Archive for December, 2008

Lasting Comfort

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

The Second Wednesday of Advent
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego, CA

Isaiah 40: 1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD‘s hand double for all her sins.

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ! Amen.

 

INRODUCTION: Tonight’s service centers around Zachariah’s Song!  Does that seem a little odd to you?  We know that Marry has a song (it’s called the Magnificat), but what is all this about Zachariah Song?  Glad you asked!  Zachariah’s song is really prophecy that God spoke through Zachariah concerning a question that was asked about his son, John the Baptist.  Verse 66 in our Gospel lesson is where we find this question: “What then is this child going to be?”  The answer to this question is what provided great comfort to Zachariah, his wife, and latter their son John. 

 

What gives you comfort?  Maybe it’s your favorite pair of shoes or a well worn sweat-shirt? For some it’s a favorite food that Mom used to make.  I have a friend who swears that he finds comfort only at the seashore, and then I have a few acquaintances who say that there is nothing like a good stiff drink or two to bring real comfort.  All these things are ways that we use to relax, but…do these things really bring comfort during times of illness, death or crisis?  They didn’t for Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist, but he did find comfort.  Tonight, I would like to examine a period in Zachariah’s life and his true source of comfort and then see if you and I can turn there as well.

 

I. The story of Zachariah is the beginning of John the Baptist’s story.  In our Gospel lesson, we join Zachariah, family, and friends on the eighth day of life for baby John, who would be called “the Baptizer.”   It is his circumcision day and that was a big event in the life of a Jewish male; in ceremony, it was much like our sacrament of baptism.  It took place in the town synagogue.  Walk with me in your minds eye, up the stone steps and into the stone building that was the local synagogue. 

 

As you enter, your eyes haven’t quite adjusted to the dark, but your eyes are drawn to some torches around a stone table, and you see a group of people gathered around that table.  You soon realize that this is the family of Zachariah the priest, and you are here to witness his son’s circumcision.  There’s his wife, Elizabeth, boy she sure is old looking, and then you remember that’s because she really is old.  What a miracle story that is.  Here is a woman unable to conceive throughout her childbearing years and now, well somehow she had this baby.  You feel happy for her and you also remember hearing a strange story about how this little baby was jumping for joy in his mother’s womb when Elizabeth’s cousin Mary came to visit.  Elizabeth told everyone that her baby was excited because Mary was also pregnant, but not just with any normal baby but with the Messiah!  Could this be true?  Well, at any rate, now that your eyes are beginning to adjust to the light, you see Zachariah, the proud father.  He’s been literally silent for the last nine months.  You heard that something happened to him nine months ago in the Lord’s Temple when he was performing his duties as priest.  Elizabeth said that the angel Gabriel came to him and said that a son would soon be on the way.  Zachariah doubted the Lord’s Word, so the angel said that since he would not accept the Word of the Lord, no words would be heard from his mouth either, that is not until the circumcision of his baby.

 

Well it looks like things are about ready to get started…there’s the Rabbi.  “I assume this baby will be named the same as his father” says the Rabbi.   But Elizabeth screams out, “No! He is to be called John.” The Rabbi quickly turns to Zachariah and says “But there are no Johns in your family, what is this woman talking about?!”  Zachariah signals for a writing tablet and at the same time he writes and screams out, “His name is John.”  So Zachariah gets his voice back just as promised and the baby gets a surprise name that’s a good one too!  You see, John means, “The Lord is faithful.” 

God has been faithful to Elizabeth and given her a son, and he has been faithful to Zachariah when he promised that his voice would return after the boy was named John, but He has been faithful about another promise that is far more important than any of this, and through the Holy Spirit, Zechariah is keenly aware of this.  Now, with his voice in the best form that it has ever been, Zachariah begins to sing a song about his child, but it is really a song about what the Lord will do first through John, and then through Mary’s Son, the Son of God, the Messiah.  It is a song of hope, it is a song of prophecy fulfilled, and it is a song of comfort!

 

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.” [vs. 76-79]

Zechariah knew that the arrival of his son meant the fulfillment of every prophetic word that was ever spoken concerning the Messiah.  He knew that his son John was the fulfillment of our Old Testament Lesson tonight, found in Isaiah 40 that speaks of a prophet crying in the desert: “prepare the way of the Lord.”  ““Comfort my people!  Comfort them!” says your God.”  He knew that his son was the one that would come in the power of Elijah, drawing men to the saving work of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  Before John, a host of great prophets had been sent by God to announce the future coming of the Messiah; they told of a time when God would wipe all tears and save men from their fears and sins.  Prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah said “Wait just a little longer.  The Messiah IS coming.”  But now, John gets to say, “Your wait is over-He IS here!  Your Savior has come and He will make all things new!  Prepare the way of the LORD!”  Zechariah knew that John would preach about the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of not just the Jews but the world.  The Savior who delivers men from darkness and sets those held captive by their sins free!  John would preach that men could now, through the Messiah find peace with God!

II. Dear friends,  Zechariah found comfort in God’s promises now fulfilled, because he saw not only what the coming Messiah meant for his son John, himself and the Jews, but he saw into time and knew what it would mean for all the world, for all time.  He knew what it would mean for you and me.  He knew not only what kind of child John was, but he also knew what kind of child you and I would be because of the saving act of the Messiah…. precious children of God!  We are the righteous children of God not by our own reason or works, but solely because of what Jesus has done for us.  This is the same Jesus that John would continuously point to, and eventually die for.  This baby Jesus, whose birth we will celebrate in just two short weeks, grew up in time and obediently went to the cross for our sins; He died and rose to life again for you.  When he obediently washed in the waters of John’s baptism, God the father declared, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”  At your baptism, for Jesus’ sake, God the Father declared the exact same thing about you.  Because of Jesus, to whom John pointed, you are a child of God and an heir to eternal life.

III. As a child, Advent always struck me as strange; I would wonder, “Why are we waiting for something that has already happened?”  We wait for baby Jesus to be born to save us, but he has already come and saved us.  But now as an adult I have come to really appreciate the full meaning of Advent.  During advent we remember how the whole world waited for the messiah to come, and we do this by waiting in our own lives for our savior to come again and make all things new and right!  Just like those before us, we also wait in a world full of sin.  We need help to find comfort and hope.  We need healing from the many hurts that life dishes out, and God gives us that help and it is found in His Word.  God’s Word is living and active.  Through His Word, Jesus is here with us!  He first came to us in the waters of our Baptism and He promised that He would never leave or forsake us.  He comes to us in His Supper and says “This is my body, and this is my blood.”  “Through His Word He says, “Behold I am with you always, even to the end of time.”  Dear friends, apart from the Word of God no real comfort exists. 

CONCLUSION: Tonight, may I suggest something new this advent season?  You know that during lent, we give something up.  I suggest that during advent we take something up, or pick something up that is, God’s Word!  Let us resolve ourselves to grow in faith by reading His Word and joining with God in prayer daily and regularly, and as we grow in faith we will also experience the joy and comfort that Zechariah found. 

She Loved With All Her Mite

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

Pastor Brian Henderson, Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Click here for audio of this message.

 

Grace, Mercy and Peace are yours, from God our Father and for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ!  AMEN

44They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything–all she had to live on.”  Thus far our text.

Introduction:  The story is told of a very wealthy man who had never been known for his generosity to the church. The church was involved in a big financial program and they resolved to pay him a visit. When the committee met with the man one afternoon, they said that in view of his considerable resources they were sure that he would like to make a substantial contribution to this program.

“I see,” he said, “so you have it all figured out have you? In the course of your investigation did you discover that I have a widowed mother who has no other means of support but me?” No, they responded, they did not know that.  “Did you know that I have a sister who was left by a drunken husband with five children and no means to provide for them?” No, they said, we did not know that either. “Well, gentlemen, did you know also that I have a brother who is crippled due to an automobile accident and can never work another day to support his wife and family?” Embarrassingly, they responded, no sir, we did not know that either. “Well,” he thundered triumphantly, “I’ve never given any of them a cent so why should I give anything to you?”

Giving is easier for some than others.  Some give liberally but others seem to be challenged and even overcome with the worries and demands of life. 

I.  For a few moments this evening I do not want to talk about dollar amounts that are given to the church but instead let’s talk about motivation. Why do we do what we do? What is the motivation behind our giving?

Our gospel reading this evening has been called the story of the widow’s mite. Many of you are familiar with this event in the life of our Lord in which a widow gave all the money she had in a Temple offering and thereby received the praise of the Master of Life himself. The story is generally perceived to be one about giving and clearly that element is there. In terms of the actual amount that she gave it was a mere penance. Less than one penny in today’s money. The extravagance in it was that it represented all the money she had.

But there is another element to this story that perhaps we fail to see. Jesus had just been watching the Pharisees in their giving practices. Now, we are talking big bucks. And they were quite open about their giving. Everyone knew their giving record; indeed, they made a point that everyone knew it. It was in the light of that that Jesus pointed out this widow. Picture Jesus sitting now with the leaders of the temple—the Sadducees—observing the people as they come in and watching their donations. There is no paper money so it all makes a terrible noise as it rolls down this long horn shaped object and falls into the pool of coins. So here comes this little old lady and she has two small coins and she drops them in. They barely make a noise. You can almost see the Temple leaders as they roll their eyes and hope for better results with the next person who walks in the door. Jesus then calls his Disciples over and says, “This poor widow has put more in to the treasury than all the others.” To the Sadducees this woman is a waste of time but to Jesus she is the stuff by which Kingdoms are erected. So, at its heart, the widow’s mite is not a story about giving, but rather it is a story about motivation. Why do we do what we do? What do we hope to achieve by our giving? The Pharisees and Sadducees gave to receive peer recognition. And, Jesus said that they had already received their reward. People praised them. The woman, on the other hand, she gave out of love for God. According to Jesus, she also received her reward, peace with God.

II.   What can we learn from this?  Jesus watches us from a location opposite of where we place our attention.  He sees what others can not; specifically He sees into our hearts.   He notices the rich and the poor; the important and the simple.  Jesus pays special attention to those things that are most important to us, because they are what motivates every thing else that we do in this life.  While I do not know everything that Jesus sees within my own heart, I do know what he hopes to find in all of our hearts.  He hopes to find a heart that is like the widow’s; a heart that seeks to find and maintain a relationship of trustful dependency on Him.  That is a relationship he desires to bless and develop.  This relationship is sustained by faith, but it is born in love.

 

III. Love is what led the widow to give all that she had to the Lord.  Love is the natural response of a forgiven sinner.  And love is what naturally motivates us to give our time, talents and yes even our money to the Lord.  These words may have made you a bit uncomfortable.  We want to know, “How much shall I give?”  Suffice to say, the Gospel’s advice is that ‘We should give according to the dictates of our own hearts,’ and that brings me back on topic.

 

Do you remember when Jesus asked St. Peter shortly before He ascended into heaven, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?”  And Peter answered, “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” What did Jesus say next?  “Feed my sheep.”  Did you ever wonder why Jesus asked him three times?  He did this because He wanted to emphasize to Peter and to us the importance of the question.  In this question and in the story of the Widow’s mite, Jesus is asking us to look within our hearts and discover what things are really most important to us, and if our love for Him truly is our first priority, then he asks us to respond with our actions by “Feeding His Sheep.”  Do you hear Him in your heart speaking to you this evening: ‘Dear Saints at Trinity, do you love me?  Do you trust me?  Do you realize that your church is really my Church?  Then feed my sheep.  My sheep are fed the Words of eternal life right here at Trinity, and right outside your doors in the communities of Encanto, Jamacha, Lemmon Grove and Spring Valley.  Friend, do you love me?  Do you understand that my sheep through Holy Baptism have been given assurance that a seat has been reserved for them at my Father’s table, just as has been done for you?  Then feed my sheep.  Friend, do you truly love me?  Then you must know that my sheep are sustained by my very body and blood at my table right here in this church, just as you are.  Feed my sheep.’ 

CONCLUSION:  Friends, since we truly love God, then we will love the place where he faithfully meets us in Word and Sacrament.  Since Jesus has truly saved us from our sin and eternal separation from God, let’s respond through love, by dedicating all that we have to Him who first loved us! 

  Now may this love and peace that surpasses all understanding be yours, for Christ’s sake…AMEN