Archive for October, 2008

What Is Truth?

Saturday, October 25th, 2008

Twenty Fourth Sunday in Pentecost, October 26, 2008
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church. San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message.

 What is truth? In our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” But what is the truth?  Well, our message this morning is truth!  It is the Word of God in Law and Gospel it’s that Word, which sets people free!  Our truth this morning is the living Word of God, Jesus Christ who is with us this very moment giving us His truth. God the Father is a God of truth.  Christ is truth.  The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth and He guides us into all truth.  Because God is truth, we must worship Him in truth; walk before Him in truth; serve Him in truth; rejoice in truth; speak to one another in truth, and meditate on His truth.  Those who are found without the truth are punished for their lack of it.  Because the truth is the Gospel, it can come only through Jesus Christ…this is the truth!  The truth is purifying, justifying and sanctifying.  In your baptism God clothed you with the truth; truth is your robe of righteousness.  Truth is abundantly and daily revealed to you who are loved and called according to His purpose and it always abides with you always.  God desires that the truth be acknowledged, believed, loved, and obeyed, and by His Spirit of Truth you are able to do this very thing!  This is most certainly true!

What is not the truth? In order to help us know what the truth is, let’s briefly discuss what the truth is not.  In the early 16th century, a young German monk named Martin Luther desperately wanted to know the truth about God.  He had learned all of his life that God was an angry God, who relentlessly kept track of each and every person’s sins, patiently waiting for the moment of judgment so that He could punish these transgressions!  Luther was taught that if there was any hope for him at all it would come through the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.  Luther was also taught that through a prescribed series of religious exercises, he and the rest of humanity may be able to find favor in God’s eyes by trusting in God’s mercy.  But Luther soon found himself in a dilemma; how was he to know if he performed enough religious exercises to please God?  In response to his desire to “know the truth” the young monk was sent to Wittenberg to attend Seminary and to become a priest.  It was during his study of God’s Word, that He discovered the truth that set Him free, and that truth was found in the very Epistle lesson we heard read this morning: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.  For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. [Rom. 3:21-25,28] 

These words, these living Words were the very truth that Martin Luther knew to be the key that explained all of God’s Word.  For years, he lived under the tyranny of God’s Law alone, but he discovered that God’s Law was only half of God’s truth, because you see, it lacked God’s Grace, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Now armed with the whole truth of God’s Word, this young monk became consumed by the word of God!  He could not stop reading and studying.  And as he read, he was changed.  He quickly began to see the folly of sinners who placed their trust in their own good works.  ILLUS: If Luther were here this morning, he would tell us this about the devils lies and God’s truth: The devil wants us to look at God and see Him as one who is angry with us and out to punish us when we sin.  He is encouraged when we ask ourselves, “Why is God punishing me?” because this type of thinking is what he uses to get us to abandon our faith.  But if we see God this way, then we don’t see Him correctly, but instead “we’re looking at him as if a dark storm cloud has been drawn across His face.  God’s Word tells us that if we truly believe that Christ is our Savior, then we have a God of love; and to see God in faith is to look upon His friendly heart.”
    “So when the Devil throws your sins in your face so that you will abandon your faith, and when he declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: “I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it?  For I know one who suffered, died, and paid for my sins; His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God and where He is there I shall be also.”

So what is truth?  Jesus graciously answers this question for us with these words, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” [Jn. 8:31-32]  Friends, the word of Jesus is the truth because it is the Word of God.  It is the Word alone that brings spirit and life…without the Word there is only spiritual death.  The only way to know God is through the Word, and if we want to live in truth we must live in the Word.  Jesus said, “If you remain in me, and my words I will remain in you.”  Whether we are babies in the faith or the most honored elder of the congregation, we are all equally held safe by the same power of God’s Word.  Young and old alike, we must all learn more and more of the Word’s precious truth.  It is this truth, this Word that holds us within the true faith.  This relationship of faith can only come from the Word and it can only be retained through a continual reliance on the living Word of God through which the blessed power of truth and faith are given.  The truth dear friends, is found in living out God’s Word and sharing that truth with others.  No one who rejects God’s truth can ever find saving faith.  No one who refuses to be led by God’s Word can expect to hold on to it.  God’s Word must have its way with us or it will not live within us. 

ILLUS: Over 1900 years ago, Jewish Zealots made a courageous stand, holding off an elite Roman legion for more than a year. Jerusalem was destroyed months earlier, and the mesa named Masada, was the site of the last pocket of Jewish resistance.  Come morning that, too, would change. The wooden walls were burning, and soon the Roman battering ram would begin again and make its final assault upon the weakened walls and gates.
   The leader of the 960 men, women and children who held the mesa gathered the men together, and shared the hopelessness of the morning’s coming battle. Defeat was certain, and it would come with slavery, the murder of the children and the aged, and the rape of the women. He urged one last act of defiance, one last act of freedom: “Let us choose death before we become slaves, and let’s go out of this world, with our children and our wives, in a state of freedom.”    With no other apparent avenues of honor left for them, the men of the garrison gathered their families, and together they took their own lives.  Their desire to live was not as great as their hatred of slavery.
   When the Romans burst through the walls in the morning, they were greeted with the silence of the dead. This story developed in the aftermath of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, just as Jesus, the living and true Word of God had predicted earlier. The prediction was fulfilled four decades after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension.  If only they would have listened to Jesus, the living Word of God…if only they would have understood that God’s Word is truth…

But what is the purpose of truth?  Well Jesus answers this question pretty well, “and the truth shall set you free.”   If it is only truth that sets us free, then we can surmise that without truth we are in bondage…we are slaves.  But slaves to what, or to whom?  This was the question of the unbelieving Jews who were mixed in with the newly converted Christians when they said: “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” [vs. 33]  Can you hear the pride and sarcasm in their voices?  It’s like they’re saying, “If the truth you’re speaking about is only good for slaves, then don’t bother us…WE ARE Abraham’s children, a royal nation of priests, and we have no master except God Himself!  We have rules that we follow that God Himself gave to us.  And by following these rules we will appease God’s anger and find salvation!  And to this, Jesus, the Living Word of God, gives them more truth: “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.”  He says to the Pharisees and he says to us, “So how are you doing with keeping those rules?  Have you ever broke one?  Have you ever sinned?  Of course you have, and you will continue to sin…You are a slave to sin…you are in captivity of it and there is nothing you can do to save yourself! 

Friends, Jesus is asking us to understand and believe that everyone of us who does what is sin is enslaved by it and can never on our own break away from it.  We are, without question trapped in spiritual soul slavery, and that is the worst kind of slavery you can ever be captivated by.  He is asking us to accept the fact that we do sin in thought, word, or action daily, hourly, even every moment.  If God were to put us on trial, our very own conscience would be the best witness against us.  So what are we to do?  Nothing…nothing but confess that there is nothing we can do, and then we rest in our own helplessness and receive the help of God.  What is that help?  Well it’s His truth, the true and Living Word of God, Jesus Christ.  He is your champion who speaks God’s grace to you:  ‘Friend, even though you are guilty of many sins, I forgive.  Even though you have ignored my presence in your life and refused to enter into a relationship of trust with me, I shall show your mercy and love.  By the power of God’s love through Jesus Christ you are forgiven.  “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” ILLUS: Have you ever heard of Sojourner Truth? She was born a slave in 1797, and she died a freed woman in 1883.  She was an American abolitionist. In 1827 she and her entire family were freed from slavery and they moved to New York. In 1843, she said that she heard “a voice from Heaven,” and in response to that voice she began to travel in the North preaching freedom for all slaves. In the mid-1860’s, she moved to Washington, D.C., and began to help resettle ex-slaves.

She was quoted as saying: “When I left the house of bondage I left everything behind. I wanted to keep nothing of Egypt on me, and so I went to the Lord and asked him to give me a new name (Sojourner Truth).   I set up my banner, and then I sing, and then folks always comes up ’round me, and then … I tells em about Jesus.”  Sojourner Truth frequently began her messages by saying: ‘Children, I talk to God and God talks to me.”  One day at an abolitionist meeting in Boston, Frederick Douglass had spoken and said that the slaves had no hope except in their own strength and desire to fight for themselves. Sojourner Truth quietly asked him: “Frederick, is God dead?”

Friends, I believe that Sojourner Truth was asking not just Frederick Douglass but all of us: Do you think that God is not always present in this world and in your life working out His goodness in all things despite what things may appear in the present?  Sojourner Truth was proved right of course.  Shortly thereafter, human slavery was abolished in these United States.  But dear friends, a far more terrible form of slavery still exists today and it can be found right outside of the doors of this church.  You who have been freed from the slavery of sin, death, and the devil, have been called by God’s Word of truth to help free your neighbors…your neighbors who live in this very community.  The spirit of Sojourner Truth lives on today, because you see it is the voice of truth, the voice of the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ.  Like Sojourner, you are called to be a part of a holy nation of people, a nation of abolitionists, whose one mission is to declare the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.  And when you speak God’s Word of peace to your neighbor, speak it as one who can truly say…. “Free at last!  Free at last!  Thank God almighty I’m free at last! 

May the peace of God, which supassess all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in His truth, for the sake of Jesus Christ….AMEN

The Invitation

Sunday, October 12th, 2008

  Twenty Second Sunday in Pentecost, October 12, 2008
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church. San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

 Our Gospel lesson this morning is another parable that comes to us in a string of parables Jesus used to teach about the kingdom of heaven.  In each story, his audience was forced to find themselves in one of the characters (usually the one that pridefully rejected God’s kingdom and His Messiah).  In our reading this morning Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who threw a wedding party and then told his servants to go out into the streets and invite anyone they could find so that they could celebrate with the king.  It’s a wonderful story that illustrates how badly God wants everyone to turn to Him, on His terms and enter into a relationship of love and trust.  It is a story that invites us all to be friends with God, children of God through Jesus Christ…but..there is tragedy in this story too! Sadly, Jesus story teaches us that many will reject God’s invitation.

There are three classes of persons who reject God’s Invitation.

First there are those who are too busy.  In Jesus day, people were much the same as our day.  There were businesses to run, farms to tend, jobs to report to, and families to raise, so many of his listeners would have identified with those who were just too busy to attend the kings banquet.  But this was not just any banquet; no this was a banquet that would honor the Son of the King and His bride.  Do they dare turn down the king’s invitation?  Yes, because there just wasn’t time.

Then there are those who are offended and angered by the invitation
because it represented their lack of authority; these people represented the religious establishment of Jesus day.  In the story, it made no sense for these people to get angry and abuse, even kill the servants that thought they were bringing “good news”.  But that is exactly what they did, and that is precisely what Jesus was telling the religious leaders that they were doing and would soon do by persecuting, punishing, and even killing his disciples. 
Finally, there are those who respond to the invitation in a self-serving manner. “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment.  And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless.” [Matt. 22:11-12]  And he was speechless!  What a sad state of mind to be in when approached by the King!  He knew the rules, one simple rule actually… “In order to sit at my table, you must wear the attire that I provide.  Friend, you chose to come into my presence on your own terms, and because of that you have rejected my hospitality and a chance to enter into a friendship with me.”  The man couldn’t argue, because the king was right.  The king is always right, because you see the king in Jesus’ story represents God the Father.  And the son of the King is none other than Jesus Himself.  And the feast well, that’s a little different, because you see; it represents a couple of things. 

First, it represent the great feast that will be held on our Lord’s return, on the Last Day, but it is also speaking about the great feast of eternal life that God has lovingly provided for us right now, here in this church; a feast that we call the Divine Worship.  At this feast we gather as one body to hear the life-giving words of Jesus; we gather to be baptized and to remember our baptism; we gather to not just confess our sins to our Lord, but to hear His sweet words of forgiveness…the absolution…the obliteration of those sins; and finally, we gather to feast upon the sacrament of our Lord’s Body and Blood, which is served to us upon the banquet table of His altar.  But as the words of our liturgy say, this is a “foretaste of the feast to come.”  But this feast of God’s Word and Sacrament is a REAL heavenly feast nonetheless, for as John the Baptist and even our Epistle reading this morning states, “The (kingdom of the) Lord is at hand.” But what kind of feast is this Divine Worship?  What does our Lord say?  “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4) and again He says, “I am the bread of life; unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:35, 53-54).  Yes friends, the kingdom of heaven has come to us and it is continually coming to us through the real presence of Jesus Christ, through His Word and Sacraments.   

 Now what do we make of this special garment that Jesus spoke of in the story? 

Well, it had to be supplied by the king.  I’m sure that the man in the story chose to wear his finest suit of clothes.  He probably paid a lot of money for that suit.  It represented his hard work and probably his style.  What’s the sense of having good things if you can’t use them, right?  I’ll bet the king will be impressed!

Wrong, at least not in Jesus story, because you see the clothes that the man insisted of wearing represented his own way; it represented a works righteousness that God will always reject.  The prophet Zephaniah spoke of this strange garment, which was foreign to God in this way, “Be silent before the Lord God! For the day of the Lord is near; the Lord has prepared a sacrifice and consecrated his guests.  And on the day of the Lord’s sacrifice- “I will punish the officials and the king’s sons and all who array themselves in foreign attire.””  Friends, there is only one attire that is not foreign to God and if we want to understand what this garment is, then we need look no farther than the baptismal font. 

It was at the font of life giving water where the command went out to all of God’s servants to seek out anyone they found and call them to the feast of victory, the feast of salvation for our God, Jesus Christ.   It was there at the baptismal font that your King plucked you out of your life of sin and death and washed you white as snow in the blood of the lamb, the blood of His Son, your Savior.  It was there at the font where the general invitation to anyone found became a special invitation of love for you.  It was there at the baptismal font that Your King gave you your own very special garment of salvation.  St. Paul puts it this way, “for as many of you who were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” [Gal. 3:27]  You have been clothed in Christ!  This is the same garment that Isaiah mentions when he says, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”

What happened to the man in Jesus story who wouldn’t wear the right garment?  Well, this man and all of the others did not fare well. Jesus Words are clear, “Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” [v. 13] Friends there can be no doubt that this man’s punishment was eternal separation from God!  Because when he chose to reject God’s robe of righteousness, he also chose to reject God’s invitation for salvation.  ILLUS: If you were told that you must enter an area that was contaminated with disease and sickness, but you would be in no danger if you wore a special biological suit and respirator, would you reject that personal protective equipment and go in as you choose, or would quickly put it on, wear it properly and be thankful that someone was looking out for you? 

Friends, we must learn to use our baptism in the same way!  In our baptism, God has clothed us with Christ’s holy, perfect nature; He has clothed us with Christ!  He has given us Christ’s protective suit if you will, to wear in our baptism.  If we will simply approach our own baptisms as a gift of love from God, and if we will just cling to it and allow it to save us, comfort us, and change us, we need never fear being thrown out of God’s presence where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth!  But aren’t there times that we too have rejected God’s invitation by neglecting to wear our garment of faith in Christ?  Haven’t we allowed God to take second place, even third or fourth place in our lives?  Yes, we have, if we are honest with ourselves…but the invitation still stands for us to repent and return to God’s love and forgiveness, for remember this is but a foretaste of the feast to come.  The final feast will be when our Lord returns or when we go to him after our last day on this earth, and then it will be too late to put on Christ.  Until then, we gather at houses of worship, we gather here at Trinity, and we cry out to God, “create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Thy presence and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation and uphold me with Thy free spirit.” [Psalm 51]  Oh how sincerely those words pour out of a heart that realizes it has been living without being clothed in Christ!  How earnest, is the cry of a heart that knows it needs forgiveness because of sinful living!  Restore unto me the joy of Your salvation O, God.

Dear friends, this Wedding Feast we call the Divine Service has one purpose, and that is to re-clothe us in Christ and to restore our joy and confidence in the truth  that God still loves us and He has forgiven us! God has ordained worship so that it will strengthen your faith.  Dear friends, Jesus delights to answer the prayer of a repentant heart. He would never cast you out into the darkness. He hears your sorrowful cries and He answers you with mercy. He answers with His forgiveness and salvation. He answers us by clothing us in His righteousness.  Friends, when you leave here this morning, once again restored with joy, let this be your confidence that God will never leave or forsake you in a place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, so long as you are wearing His heavenly attire; so long as you are living out your faith in Jesus Christ, because God is working in your life, and because of His work, you are righteous, innocent, and blessed forever because you are wearing His wedding garment.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit…AMEN!