Archive for November, 2008

Praise and Thanksgiving From a Prostitute?

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

Thanksgiving Eve-November 26, 2008
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church. San Diego, CA
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INTRODUCTION: What do we mean by thankfulness? What did our forefathers mean?  Our forefathers were not so much thankful for something as they were thankful in something. In bounty or in want they remained thankful. In feast or in famine they were thankful. In joy or in hardship they were consistently thankful. There’s a big difference between being thankful for things and being thankful in all things.

ILLUS: Our sermon hymn, “Now thank We All Our God” gives us a closer look into what I am talking about. It was written in 1607 by a German Lutheran Pastor by the name of Martin Reinkardht. Pastor Reinkardht was the son of a poor coppersmith, but somehow, he managed to work his way through an education. Finally, in the year 1617, he was offered the post of Archdeacon in his hometown parish. A year later, what has come to be known as the Thirty-Years-War broke out. His town was caught right in the middle. In 1637, a massive plague swept across the continent of Europe and it hit the Eilenburg parish hard.  People were dying at the rate of fifty a day and the man they called upon to bury most of them was their dear Pastor Martin Reinkardt. In all, over 8,000 people died, including Martin’s own wife and children.  These were tough circumstances in which to be thankful. But he managed. And he wrote these words: Now thank we all our God…With heart and hands and voices; Who wondrous things hath done, In whom his world rejoices.

 

Did you catch the key verse for why thanks should be offered to God: Who wondrous things hath done.”  It takes a magnificent spirit to come through such hardship and express gratitude. Here’s a great lesson; surrounded by tremendous adversity, thanksgiving is still offered up to God, with heart and hand and voices.  That is the kind of Thanksgiving we will be talking about tonight.  In our Gospel reading (Luke 7:36-50), we encounter a sinful woman, condemned by her religious community, and showing intense thanks to Jesus for the wondrous thing He did.

I.  What was this wonderous thing that the woman was so thankfu for?  It had to be something wonderous, because it seems that she had only one thing on her mind: getting to Jesus. But why? What did he do for her?  Well many of Biblical scholars have concluded that the woman was possibly a prostitute.  In all likelihood, she had heard Jesus preach and her life was changed when she received the gift of faith, which caused her to experience forgiveness of her many sins. So now, full of joyful gratitude, and determined to do something for the one who had done so much for her, she made her way directly to Jesus.
ILLUS:  There’s an old story about the Greek Marathon. Every year, conditioned athletes gathered at the starting line, inhaled deeply, and put on their “game faces,” ready to prove that they were the fastest. In the midst of it all, a young stranger took his place next to them. He had an awesome physique. He ignored the other contestants, and stared straight ahead. His mind was on the two prizes that would be given to the winner of the Marathon: a magnificent bouquet of flowers and the honor of standing beside the king. There seemed to be no question in the minds of the other runners that the stranger would most likely be the victor. It was alleged that someone offered the stranger a large sum of money not to run. Someone else attempted to bribe him with property. Refusing the offers, he toed the mark and waited for the signal to run. When the signal was given, he was the first away. At the finish line, he was easily the first to cross.  Latter, someone asked the young man if he thought the flowers were worth as much as the money and property he had refused. He replied, “I did not enter the race for the flowers. I ran so that I could stand beside my king!” And so it was with the sinful woman who “intruded” into the Pharisee’s house; apparently she had the very same thing on her mind. She wanted to be at her king’s side and offer him her gratitude.

A.    Why was this woman’s response of gratitude so extream?  Well, it’s the same reason why many “new adult Christians” today, are so joyful and exhuberant in their praise for Jesus: True thankfulness is displayed as the extream response of the hopeless because they have received the impossible… they received a wonderous thing..forgiveness!  Friends, we are not that much different from that woman.  We too have become hopelessly lost in our sins, yet for Christ’s sake alone, we’ve received the impossible gift of love and forgiveness, through no merit of our own! It’s a temptation of some to say that the woman was forgiven because of her act of love, which was shown by her kissing and anointing the feet of Jesus.  But this can’t be true, and we know this because of our Savior’s own words.  What did he say?  He did not say, I admire your love, so your sins are forgiven.  No, but what did He say?  “You are forgiven.  Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”  Jesus said it and she believed it!

B.  But for some, it seems hard to just hear and believe.  It’s hard to walk in the simplicity of faith, when everything arround us seems to be telling us the very opposite.  This is a world who’s mantra is, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” Or, “you can’t get something for nothing.”  Many Christians will further confuse you by saying things like, “God wants to forgive you” rather than “God HAS forgiven you for the sake of Jesus.” They will place conditions upon your relationship with God by saying, “God is waiting to bless you if only you will let Him,” rather than announcing to you, “God has already blessed you ‘with every spiritual blessing in Christ'” (Ephesians 1:3). But we must not let any conditions stand between our sin and Jesus.  We must boldly approach Him by faith and ignore the opinions of others, because Jesus is doing a wondrous thing!  I am sure that the woman knew that her actions would be considered strange by Simon and his other guests, but that didn’t interfere at all with her acts of thanksgiving.  Friends, when you are ridiculed for your “simple” faith, don’t shrink away but pull closer towards the source of your faith; and like the woman, be content to kneel at Jesus feet and cling to his promise, which says “your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

II. Now maybe some of you here tonight are still struggling with the simplicity of these Words; Simon the Pharisee was. But why?  Because his pride refused to admit his need for absoloute dependency on God.  And those who will not completely depend on God can not expereice His great forgiveness.  Simon the Pharisee had been trapped by one of Satan’s deepest and most ancient temptations inflicted upon man; he felt that he must first do something in order to qualify for God’s forgiveness in Christ. Maybe for us, the temptation may be to say, “I need to first first show God that I want to make amends for the things I have done.” Don’t believe it; this is a lie of the devil which causes us to follow “me” centered thinking and not “Christ centered” thinking.  It’s right to say “Jesus earned forgiveness for me by His death on the cross,” but it is wrong to add, “All I have to do is prepare myself for it, make room for it, and accept it.”  Those five little words-“all I have to do” -are the devil’s greatest weapon which he skillfully uses to crush your faith, destroy your confidence in forgiveness and prevent you from walking with Jesus in a spirit of thankfulness. Friends, remember this, if we must do anything at all in order to walk with God in peace, then St. Paul’s judgment found in Galatians comes true: “Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:21). 

III.  But if we are so inclined to naturally reject the simplicity of God’s grace, then what are we to do?  Friends, God knows full well the weakness of our faith and the many obsticles that the devil creates to derail it.  That’s why he has provided the means to experience a radical faith.  He does this through His real presence.  Let’s look at the sequence of events in today’s Gospel: The woman first heard the good news, which was the certainty of God’s forgiveness and love, which was hers in Christ Jesus; this preached Word created faith within her; and finally, her God-given faith led her to go to Simon’s house, with gratitude demonstrated in the washing, kissing and anointing of Jesus’ feet.  The woman came to Jesus because she believed that His presence in her life gave her the gift of forgiveness, so her act of gratitude and love was her heart’s (natural) response to His wondrous gift.  Friends, we also come to Jesus because we believe that His real presence in Word and Sacrament provides and ensures us of our complete forgiveness, and like the woman, we too will naturally respond with our own demonstrations of gratitude and love through service to God, to our families and to our community right outside the doors of this church! 

St. John writes in his first letter: “This is love, not that we loved God, but THAT HE LOVED US and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10). Do you hear how natural these words enter our ears?  But in case we have missed the simplicity of the words, St. John makes it even easier: “We love [God] because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Oh dear friends, think about the joy and blessing that this Gospel proclaims to you! You have the rich blessing of Jesus’ forgiveness, and His forgiveness does not depend on your prior love for Him or your expressions of loyalty or even on your feelings of worthiness; if it did, what would be so wondrous about that gift? No dear friends, we have the rich blessing of Jesus’ forgiveness just because God loves us, and this forgiveness comes to us from the very heart and mouth of Jesus Himself, unprompted, unearned, and even undeserved. 

CONCLUSION: Our forefathers who came to this country so long ago, and Pastor Reinkhardt who wrote our sermon hymn, all knew this one central truth: We are all exactly like the woman who came to Jesus ashamed and trapped in sin.  And like that woman, they knew that because of Jesus, they would never be the same again… they would no longer be helplessly lost in their sin.  Their reaction to this certainty and our own natural response will always be demonstrated in our ability to give thanks in all things, with hearts and hands and voices for the wondrous things He has done. 

As we enter into Advent, let us enter with a heart of love and gratitude to God for the wondrous things He has done.  May God work continue to work this wonder in each of our hearts, for Jesus sake….AMEN!

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Encourage One Another!

Sunday, November 9th, 2008

Twenty Sixth Sunday in Pentecost, November 9, 2008

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church. San Diego, CA

“we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” [1 Thess. 4:17b-18]
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This morning our Lord brings us Words of comfort and encouragement, but He also brings us Words of warning.  These Words of encouragement are the promise that the death of our physical flesh need not be something to be feared, but instead something anticipated with a feeling of joy.  Now for some of us here this morning, these words might sound a little strange, because death is well…intimidating.  We’ve never died before.  Let’s be honest, when we dream of the future we don’t dream as far as after death.  We can sum up all of our thoughts and worries about death with just one simple word: MYSTERY!  It’s a mystery because, well we never died before.  But friends, there were a lot of firsts in our lives, things we never did before, but after we did them and the mystery was removed the fear was removed right along with it. 

Our Epistle lesson this morning seeks to remove some of the mystery and fear from death and replace it with anticipation.  Our Heavenly Father doesn’t want us “to be uninformed, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” [1 Thess. 4:13] Did you catch the word St. Paul used for death?  He said asleep!  Now at first this might seem a little confusing; we might say, “Now wait just a minute…I have always been taught that the minute I leave this body of flesh, I will immediately be present with the Lord.  You know, “Absent from the body, present with the Lord.”  Do you mean I will be in some kind of suspended animation?”  No, not at all…NO!  Paul isn’t saying that our soul, or our consciousness will sleep, but simply that our tired old bodies will be at rest until they are raised new at the resurrection of all flesh.  He is comparing the death of our flesh, with a deep and pleasant sleep that in no way should be feared.  Why?  Because your savior has already conquered death for you.  He has already gone ahead and prepared a place for you.  Not just a place for you to wait for the resurrection, but a real place for you to live forever in the joy your Savior has provided for you!

ILLUS: There once was a dying Christian man who was very afraid of death, even though he believed that in his baptism, Christ gift of salvation was given to him. He expressed his feelings to his Christian doctor, who was making a house call. The physician was silent, because he didn’t know what to say. Just then a whining and scratching was heard at the front door. When the doctor opened it, in bounded his big beautiful dog, who often went with him as he made house calls. The dog was glad to see his master. Sensing an opportunity to comfort his troubled patient, the doctor said, “Did you see that?!  My dog has never been in your home before, so he didn’t know what it was like in here. But he knew I was in here, and that was enough, so he bounded right in. In the same way, I’m looking forward to heaven. I don’t know much about it, but I know my Savior is there, and that He’s waiting for me. And that’s all I need to know!”

 

Friends, what manner of life awaits us on the other side of this life we don’t really know, but we do know that it will be an eternal world with God filled with love, joy, wonder, and peace; it will be like nothing we have ever experienced before.  We know that it will be perfect, because our master, Jesus the living Son of God is there waiting for us.  We believe this because He has said that it is so.  But why do some find this truth so easy to believe and others find it frightening and worrisome?  Well let’s go over to our gospel reading (Matt. 25:1-13) and let Jesus answer this question.

 

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.” [vs. 1-2]  Here Jesus is telling us that those who wait for heaven can be divided into two different groups, the foolish and wise.  What separates the two?  In Jesus story it is the lack of or the presence of oil for their lamps.  In our children’s chat, I told it a bit different.  It was a ticket to a chargers game.  Either you have it or you don’t.  With the oil or the ticket, you are gladly and easily admitted into the area that you intend to visit.  Without it, you are not welcomed, in fact, you are told to go away, away where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  In Jesus story, both groups of virgins wanted to be at the wedding banquet.  Both had lamps and the desire to use them, but only the ones with working lit lamps actually made it into the banquet.   Friends, the oil in the lamp and the ticket for the ball game both represent the very same thing, God’s grace; His undeserved forgiveness for our many sins.  “But God’s grace is free?”  You may counter.  Well certainly it’s free, but you have to have it working for you in order to benefit from it!  How? 

Well in Jesus story, you had to by oil for your lamp ahead of time.  If the oil represents God’s grace then the money to buy the oil represents God’s Word!  Friends, in order to live within and under grace we must be in God’s Word, because it is only through His Word that you will be able to believe and live out the truth that God’s forgiveness and mercy are truly yours.  “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing the message of Jesus Christ!”  The five wise virgins were proven wise because they acquired and used the oil.  What would have happened if they bought the oil, but never used it?  They too would have remained outside, separated from the wedding banquet.  They would have been just as foolish as the other five.

 

Friends, God’s Word is here with us this morning; it has always been with you, but the truth is, for some, it will not always be with you.  Will you be wise or will you be foolish?  There are some here this morning that have not been taking their faith seriously.  They have been simply going through the motions.  Oh they started out with the real deal, but ever so slowly the practice of their faith in Jesus Christ simply became a habit.  Get up early, get ready, go to church (never mind bible study), shake some hands, share some coffee and conversation and go home and get on with life, but their Christian faith and involvement in Christ’s church started out so much differently.  Why they even at one time actually enjoyed attending Sunday School and Bible Study, and their personal devotions were always an anticipated private time with their Savior.  But something happened over time…life happened and God’s Word and the Worship of His Divine presence in their lives became boring.  The first indication that something wasn’t right was the habitual daydreaming during the worship service.  Then, personal devotions began to fall.  Then there was no more time for Bible study or Sunday School, because, well…just because.  The result, the oil runs out.  God’s Word no longer has its way with us, but instead we have our way with His Word.  This sounds very much like our gospel reading; “As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept.” [vs. 5] 

 

This morning dear friends, Jesus is nudging you; even now He’s whispering in your ear…even now He is screaming “WAKE UP!  Nap time is over.  Let me give you oil.  Fill your lamp and be ready before it is too late!  Listen to this message.  Read and study my Word.  Let me prepare you so that it will not be too late when you hear this, “‘here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’” Friends, if we have not been prepared by God’s Word, Jesus says something like this will be the result: “Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.” [Vs. 6-9]  Foolish virgins, why didn’t they come prepared?  Everyone knows you need oil to use an OIL-LAMP!  Buy why ask why of a fool?  The reason they act foolish is self evident…they are fools!  They are fools, but what are we?  Are you expecting to have faith in God’s grace without being anchored in His Word?  If you are then I shall not ask you why, because it is self evident.  But I pray that if there are any foolish Christians here this morning that through this Word this morning God would make all of us wise before it is too late.  For (when you least expect it), the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air”. [1 Thess. 4:16-17b]  Then dear friends, it will be too late to acquire the truth that sets us free.  It will be too late hear the Word that gives us faith in His promise….too late.  But not too late if….through living in God’s Word and by the power of that Word within us “we (are enabled to) believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring [all of us made safe by that Word] with him, [everyone of us] who have fallen asleep.

ILLUS: Please allow me to close with this last story.  When my son Thomas was very little, he was stung by a bee.  That bee sting seemed to make him always terrified of bugs of any kind.  One day when he was a little older, we were riding in my old Datsun, on our way to our favorite fishing hole, when a bee entered through an open window.  It began to dart around madly and Thomas was again terrified.  What could I do?  I didn’t want to stop because the road conditions didn’t permit it.  Instead, I reached out my hand and grabbed the bee and let it sting me.  This made Thomas scream even louder, until I had him look at my hand.  “Do you see the red spot in my hand son?”  Yes he whimpered.  “Do you see the stinger?”  Yes he moaned.  Then don’t be afraid anymore, because a bee can only sting once, and I took the sting away from the bee so it couldn’t sting you!” 

Dear friends, this is God’s grace…this is the message that He wants you to be filled with through His Word!  Jesus took the sting of death for us.  Another way to say this is that He took the sting out of death.  “We believe that Jesus died (he died the death that we should have died, but we also believe that Jesus) rose again, (and) through Jesus, God will bring with him (all of) those who have fallen asleep.” [1 Thess. 4:14]. 


Oh friends, this is the wonderful message that God’s Word continually declares to us.  It is a message that He wishes to make a part of our very essence so that when the end of this world comes, whether by our natural death or the second coming of Jesus Christ at the resurrection of all flesh, we will be filled with only joyful anticipation.

We have such a wonderful message of grace to declare to each other don’t we?  We need to be reminded of it as often as possible.  We need to take this wonderful message outside of these walls and into our community.  Let’s pray for this now: Dear Lord, strengthen us with your message of peace and grace, and empower us to encourage anyone who needs comfort with the truth that one day we will meet our Lord in the air, and then we will always be with Him in peace.”  In Jesus name…AMEN!