Archive for July, 2009

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Brian Thomas Henderson

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Don’t Be Afraid!

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

8th Sunday of Pentecost, July 26, 2009

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

 

INTRODUCTION: Do you ever feel like life is one big test, and you keep failing?  That must have been how the apostles felt after a couple of years with Jesus.  No matter how hard they tried to anticipate the right response to Jesus questions, statements, and actions, it must have seemed to them that they were continually missing the mark!  Why they simply had to remember back a couple weeks and they were confronted with memories and experiences that proved that true.  There was the time on the Sea of Galilee when Jesus was asleep on the boat.  When that terrible storm came upon them they panicked and woke up Jesus asking Him if He even cared that they were all about to die.  And what did Jesus do?  He stretched and commanded the sea to be still, and it did.  Oh yes, and He scolded them for their lack of faith!

 

Then there was the preaching tour that Jesus sent them out on.  “O.K.  This will be pretty simple” they must have thought.  “All we have to do is preach that people should turn from their sinful lives and we’re done!  We don’t know why He wants us to do that without Him, but will do it to please Him.  After all, He’s the Master!”  And what happened while they were out?  Was it that simple?  No. In fact, God moved in a mighty way.  They were amazed, even dumfounded when people were healed by the droves and multiple demons were cast back into the pits of hell!  Who could have figured that one out?!

 

Oh yes, then there was their logical demand that Jesus send the thousands of people away from the deserted place so they could buy food.  No, that was wrong too!  He fed the masses Himself with just a few loaves and a couple of fish.  And now, in our gospel reading this morning we read of yet one more failure on the part of the apostles.

 

Jesus had sent them out onto the Sea of Galilee once again, but this time without Him.  Back to the same body of water that almost claimed their lives.  “Why?” they must have thought, “Doesn’t He know this is storm season?”  But off they went, and sure enough, just as they got about midway across the sea (about three miles), another nasty storm broke out.  They fought the waves for hours and they seemed to be frozen in the same spot; not able to go forward or even back to Jesus.  Here we go again!  Why does He keep letting us get into these situations?

 

Does any of this sound familiar?  Have you been there before?  If you have lived any amount of time then you know exactly how the apostles felt.  We’ve got trouble all around us, and the cause of all these troubles is sin!

 

I. Sin?  Yes friends, one way or another all of our troubles are related to our sin or someone else’s!  Illness, disease, premature death, and the weakness and chronic pain of old age are all signs that God’s perfect creation is broken because of sin.  Broken relationships, hunger, crime, tragic accidents, and heart aches of every kind are here slapping us in the face each day because of our own sinful choices or someone else’s.  Oh we try to protect ourselves the best we can, but no matter how hard we try avoid pain and tragedy, it seems to find us!

 

Friends, no matter what a politician or preacher tells you, life won’t get any better by following their plan for the future or a few simple biblical rules…it won’t!  Why?  Because this is a broken and sinful world.  Jesus Himself said that “In (this) world you will have troubles.”  But He also said that we should “take heart” because He has overcome the world. [Jn. 16:33]  He said that He came so that you may have life and have it abundantly! [Jn. 10:10]  But how?  How can this be true when we are smack dab in the middle of a crisis?  How can we feel God’s goodness and love when we are out in the middle of an angry sea amidst a storm?

 

Friends, this is the question of a hard heart; this is the question of a sinful heart;  this is the question of our hearts.  Our hearts forget that the one we call master and Savior is also the creator of the world.  He is the one who see’s all things.  Remember the 12 apostles out on the boat on that stormy sea?  It was 3:00 in the morning and its pitch black out.  The winds are howling, the rain is coming down in sheets, and Jesus sees their trouble.  He sees that they’re trapped and in danger so He goes out to them.  Jesus saw what was impossible to see because He’s God!  Jesus did what no one else could do, He not only calmed the sea, but He walked on water to get to them.  And when He got to them, He didn’t jump right in and make everything better; no, but what did He do?  He veered slightly away from them.  Why?  Doesn’t He care?  Sure He does, but may I suggest to you that He wanted them to call out to Him; He wanted them to invite Him into the boat, into their dilemma.  And did they do that?  No, instead they let their sinful superstitions grounded in fear take over.  “Ahhh!  It’s a ghost!”  Did Jesus walk away from them in disgust for their lack of faith?  No.  Instead He said, “Take heart; it’s me.  Don’t be afraid.”  In the boat He goes and before they can even ask Him about the walking on water thing, the storm died down, the sea became peaceful and as John’s gospel tells of the same account, they were immediately docked on shore!

 

II. Friends, many times we find the truth hiding in plain sight.  God’s grace and His comforting presence in our lives are always there but we find ourselves living as if it isn’t.  Like the apostles we too can think back on the many hard and even tragic times in our lives and see that somehow things turned out O.K.  We made it through even stronger perhaps then when we went in.  We chalk it up to luck, the help of a friend or family or even our own resourcefulness, completely dismissing the presence of Jesus.  We do this because of our sin; we do this because of our hard hearts.  But God will not let this type of hard heart remain with us; He can’t because you see, He has claimed you as His own just as He claimed His disciples of old.  In your baptism, you’ve been allowed to see that which is hiding in plain sight.  Through your baptism, God has shown you what the 12 apostles in the boat would have to wait and see…Jesus Christ the Savior of the world who was crucified and resurrected for you!  Through your baptism God has put to death the old sinful you; you know that person don’t you?  It’s the one who has a hard heart and can’t seem to accept the truth of God’s divine presence for every moment of your life.  It’s the old you that tries to rationally explain away every mystery and miracle that is God.  But that isn’t the real you.  You see, that old person that you were has been put to death, drowned in the holy waters of your baptism.  Through simple water and God’s creative Word, you have been reborn in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  You have been born again as a person of faith…faith in the miraculous presence of Jesus Christ in every aspect of your life.

 

Through the Holy Spirit God is leading you to look back in your life and see that it was always Him protecting and guiding you.  It wasn’t the ghost of blind luck, rational thinking, government intervention, or your own resourcefulness; it was He who knew you in your mother’s womb.

ILLUS: There was once a boy who rode in an elevator for the first time with his father.  When he got home he was dying to tell his mother about the experience.  “Mom” he said excitedly.  “You should have seen it!  Dad took me into this little room and when he shut the door, he made the upstairs come down to me!”  Friends, God wants us to be that little boy.  He wants us to be amazed at His miraculous presence in our lives.  He wants us to know for certain that He has made the upstairs come down to us.  He has brought heaven and His love to us through His Son Jesus Christ.  He wants us to know that because He loves us and we love Him, all things, even the darkest storms of life will work together for our own good because He has called us according to His purpose!

 

Friends, life isn’t a test.  We don’t have to be afraid of getting it wrong, for you see through the presence of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is always right there beside you.  Through your baptism God has given you all that you need to experience His real presence in your lives.  Through your baptism you have been given His Holy Spirit to guide you through His Word.  Through the Holy Spirit you have been given the eyes of faith to see that which to others remains hidden in plain sight.  Through the gift of grace you have been brought into the body of Christ, His holy Church as a true son and daughter of God the Father.   

 

CONCLUSION: Dear friends, it is my practice each day, before I begin my work here at church, I come into this sanctuary and like St. Paul, I pray for you.  I pray that Christ’s presence in your life will grow stronger each day so that you too maybe rooted and grounded so firmly in His love that you will always know the immensity of that love; a love so vast that even the world’s most sophisticated computers can not measure it.  I also ask God to allow you to know even greater, the love of Christ and that you would hear His voice speaking to you in whatever life storms might come your way.  Listen friends, He is speaking to you and saying, “Take heart; it is I.  I am with you.  Do not be afraid.”

 

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 you, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.  AMEN! [Eph. 3:20-21]

A Little Is a Lot!

Sunday, July 19th, 2009

7th Sunday of Pentecost, July 19, 2009

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

 

Today, our message comes to us from our Gospel lesson, with special attention on verse 34.  “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. (Mk. 6:34)

 

Introduction:  Our Gospel lesson this morning is an account of the only miracle that made it into all four of the gospels.  In Matthew, you will find it in the 14th chapter.  In John, it is located in the 6th Chapter, and in Luke it is in the 9th Chapter.  It was a time marked by great success; Jesus had just completed several days of teaching and healing and many of his disciple had just returned from their “two by two” evangelism mission, which Jesus had sent them on with instructions to preach repentance.  They were reporting to Jesus how God proved His faithfulness, by providing for all of their needs and even validating their message by healing the sick and casting out demons.  It was a wonderful time!  But it was also a time of emotional pain and disappointment; the kind that comes from devastating news.  Just as they were finishing up their reports, they were told that not far from them, King Herod had beheaded John the Baptist, a man that all of them including Jesus had grown to love and admire.  Now, as Jesus looked around at each face of his friends and students, he came to the conclusion that He and the twelve apostles needed time alone; they needed to get away from the crowds, in order to rest, reflect and learn.

 

So they left the crowds and headed to the opposite shore of Lake Galilee. St. John tells us that they had a little bit of  “alone time” with Jesus on the grassy slope of a large hillside, until Jesus looked off into the distance and pointed out a very large mass of people that were making their way towards their now, not so secret location; the crowd had found them again!  All day long Jesus stayed with the masses teaching them and curing their illnesses.  As their true “Good Shepherd” Jesus was tending to their spiritual and physical needs.  As the day was drawing to a close, and the disciples own stomachs began to grumble and growl with hunger they reminded Jesus of the hour (the dinner hour), and they began to plead with Him to send the people away, because they were hungry!  But Jesus answered them and said, “You give them something to eat.”  ‘What?  How!?  Even if we had that great amount of money, where would we find a place nearby that could even provide that amount of food?’  Where indeed!  There were about 5,000 men in that group, and that’s not even including the women and children that must have been with them.  The true size of the crowd was probably closer to about 11,000 people!  That’s enough to fill the San Diego Sports Arena!!  In my mind’s eye, I can see Jesus smiling and slowly looking around at the twelve stern and concerned faces, amazed at their lack of faith.

 

What a sad vignette.  It is the picture of a congregation of Christians that is tired, hungry and frustrated by a lack of resources.  But we can learn something from this story; something eternal and life changing; something that just might reinvigorate life in our own ministries here and within our communities.

 

In our Gospel reading, Jesus has just administered a “Pop Quiz” designed to help the apostles along with us learn two things:

1.      What the true quality of our faith in God is.  And…

2.      The fact that God wants us to experience His faithfulness.

Once we have learned these two lessons, we will then also discover these two truths:

1.      With God, a little is a lot.

2.      To Jesus, there’s no such thing as leftovers!

 

I. Like the apostle’s, we all have to discover what the quality of our own faith is-And Jesus used just one challenge to help the apostles discover the quality of theirs. Challenges are like riddles.  You know there is a way to solve it, you just have to figure out how!  Notice that Jesus didn’t ask, “Can you give them something to eat?” but instead he said, “You give them something to eat?” A response to this type of teaching requires a good deal of thought and even discussion on the students part and in regards to the teacher, He better know the correct answer to the riddle before he issues the challenge!

 Now it is easy for us modern day Christians to be judgmental of the apostles.  After all, we have the luxury of looking backwards into time.  It’s easy for us to wonder why they so quickly forgot the Canaan wedding miracle where Jesus turned water into wine.  We could remind them of Jairus’ daughter and even the widow of Nain’s son who both were raised from the dead.  Certainly we would have faired better than they, with our advantageous perspective of time, or would we?

 

Well this morning, I would like to ask you a question, and I want you to think for a moment before answering it–What is our biggest problem, our own test facing the church today?  (Pause) Many might quickly answer that it is a lack of resources that is holding us back.  But I submit to you, that the biggest problem facing the church today is not a lack of resources, but rather it’s the same problem that the apostles had, a lack of faith.  To this lack of faith Jesus asks us to report what little we have on hand.  To the 12 Jesus asked, “How many loaves do you have?  Go and see.”  What did the apostles report to Jesus?  “We have 5 loaves and two fish.”  St. John’s gospel records that they finished their report with these words, “But what are they for so many?”   What’s the first question someone will ask when a necessary expense request is brought into almost any church council, “Where’s the money coming from?” But I submit to you that that’s the wrong question. The only question we should ask is: Is this God’s will for our church? And if it is His will, shouldn’t we trust Him to provide what is needed?  Like the apostles, our faith many times, even with the advantage of the perspective of time is still very small.  But what is it that Christ said? “…if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” And we would add, (if it is keeping with God’s will) [Matthew 17:20-21]  

 

What we must remember is that just as Jesus tested the faith of the apostles, He also tests our faith as well, by putting us in difficult situations with no easy answers. Why?  So that we can learn what the quality of our own faith is.  After asking and waiting so long, do you still trust Him to find you a job?  Do you trust Him to help repair a broken relationship?  Do you trust him to overcome your illness?  Do you trust Him to replace your depression with passion and joy?  Do you believe that He will bless and strengthen our church? It’s during times like these, when prayers seem to go unanswered, that we may become frustrated, just as the apostles were. However, frustration is never what God wants us to feel! The faithful disciple will trust that God has answered their prayer, but it can only be experienced in His time.  The apostles fell short because they allowed their faith to be weakened by their own limited resources instead of seeking God’s limitless resources. 

Both the apostles and even us today, seem to want God to work according to what we want instead of what God wants.  But in the midst of our worry and concern we sometimes hear the same words Jesus spoke to address His disciples concerns, “Have the people sit down.”   I wonder what the disciples were thinking after he said that!  “What is he doing?  Why is He having all these people sit down as if their going to dine on this little bit of food?  Is he going to make them watch us eat our dinner? The truth is, sometimes we need to just sit down, relax, pray and wait on the Lord.  Sometimes we must just learn to be willing to set aside our worries and concerns and simply wait for the Lord.  And so they waited, they listened, they watched and then they learned and remembered that…

 

II. God wants to bless us by experiencing His faithfulness! Our Lord once said that “What is impossible with people is in fact possible with God.”  (Luke 18:27)  And now the God-man Jesus Christ demonstrates that truth by taking a few loaves and 2 fish and miraculously making it fill the bellies of over 11,000 people!  Only one person could do that … the sinless Son of God; the one who also followed His humiliating suffering and death with His exalting and miraculous resurrection from the dead to gain forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life for all of us; even for you!  Those who witnessed and personally benefited from Immanuel’s feeding miracle, and we along with them who have believed by faith and benefited from His miraculous resurrection, joyfully realize and gratefully admit that all things do in deed work together for the good of God’s children and His church, only because we are called according to His purpose! (Romans 8:28)  And what is that purpose?  Well, the other three Gospels augment verse 11 by stating that Jesus had the apostles acting as waiters, by bringing food out to the people in baskets, all 11,000 of them.  They were tired and they were hungry, but here they were in total amazement and invigorated with a new vitality as they partook in a miracle and served Jesus by serving the people who didn’t know Jesus!  Dear friends, God’s desire, His central concern after our own salvation is that as Christ’s disciples, you and me, should be continually working with Jesus to seek out and save the lost! 

 

CONCLUSION:  As I stated earlier, this message now leaves us with two eternal truths and they are: First, with Jesus, a little is a lot.  The disciples’ reluctance to wait on Jesus to attend to the crowds was not really based on their concern for the people, but rather on their own tired bodies and empty stomachs.  While they knew the people must be fed, they could not see how what little they had could be used for that.  So they quit; they gave up and asked the Lord to bless their failure.  But Jesus wanted to do so much more with them, and He wants to do so much more with us!  If we will only trust in His promise to provide for our every need, then we will discover as the apostles did that day Jesus will provide all that we need as we follow Him.  And finally, I promised you a second truth, and it is this, there are no leftovers with Jesus!  Have you ever wondered why Jesus had the disciples gather up all of the remaining loaves and fish with 12 baskets?    May I suggest that it’s because those little baskets were intended by Jesus to be their lunch boxes, which Jesus Himself ensured were filled so that they could in-turn, each eat and be filled.  Friends, Jesus was faithful to provide for them, but He did it after they served their community; but what about Jesus?  Wasn’t He hungry as well?  Well sure He was, but may I also suggest that Jesus expected the Twelve to share their abundance with him?  Maybe 10% from each apostle?  Wow what a concept!  Friends, Jesus still pours his abundance out to us today, and He expects us to remember him in our giving to the needy, to the support of the church and with our service to our community.  May God help us to remember these lessons and believe in His miraculous real presence that is with us today!  In Jesus name….AMEN!

God Never Fails!

Sunday, July 12th, 2009

6th Sunday of Pentecost, July 12, 2009

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

NOTE: This message was delivered in a community park at an outdoor gospel sevice and picinic.

INTRODUCTION:  Here is an eternal truth: God’s love for sinful man will never fail.  God never fails to love.  There was once a claim made by a company that made ice boxes for the home that “Ice will never fail.”  These simple words became the preferred advertising slogan throughout the 40’s and 50’s.  With great confidence they proclaimed that “You will always be able to count on ice.  Ice will never fail to be the preferred method to preserve your food, or to cool your drinks.”

So how did they do?  Well many still call that big metal box in their kitchen the ice box, but the truth is, ice hasn’t been used to preserve food since the late 1950’s when a simple gas called Freon was discovered to be a cheap and practical means of cooling and keeping cooled any thing that came in contact with it.  Today, we are still being continuously bombarded with adds like that; adds, which tell us that if we use a specific product, it is sure to meet our needs.  It will make us more fragrant, more confident, or more acceptable.  

 

I remember watching a martial arts competition one night with great expectations of a great match.  The media hype promised that it would be the fight of the century.  The challenger was expected to give the champion the fight of his career.  The fight ended about 30 seconds after it started with the champion still the champion.  When I looked at the challenger knocked out cold on the floor I began to laugh.  I wasn’t laughing at his injured condition, but what his boxing trunks said, “Everlast!”

 

In this journey we call life, we discover again, and again, despite all of the advertising hype that ice does fail.  The things that we call everlasting seem to be continually knocked out by things that are temporary.   Even old time tested friends and close family can and do fail us.  Eventually everything will fail us except God, who isn’t a thing at all, but rather He is the eternal source of love who chose us in Jesus Christ even before the world and all creation came to be.  He is everlasting!  You can always be sure of Him.  God never fails!   All around us, God has ensured that we continually receive His message to repent, turn away from our sins and trust in His means of restoring our broken lives; lives that have been ravage by sin. 

 

Maybe some here this morning find something familiar with King Herod, in our gospel reading.  Maybe you too have always found the Word of God fascinating but not captivating.  All of your life you’ve heard the truth of Jesus Christ proclaimed in the words of Christians, powerful truth, but not your truth.  Maybe you’ve gone to church, even tried to read the Bible on numerous occasions only to lock it away in a drawer, much like Herod locked away the prophet of God, John the Baptist.  Listen friend, you are not hearing my words by accident.  God, your creator has a purpose for your life and He wants to change you forever, but before He will work within you, you must pause long enough to hear His Word, and then let that Word change you.  Friends, please don’t turn away from this request; this might be your last opportunity to hear Him speak and receive His gift of new life and forgiveness.  You see, God doesn’t want you to be like King Herod, pronouncing a death sentence upon His Word, because you see that sentence would not be on God’s Word but upon your very salvation.  Friends, it is God’s desire to work right now within all of us.  Whether you are hearing and responding to His Word for the very first time or you have been walking with Him your whole life, He wants you to receive His Work of forgiveness and love within your heart.

 

I. God the Father.  Dear friends, God the Father has chosen you before the beginning of time not because He found anything good in you but because in His very nature He is love—He doesn’t want anyone to die outside of His love, but instead He wants everyone to turn away from their sins and receive His forgiveness, love, and eternal life.  He wants you to walk with Him in peace and love forever.  You see friends, your very salvation is founded upon the Love of God the Father; a love so strong that even “the gates of hell” have no power to defeat it and separate you from His love and His gift of salvation.

 

Within this truth there is wonderful comfort.  You see it is God who is right now working in your heart and life; He is the one who changes your heart.  Right now he is moving your heart to desire His righteous and holy presence in your life.  He wants you to consider your own salvation as the most important possession that you could ever have.  In or Epistle reading we’ve learned that God preordained your salvation before time began so that you will continue to respond to His offer of forgiveness and eternal life.  You see, He has already decided how He would bring you to salvation and He has worked to ensure that you don’t lose it.  In essence, He has secured your very salvation so completely, that not even your own weakness or sinfulness could cause it to slip through your fingers; in fact, not even the devil himself can snatch this gift away from you.  His gift of salvation can’t fail or be overthrown.  So that you can have complete confidence in this truth, He has placed it into the almighty hands of our Savior Jesus Christ for safe keeping!

 

II. God the Son.  While salvation comes from the very heart and love of God the Father, the truth that it is YOUR salvation is provided through the life, death, and resurrection of God the Son, Jesus Christ!  Through the entire work of Jesus Christ, God’s wonderful gift of grace, that is His unearned love, pardon, and forgiveness has become entirely yours.  This means that you actually possess every spiritual gift that God has provided for you through the work of Jesus Christ.  Where you were once held hostage by sin, that is because of your sins you were destined to spend the rest of eternity separated from God in hell, Jesus has in a very real sense paid the ransom price for you!  Through His life giving blood, shed for you upon the cross you have been freed.  Through this truth we can all be assured that Jesus suffered and died for the entire world.  Everyone has been redeemed through Jesus Christ, who through His innocent obedience, suffering, and death has given us everything we need to stand before God and be assured of His gift of eternal life.  This gift of salvation is offered to you friends freely through God’s Word and sacraments.  It is no longer hidden away like some great mystery, but instead it is now readily revealed to us through these means. 

 

Dear friends, it is God’s desire that His Word and sacraments will truly save us, so He asks us to gladly hear His Word when it is preached, read, and meditated on.  In this way He works to change our hearts so that we will turn away from our many sins and turn to His work through Jesus Christ alone.  And so that you can be confident that this promise is for you, God sends to you the person and the work of His Holy Spirit. 

 

III. God the Holy Spirit.  Through the Holy Spirit, we are given another wonderful gift… the gift of faith.  Through faith, we believe and find hope alone in what Jesus Christ has done for us upon the cross.  Through faith our hearts are moved to turn away from our many sins and accept Jesus as our Savior, friend, and Lord.  Through faith, we believe and receive the work of the Holy Spirit who is working in our lives to do good; that is He moves our hearts to willingly offer to God our lives as living sacrifices to Him so that His will and work in our lives will be done.  Through our time, talent, treasures, and finances God continues to work in us and through us.  He is working His life changing love in our lives so that others will see His work within us and give glory to God!  In other words, God wants others to be amazed at the change He has worked and is working through our simple lives. 

 

Through the work of the Holy Spirit we know by faith that God is working daily to protect us from our great weaknesses against the devil, the sinful world, and even against our own sinful flesh, so that He can guide and lead us in His ways.  Through the Holy Spirit’s work within us we know by faith, that even when we fall, that is when we sin, He will be right there to lift us up again to comfort, encourage, and keep us safe.   Through trials and temptations, in sickness and hard times, we know by faith that God shall never leave us or forsake us!  We know that He is always working within us to strengthen and increase in us good works that please Him.  How can we know this?  Because God has told us that it is He who began this good work in us who will complete it through Jesus Christ.

 

CONCLUSION: I remember years ago, my son Tommy and I were looking up in the night sky for one of the many space shuttles that had just been launched and was now in orbit.  As my son was scanning the darkness he pointed his little finger at what he thought was the shuttle.  “No, son that one has been up there all along.” I said.  Looking back on that night, what I was really telling my son was that in a time when the sky seems filled with satellites and space shuttles; a time when many things go up and come back down, there are still stars in the sky that have been up there all along.

 

Dear friends, our Christian faith gives us assurance like that.  God’s love is like a star.  We reach out toward it many times even though we can’t touch it, with the knowledge that God’s love has been there all along.  Isn’t it comforting to know that no matter how much things change God and His love for us never will!  

 

Explanation of Reconciliation: Dear friends, perhaps this message has reached you in a way that causes your heart to hope that this good news is true, and that it is for you.  If so friends, don’t let your hearts be troubled, trust in God’s Word.  God in His mercy and love wants you to receive His wonderful gift of salvation right now.  And to do this, you simply tell Him that you need it.  Together we will all confess our sinfulness to God and ask for His forgiveness. 

 

The Prayer of a Sinner: Merciful God, I confess to you that I am by my very nature sinful and unclean.  I have sinned against You in my thoughts and in my actions.  I have also sinned against You by the things I have done and the things I have failed to do.  I have not loved You with my whole heart and that I have not loved my neighbor as myself.  I confess that I justly deserve Your present and eternal punishment for my sins.  For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.  Forgive me, renew me, and lead me, so that I may delight in Your will and walk in Your ways so that through my life I may glorify Your name.  AMEN!

 

Absolution: In the mercy of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given by the Father to die for you, and for His sake God forgives you all of your sins.  To those who believe in Jesus Christ He gives the power to become the children of God and He gives to them the Holy Spirit.  Salvation is yours!  May the Lord who has begun this good work within you, bring it to completion in the day of Jesus Christ our Lord…AMEN!

Life by His Word!

Friday, July 10th, 2009

Familiarity Breeds Contempt!

Sunday, July 5th, 2009

5th Sunday of Pentecost, July 5, 2009

Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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A Fable, by Aesop, the African—a slave and a learned teacher of wisdom: When first the Fox saw the Lion he was terribly frightened, and ran away and hid himself in the woods. Next time however he came near the King of Beasts he stopped at a safe distance and watched him pass by. The third time they came near one another the Fox went straight up to the Lion and passed the time of day with him, asking him how his family were, and when he should have the pleasure of seeing him again; then turning his tail, he parted from the Lion without much ceremony.  What do you suppose happened to the fox the next time he met the Lion?  What if the Lion was hungry?

 

Of course the moral of this ancient fable is the fact that familiarity breeds contempt.  In our gospel reading this morning it was the towns people’s familiarity with Jesus that caused them to dismiss him; to think less of Him than His Words and His miracles demanded.  The good town folk of Nazareth would never accept that Jesus was the Son of God, because they could not even accept that He was a man of God.  They knew Him.  Familiarity is a tool of the devil; a tool He uses to cause us to look down upon the ways and the things of God.  Instead of standing in awe of God’s presence through the simple person of Jesus, they sneered at Him.  Today, many of us, instead of standing in awe of God’s presence in our lives in simple things like the Word, water, wine, and bread, we may look upon these simple things as common and ordinary; things that could never be miraculous.  Yes friends, familiarity is a barrier to the gospel, but it is also God’s means to bring us the power of the gospel.

I. The people of Nazareth who rejected Jesus did so because they thought they already knew Him.  They knew where Jesus grew up and they knew His mother, His brothers, and His sisters.  These Nazarenes represent a group of people that are still with us today, people who follow a way of thinking that says: “If you know the origin of something, you know all there is to know about it.  Case closed.  NEXT!”  For instance, some learned scientists have decided that the origin of man was in protoplasmic ooze, so man is nothing more than evolved protoplasm.  “Sorry God, we don’t need your account of creation that narrow minded people for thousands of years have refused to turn away from.  We learned men instead choose to preach, teach, and confess that man evolved from swamp scum!”  Some scholars have decided that love is based in man’s sexual appetites.  So love is no longer a commitment based on what is good and right, but instead on what feels good.  “Sorry God, but we don’t need your Word, which teaches that love is a commitment to You and our neighbor, instead we choose to preach, teach, and confess that if it feels good, do it!”

 

Another way that familiarity breeds contempt is by validating our misconceptions; misconceptions based on stereotypes—social and intellectual snobbery.  This way of thinking teaches us that race, politics, and social standing are more important than personal character and faith.  In our gospel reading this morning, you can still hear the cynicism and superior attitude hissing out in the way the good town folk of Nazareth said “Carpenter”.  After all, Jesus and His family came from a lower level of life than the brightest and best that become Rabbis and teachers.  How could He possibly have learned more than us.  He hasn’t been gone long enough to gain all of this wisdom.  Today, this thinking still plagues us.  The old prejudices and hatreds are still here, but they’ve been legislated away by laws that threaten to punish them as hate crimes.  Oh yes, those feelings are still there, but they are just hidden, swept away under a fancy judicial throw rug.

 

I’ve read that the most segregated day of the week in the U.S. is Sunday.  On any given Sunday you will find the rich worshiping with the rich and the poor worshiping with the poor.  We have black churches and white churches; Hispanic congregations and Asian congregations; traditional worship and contemporary worship.  You stay on your side of the worship tracks and we’ll stay on ours, and never the twain shall meet.  And to this many people answer, “Amen!  Glory, Hallelujah!”

 

With all of these obstacles standing in our way, it’s a great wonder how the church gets anything done.  How many times has a dear member of a church been raised up by God to speak a Word of wisdom or love only to be dismissed because they’re too young, or they are too new or inexperienced in “the ways and Word of God?”  We say things like, “Why I knew her since she was a baby.  What can she teach me?”  Or maybe when someone speaks God’s Word we can only think of the mistakes they’ve made in the past, so much so that we can’t hear God speaking through them in the here and now.  Yes, with all of this familiarity and contempt, how does God get things done?

 

II. He gets things done through the power and work of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus said, before He ascended into heaven that He would not leave us as orphans to find our way alone in this world; He said He would send to us the counselor who would continue to teach us.  Friends, Jesus has kept His promise—you see, He’s gave us the supernatural ability to live by faith and not by sight.  By faith, we understand and believe that God has revealed His power through human weakness.  The people of Nazareth said that “Jesus can’t be the Messiah, because He is one of us.”  “Jesus can’t be the Savior of the world” declares the unbelieving world today, “because He died on the cross like a common criminal!”  And to this God smiles and simply says “Your ways are not my ways O sinful man.”

 

In our Epistle reading this morning Paul gives us yet another example of how God chooses to use human weakness in order to demonstrate His power.  Paul pleaded with God to take away His thorn in the flesh; his weakness that the devil used as a tool in order to cause him to lose faith.  What was Paul’s thorn?  I don’t know and neither does anyone else, but whatever it was you can be sure it was a weakness of some kind—a weakness in his human flesh.  When Paul asked the Lord to take away this weakness, how did the Lord respond?  He said, Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in (your) weakness”. [2 Cor. 12:9]  And to this Word of the Lord, Paul would give the Church these wonderful words of faith: “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” [2 Cor. 12:10]

 

How is God strong within us?  Why when we have faith!  When we trust in Jesus real presence in our lives, and know that He will provide all that we need to please Him and follow Him, then God is doing a strong work within us and through us.  Just as the apostles were sent out two by two to proclaim God’s Word without making provisions for their journey God also sends us out.  He wants us to know by faith that He has already provided all that we will need to make it through this journey we call the walk of Christian faith.  Through the preaching and teaching of His Word He nourishes us with divine power.  Through our own study of that same Word and our personal prayer life, God allows us to see how much He cares for us, and He allows us to see our love for Him grow as we learn how much He loves us!  As we live out His promises that were given to us in our own baptism, and as we feast upon His forgiveness at His holy table, we no longer look down upon His simple means of grace as simply the familiar activities of a boring church day, but instead we see all of these things as wonderful mysteries that God uses to draw us closer to Himself and each other.  It’s these simple things that empower us to go out to a dying world as His messengers, His Holy Ambassadors proclaiming His Word.

 

III. But what are we to proclaim?  Well, whatever He wants us to proclaim.  Now, some here this morning may counter that they are afraid to talk about the Lord because they don’t know enough Bible verses.  But we can’t let this stop us; instead we should follow the example of the apostles and latter the 72 disciples who went out 2 by 2 proclaiming a very simple message.  We need to remember that these people were simple fishermen and laborers who had very little education.  How much Bible do you think they knew?  None of that mattered to them, for you see they had the simple message of God…Repent!  Turn away from your sinful life style and trust in the love of God as given to you through the Savior, Jesus Christ.  Turn away from your fear and worries and trust in the loving heart of God, who pleads with you to turn to Him.  “Not enough” you say, “I need to say more or they may ignore me.”  Fine; then tell them your own story of faith.  Tell them why you love Jesus.  “But what if they look down on me because I am different than them?  Dear friends, the gospel, which is God’s message of love for sinners is not about skin, it’s about sin!  It’s not about race, it’s about grace.  The gospel crosses all barriers—race, age, social and economic differences are all removed by God’s power when you are sent by Jesus Christ.  All the walls of separation come tumbling down when you are giving your witness about God’s love.  When you are speaking as God directs, “whether they hear or refuse to hear (because of their sinful hearts), they will know that a prophet (an ambassador of God) has been (with) them. [Ezekiel 2:5]

 

CONCLUSION: Friends, let’s not get caught up in a numbers game, thinking we have to keep track of how many people received Jesus as their personal savior because of our testimony; God has never asked us to do that.  Instead, He simply asks us to speak His message of repentance and forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  Just as Jesus sent out the 12 He is also sending you.  He wants you to build relationships of trust with your neighbors.  He wants you to let Him create new friendships with people who are dying without knowing Jesus as their Lord.  Once they know you and trust you, they will hear your testimony…God’s Word of love for the world.  Once you have spoken, then just leave the rest in the Lord’s capable and loving hands.  May God continue to work His powerful and miraculous will through His simple means…even you and me.  In Jesus name….AMEN!