Archive for August, 2009

Put It On, Put It On!

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

13th Sunday after Pentecost, August 30, 2009

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

Our text this morning is the 13th verse of our Epistle lesson: “Therefore take up the whole armor of God that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm!” [Eph 6:13]

Introduction: There is a battle raging all around us; it is unseen but certainly not unfelt.  It is the classic battle of good vs. evil.  In this battle, God is protecting what is His.  He is protecting those little lambs of Jesus—those little lambs that He suffered and died for.  God is protecting you and me!  Many times, when we think of this spiritual warfare we are often tempted to give the devil far too much credit.  I have often heard this said from well meaning Christian friends when a brother or sister is going through a rough time in life: “Man you must be doing something right, because the devil sure is attacking you!”  That sounds good to well meaning encouragers, but I believe just the opposite is true.  You see, devils are evil cowards.  They usually attack the weakest targets, and then they attack the weakest points of those weak targets.  This way, they can affect not just the person they attack but many others who are connected with that person.  In warfare, we would call it collateral damage.  So the best target for devils is an unprotected target.  Someone who is not centered in the grace of Jesus Christ…someone who is counting on something else for their protection other than the whole armor of God!

 

I. Dear friends, evil is all around us.  It is the unseen force that the devil uses to separate us from the Love of God which is ours in and through Christ Jesus.  It is a spiritual force, an army if you will, that is well organized under the leadership of the devil.  St. Paul in our Epistle reading breaks down this spiritual army of darkness into 4 divisions: Rulers, Authorities, Cosmic Powers, and Spiritual Forces of Evil.  If we were to put this in contemporary warfare terms we would say the Ruler is Satan Himself, and his Joint Chief of Staff or his generals are the Authorities, the Cosmic Powers would be those who control the Weapons of Mass Destruction, and the Spiritual Forces of Evil would be his foot soldiers.  Their concentrated goal is to ensure that we are so overcome with evil that we will simply surrender our lives to them and hope for the best.  In other words, their attacks are means to “shock and awe” us to the point that we are demoralized and give up!

 

This battle isn’t something that is distant and doesn’t merit your immediate concern.  It is much closer than you think.  It is ragging all around you.  Just watch the news on any given night and see how our community, our nation and our world is being overrun by violence, crime, and hatred.  In fact, the enemy is so close that he is even battling within you!  But don’t take my word for it, listen to our Savior’s own Words found in our gospel lesson: “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  All these things come from within, and they defile a person.”  There you have it friends—the battle is not so distant after all, is it? 

 

“Yes Pastor, but God’s Word says that I am saved…I am baptized!”  Very good!  You see God’s work for what it is, a work of love and protection from anything that separates us from the love of God, which is ours through Christ Jesus!  Indeed you are right that your baptism is God’s assurance that He will never leave or forsake you.  And yet, the battle rages around us and within us.  Our old sinful nature loves to work against these precious baptismal promises.  It won’t admit that it has been crucified with Christ and drowned within the waters of Holy Baptism.  The singular goal of that sinful flesh and the powers of darkness that it clings to is to chip away at your faith a little at a time until you have lost your trust in Christ’s saving presence in your life.  But how?  By getting you to doubt the faithfulness of God’s Word.  This is the oldest trick the devils have, but it is still their greatest weapon.  It is the weapon they used against Eve in the garden, when the devil asked her, “Did God really say….?”  Eve’s error, her sin was not that she listened to the serpent, but that she did not silence him with the Word of God! One little Word from God and the devil would have fled.  One simple statement and he would’ve been defeated: “YES!” she should have said, “ Thus says the Lord our God, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”” [Gen 2:16-17]  If Eve would have responded with the true Word of God, the serpent would have slithered back into his hole!  But Eve entered into a battle with the master deceiver without the whole armor of God!

 

Friends, Eve discovered this truth after her error, after her own husband abandoned his role as spiritual leader and joined in her sin.  If they and those after them could speak to us this morning, they would be encouraging us right now to take up the whole armor of God and “Put it on, put it on!”  What is this armor of God?  It is God’s own Word!

 

II. Friends, in your baptism, God has assured you that you are right now connected to His inexhaustible source of power, strength, and might.  You are never to think of yourself as helpless and defeated.  You see, you have been joined together with a Lord who has conquered sin, death, and the devil.  He is the Stronger One who has defeated the strong one.  Because of your baptism, you are assured of a certain amount of power, but it needs to be augmented; it needs to be feed and trained.  This is done when we allow God to strengthen our relationship with Him through His Living Word.  It is through His Word that we are given daily strength to defeat our old sinful nature and silence all of the devils.  Through His Word, God assures us that He is always for us and never against us.  How do we acquire this Word?  Again, by putting on the whole armor of God!

 

All of the armor described by Paul is just a different application of being in God’s Word!  Let me give you 6 contemporary presentations that explain this armor: #1 God’s Word is truth.  Truth is always truth, but for it to be your truth you must experience it.  You must live it out.  “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” [Jn. 8:32]  But how do we know the truth?  By reading and hearing the Word of God.  We must make time and take time for our own private and personal study of God’s Word!  #2 Because many times, our personal study time leaves us with many questions, we discover that we need to part of an organized Bible Study group that will help us find answers and grow in the Lord.  #3 Liturgical worship is just another way that we take in the Word of God.  In our Lutheran worship, God speaks His Word to us and we speak and even sing it back to Him.  #4 In the Holy Sacraments, God’s Word speaks His forgiveness of our many sins to us, which then causes us to confess even more sins to Him, which then in turn moves Him to speak once again the gospel—the absolution for His Son’s sake.  In the sacraments the Word comes alive for us so that we can hear, see, touch, smell, and even taste forgiveness!  #5 When we memorize God’s Word, it becomes an offensive weapon that we can use to drive away the devil.  Luther said it best in the hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” listen: “though hordes of devils fill the land all threatening to devour us, We tremble not, unmoved we stand; They cannot over power us.  Let this world’s tyrant rage; In battle we’ll engage.  His might is doomed to fail; God’s judgment must prevail!  One little word subdues him.”

 

What is this little word?  It is a verse of scripture that you have memorized for the sole purpose of silencing the devil!  There are many verses to choose from; the more you have the greater your courage.  Here are some good ones: “Baptism now saves you” [1 Pe. 3:21]. “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” [Philip. 4:13] “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” [Gal. 2:20] “  “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life”. [Jn. 6:68]  Anyone of these little words and many others WILL silence the devil, make him tremble, and flee for his life, because you are letting him know that you know that Jesus destroyed his hold over you upon the cross.  And in your baptism this victory of Christ was made yours!  “But isn’t it hard to memorize scripture?”  Not at all, in fact I’ll bet you already have few simple words memorized.  If you have been singing and saying our liturgy, you already have quite a bit ready to use.  Dear friends, have your sword, the word of God ready and you will send the devil and the temptations of sin scurrying away like a whimpering puppy!

 

Finally, #6, the armor of God is with you when you are simply living out your calling as a saved and redeemed child of God.  When you live as a Christian parent, child, neighbor, policeman, lawyer, plumber, or whatever other station of life you find yourself in, you are wearing your gospel shoes.  You are demonstrating and speaking the love of God to your neighbor.  You are witnessing the truth of John 3:16, which says that “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  We are to do this as individuals and we are to do this as a congregation.  It is my prayer that you are individually living out this calling everyday as God leads you in life.  It is my hope for this congregation that we will also be continually and intentionally looking for ways to engage our community in gospel conversations.  We can do this when we find ways to serve our neighbor and sacrificially love them as Christ first loved us.  Why?  So that they too may know how to obtain and put on the full armor of God.  This dear friends is the will of God for us… it is why Jesus died for us.  It is God’s means to save us and then equip us to tell everyone what He has done for them.  May this always be our will as well, in Jesus name…AMEN!

 

 

 

 

Prayer, the Final Component of Your Heavenly Armor

Table Talk—August 30th 2009

A Continuation of the morning message

 

 

PRAYER:  To complete our message from this morning, we have one more thing to discuss… one more piece of armor and that is PRAYER!  As God’s Word is the power of victory over sin, death, and the devil, prayer is the energy that keeps us engaged in the battle!

 

Pray always, or as Paul says it elsewhere, be unceasing in prayer.  Now this doesn’t mean that we are always saying prayers, because Jesus Himself said that we are not heard for our “much speaking” [Matt. 6:7], but instead it means that we should always be in communion with the Lord. [1 Thess. 5:17]  In other words, we should keep the receiver off the hook and be in a constant attitude of prayer.  What should we pray for?  All things!  Whatever the Lord’s Spirit is leading us to pray, then that is what we should pray for.  Thank Him for little things and big things.  Thanks Him for your spiritual leaders; for pastors, elders, husbands, fathers, teachers, and the like.  And ask God to continue to bless them with great wisdom so they can continue to lead and become even better leaders.  Pray and ask Him to teach you how you can be a more effective witness to His love and forgiveness with your neighbor, and pray and ask Him to show you how you and our church can sacrificially serve our community.  Ask Him how you can help Trinity reach and teach the lost about God’s love through Jesus Christ, and then just jump in and give it a try.  Don’t wait for some miraculous sign…just get involved.  Remember, idle hands are the devils work shop!

 

Finally, sometimes we don’t know what to pray for, but we do feel the uncontrollable urge to do it.  When this feeling hits you, as soon as you are able, find a private place, fall on your knees or even on your face and simply cry out to the Lord!  Pray with groaning that only your deep and troubled spirit can understand.  Don’t worry about words, because the Holy Spirit who dwells within your heart knows what to ask for and what to say.  He will take your prayer before the Father in Heaven who will hear you because of His Son’s grace, and He will answer your prayer with just what your spirit needs.

 

CONCLUSION: There you have it friends, the whole armor of God, His Word and your prayers.  You don’t have to look for it, because it has all been yours since your baptism.  Take it up, and put it on…wear it always.  Demonstrate its power to your neighbor so they will also one day want to have it as their own.  And remember, one day, in the darkest hour of your life, perhaps when death is close, hordes of devils will test your armor; they will try to cause you to loose hope, but don’t worry because you are in the hands of your loving Father who has saved you from all of your fears, even sin, death, and all of the devils. 

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Monday, August 24th, 2009

Brian Thomas Henderson

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Where’s Your Heart?

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

12th Sunday After Pentecost, August 23, 2009

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

 

Our text this morning is the 33rd verse of our Epistle lesson: “Let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” [Eph. 5:33]

Introduction: Did you know that Christians are more likely to get divorced than non Christians?  I was shocked when I heard this.  According to the Barna Research Group, Divorce rates among conservative Christians were significantly higher than for other faith groups, and much higher than Atheists and Agnostics experience.  That finding took me by surprise.  I knew that divorce was high in the church, but I thought it was at least equal to society at large.  I know I can hear some people now: “Oh so what pastor, that’s just the reality of our world today.  Besides as long as we’re living in this sinful world that just the way it will always be, right?  And to that, the Lord, not me, says “NO!  That is not the way it should be.”  Friends, God doesn’t want you to live a miserable life; in fact, He wants you to have a blessed life… not just in heaven but right here, right now in this sinful world.   

 

I. St. Paul’s entire letter to the church in Ephesus is all about God’s desire to bless us within Christian relationships.  It’s about how the members of the church should relate to God and to each other.  The goal of his teaching was to ensure that everyone was built up and strengthened in their walk of faith by God and each other.  St. Paul also encourages Christians to demonstrate God’s love to an unbelieving world, so that God can draw unbelievers to Himself through His Word and the attractive lives of Christians.  Paul taught the Ephesians and he teaches us that no matter what position of life we find ourselves in, we are to let Christ’s presence within us “shine before others, so that (the unbelieving world)  may see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven.” [Matt. 5:16]  This is what the church has always called our “vocation” or our calling, and this calling always involves a cross—a self sacrifice. 

 

You see, just as Jesus sacrificed Himself for us upon the cross, we too are called to sacrifice, or put to death our old sinful nature, because that nature was drowned and killed in the waters of our baptism.  That is our reality.  We were born again in those waters and given a new identity.  But the old you don’t want to die and leave this world of sin, so God must help that old you die every day.  In your calling, in your station of life there is always a cross; always a calling from God to put to death your old self centered sinful nature—it doesn’t matter if you are the president, a sports star, a pastor, a husband or wife, daughter, son, or a student, every position of life that a Christian finds themselves in they are to work towards crucifying their old human nature, by drowning it in the waters of their baptism.  Why?  So that God can work through you serving others.  In your vocation, you become the hands of God to your neighbor who is also bearing his own cross.  How does a Christian bear their cross?  By accepting all difficulties that come, no matter how large or how small; even trivial things like caring for babies to the point where your sleep is interfered with and loving a spouse even when they don’t seem to love you back these are all crosses that we are to willingly bear!  “Now wait a minute pastor, you’re getting a little personal here.  We all know that there really are bad marriages!”   Yes, I know that is what society says in this “no fault” divorce world, but that does not mean that it is true according to God’s way of seeing things.  But the truth is friends that many Christian marriages never should have taken place because God was not and is not in them!  These marriages stand before God, correctly evaluated by the words of Isaiah in or Old Testament reading: “These people draw near with their mouths and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me.” [Is. 29:13]   

 

I have a strong policy when it comes to performing marriages.  First, I will not officiate a wedding if a non-believer is one of the parties.  Second I will not perform the ceremony if they will not commit to 4 to 6 counseling sessions.  Third, I will not do it if I feel that one of them is not committed to the Lord and to their prospective spouse.  Now that’s a pretty sound policy for a pastor to follow, but the problem is that people are generally smooth talkers… they tell you what you want to hear.  They might be able to fool the pastor, but they can’t fool God.  Now over time, I’ve discovered that some of these marriages ended in divorced.  Why?  Because they rejected the high and holy cross of Christ; they refused to follow their baptismal identity, which was to die to self and live for Christ.  One of them or both, decided to live for themselves and when they did this they turned their back on their calling of marriage.  “Ah, you who hide deep from the Lord your counsel, whose deeds are in the dark, and who say, “Who sees us?  Who knows us?” [Is. 29:15]  Friends, I’ll tell you who sees and who knows, it is God, the potter who formed you O clay!

II. Now friends, let God open your ears and hear His plan for your life and for marriage if that is His will for you.  First of all, if you have been living as if there is no God, then confess this sin.  If your actions or your failure to act caused a prior marriage to end, confess this before the Lord and be forgiven.  If you have not been following God’s leading in your life regarding any kind of relationship that even resembles marriage confess this as sin before the Lord and get ready to be transformed and blessed.  You see friends, when we confess that we have put our selfish needs ahead of God and another person, God smiles and says “Now that’s a start.  Now you are beginning to understand your baptism.  You are beginning to see things the way I see them and not the way this sin soaked society sees them.”  The truth is friends, that God wants you to understand that the real problem all of us face is the fact that we are broken by sin, separated from God, and unable to find Him and happiness with others until we turn away from our old sinful identity and turn to our new identity in Jesus Christ.  God wants to return us to our original condition before the sin of Adam and Eve destroyed it.  He wants us to relate to Him through faith and each other in love—and the only way this can be done is by submitting to His will… surrendering to His loving care.  This is how Adam and Eve related to God and each other.  Eve knew that God loved her because Adam demonstrated that love to her.  Adam knew that God loved him because God proved it by sending him Eve, his life mate and helper.  Each time they looked at each other, they were seeing the love of God!

 

“Oh come on pastor” you may be thinking, “that’s an ideal that can never be realized!”  Yes that’s true for those who are separated from God because of sin, but you dear baptized friends are not under judgment, you are under grace.  Your marriage or future marriage has now been compared to Christ and His church.  You unmarried women, do you want a strong and blessed marriage?  Then look for a man who loves the Lord more than himself.  Look for a man that is living out his baptism; a man who’s struggling everyday to put to death that old sinful man.  Look for a man that will sacrifice himself to please God and his neighbor, because that is the kind of man who will sacrifice himself and his own selfish needs for you!  You unmarried men, do you want a woman to willingly allow you to take on the role of spiritual leader, provider, and protector?  Then look for a woman who humbly worships her God and cares for the needs of others above her own.  Look for a woman who values her baptism as the most important possession that she has.

 

“But pastor, what about those of us who are stuck in a bad marriage?”  Well what do you mean by bad?  If you are being physically abused by your spouse then you must get help… you must separate yourself from the abuse.  It is the Lords will that the abuser be stopped and that is why He has put government over us, to protect us, so tell it to the police.  But if by “bad” marriage you mean, that your Christian spouse does not love you as God intends, then may I refer you back to our Epistle lesson.  “Wives, are you voluntarily submitting to your own husband and trusting him as you do the Lord?  Do you agree with God’s Word that your husband is the head of your household just as Christ is the head of the church, His body, and is Himself its Savior? [Eph. 5:22,23]  “But pastor, it doesn’t work that way.  You’re being one sided.  It’s a lot more complicate than that!”  Yes, I suppose it is, but wait until you hear God’s direction for your husband.  “Husbands, do you love your wives?  Do you love them as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her?”  “Come on pastor, what does that mean?  Sure I would die for my wife!”  Fine man, then die for her!  Die for her by working to provide for your family, even to the point of exhaustion.  Love her and forgive her even when she does not love and forgive you.  Put her needs first above your own.  This is your calling… this is your cross… this is how God wants you to die for your wife.

 

Dear friends, we are all to die to our own sinful desires every day.  We are to die to self and live to serve God and our neighbor.  We do this by remembering our baptism.  We do this by remembering that Jesus loved us and the whole church, and He proved it by giving Himself up for us, so that he might sanctify us through the cleansing of the waters of our baptisms.  Through simple water and God’s Word he saved us, so that He might present us to Himself as holy and perfect, without a single blemish.  Jesus did this for us… He did this for you.  He suffered and died so that you would know the forgiveness of God, and then be able to rest in that forgiveness and reflect it to others!  This is the mystery that the world can never understand, but to you who know Him by faith it is no mystery.   For it is through God’s grace that comes through the cross of Jesus that we can truly love God with all of our hearts, and that is where our hearts are… they’re at the cross of Jesus, and through the cross we can truly love our neighbor, even our spouse as our selves.  Now may God’s Word and His message of love inspire each one of us men to: Love our wives as ourselves, and may you wives see that you respect your husbands. I pray that this will always be the desire of your heart…in Jesus name….AMEN!

Are You Offended By This?

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

11th Sunday After Pentecost, August 9, 2009

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

 

Introduction: This morning Wisdom calls out to us… Listen: Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!  To him who lacks sense, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.  Leave your simple ways and live and walk in the way of (faith).” [Proverbs 9]  I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.  And the bread that I will give for the life of the world (FOR YOU!), is my flesh. 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 (them) up on the last day.  For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.  Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in (them).  Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” [Jn. 6: 51-9].

 

Now that you have heard and received God’s wisdom, then hear His warning: “Let no one deceive you with empty words, through a different teaching.  (Because of this different teaching people refuse to hear and believe that I AM the Living Bread that came down from Heaven.  And because they refuse to believe), the wrath of God (has) come upon them.”  Therefore dear friends, be wise and ensure you’re not found lacking this Bread of Heaven.  Do you take offense at this?

 

I. Are you trusting in Jesus Christ alone?  Better put, are you trusting in the real Jesus Christ?  The real Jesus is God the Son who was sent on a mission by God the Father to come down out of heaven and save a world enslaved by sin, death, and the devil; His mission is to save you from this captivity through His sacrificial death.  He does this through His flesh!  Listen to Jesus’ own Words: “And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”  Let these words hit you as they are intended; Jesus is saying, “I will save you with MY FLESH.  MY FLESH and no other!   

 

But how can flesh, human flesh do this?  This was the question of the Jews in Capernaum and it’s still the question of many today!  Of course we’re not talking about just any flesh.  My flesh can’t save you and neither can any other human flesh.  Only God can save us from sin, death, and the devil, and only He can promise us everlasting life.  If we were to follow the thinking of the Jews, that Jesus is a mere man, then the eating of His flesh would of course be preposterous—it would be an outrageous!  No, if we’re to eat Jesus’ flesh in order to have eternal life, then we need to find out what kind of eating Jesus is talking about.  If you are looking for a rational, scientific explanation for this eating and drinking then you will be disappointed, but if your soul is really hungering and thirsting for eternal life and salvation then Jesus won’t disappoint you.

 

When Jesus said that you must eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Man, He’s already given you the answer to this question.  Certainly if He were “just” a man, He couldn’t give us His flesh and blood to consume; but as the Son of man, He is the God-man, who was sent from Heaven as the Savior of our world.  Because He is the Living Bread of Heaven, He can give us His flesh and blood, and we can believe that it is exactly what He says that it is…life for the world!  By pointing us to HIS flesh and blood, Jesus is also pointing us to His death for us upon the cross as a man, but Jesus also says, “As (His) living Father sent Him, and (since) He lives because of the Father sending (His flesh), so (too) whoever feeds on Him; that person will also live because of Him.”  [Vs. 57]  In these words, Jesus assures you that the same God the Father who sent Him to save you, has also drawn you to Himself to receive the life giving flesh of Jesus, so that you too may believe and have life!  This life that we received through faith friends can now be back tracked to its ultimate source, “the living Father,” who is the author of life.  When Jesus says that the living Father sent Him, He is describing His very mission amongst us: to give us perfect life and free us from the death penalty that our many sins deserve! Only Jesus can do this mighty act, because only He is both God and man! 

 

Friends,  Jesus is the only one who had both divine life and true perfect human life.  To offer you a crude illustration, let’s think of an electric stove.  The coil is made of iron.  Iron is cool to the touch, but if I turn on the electricity, the coil heats up and it becomes red hot—it becomes fire!  “But it is still iron!” we reply, yes but now it is so much more!  Jesus is indeed man, but because He is God in our human flesh, He alone is so much more… only He can free us from our captivity.  You see friends, if only the divine nature of Jesus had God’s perfect life and not His human nature, then He could not give us life by means of His sacrificial flesh and blood, which belong to His human nature.  No, to make His flesh and His blood the means for our salvation, perfect life had to be in them just as perfect life is in the divine nature of God the Son and the living Father who sent Him to us.  Because of the Father’s giving of His Son to us through His death upon the cross, we now have received eternal life through Jesus’ flesh and blood sacrifice for us. 

 

Now that we know who Jesus is, He encourages us with these Words, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in Me, and I in Him.” [vs. 56]  What is this abiding in Jesus?  It doesn’t mean that we simply accept that He exists, and that He suffered, died, and came back to life.  No, you must believe that He suffered, died, and rose from the dead for you!  You must eat this truth by faith and be nourished and brought back to life by this truth and only this truth!  You must chew on every morsel of the Living Word that you receive and guzzle His life giving blood as your only source of hope and salvation.  In short, we’re asked to close your eyes and ears to every other message of hope and by faith receive only the flesh and blood of Jesus.  Jesus is saying, “I alone am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one can come to the Father accept by eating and drinking my flesh and blood!” 

 

II. When many of Jesus’ own disciples heard (this teaching), they were greatly offended by it and said, “This is a hard (teaching), who can (accept) it?”  This morning friends, Jesus asks us, “Do you take offense at this teaching also?” [vs. 60,61]  Perhaps a better way to ask this question is, “Does this teaching entrap you?”  Has it caught you in unbelief like the angry jaws of a spring trap?  By now, you’ve probably realized like the disciples did, that Jesus is talking about His Words and His teaching when He says His flesh and blood?  How does this make you feel?  Maybe you too are angry because of the finality of this teaching, a teaching that clearly says there is no other saving truth outside of Jesus?  Maybe you’re thinking about loved ones who have rejected God’s only means of salvation and seem to be intent on dying without receiving everlasting life?  Does it seem unfair that there is no other way to please God?  Well this is how many of His disciple felt after this teaching.  Until that sermon, they were happy to tell everyone that Jesus was perhaps one of the best preachers that ever walked the land; but after this sermon… they found Him strange… preaching a stupid sermon!  He seemed too arrogant—“If He had just stayed with preaching about the 10 Commandments, He would have been the best who ever stepped into a pulpit, but this faith in Him alone business is just a bit too much!” 

 

Friends, its human nature to be offended by the gospel… it’s in our sinful nature to want to earn rewards from God for our good behavior.  But this is not God’s way… this is not the way of faith—a faith which must cling to Jesus alone.  It is by faith that we learn to shut our ears and eyes to all other teachings and simply say, “Let anyone who refuses to stand by faith fall, and let me dear Lord stand by faith in Jesus Christ alone through Your Word, which is the Living Bread!”

 

III. Friends, God knows about our struggle to believe in His Son alone, and that is why Jesus says, “it is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no help at all.  The Words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” [vs. 64].  Just before these words, our Lord asked the doubters this question: “What if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before?” [62] Now this question must have made no sense to them at all, but it does to us!  Through the perspective of time, we know that with this question Jesus is pointing our thoughts up towards heaven and He is providing the great key that unlocks all of His teaching.  As the Bread of Life, the Son of God who descended from Heaven has now returned to where He came from.  Why is this important?  We’ll let Jesus own words which He spoke before He ascended into heave answer this: “I am going to him who sent me… I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.  He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. [John 16]

 

Friends, through the work of the Holy Spirit, God’s Word gives us faith and eternal life!  Through the Holy Spirit, the Bread from Heaven is always feeding our souls and strengthening our faith.  He has been serving you this living bread since your baptism.  Each time you stumble in sin, you know through the Work of the Holy Spirit and God’s Word you are forgiven. Will you come to His table of mercy and feast on the body and blood of the Son of God?   Or do you want to go away as well?  I pray that you will stay and feast…in Jesus name….AMEN!

What is This Eating and Drinking?

Sunday, August 9th, 2009

10th Sunday After Pentecost, August 9, 2009

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

 

Introduction: This morning, Jesus says to us, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” [Jn. 6:35]  All of us by nature hunger for a relationship with God.  This hunger’s been with us since the fall of Adam and Eve.  Since Adam’s fall into sin, the relationship that man once had with God has been severed.  Innate within each of us is a longing to love God and be loved by Him.  Each of us was created to love God and to live out His purpose in our lives… we know it with every fiber of our being!  Many people spend their entire lives trying to find meaning and purpose for their lives.  They try to fill that God sized hole with anything that seems to work.  Anything except the one thing God says we need, Jesus Christ.

 

Self help books, new age religions, cults, and false religions all claim to hold the key to fulfillment—yet each of them ultimately provides the same result, disappointment.  A hunger to love God and to be loved by Him still remains strong.  Many people immerse themselves in their careers or some noble cause, yet the emptiness remains.  It is an itch that can’t be scratched and a throbbing pain that can’t be soothed.  And to this emptiness Jesus proclaims to us this morning, “I am the bread of life; whoever believes in me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”

 

I. Baptismal Doubts: Dear friends in your baptism, Jesus has filled you with God.  In your baptism, He has filled the hole in your aching heart with all that His Father promised—He has filled you with the love of God; now that relationship between man and God, which was once broken has now been repaired.  The hunger for knowing God is no longer out of your reach but it’s yours daily to feed and satisfy.  In our gospel reading this morning, the Galileans grumble and said, “Isn’t this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose Father and Mother we know?  How does he now say, “I have come down from Heaven” [v. 42] Today, we still hear a similar challenge to our Lord, and it goes like this: “Isn’t this the same Jesus that I was taught about as a child?  Isn’t this the same faith that taught me that my baptism saved me?  If all of that stuff is true then why hasn’t it worked for me?  Why do I feel like I’m no better off than other people who never even knew Jesus?  No thanks, I’ve tried that Jesus business and it didn’t get me anywhere, so forget it.  No, I need something more… something stronger… something I can put my whole body, mind, and spirit into; something that will give me real satisfaction.

 

To this, Jesus replies “Stop your grumbling!  No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. [vs. 44]  Ah, now the Lord is speaking to our real need.  “Yes Jesus, that is exactly what we’ve been needing.  We want to be drawn by God; we want to come to Him.  That’s the ache in our hearts that seems can never be soothed!  And to this, Jesus says, “Friends, when you see me, you see the Father.  I and the Father are one!”  “(Remember I said) that you have seen me and yet you do not believe.” [vs.37] “Quit doubting and believe!”  “I am the bread of life.  I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  If anyone comes to me I will never cast them out.  If anyone eats of this bread he will live forever. [vs. 48, 50] 

 

II. Baptismal Life: You see friends, in your baptism, you were given everything you need to have not just a full and meaningful life here, right now, but you were also given the eternal gift of peace with God.  It doesn’t matter whether you were a baby or an adult when you were baptized; it’s the same gift—eternal life!  It doesn’t matter if you can remember the feel of water upon your body or the power of God’s Word that saved you, recreated you, and made you whole, because God remembers friends, in fact He has sealed you with the Holy Spirit, so that you are now His!  Besides, He has ensured that there is an ample supply of water around you, so that you may touch it, splash it, even dunk yourself in it, if that is what you need to remember that He has saved you.  But what will you remember?  Well, you will remember, through the hearing, reading, and preaching of His Word that He has chosen you and saved you.  He has filled you with His living Word, His bread of life, so that you need not hunger for His love ever again!  

 

Dear friends, it’s the Word of God that draws you into His love and forgiveness.  It’s God’s Word that invites you to experience His love through His chosen means and not the means that this sinful world has declared will give meaning to your life.  It is through His means alone that He has decided to bring you back to Him.  In other words,  you can only know the Father through His Son Jesus Christ.  To get to God friends, we must believe in Jesus Christ and be baptized—believing in Jesus means trusting in Him completely.  Friends, God is telling us that we must shut our eyes and ears to every other method that this sinful world says will give us peace, and trust in Christ alone!  Yes, it does requires letting go of other things that you may have grown accustom to, but God promises that you will never be the same once you experience His love through faith in His Son.

 

Many of you know that I have recently gone through a battle with cancer.  I stand before you not just as your pastor, but as a man that was forced to let go of everything that gave him security and cling to Christ alone.  When the prognosis was delivered, I immediately and naturally felt fear.   I tried to rationalize my way into hope and peace, but that soon gave way to worry.  I began to think about things like, “What would happen to my wife if I die?  No,” I thought, “there must be some way out of this!”   I began to feverishly research the internet for any hope concerning my cancer.  In regards to Anal Cancer I had, it was in stage 3B or 4A, I had a 30 to 40% chance of death within a few years.  Now, fear and worry was no longer my biggest concern, panic was!  In a desperate attempt to find peace, I threw myself down on my face and began to pray the most powerful prayer one can ever pray: “HELP!”  Immediately after that prayer, I began to feel a perfect peace that completely surrounded me.  Suddenly, I was no longer afraid.  I stood on my feet, and I knelled at this very altar and simply rested in God’s love.  And then, a very still, soft voice whispered to me, “I will never leave or forsake you!  Will you trust me?”  “Yes Lord, Yes!” I sobbed.  At that moment friends I knew that everything would be perfect, because God was in control.  Why was I so certain?  Because His Son Jesus died for me, and because I trust in His Son’s love!  I immediately went to my Bible, and began to let God’s Word speak to my heart.  And here is the Word that He gave me: Fulfill your vows to the Most High, and call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor Me.” [Psalm 50:14-15]  What was the vow that I made?  Well, I imagine that it is the same one you made at your confirmation—I vowed to continue believing and loving Jesus as my Savior with the help of God!  Has He delivered me, you better believe it!  And He will continue until I go home to be with Him!  And telling you my story is how I am honoring Him.

 

Dear friends, St. Paul in our Epistle lesson calls this trust in Jesus, the putting on of the new self.  But to do this we must daily return to our Baptism, because it was there at the font where God’s creative Word first gave us new life—a life free from the guilt of sin and packed full of His assurance that He does loves us and will never leave us, because of our faith in His Son!  Putting on the new self also means that we will also forsake the old self, our old sinful nature.  Every day, God wants us to drown that sinful nature in the waters of our baptism.  He wants us to allow the presence of His living Word to take control of our lives and shatter our old hard hearts.  We do all of this friends, when we turn away from our sinful desires, confess our sins when we fail, and then remember the forgiveness that is ours for all of our sins, through Christ, our living bread!  This is the putting on of the new self.  It is a new identity; an identity created in the image of God’s own Son, Jesus Christ!  When doubt, fear, and worry come, and they will come, God wants us to be willing to let go of these things and simply trust in His love!

 

III. This is love dear friends, not that we love God but that He first loved us and gave His Son to die for us. [ 1 Jn. 4:10]  Listen to Jesus’ own Words in verse 51: “And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” [Jn 6:51]  How does He give this life?  Through the sacrifice of His flesh, through His death upon the cross.  How do we receive this gift of life?  By believing that Jesus provided it for you in your baptism; and then friends, we are called to come to Jesus and trust Him as God’s only means to save a sinful world—as God’s only means to save you!  Do you want this gift?  If so, then do not search for it anywhere else but in your baptism.  Close your eyes and ears to the madness of this world and simply rest and trust in God’s means of salvation.  Trust in Christ alone!  Cling to His Word and remember the waters of your baptism and then leave the rest to Him.  This is the eating and drinking that Jesus was talking about—coming to Him and trusting in Him alone!


CONCLUSION: Dear friends, because Jesus is the bread of life for the entire world, He is also your bread of life.  And because of this, you have God’s assurance that as long as you are receiving this bread He will never cast you away.  You are loved by Him forever.  That is the message He wants you to leave here with.  But it is not a message that He wants you to keep to yourself; He wants us as a church to share it with the world.  He wants you as an individual Christian to share it with your neighbor. You may have noticed that for the last few months I have been leaving the lid of the baptismal font open.  I do this to remind us, that mission of the church is to proclaim God’s offer of life giving bread to the world.  We begin this miraculous feeding here at the font.  Are you ready?  Let’s all go out as hungry, redeemed, and saved sinners and simply tell other hungry sinners where God’s living bread is being served–the only bread that can satisfy an eternal apetite.  I pray that God will lead us in this mission always….In Jesus name….Amen!

Which Bread Do You Want?

Sunday, August 2nd, 2009

9th Sunday of Pentecost, August 2, 2009

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

Click here for audio of this message

 

Introduction: Everyone is impressed by miracles.  We love to hear about mysterious, unexplainable events that others have experience.  When we hear the stories, we wish that something like that would happen to us too!  And when we do experience something great and unexplainable in our lives we inevitably want more and we long to repeat the original experience.  This is how the crowd that followed Jesus from the other side of the Sea of Galilee must have felt.  They wanted more…more of His wonder bread!

 

I. We read in our gospel, “On the next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. (Jn.:22)  When the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.  When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” (24-25) Oh they were saying, “Bless us again Jesus!”  They knew there was something miraculous happening once again with Jesus.  “He didn’t take a boat to get here, and he couldn’t have walked around the shore or we would have spotted Him.  OK you wonderful miracle worker, how’d you get here?  Come on fess up.  You did something fantastic again didn’t you?  You’re the man Jesus!  As long as you keep making that wonder bread and amazing us with these unexplainable happenings, you are our lord and teacher!”

 

The people wanted things.  They wanted to be amazed.  They didn’t really need more bread; they simply wanted the experience of the bread.  Now last week you heard me declare to you that we should not look to politicians for a plan towards a better future or to a preacher for simple steps that we can follow so God will bless our lives make life more pleasant.  Today, we’ll expound on this.

 

In our Old Testament reading (Exodus 16) we see the very same kind of attitude from people who lived long before Israel was even a nation.  They too had an insatiable appetite for miracles.  God had brought them out of slavery in Egypt with one miracle after another.  He even parted the Red Sea so that they could escape the Egyptian Army.  God had proven time and time again that He would care for His children whom He had called out of darkness and into His light.  Did they trust Him?  Well only so long as the miracles continued.  When the daily supply of food was running low, instead of waiting on the Lord to provide, or even asking Him to provide, they began to grumble: “Oh that we would have died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate our fill of bread, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill us with hunger.”

 

To all of these people and to us today, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw the sign, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.  Don’t work for food that perishes (for things), but (work) for the food that endures (and will give you) eternal life, which (I) the Son of Man will give to you. For on Him God the Father has set His seal.”  (There is no other way for you to obtain this true food of God except through me!) (Jn. 6:27)  Friends, in Jesus own Words, we hear Him explain exactly why the crowd followed Him; not because of His miracles and His teaching but because they wanted “things”!  They wanted Him to be a political savior, their messiah who would free them from the tyranny of the Roman Empire.  They wanted Him to provide them with the desires of their hearts and gratify all of their wants.  Even today, we see these people gathered in churches across our nation eagerly welcoming politicians to speak during worship, so that they can assure them that if they elect or reelect this person, they will have their needs met and they will have a bright future.  And right along with those eager to hear from politicians, are those who are just as eager to hear a gospel of prosperity from their preachers.  They do not want to hear God’s message of Law and Gospel; no these people are flocking to churches wanting to hear a message that will ensure them of an easy life here of earth.  And then there are those who gather where God’s Law and Gospel is correctly and boldly preached, but they find no meaning or comfort in His Word.  And when they leave worship and the company of other Christians they seek out a new message; a different way to satisfy their desires.  They live as if Christ didn’t matter and God doesn’t see.  They long for the experience of another type of teaching.  Just like the Hebrew people that were led out of the Egyptian captivity, they begin to pant after the meat of prosperity.  You see friends, in all three cases each group has turned to God and said, “Don’t give us want you say we need, but instead give us what we want!”

 

II. And there is yet another type of person that listens to Jesus but doesn’t hear the message; it is the kind of person that looks to replace His ministry of grace and faith with a ministry of self righteousness.  These people actually think that they can earn God’s love and forgiveness, and a place in heaven.  Listen to their words in our gospel reading: “They said to (Jesus), “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” (vs. 28)  It’s as if they’re saying, “OK teacher, tells us what you say is the bottom line of your teaching.  What do we have to do to make God happy?  Tell us and we’ll do it!”  In our Epistle lesson, St. Paul gives a pretty good list; as if he’s saying, “OK let’s look at how God wants us to love Him and our neighbor, and treat each other.  Aside from living out your calling to love God with all of your heart and soul, He’s also called you to live a life of humility and gentleness, with patience, putting up with one another in love, and being eager to maintain the unity of peace with Him and each other.” (Paraphrase of Eph. 4:1-3).  So how do you think the people Jesus was addressing were doing in their attempts to fulfill God’s demand for perfection and holiness in their lives?  Not too well huh?  But Jesus spoke the gospel to them then, and He speaks the good news also to us here this morning.  And it is this—there aren’t many works that “we” must do, but only one work that God must do so that we can please Him.  “This is the work of God” Jesus said, “that you believe in him whom He has sent.”  (vs. 29)

 

Friends, the only work that is sure to please God the Father is to believe in and not reject the person and teaching of His Son.  You see, the Son is the only way that the Father has provided salvation for us.  He’s the only one who has come with the Father’s seal.  Believing in Jesus is the only work that assures you of eternal life … we must have faith in Him!  Now Jesus did call faith a work, but He doesn’t call it our work; you see, it is a work of God.  Sure, we are the ones doing the believing, but we believe because God is working within our hearts.  Yes, we are the ones who must trust Jesus, but it is God’s Spirit who first moves us to trust Him through the hearing of His Word.  So you see, faith is the opposite of all of the other works we can think of.  Faith receives from God and the other works only return to God what He first gives to us.   Friends, the truth is that if we don’t know and trust the Son we can never truly know and please the Father.  And a heart that is not trusting in Jesus is always saying…

 

III. Prove it to me!  “What sign do you do, that we may see and believe you?  What work do you perform?  Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” Oh how quickly they forget!  They forgot the miracle of the wonder bread because they wouldn’t receive the teaching that went with it.  You see, once their appetites were satisfied by the teacher, they no longer were impressed by His teaching.  But to these selfish hearts Jesus still reaches out with His grace; with His message of forgiveness and says: “Truly, truly I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread of heaven.  For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (vs. 32-33)   Oh friends, do you understand the wonderful meaning of these words?  God isn’t giving us worldly bread that will only satisfy our hunger for a few hours, or for just a select group of people.  No He is giving you bread that will last forever and satisfy the whole world.  He is giving you Himself.  Then “Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”” (Vs. 35)

 

CONCLUSION: Friends, do you want to prosper and experience God’s blessings?  Then come to the bread of life!  Do you want to know that you are accepted and loved by God?  Then come to Jesus!  Come to church each Sunday expecting to hear Jesus speak to you, teach you and change you.  Hear His message and hunger for the bread that He is giving to you.  It’s bread that you neither earned nor deserved.  It’s the gift of His Spirit, real food and real life.  It is His Word!  A Word that you get in every aspect of your worship here in His house!

 

Next week we will hear more about this bread of life.  And will learn more about the faith that it creates and sustains within us.  But for today, we’re happy to just rejoice in the truth that Jesus has been feeding us since we began our worship.  In just a few short minutes we’ll move from the pulpit to His Holy Table where our feeding continues.  And there we’ll receive His body and blood in His holy meal.  And by faith we’ll be reassured that all of our sins have been forgiven.  By faith we trust that the supply of His bread of life will continue to nourish and strengthen us.  And by faith we receive and give Him thanks and praise.  Come to His table hungry dear friends, come hungry!  AMEN!