Archive for September, 2009

Salt is Good

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

17th Sunday after Pentecost, September 27, 2009
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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 Our text this morning is the 50th verse of our Gospel lesson.  “Salt is good, but it if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? [Mark 9:38-50]

What is the kingdom of God?  Where is the kingdom of God?  These are a couple of questions I want you to keep in the front of your minds as we receive God’s message this morning.  As I told you last week, the apostles thought that it would be a brand new world order, where Jesus would rule, destroy the reign of Cesar and the Roman Empire, and make all things right.  They wanted the Kingdom of God now, and they wanted it according to their estimation.  In their minds, it was Jesus and them against the world!  But Jesus had other ideas.  He always does…He is God.  Where they see the kingdom of God consisting in a select few, Jesus has other ideas: “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he wasn’t one of us.”  But Jesus had other plans…”Don’t stop him” he said.  “Don’t you see that anyone who does a mighty work in my name will not be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.  Listen, the one who is not against us is for us.” 

 And there you have it…the kingdom of God is a lot bigger than we think.  So some might say this is proof that denominational differences are unimportant—as long as your heart is in the right place.  Right?  Well, let’s keep reading and see if Jesus agrees with that.  Remember the child Jesus took into His arms in our gospel reading last week?  Well, this is a discussion that continues that teaching.  The child is still in His arms, and now He looks at His disciples and says: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”  What causes children to sin?  What causes adult Christians with a simple faith, like the stranger that was casting out demons to sin?  In both examples it is a lack of knowing and understanding God’s Word, both the Law and the gospel.  How can you help protect the young and the simple?  Teach them biblical truths…good doctrine.  Teach them that there aren’t many ways to the kingdom of Heaven.  Teach them that God doesn’t require any work from us before He will give us Jesus’ kingdom of Heaven.  Without faith in the true gospel, a faith that clings to Jesus alone friends, you cannot be saved.  In fact, bad doctrine can actually give us the opposite of salvation…it can lead to damnation.  An eternity in hell!

What is hell?  Jesus compared it to the garbage dump right outside of the city of Jerusalem.  It was called the Gehenna.  There, trash fires were always burning as refuse was disposed of.  In essence, Jesus was saying, “Imagine that the Gehenna is like a picture of hell with one big difference.  Where the fires of Gehenna are temporary, in hell they are eternal.  Where maggots eat rotting flesh until the flesh is no more or the maggots die, in hell the fire never goes out, there is an endless supply of flesh, and the maggot never dies.  So what?  Well friends, the fire isn’t burning the demons that are in hell, and the maggots are eating them either, because demons are spirit and they do not have flesh.  So who is burning, and who is being consumed?  People!  People who willing rejected God’s simple method of salvation—the cross of Jesus Christ!  People who refused to cling to Jesus alone and decided there was a better way to the kingdom of Heaven.  These are poor fools who decided that doctrine didn’t matter, and because of that they willing set aside the kingdom of God and embraced a lie!

What is hell?  Scripture says that it is the place where people are eternally banished from the sight of God—eternally excluded from communion with Jesus Christ.  To these damned souls, Jesus says “Depart from Me” [Matt. 25:41]; (and) “They shall be cast out into outer darkness.”  [Matt. 25:42]  Friends, we were made for God; that is we were made to have communion with God.  That is the supreme joy and delight of man—that is the kingdom of God.  But sadly, many people reject the offer of peace with God the Father, because they reject the means to that peace…God the Son, Jesus Christ.  Through their own sinful choice they have embraced a state of damnation where they will experience intense agony of body and soul that scripture calls “tribulation and anguish” [Rom. 2:9], “being in torment” [Lk. 17:4], “tormented in flames” [Lk. 16:24], “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” [Matt. 8:12; 13:50]  There in hell, those poor damned souls will see “the smoke of their torment ascending up forever and ever; and they (will) have no rest day or night. [Rev. 14:11]  Friends, think of the horror that awaits those poor souls… for an eternity they shall be tormented day and night forever and ever” [Rev. 20:10] simply because they have rejected God’s only means to save them.

 Friends, it doesn’t matter whether you believe that the fire of hell is real fire or a metaphor for unspeakable torment, the point is God doesn’t want you there; He wants you to escape the agony of hell.  It wasn’t designed for people created in His image—it was created for the rebellious and fallen angels…the devils.

How do we make sure that we never go to hell? Listen to Jesus answer: “And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to hell, to the unquenchable fire.  And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell.  And if your eye cause you to sin, tear it out.  It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” [Mark 9:43-48]

 Does that sound crazy to you?  It should, it was meant to be absurd.  Jesus was addressing the mindset that people in that time had about sin.  They like many others in their day were trivializing their personal sins, much like many of us do today.  “I guess I can’t help steeling, I was born with itchy hands and sticky fingers.”  OK, cut them off!  “I can’t help looking at women that way, I must have been born with a wondering eye.”  OK, pluck it out!  “What do you mean?  I can’t” you say.  Friend, do you want to go to hell?  Well then get rid of the offending body part.  If you had diabetes, and your foot or leg was diseased you would let the doctor amputate it so you could live wouldn’t you?  Well…go ahead, cut it off and pluck it out.  Keep cutting and plucking until there is nothing left of your body!

 Absurd and ridiculous isn’t it?  And that is the point Jesus is making.  Your hand, foot, eye, tongue, or any other body part is not to blame.  They can’t think independent of you!  You are to blame…you have a wicked heart, and there is only one cure for a wicked heart… YOU MUST BE SALTED!

 You must be salted with fire.  In the time of Jesus, salt was both a preservative and an antiseptic. When someone had an infected wound they would pour salt on it.  It burned like fire, but that was good because it meant that there was still some life in the tissue that could be saved.  We must be salted too, because we carry with us dead tissue that must be removed.  How are we salted?  With the Word of God!  God’s Law must be applied to our sin so that we will feel the fire and wrath of God.  We must know that we are sinful thoughout every fiber of our being.  We must stand before God knowing that we deserve all of the punishments of hell.  We must be silenced and simply surrender to His perfection and Holiness!  That is the work and sting of God’s Law.  It is at this time, when the Law has had its way with us that we are moved to cry out to God, “Have mercy Lord!  Forgive me!”  And then…then when we feel our very life slipping away, we must listen—we must listen to God’s mercy.  “Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us. That we should be called the children of God.”   How are we made the children of God?  Through the salting of His Word.  And it is that Word that tells us about the cross—the cross where He allowed His Son Jesus Christ to willingly and in agony give up His life for those very same sins that condemn us.  And then by faith, we must hear His Son shout loudly from the cross, “IT IS FINISHED!”  “What is finished Lord” we ask?  “My Father’s anger for your many sins” He says.  “How” we ask? “Friend” he says, “the Father no longer sees your many sins because I have covered then with my precious blood.  The blood I, Jesus Christ, your Lord and Savior, your brother and friend shed for you.” 

 Will you be salted?  Will you teach your children about this salt, this life saving Word of God that both terrifies and saves us?  This Word has been with you since your own baptism…will you grab onto it and live it out until your last breath is taken on this earth?  Will you remember that in your baptism God made you a mortal enemy of sin, death, and all the devils? 

 Friends, think about what we have done this morning at the baptism of baby Justin.  We have made him Satan’s mortal enemy.  We have made him a deserter from the forces of evil, and now it is as if he has a sign around his neck that says, “I hate Satan!”  He along with you who are baptized are truly Satan’s enemy!  How will baby Justin survive the constant attacks and temptations of those devils?  By being salted constantly with the Word of God. 

 Now do you understand how important it is to always be in God’s Word?  Do you finally understand how important it is for parents to bring their children to church, Sunday School, and to read and share the Word of God with them?  Do you understand how important it is for you to live this kind of life that clings to God’s Word and Sacraments?  Do you understand that God’s kingdom can only be found at the cross?  Do you understand that the kingdom of God, Jesus’ kingdom was given to you at the font?  And do you understand that every time you hear the Word preached and taught, every time you come to His table of mercy, you are being reminded that you are even now part of that kingdom of God?

Friends, don’t lose your saltiness.  Seek this salt in your life always.  I pray that you do.  I pray that you will hunger for this salt, and be at peace…peace with God and peace with each other.  In Jesus name…AMEN!

Don’t Be Araid to Ask!

Sunday, September 20th, 2009

16th Sunday after Pentecost, September 20, 2009
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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 Our text this morning is verses 31 and 32 of our Gospel lesson.  “He was teaching his disciples and saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him.  And when He is killed, after three days He will rise.”  But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask Him. [Mark 9:31, 32]

Why were the disciples afraid to ask Jesus what He meant when He said that He would be killed and after three days He would rise?  Well, for three reasons: First, because they did not understand.  Think about it, why would anyone want to continually predict their own death and not do anything to prevent it?  I mean, if you know what actions or activities are a threat to your personal safety then change your behavior, right?  But they didn’t understand that the Son of man is also the Son of God.  When God speaks it isn’t something to be discussed and analyzed as to its merits and faults, no, it’s something to be obeyed. 

 The second reason they were afraid to ask Jesus what He meant, was because they would not understand.  They had big plans for Jesus and His church.  Jesus was going to be their political savior, who would right all the wrongs in their world, and they would be there right along with Him in this new utopia as His most trusted allies.  No, what He was predicting wouldn’t mean victory, power and prestige, but instead, in their way of thinking, it would clearly mean defeat, weakness, and shame; no that wouldn’t do at all! 

 The third reason they were afraid to ask Him what He meant was the simple truth that they could not understand it until they experienced the cross.  Without the cross, all of God’s other plans could never make sense.  Without the sacrifice of His Son, there could be no forgiveness for the sins of the world.  Without the cross, there could be no resurrection, and without the resurrection, there could be no victory over sin, death, and the devil.

 Clearly, God’s way of thinking was not their way of thinking.  They needed to be adjusted.  They needed to be recreated in their spirit and mind, so that they could be part of God’s plan with confidence and excitement.  They needed the cross, and so do we.

 We need the cross because without the cross we can have no victory.  Without the cross we could never have confidence that our sins, our many sins have been forgiven.  Without the cross, we could never put to death our self-centered sinful nature.  Without the cross, God’s baptismal promise of new life in Christ could never be fulfilled.  Without the cross, the love of God and the power of the Holy Spirit could not change us.  Without the cross, we would still be held prisoner by things like envy, pride, bitter jealousy, and selfish ambition.  You see friends; we really do need the cross because it is the power, God’s power to save us.  But like the disciples we too are many times afraid of the cross because the cross ALWAYS comes with a price.

 The disciples were afraid to ask because they were afraid of what it would mean for them.  They were afraid of how the cross would dramatically change their lives.  We also are afraid to ask God what the cross means for our lives, because we know that it will also mean change… real change; it will mean self sacrifice.  This is what we Lutherans have always called the Theology of the Cross, or simply living under the cross.

 This life under the cross is communicated and lived out in all aspects of our lives.  Through the cross we can sincerely ask a family member or close friend if we can help with some chore or task their doing and not be afraid that they will say yes, and then we are tied up for most of the day.  Through the cross, we aren’t afraid to ask our neighbor who’s lost his job if we can help them get by through providing for some of their food or clothing needs, and we aren’t afraid if they say yes!  Through the cross, you can boldly ask your pastor if there is some way you can serve in the ministry of the church, without fear of him saying yes.  And it is this same cross that moves you to boldly respond to one of the needs that he makes known to you.

 How can you have a happy life?  Go to the cross!  How can you be freed from worry and fear?  Go to the cross!  How can your life really make a difference to others?  Go to the cross.  But going to the cross frightens us, because we know that the cross requires us to surrender our own self interests and by faith live every day with a heart and mind that wants to be doing the things God wants done.  St. James teaches about this life under the cross in our epistle lesson this morning, “Who is wise and understanding among you?  By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.  But if you have bitter jealously and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.  This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but it is earthly, unspiritual, (it is) demonic. [James 3:13-16]  “The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, (it is) impartial and sincere.” [vs. 17] 

 Dear friends, God made peace with us by sending His Son Jesus Christ to die for us.  Through the cross, Jesus death nailed every one of our sins to the cross… now and for eternity.  But that is not the end of the power of the cross, because with the cross comes life.  Through His death on the cross Jesus rose from the dead, proving that sin, death, and the devil had no power over Him nor over us.  Through the cross and then Christ’s resurrection came our promise of new life—A life without the worry of God’s judgment.  And through the cross came the fulfillment of God’s baptismal promise to us that He would give us a new heart.  A heart that freely and without fear asks God to give a cross. 

 Because of the Jesus’ cross friends, God has guaranteed us that we need never be afraid to ask Him for anything.  We can come to Him with all of our needs and know for certain that He always hears and answers us, but the first request we should always be bringing before Him is one for forgiveness. 

 We must confess to Him that we have been living a self-centered life.  We have been following selfish ambition instead of an ambition to do the things God wants done.  “But pastor” you say, “I do confess these things.  Why am I still living a life that seems to lack victory?”  Well friend, “You do not have, because you do not ask.  You ask and do not receive from God, because you are asking for the wrong things.”  Friends, instead of asking God to allow you to experience joy and happiness in your present life, why not ask for joy and happiness in a changed life—a life changed by the cross?  Many times we do not have joy and happiness because we are afraid to ask for our own cross. 

 Next time friends, when you confess your sins to God, instead of simply hearing the words of forgiveness in the absolution and then going about your happy way, ask yourself this question: “What does it mean to be forgiven?  How does this forgiveness impact my life?  Does it change my life?”  If the answer is no, then confess that also.  Be truthful with God, but don’t be happy just admitting that you fall short, ask Him to change you.  Ask Him to give you a servant’s heart.  Ask Him to give you a heart that gladly sacrifices its own self interest for God and for others.  Ask Him to show you your own cross.

 Finally fiends, we as a congregation also need to ask for forgiveness.  We need to ask for a cross too.  We need to ask collectively for a servant’s heart.  We need to be doing the things that God wants done.  What has God called us at Trinity to do?  “Simple” you say, “we’re to seek and save the lost!”  But what does that really mean?  Friends it means that we must be actively demonstrating the cross of Christ to everyone in all ways.  The cross is the very reason that we exist as a congregation.  We’ve been marked by the cross of Christ forever.  It is the very answer to the question that every church should be asking themselves: “Why do we exist?”  Why is Trinity here at 7210 Lisbon Street?  Friends, we are here to demonstrate the power of the cross.

 We are not here to serve ourselves, but rather to serve God and our neighbor.  We don’t have our own mission but instead we have been created, gathered, and sent to participate in God’s mission.  God’s mission sends us out into our community as His agents of healing and reconciliation in a broken world; we are sent out to share the love of God through Jesus Christ with everyone, everywhere, especially those who are right outside the doors of this church!  Friends, Trinity Lutheran Church is to bear witness to the redemptive reign of God in the world by becoming and being a community that demonstrates in life and ministry God’s grace, mercy, and peace in everything we do!

 Let me close with a story that I think demonstrates this point.  It’s a story about a lighthouse that was built on a cliff above a treacherous stretch of coastline.  Many ships crashed upon the rocks and many lives were lost at sea.  Eventually, it was decided to form a lighthouse society whose sole purpose was to tend to the light in order to warn sailors of the pending danger and save lives.  Very soon, the society became so effective that their stretch of the coast became known as the safest around.  After a while however, those who were members of the society became distracted with other tasks.  Some of them formed a social club so that members could enjoy one another’s company.  Others were involved in fund-raising in order to help finance the social gatherings.  And so they grew happy and content with their little society, until one day someone forgot to check on the fuel for the light in the lighthouse and the light went out.  Because the light was no longer warning the ships and only darkness remained on THEIR section of the coastline, several ships were lost at sea, and hundreds of sailors lost their lives.

 Dear friends, we as individuals and as a congregation need to always be reminded that we have been saved by the cross so that we can take part in the mission of the cross.  We need to be reminded that we have been saved, gathered, and feed so that we can be sent.  We need to remember that we have been sent with a mission—a mission to bear witness to God’s presence and to His wonderful work of reconciliation—being made right with God through the death of Jesus Christ upon the cross.  We need to be reminded that we are all called to participate in making God’s redemption—His work of forgiveness and love available to everyone, everywhere, while we lead a life that demonstrates that same redemption.

 If God’s mission to seek and save the lost, even you and me is what God is up to in our community, then each of us as individuals and as a congregation need to be asking, “What am I doing, and what are we doing to participate in a meaningful way in God’s mission?”  As we pray about this…as we think about it and discuss it, let us always remember that it is through the cross that we are saved and it is through the cross that we are always sent. 

Let’s pray now, and ask the Lord to do that work in us right now.  “Lord help us to remember that there is true freedom in asking for and living out a sacrificial faith.  Help us to always live through your cross and embrace our own, in Jesus name….AMEN!”

Help For Our Unbelief!

Sunday, September 13th, 2009

15th Sunday after Pentecost, September 13, 2009
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA 
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Our text this morning is the 24th verse of our Gospel lesson.  “Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” [Mark 9:14-29]

Introduction: The Christian life is “a land of hills and valleys” isn’t it?  In one day, we can move from the glory of heaven to the attacks of hell. In our gospel lesson this morning, we join our Lord returning from the Mt. of Transfiguration, where 3 of the apostle were allowed to see Jesus in His heavenly glory; a glory that would once again be His forever as He began His painful walk to the cross—a cross where He would once and for all free us from sin, death, and the devil.  He would do this through His own death.  When they came down off the mountain and joined the other nine disciples, Jesus found them involved in a dual problem: they were unable to deliver a boy from demonic control, and the scribes were debating with them and perhaps even taunting them because of their failure, and the demon was doing its best to destroy him.  As always, it was Jesus who stepped in to solve the problem.

What happened?  What went wrong?  Jesus had given all of His disciples authority to cast out demons [Mark 6:7, 13], and yet their ministry to the boy was a failure. Well, there was no time to dwell on their failure because the desperate father was now begging Jesus to help.  Wouldn’t you if that was your child?  But that poor father was not even sure that Jesus could succeed; after all His disciples had failed.  That’s why he said, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us.” [Mark 9:22] But something interesting is learned here, the father was honest enough to admit that he was having trouble believing in Jesus, and he asked the Lord to help him believe.  

The main lesson of this miracle is that faith in Jesus alone gives us the power to overcome worry and the fear of sin, death, and the devil. Why had the nine disciples failed? Because they were afraid and worried.  Why was the father successful in seeing his son healed by Jesus?  Because he was afraid and worried.  Both are examples of how worry and fear can either have a negative or a positive effect on our faith. 

 I. The nine apostles were worried because things weren’t working out the way Jesus had said they would.  He said that He gave them the authority to drive out demons, “It worked before when He sent us out,” they must have said, why isn’t it working now?  Oh where is Jesus?  Why did he have to leave us alone like this?  What if He doesn’t come back soon?  Well if he doesn’t it won’t be our fault, after all, we’ve tried everything!”  Worry and panic began to take over.  But that wasn’t all; that demon was starting to get nasty with them, and to top it all off, those hypocrites called “the scribes” saw the whole thing and now they were ridiculing them.  OK, now their worry was giving way to fear.  “What if we actually did harm to the boy by angering the demon?  Look at the way that demon is throwing him around—Oh where is Jesus?  Somebody do something…!”  And to this, the devil sneers and taunts them saying, “Where’s your pride now?  Where’s your pride now?”

Help was so close.  Jesus had taught them that with the faith the size of a mustard seed they could call out to God and if it was according to the Father’s will they could order a mountain to fall into the sea and it would! [Matt. 17:20]    Yet because of their fear and worry, they forgot that help was just a prayer away. 

 Have you been there before?  So sure of yourself; so certain that you had everything under control and then– “BAMB”… everything falls apart?  What the nine apostles forgot, and what we so very often forget, St. James gladly reminds us of in our epistle reading: “We all stumble in many ways.  And if anyone does not stumble in what he says (or in what he does), he is a perfect man…”  Oh how easily because of our pride, we forget that everything we have, all of our talents, all of our gifts, and all of our finances are just a gift from God—every second of our lives are being guided by His loving hand.  And when things stop going the way we think they should go, when we’re done coasting downhill and seem to be stuck in the dark valley, we seem to always demand, “Where is God?  Why isn’t He here helping me?”

 Friends, what do you do when you’re smack dab in the middle of a crisis?  Well let me tell you what Jesus expects you to do.  Stop, remember God’s gospel promise that He will never leave you, take a deep breath, relax, and then pray.  That’s what the disciple forgot to do, and so many times when tragedy strikes, that is also what we forget to do.  Why is that important?  Because prayer invites God into your dilemma and your small faith says, “Here Lord, take over.  I’m tired and ready to give up.  If you want this done please work through me and do it.”  The father of the boy told Jesus that His disciples didn’t have the strength to drive the demon out.  They did not have the strength because they didn’t ask for it.  So remember, stop and pray for God’s strength!

 II. What the disciples forgot, the father of the demon possessed boy remembered.  “Teacher, I’ve brought my son to you.”  Faith in Christ is compelled to bring its dilemmas and tragedies to Christ.  And when by faith we bring these things to our Lord, He asks us, “Do you believe I can help you?  Do you believe I will help you?  Remember, all things are possible for one who believes.”  And then, little faith, small almost unobservable faith calls out in the same anguish as that father had for his only son, “I believe Lord; help my unbelief!  Teach me to believe….teach me to trust you.   You Lord Jesus Christ are my only source of hope!”

 In these words friends, we hear pain; we hear worry and fear, but we also hear a confession.  “Forgive me for my unbelief O Lord, and help me to believe!”  Dear baptized friends, that is your confession—your confession when you know you should believe; you know you should believe, because of the many promises God has given you, you know you must believe, but for some reason your faith is very small, you are afraid, and you find it hard to believe.  Your privilege friend, as a baptized child of God, is that you can call out to Him and confess all of your sins, including the sin of doubt and then know with a great certainty that He has heard your prayer.  He wants you to know that not only does He forgive your doubt, but for the sake of your Savior Jesus Christ, He also gives you what you are asking for because He loves you and because what you are asking for is in keeping with His will.  Friends, God wants you to believe unto eternal life!

III. But what if you pray and pray; what if you are always confessing your many sins and you don’t feel peace—you don’t feel comforted?  What if you still feel fear and worry?  Did you do something wrong?  Does that mean that God isn’t listening to you?  No!!  Dear friends, faith—your faith is not based on how you feel, but on Jesus’ real presence in your life.  Just because one person feels peace and another still feels fear doesn’t mean that God is closer to one and farther from another.  God stands by all of His children…He stands by you!  Listen friends, since faith is so important and vital to our spiritual well being don’t think for a moment that God wants you to remain captivated by your fear.  Don’t try to talk yourself out of your emotions, instead confess them to Him and then rest in His presence in your life.  It is the God of peace that will comfort you.  How?  By helping you to trust in His work in you!  Friends, through His Holy Spirit, God is moving your heart to turn away from your sin—to turn away from your lack of faith and turn to Him.  He wants you to turn away from your sinful lack of trust in His presence in your life and look to Jesus Christ, the lamb who takes away the sin of the world—even the sin of doubt and fear; then you will find big faith friends…very big faith!

 But pastor, you said last week that even small personal faith is saving faith?  Yes, that’s right, but don’t be happy with only small faith, instead let the Lord grow your faith.  Your faith will grow every day as you learn to rest in His love and then trust in His presence.  You will need that big faith friends, because when you least expect it, the devil will attack your heart and try to take away that little faith.  When will this attack happen?  I can’t answer that for you, but I do know this, sooner or later we will all have our faith tested.  For sure, when it comes time for you to face your own death, or the death of a loved one, your faith will be tested!  It is at this time that you must already be trained to turn your eyes to God, because that is where we will all end our walk of faith.  This is the narrow gate, the straight path that our Lord taught us about. [Matt. 7:14]  God desires for all of us to joyfully walk down this path and excitedly enter through that narrow gate.

 This narrow passage of death is very similar to the physical birth of a child; like Jesus said, “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.” [Jn. 16:21]  And that is how it will be in our death and the death of a loved one who dies in Christ.  We know that in dying we must bear with great fear and worry in order to reach our very big mansion in heaven.  And that is the job of faith, to help you overcome your fear and worry by trusting in our Lord’s promise of joy and love that awaits you!

 CONCLUSON: How do you prepare for this journey?  By staying in God’s Word; by allowing the Holy Spirit to give you a hunger to read and hear it as often as possible.  You prepare for this journey by daily confessing your sins and knowing for certain that because of your baptism the sweet Words of absolution are really intended for you.  You prepare for this journey by feeding your hunger to know God’s love and forgiveness through the eating and drinking of His holy and true body and blood.  Receive all of these by faith and know beyond doubt that He truly is giving you not just the forgiveness of your many sins, but a new life… an eternal life of joy and peace.

 Dear friends, though our faith is weak, let us pray with great passion along with the apostles, “Lord increase our faith” and let us pray with the child’s father, “Lord I believe; help my unbelief!”  In Jesus name…AMEN!

Praise To The Lord!

Sunday, September 6th, 2009

14th Sunday after Pentecost, September 6, 2009

Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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Our text this morning is the 14th verse of our Epistle lesson.  And it comes to us in the form of a question: “What good is it my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?  Can that faith save him?” [James. 2:14]

Introduction: Indeed, that is the question, “Can that faith save him?”  Can someone who is without works find comfort in God’s gospel proclamation, like the one found in our OT lesson?  Listen, “Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not!  Behold your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God.  He will come and save you.”  James answers this question with a resounding NO!  Instead, James would say that a person who has faith without works should hear this message more as Law instead of the gospel.  I believe that this is how James would present this message to a person with a faith that does not have good works: “But say to those who have no anxious heart; who have no fear or dread because of their sinful hearts, “Be afraid.  Be very afraid!  Because the day of the Lord approaches and you shall eternally experience God’s vengeance and His punishment!”

 

I. What is faith?  “Easy” you say, faith knows God through Jesus Christ, right?  Well…yes and no.  You see, if you know who God is, that is only a general kind of faith.  “But wait” you counter, I believe that Jesus was born of the virgin Mary, that He suffered under Pontius Pilot, He was crucified and buried, and descended into Hell.  And I also believe that on the third day He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, and He is now seated at the right hand of God the Father.”  Well, James would tell you that the Devil and his demons believe that too; and yet they tremble with fear because they know that God’s judgment is coming very soon. [James 2:19]  “But wait Pastor” you say, “I know scripture pretty well, and didn’t Paul say, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”” [Rom. 10:17]?  Ah yes, an excellent proof text for reminding all of us how important it is to be in God’s Word every day.  But, you can bet the devils know that verse by heart, and many others as well.  What good does that do them?

 

Are you confused?  Well let me shed a little bit of light on what kind of faith, is a faith that can’t save you.  Let’s imagine that there is a policeman who is issued a bullet proof vest but he refuses to wear it because it is just too hot and bulky.  One day he is tragically shot and killed.  Is the vest to blame for his death? No, of course not!  You see, the vest can offer no protection if it isn’t put on; if it doesn’t become part of his daily routine.  And that is the way it is with faith that can’t save you.  You can know the entire Bible and be an expert in Christian doctrine, but if you aren’t living in that faith and allowing it to lead you and change you, it can’t save you!  It’s what we call only a general faith.

 

But, if you know that Jesus suffered and died for you—if you admit that He needed to suffer and die for you; that he descended into hell and rose from the dead for you; if you know that He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God to someday judge you, not guilty of being a sinner, but holy, perfect and righteous because you trusted in Him alone, well then my friend… you have saving faith!  So you see friends, true saving faith grabs onto Jesus and what he provides and it makes Him its personal Savior.

 

II.  Well the question we might ask next is this, “What does faith look like?  Can you see faith in action?”  Yes, most definitely.  You can see both general faith and saving faith in action, and you can easily tell them apart.  In our Epistle lesson [James. 2:14-18], James gives us a good illustration of general faith.

 

General faith sees a Christian brother or sister in trouble…in need of food and clothing and says, “I hope you find food, and I’ll pray you stay warm” and then walks away feeling good about themselves.  James asks us this morning, “Can that kind of faith save him?”  “What kind?” we ask.  Well, the kind of faith that is never seen in practical service towards God and neighbor.  Friends, the answer is no!  Any faith that doesn’t result in a changed heart… in a life that’s changed and full of good works, James says is really an empty faith.  So you see friends, while it’s true that it’s faith alone that justifies, it is also true that justifying faith can never be alone… it can never be without works of love.  But saving faith, looks at its brother or sister in need, and because that saving faith is still holding on to Jesus, it is compelled to act.  As Christians who are led by the love of Christ, because of our saving faith, we are also compelled to help meet the needs of our neighbors.  St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians taught about this when he said, “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all people, especially the needs of those who are of the household of faith.” [Gal. 6:10] 

 

Friends, when we serve our brothers and sisters in need, we can clearly hear Jesus reminding us with a smile, “Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these My brothers, you have done it unto Me.” [Matt. 25:40] Friends, saving faith hears these words of Jesus, and it wants to always be working and serving others.  But saving faith doesn’t work because it thinks it will earn a reward, instead saving faith works because it is powered by the love of God through Christ Jesus.

 

Dear friends, we love Jesus because He first loved us and gave His life up for us.  Because He sacrificed Himself for us we find that we are also compelled by our saving faith to sacrifice ourselves for our neighbor as well.  When a Christian mother and father loves their child and teaches them about God’s love, and ensures that they are baptized, present at Sunday school, and latter confirmed, that is the love of saving faith being expressed in those Christian parents.  In fact, no matter what calling we find ourselves in whether it is parent, child, civil servant, employee, employer, student or teacher, if we serve our neighbor as Christ serves us, then my friends, that is saving faith in action. 

 

III. Well how do we know if we have saving faith?  Friends, for the answer to this question let’s look at our gospel lesson this morning.  In the gospel we encounter Jesus healing a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment.  Listen: “And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ef-fa-tha,” that is, “Be opened.”  And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.” [Mark 7:33-35]   What a wonderful miracle!  Everyone who witnessed it agreed that it was most certainly a work of God.  The witnesses proclaimed, “He has done all things well.”  They concluded that Jesus could at any time give anyone who’s deaf the ability to hear and anyone who is speechless the ability to speak.  Did the crowd have saving faith? I don’t know.  They certainly were amazed, but yet, it wasn’t their ears that were given hearing and it wasn’t their mouth that was given speech.  But the man who was deaf and speechless, now that’s a different story.  How could He not have love for Jesus, the loving man that spoke ever so gently to him in a sign language that he could understand?  How could he not have been moved to trust Jesus in whatever He asked or told him?  Certainly he had to be moved to use his new voice to praise Jesus as the Savior, as his personal savior!

 

Dear friends, in your baptism, Jesus has done an even greater thing than this for you.  Through the water and the Word, He has opened your heart!  Through His Word, He has privately and in a very personal way taken you out of a sinful and dying world and secured you in His love.  Through the gift of faith, He has opened your ears so that you can hear His Word even the Word being preached right now and be changed!  Listen friends, your heart has been recreated so that it no longer fears God’s judgment, but instead it’s resting in His love.  By faith you are now able to live your life knowing that you have a God who is for you and never against you.  By faith friends, you have a mouth that desires to share with your neighbor just how wonderfully God has demonstrated His love for you!  And by saving faith, you now have hands that are being moved to serve God out of love; not because they must serve but because they want to serve.  Your heart through saving faith wants to serve your neighbor here in this church, and there out in the community where there are thousands of people dying without knowing the life giving and life changing touch of the Savior of the world Jesus Christ.   

 

CONCLUSION:  Dear friends, our faith, our saving faith, is a divine work that God does within us; it’s a work that changes us by killing the old self centered person and then daily replaces it with a personality of faith in action!  Your saving faith is a living, busy, and active faith that is mighty in the power of God.  Your saving faith doesn’t ask if there are any good works that must to be done, because it is already doing them before anyone can even ask!  I pray that every day you fight to let this living and saving faith control you and lead you as you daily praise the Lord, in thought, word, and deed!  In Jesus name….AMEN!