are being obedient to God’s authority and direction you will share His message with whoever will listen. It is also my prayer that as a result of your obedience to His Word of repentance you will invite them to gather here at Trinity Lutheran Church with us, and that will be how we will begin to see the Word of God grow in our presence.  I ask this in Jesus name…  AMEN!  

We Are Born to Serve With Who We Are and What We Have

July 10th, 2018

If you were born into wealth and personally enjoy that wealth, don’t become a curse to others by bragging about your wealth. Don’t regard others as lower than yourself, deserving less respect because of your wealth as is happening around us so much today. You would do well to remember this, God did not give you your wealth to flaunt it over others, but only to be useful and beneficial to others. People “beneath” your standard of wealth cannot forbear forever your misusing of your gifts from God and neither can the Lord Who gives these gifts. This advice also applies to those who have gained their wealth through election. If you by virtue of your elected office feel easy and assured when you drain your constituents of money and hope, God clearly has warned of a reckoning. In all stations off life, people seem to be living for themselves and forgetting their neighbor in need and their One True God Who watches all and remembers.

But this is not the way God created it to be. This is not the reason God has let rich people rise in power or elected people to rise in wealth. God has created and given all good things, including wealth, to serve other people with these good gifts; to help and benefit their fellow citizens and the poor among them. They were to use their money for both a source of help and as an example to those they are helping. 

Are you a parent? God did not call you to be a parent only for you to walk away from His gift or terminate it. God did not give you children only as your source of entertainment to do with them what ever you please, far less to incite them to anger and violence causing a spirit that is embittered to all authority through excessive punishments, neglect, and violence as they move towards adulthood. No but he created them and your status as parent so that you would help them to know the Love of God and bring them up in the admonition of the Lord. Just as God did not give power to presidents, governors, or any elected officials to have them misuse that power by presuming it as a tool to use taxes as a way to manipulate its citizens, so parents are not to use their power to use and mistreat their children. God wills that children under the power of Father and Mother if that is the current status, to allow them to live their young lives in a quiet environment of learning and love. As they learn about the Lord they must  also learn of His grace and love both through the Word and through the example of parents. 

The fact is that both the higher and more honorable a person’s life is, the more diligently that person should see to it that they seek to advise, assist, and encourage others. For whatever God gives us—whether it be spiritual or material gifts, wisdom, understanding, money or business, all of our power, riches, and understanding are simply gift’s from God that we are to use to help our neighbor. 

But the world to our shame does not do this. It misuses all of the good gifts from God. It is stingy, miserly; it shows off its good gifts from God with personal pride. No one cares to remember that there will one day soon be a judgment. On that day our Lord will demand and account from every one as to how they used every gift God gave to them. On that day God will say: I have gifted you before others with riches and leadership. I have given you the responsibility to teach your children to honor me and others above themselves. Did you use these gifts to honor me and for the betterment of others; to encourage them to both help and love their neighbor as their self? Then let not your conscience say, “No Lord I did not assist them in their need. I sought after my own interests instead. I truthfully treated other people as beneath me. Then God will say:Then depart from Me accursed one, into the abyss of hell, into the eternal fire.

Today God now speaks Words of Love, Mercy, and Grace to all who have been injured by this Word, listen: “But to all who did receive (Jesus), who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” Turn to the cross of Jesus Christ and the waters of your own Baptism. Repent, confess that Jesus is Lord and you will be saved!  It really is that simple. A new life of forgiveness awaits. Will you receive it?

Travel Light

July 8th, 2018

Pentecost 7B
July 8, 2018
Mr. Rick Stark, Vicar of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

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In my previous vocation I had to travel every so often for various reasons. Those trips could last a couple days or a couple weeks. The amount of luggage I would take usually depended on the type of trip and the length of the trip.   

If I were going just overnight, to pick something up and return with it, I would probably throw a change of underwear, socks, and my toothbrush in my backpack and go.  I would take only what I needed, the bear minimum, and that’s it.

But, then again, there have been times where I’ve gone on vacation and way over-packed. I mean, when you’re on vacation you‘ve got to have comfortable walking shoes. And you need to have clothes in case it’s hot, and in case it cold, or raining.  If you want to go out somewhere nice, you got to something more than shorts or jeans, and shoes other than flip-flops or tennis shoes; Am I right?  You really know that you’ve over-packed when you get home and the entire bottom half of your suitcase is filled with clothes that you didn’t wear.

We are half way through the Book of Mark and the main topic most of the time over the past several weeks has been FAITH:  

  • Faith like a mustard seed,
  • Faith during the storm,
  • Faith that God keeps His promises as in Zechariah and Elizabeth,
  • And last week, we heard of a woman who believed if she could just sneak in and touch Jesus’ cloak, that she would be healed, healed after trying everything else over 12 years.
  • And Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue, risked everything he had to come to Jesus that his sick daughter might be saved and live.

Today, we see the importance of faith in the rejection of Jesus at Nazareth and in the sending of the 12 on their first missionary trip. 

In the beginning of our Gospel lesson today, Jesus was in his hometown of Nazareth.  And, on the Sabbath He began to teach in the synagogue. And it says that, “…many who heard him were astonished, [Initially, they were amazed, making comments like]: 

  • “We had no idea he was this good!” 
  • “How did he get so wise all of a sudden?” 
  • And they said, “Where did he get such ability? What are these remarkable things he is doing?”

Then the crowd began to turn and in the very next breath they were cutting him down:

  • “Isn’t this the carpenter…”
  • “That’s Mary’s boy, isn’t it?…” 
  • [Yeah, he’s the] brother of James and Joseph and Judas and Simon?

 And it says.  “they took offense at him.”

Richard Lenski, who’s Bible commentary is still used by the Lutheran seminaries, translated the phrase “they took offense at him.” as, “They became entrapped in connection with Jesus.”  Lenski explains that the Greek translation implies that the people of Nazareth were trapped, or caught and killed, as in the springing of a trap. He says, “to come into contact with Jesus… to see and recognize his Word and his power; [that it would be] fatal for all who to react with unbelief to this nature of contact with God.” 

You see, once you’ve heard the Gospel of Jesus, you have a decision to make… you either believe it or you don’t. That decision has eternal consequences; it is an eternal matter of life or death.

And, the people of Nazareth, because of their preconceived beliefs of who Jesus was, couldn’t believe that He was the Messiah.

Have you ever heard the saying, “Familiarity breed contempt”?

Jesus makes the comment, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own home.”

“A prophet has little to no honor where he grew up, among his relatives, on the streets he played in as a child.”  It’s hard to believe that someone could be the Messiah when all along, up to this point he was simply one of us.

The Gospel goes on to say that Jesus wasn’t able to do much of anything there—he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them, that’s it, that’s all. And it says,  [Jesus] was amazed at their lack of faith.

This story is also told in the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke.  Both relate that it wasn’t that Jesus was unable to perform more miracles, Jesus chose not to do more in his hometown BECAUSE of their unbelief.  

As a result of the people’s lack of faith, the Nazarene’s failed to see Jesus as He truly is , the Son of God and the Savior of the world. Their familiarity with Jesus blinded them to HHIs true identity. Because they thought they knew Him, they failed to ever really get to know Him.

The people of Nazareth didn’t see their need for Jesus. As far as they were concerned they didn’t need his help and they didn’t want his help.  Faith is demonstrated when we confess our need and ask for Jesus to move in our lives.

The people of Nazareth didn’t think Jesus could help them. They only saw him as a carpenter and the son of Mary. They questioned the stories of Jesus’ miracles.  When we approach Jesus we are acting on our belief that Jesus can intervene and will help us.

Are we sometimes so familiar with Jesus that we fail to see who Jesus really is?  Is it enough to know that Jesus died for our sin, or do you want that personal relationship with your Lord and Savior that only comes from time spent in prayer and studying and meditating on the Word of God, waiting and expecting His response.  Sometimes we get so familiar with Jesus we don’t see Him moving in our lives and we don’t see the things He does for us in the everyday relationship.

We as Lutherans have always placed a premium on God’s grace. God does the work. He blesses us with His gifts.  St Paul tells us, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — And this is not by your own doing; it is the gift of God and not a result of your works.” (Eph. 2:8)

This salvation we have, it’s all His idea, and it’s all His work. All we do is trust Him enough to let Him do it. Everything we have is a gift from Him from start to finish!

After Jesus’ encounter in Nazareth, He continues His ministry among the surrounding villages by healing the sick, casting out demons, and teaching them how to live in God’s Kingdom.  These are people that did not have a problem with who He is and people who believed that He could change their lives.  The same way He continues to changes our lives and the lives of every Christian even today.

It’s at this point Jesus called the 12 disciples to Himself and he begins to send them out in pairs of two.  This was the first time he sent them out by themselves to spread the Good News, but it wouldn’t be the last time.  Now was the time for these disciples to take what they had been taught about faith and put it into practice. This was going to be their exercise in faith.

The first thing Jesus did was to give His disciples authority over the unclean spirits and to heal the sick. They did not have this ability in and of themselves; it was only through Jesus and their faith in Him that they were able to accomplish these things.

Jesus’ instructions were there for more than just this trip; Jesus’ instructions stand to equip them for all their missionary trips.   And these instructions stand today for our missionary trips, trips that can be as small as taking the opportunity to share the Good News with our family, friends, and neighbors.

The disciples were instructed to “travel light.” They weren’t allowed to take any food, any money, a bag, or extra clothes— but to wear sandals and carry a walking stick. This in itself was an action of faith.  They were to trust that God would provide for the necessities and not to worry about what they have on their possession.

Jesus told them, “When you enter a town, find a household that welcomes you, that wants to hear the Good News. Don’t move around; stay there until you leave that town. And if any town will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place quietly and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

You know growing up I played sports, little league, water polo, and I ‘ve coached hockey and high school baseball.  There’s a common saying when something goes wrong in a game, “Shake it off.”  It means, “forget about it and move on.” Too often in sports, if you dwell on mistakes during a game you lose focus the overall performance suffers.  Now I know where this phrase comes from.  Jesus was telling the disciples (and us) when we witness and it doesn’t seem to be working, people don’t want to hear it, “shake it off, forget and about it and move on.” Let God worry about it.

In St Matthew’s account, Jesus not only tells the to travel light but He tells them, “Don’t worry about what you’re going to say or how you’ll say it. The right words will come to you, because it be you speaking, but the Holy Spirit speaking through you.”

It was a matter of faith, an absolute dependency on their Lord, who was sending them. It was an exercise in faith.

With such commands, we must take this time to consider how our own “BAGGAGE” gets in the way of our witness to others. Maybe when that time comes you get quiet and you’re afraid of what others might think, “Who is this person that keep his own life straight. Remember, I know you when… (You can fill in the blank; gossip, unfaithfulness, alcohol, drugs, whatever…)”    

Maybe it’s you. Maybe you’re the one thinking, “What am I doing here?” or “Who am I with all my past deeds to tell others about Jesus?”  

You know what, my brothers and sisters, I’ve gone through those same thoughts when I was faced with a chance to share my faith.  Our faith reminds us that it’s not about us. And, that we’re not going out in the world alone. But it’s about Jesus, and it’s Jesus who is sending us, and it’s Jesus who is reaching others through us.  

It’s not about you; it’s not about who you are or what you’ve done.  No, it’s all about Jesus and WHO He is and WHAT He has done. It’s about that day on Calvary and it’s about what Jesus did on the cross for you.  

The day Jesus called you to faith, He took every sin you’ve ever committed and He laid it at the foot of the cross. He took our sin and He laid it at the foot of His cross.  

It’s about that day on Calvary and it’s about what Jesus did on the cross for you.  

And, it’s about what He did on the cross for me. And, it’s about what did on the cross for every single person that needs to hear the Good News of Jesus’ Salvation. 

Jesus said then and He reminds you today, “My grace is sufficient for you.”  When He gives us a missionary trip, when He calls us to witness to others, He sends with His Good News of salvation, that His grace is sufficient for all sin.

On the day you were baptized, and at the very time you were called to faith, the Holy Spirit planted a seed of faith inside you. And that faith grows every time you read or hear the Word of God; every time you hear the Good News of Salvation.  That faith grows every time you come to the altar for communion with Jesus and His followers. That faith grows every time you come together with your brothers and sisters in fellowship.

When you believe you become a Christian. When your faith grows, you become a disciple.  Do you know what the difference between a Christian and a disciple?  First of, ALL Christians will go to heaven.  But a disciple of Christ will take the Good News of Jesus’ Salvation to the world before he/she goes to heaven.

When Jesus gives us a missionary trip, when He sends us out into the world as His disciples, He will give us everything we need to reach others.  He will provide a place and a time. He will give us the words to speak. And, if we feel we’re not being effective, He tells us, “Shake it off” let God and the Holy Spirit worry about it, move on. 

It’s an exercise in faith. Faith is a vital part of living in God’s Kingdom.  Faith allows God to move in our lives.  Faith is also needed when we are sent out into the world to share His love, His grace, and His Good News of salvation.

July 1st, 2018

Pentecost 6B
July 1, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

“The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him.” [Lamentations 3:25]

Waiting is always difficult.  We always want to find a way to eliminate it, or at least speed it up.  This is especially true when we’re waiting on God to act, speak, or intervene.  May I be so bold as to say that “we” all can become impatient with God?  Could it be true, that in the middle of our waiting we may even feel like God has abandoned us, and forced us to fend for ourselves?

The Apostle Paul knew that temptation to grumble about God’s perceived tardiness, which is why he wrote these Words to encourage the church in Corinth: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8, 9).

People in general hate to wait, but in their waiting, God’s children find His love.

This was also God’s Word to His people of faith that were conquered and uprooted from their homeland.  They were stripped of every material possession they had.  They lost their homes, possessions, and for some even their families.  To these poor souls, it seemed that they couldn’t fall any lower.  They had nothing left but ruin.  The whole world had written them off.  But the unbelieving world did not know that they had one last and best resource left, and in truth it was their first and only true resource… they had the LORD!

Because of God’s great love for His children of faith, because of His great faithfulness, God’s people would survive; God would protect them and restore them.  His love for His children of faith always wins out.  Even when His children lose faith while they’re waiting, God is faithful and His love never fails!

God can’t help Himself; He always helps His children who He has loved with an everlasting love.  It was His love that moved His compassion to help his children back then, and it is His love that moves His compassion to help us and His church today.  And when we remember God’s love for us, our faith and resolve as individuals and as a congregation are strengthened.  

It is this remembering of His love and faithfulness that moves us to seek out Jesus and rest in His Word and promises.  

In or gospel reading both Jairus and the woman with the issue of blood would have quickly testified that they too felt hard pressed, crushed, and perplexed!  

They must have both been wondering, “Why is this happening to me?”  Why is God allowing my little daughter to die so young?  Why has God allowed me to have this bleeding disease for so long and even blinded the eyes of the doctors so that they can’t cure me?

Jairus must have felt that all of his waiting for his daughter to be healed was for nothing.  Maybe he even felt betrayed by God.  After all he was the faithful leader of God’s people who gathered at the synagogue to hear God’s Word.  Jairus loved God’s children of faith with the love that the Father gave him to love with, so why wasn’t God responding with help for his daughter?

The woman with the issue of blood also must have felt abandoned in her long wait for God’s cure.  Can you imagine, she waited twelve long years and went to doctor after doctor and no comfort or help was found in any of them?  She was now most likely at the point of poverty, and still no cure or even a Word of promise and hope from God! 

Maybe you know exactly how they were feeling.  Maybe you are going through that waiting period right now?  I know that we are as a congregation; we’ve been waiting for so many years for God to send help to we His children of faith who gather here at Trinity Lutheran Church in San Diego.  Like the leader Jairus, we too have been faithful in our ministry of God’s Word and Sacraments.  We have been around since 1894, faithfully dispensing God’s law and gospel, baptizing and feeding His saints.  Why we can even look back into the history of our congregation and see that at one time we were even directly responsible for planting several church’s here in San Diego.  We’ve been intentional in making our congregation multi-cultural and inclusive.  And here we sit; the pews seem empty, our finances are nearly exhausted, and our hope for a future sometimes seems lost.  It seems we’ve tried everything reasonable that should bring growth, but still we struggle.  What more can we do?

Well I’ll tell you what more we can do, both for our own lives and for the life of this congregation; we can find Jesus and go directly to Him!

Finding Jesus was  what both Jairus and the woman did in our gospel lesson.  

Jairus, a man of prestige, a leader of God’s people threw himself down in the dirt at Jesus feet, and simply worshiped Him and called out for help.  “Kyrie!  Lord have mercy!”  The woman with the issue of blood didn’t think she was even worthy of speaking to Jesus.  She felt that her bleeding made her an unclean sinner who shouldn’t even be out in public, yet she went out didn’t she?  She went out and found Jesus, and using the crowd of people to hide in, she got down on her hands and knees and simply reached out with her hand of faith to just touch the corner of Jesus garment.

And what was Jesus response to both of them.  “Do not fear, only believe. Your faith has made you well, made you whole.”  So what can we learn from all of this?  First, Jesus sees and knows all that is happening to you and to our congregation.  He hasn’t turned a blind eye to you or our problems.  Just as he knew how Jairus felt when they told him that his daughter was dead, He knows how we are feeling.  He knows our fears and our feelings of abandonment.  And so Jesus speaks the gospel, words of faith to Jairus and to us.  “Don’t be afraid.  Keep on believing.” 

And to the woman with the issue of blood, Jesus called her out of hiding and insisted that she reveal herself in public.  When He did this, He was also revealing Himself to her; Jesus said,  “Your faith has made you well.  You are no longer a despised unclean sinner.  You are forgiven.  Your faith in me is what has saved you.  You reached out that empty hand of faith and I filled it with even more gifts.  

This morning Jesus is telling us to keep on believing and reaching out and I will keep on filling you!

This was Paul’s message to the church in Corinth as well.  

They too, like Trinity were struggling within their poverty.  Their offerings had all but dried up so that to some it may have appeared that the work of God through the proclaimed Word of God might be dying along with their unpaid bills and salaries.  But Paul wanted to remind them that their true debt was a spiritual one, and that debt had been paid in full by their Savior, the Son of God Jesus Christ.

Paul then directed their minds to a sister congregation in Macedonia.  They too had been stripped of most of their material wealth.  They too saw the tithes and offerings fall to almost useless proportions.  But still they gave.  They gave and gave to the point that Paul thought that it may be unhealthy for them to give anymore, so he asked them to stop.  But they begged Paul to let them keep giving.  Why?  Because they saw the truth in their giving; they were giving out of grace.  They were giving because it was the love of the Father, the gift of grace through faith in His Son Jesus Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit that was working in them to give.  They knew by faith that they could not out give God, so in essence they were afraid that if they quit giving God would no longer shower them with blessings.  What blessings?  Well I’m sure they were reaping all kinds of physical blessings; how else could they keep on giving?  But the true blessing to them was first the blessing of being forgiven and then the blessing of being part of the believing body of Jesus Christ; the blessings of being Christ’s church, with Jesus as both their head and heart.  And so they gave out of their poverty so that others could be helped and the preaching of the gospel maintained.

And that dear friends was Paul’s solution to the Corinthians lack of charity.  It wasn’t a command to give more or to even give at all; Paul didn’t say give until it hurts so that God will love you more and bless you.  No, Paul simply showed the Corinthians what happens when one heart and many hearts remember and celebrate the faithfulness of God as demonstrated by the coming and giving of His Son.  

Turn your eyes to Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith.  Remember His suffering and death for you.  Please say it in your heart now, “Jesus gave His life for me, for me, for me.” … let those words echo in your ears.  He became poor so that you could become rich.  He became weak so that you could become strong; strong in faith and strong in service.

How do we celebrate God’s faithfulness?  By turning our eyes of faith to Jesus.  We celebrate by opening our hands and hearts like Jairus and the woman with the issue of blood.  We wait on the LORD quietly to give and take as He sees fit.  We remember that God cannot fill a closed fist, but He can fill hands that are open and lifted high in prayer, giving freely and waiting to receive the abundant blessings from above.

As I walk now to the altar of God to lead us in prayer, please bow your heads open your hands and heart and pray with me…

 

Don’t You Love It When a Plan Comes Together? 


June 24th, 2018

The Nativity of St. John the Baptist (Pentecost 5B),
June 24, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

“I love it when a plan comes together.” Those are the favorite words often repeated by the fictitious Colonel Hannibal Smith of TV’s “The A-Team.” 

We all love to see our plans come together and work out for our success, don’t we? We love to plan family vacations, which allow us to reconnect with family and experience new things.  We also have our financial plans, and we love it when our savings and investments meet or exceed our projected outcomes so that we’re sitting pretty when our planned retirement or a special purchase becomes a reality. Then there are those career plans or an education that leads to the right job that leads to the expected promotion.  Oh, we love it when a plan comes together!

Throughout the Bible we’re shown that the perfect God of love, wisdom, knowledge and power is also a planner.  Isn’t it great to have a God in charge of, well, everything; a God who never lies, seeks to use us, or messes up a task that only He can perform? Isn’t it great to know that He is our God and we can rest easy that He’s in charge of both human history and our eternal destiny? 

In our Gospel lesson this morning we celebrate what is known as the festival of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. And in that lesson, we have a wonderful example of all of this.  In all of our readings, we get to see and hear God’s plan coming together!

We all know about plans that don’t come together though, don’t we?

Sometimes our plans don’t always work the way we desired. Maybe it’s because we procrastinate or allow ourselves to get sidetracked. Or perhaps we lose our focus or desire.  Maybe this is what St. Paul was talking about when he said, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” [Romans 7:19] St. Paul might be on to something.

Another reason why our plans fail, and things don’t work out the way we thought, maybe because, we fail to understand what is best in God’s eyes. Think of it, we work our plan and we achieve most of our objectives, and then we arrive at our intended goal and discover it wasn’t really what we wanted, needed, or envisioned it to be.

Sometimes our plans are ruined because we just plain forget what a messed up, fallen, sinful world we live in. Sometimes I think that is why our best intentions are ruined.  And when things blow up in our face, instead of taking the setback as just another life lesson, we can become cynical, bitter, and angry.

And sometimes, our plans fail because of the leaders that we look up to who let us down. Many times, political leaders we campaign for, vote for, or pray for fail us for the same reasons we fail.  But sometimes they can just outright betray us. They tell us what they think we want to hear in order to gain our support and then they just change and follow a different agenda once they’re in power.

All of us have seen our best-laid plans fail. Ultimately, all these failures can be traced back to sin, both ours and the sin of others. Our dreams can go unrealized and our hopes can be dashed for so many reasons. 

Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist had experienced this sort of thing too, so when God let him in on a major development in his plans…

Zechariah was certain that God’s plan just wouldn’t work. 

Do you remember how in their advanced age, he and his wife Elizabeth were told by the angel Gabriel that they would finally have a son and that they were to name him John, who would later be called the Baptist. But perhaps the most amazing part of this plan was the fact that John was the one proclaimed to come and go ahead of the promised Messiah in order to prepare the people’s hearts for His coming.  It meant that God was indeed making good on His promise to comfort His people. All of this was to fulfill both God’s promise and plan to save His people from their sins!

Of course, all of the experiences in Zechariah’s life told him that this plan was ridiculous, a long shot at best.  The biology, considering their age made it laughable. Sure, they were praying for a child for many years, but hadn’t God missed their window of opportunity? And then there was the fact the current government (Rome) was one of pagans which had influenced and led their religious leaders a long way away from God.  Surely this was just to much for God to overcome in such a short period of time.  

So Zechariah just could not believe that this plan of God was going to happen, at least not now and not with him. And perhaps you remember that because of this lack of faith in God, Zechariah was struck speechless. So there sat Zechariah for nine long months unable to speak while the Roman rulers and corrupt religious leaders seem to prosper like never before with no apparent consequences for their collective sins. Yes, the more time passed Zechariah by, the more impossible God’s plan seemed to become. 

But then something wonderful happened, Elizabeth gave birth to a son and it was time to name him!

John’s birth and Zechariah’s song as memorialized in our gospel reading signaled that all of God’s plans were in fact coming together!

During Elizabeth’s pregnancy, Zechariah had a lot of time to think about things with a new appreciation for not just his relationship with God but also for how all of God’s promises as recorded in the Old Testament were coming true. I am sure that He was beginning to appreciate both the name of his son and its meaning. John means, “The Lord has shown favor.” God had indeed shown favor not to just an old childless couple but also on all of His people. Zechariah might also have considered the meaning of his own name, which is “The Lord remembers.” What is it the Lord remembers? Thankfully, not the sins and failing of his people. No those are as far separated as the east is from the west. What the Lord remembers is His gracious covenant plans. He proves He remembers them by fulfilling them!

Now that John is named, God let’s Zechariah speak again, but this time he speaks with more insight and respect for God.  Listen: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear,
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

This song that the Holy Spirit caused Zechariah to sing, has come to be called the Benedictus. It has been a part of the church’s liturgy since at least the ninth century. It gets its name from the first word of the song, which translated from Latin to English means “blessed”. God caused him to essentially sum up all of the promises found in the Old Testament in one short song; promises that were all to finally be fulfilled.  The Benedictus affirms that indeed God’s plan had come together.

Above everything else, Zechariah prophesied that God’s plan to send the Messiah, as heard through the mouth of the Prophet Isaiah over seven hundred years earlier (Isaiah 40:3-5), were now coming true. God had not forgotten His promise to comfort His people. He would finally fulfill His plan to send Jesus, the Messiah of God.

Jesus, the incarnate Son of God came at just the right time. He lived the perfect life that mankind had failed to live. Jesus suffered and atoned for all the sins of the world; a world that had always failed to keep God’s perfect Law. Jesus did this when He suffered and died on the cross, thus paying for our sins, the sins we should have paid for. But that is not the end of the story, because Jesus also rose from the grave to demonstrate His victory on our behalf. And finally, Jesus promises to come again at just the right time to usher in the kingdom of heaven in all of its fullness.

Jesus has come and demonstrated that God’s plans always come together.  God always delivers on His promises. John the Baptizer was commissioned by God to prepare the world for Jesus coming. John’s work of both announcing and bringing repentance and eternal life has continued within each of you who have been baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The church made up of people like you and me, sinners redeemed and made part of God’s plan have been commissioned like John the Baptist, to prepare the world for Jesus coming, one sinner at a time.  They like us are also very much a part of God’s plan!

Do we doubt that this plan will ever really come to pass? Will we be speechless to those who need to hear the Gospel and also be prepared for that great day when Jesus comes again? Have we failed to remember God’s promise? Let us resolve to leave these sins forgiven at the cross and washed away in the waters of our baptism, and let us praise God as Zechariah did.  Let us resolve to read our Bibles and discover God’s many promises fulfilled and to also declare His mighty works of love and salvation in all their beauty and splendor. Let us together wait for the day when the fullness of God’s plan comes together! In Jesus name… AMEN!

Things Are Not Always What They Appear

June 17th, 2018

Pentecost 3B, June 10, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

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

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

Faith. Faith is the one thing needful.  

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

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

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

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

You have Faith in a Who, and a Promise!  

Unlike what the world thinks, things are not as they seem.  Your faith is not simply in some printed words found in a book, but in the living Word of God that both spoke and was empowered by His Spirit to preserve you and give you hope.  What kind of faith?  Faith to believe that simple water when combined with the promises of the Word of God would bring forgiveness, eternal life, and peace with God.  Faith to believe that a scrap of bread and a sip of wine are also, mysteriously the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, broken and shed, eaten and drank for the strengthening of faith and forgiveness for all of your sins.  

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

The Kingdom of God is the Promise of God Fulfilled!  

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

We are holy by faith, because He is holy.  We are holy simply because we are forgiven and loved, so we forgive and love as well.  We are holy because we are sustained by the power of God’s Spirit and the means of grace, which He gives that both creates and sustains our seeing by faith.

And we need that faith to live within a promise fulfilled, because things are not always as they seem.

Let’s talk about the tension of living by faith and not by sight.  

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

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

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

You may become a branch of this tree, by simply seeing that the safety and security that you have enjoyed for a time, can be yours for eternity by simply confessing that you indeed are a sinner in need of God’s forgiveness. You must only surrender to God and believe that He gives precisely what He promises through His powerful Word, a splash of water, a scrap of bread, and a sip of wine. And what He gives to you is complete forgiveness of sins and eternal life through the cross of His Son Jesus Christ.

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

Look around you; things are not what they appear to be.  It is natural for you to see first with eyes of flesh, and through these eyes, it is also natural for you to see a bunch of sinners in this place.  But now look with eyes of faith at those sinners who have gathered around God’s means of grace and promises, and you see instead saints by faith.  We are all sinners and saints at the same time. We are saints for eternity and sinners only for as long as we live in this tent; this temporary body of sin.  We all struggle with putting to death our sin that is within us, and during this struggle we groan in anticipation for the day that we will be free of that struggle and rest securely in our new resurrected bodies within our new home… Paradise.  [2 Corinthians 5:1–10] Yes dear friends, are not what you appear to be, but you are also a saint resting in God’s grace and soon enough you will be forever returned to His Paradise, your eternal home… AMEN!