Archive for December, 2009

Press on Towards the Goal!

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

December 31, 2009 (New Year’s Eve)

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

“But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus..”[Philip. 3:13b-14]

 INTRODUCTION: I think that all of us this evening can hear these Words, and say a loud Amen!  But then again, we might hear them and say, “If only it was that easy.  If only I could forget the past and just be joyful about what lies ahead!”  Is it really that easy?  Can we really forget the pain, mistakes and sins of 2009 and realistically be optimistic about 2010?  St. Paul answers with a resounding yes, and this evening he’ll not only tell us why, but he’ll also tell us how!

 In our epistle lesson this evening, Paul is writing to the Church in Philippi; it’s a pastoral letter that he worte to thank them for their continuing Christian love, but he also wants to warn them about a two prong attack that is threatening their future; it was quickly moving from church to church, with the aim of ruining the faith of young Christians, a faith that rested in Christ alone.  This two prong attack was actually two different groups.  One group was openly against the Law of God and the other group was trying to convince the gentile Christians that they needed to embrace not just the Jewish culture but also the Levitical laws (specifically circumcision), if they really wanted to be saved. Today, these two groups still exist today, and they still are a threat to many congregations.

I. Against the Antinomians (Faith without works is dead)—In the preceding chapters of his letter, Paul attacked the doctrine of those who claimed that God’s Holy Law no longer applied to Christians.  To correct this lie, Paul provided some harsh truth.  His first counter-attack was intended to defend a Christian’s obligation to serve their neighbor and each other out of love.  Paul not only upheld God’s commandments, but he also adds these wonderful words, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” [Philippians 2:3 – 4] And, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” [Philippians 2:5-8]  But Paul doesn’t stop there, he also says in regards to our Christian service we should Do all things without grumbling or questioning,” [Philippians 2:14and he adds that this can only be done because it is God’s will in baptized Christians, to provide both the desire and the ability to do good works.  

What Paul is saying is this: True Christians will always do good works; they just can’t help it.  Those who say that they are a Christian, but have no proof or fruit of faith in their lives are in and of themselves proof that they aren’t what they claim to be; DON’T FOLLOW THEM.  DON’T BE A LIP SERVICE CHRISTIAN!  This is the consistent message throughout God’s Word.  A message that clearly declares that good works will always flow from a faith that trusts solely in God’s mercy as shown through the Messiah, His Son Jesus Christ.

ILLUSTRATION: The United States Senate has a tradition of talking something to death.  It’s called a filibuster. Even when the talk is not officially a filibuster the spirit of the filibuster lives on in that place every day.   Talk, talk, talk, and all the while nothing but self-serving legislation seems to become law, and what is the result?  The people pay, while others play.  Sadly, sometimes congregations can be reduced to something like a filibuster. People talk and dream about what the church should do, but very few are willing to put the ideas into practice.  In the end, very little is done and needs remain unmet.

Our Lord speaks to those who profess faith without action in our gospel lesson this evening when He says, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone?  Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.[Luke 20:9-20]  There will always be some who talk a good game, but have nothing to show for their supposed faith.  In the end they will answer to Christ, who will say, “Depart from me.  I never knew you!”

Paul said that good works and love for God and neighbor will flow naturally from a Christian.  In fact, Paul taught that a person led by faith in Christ should be willing to die performing acts of love towards God and neighbor rather than abandoning them.  Listen to Paul’s own words concerning this very point: “Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.[Philippians 2:17 – 18]  Paul was of course referring to his own approaching death as a result of proclaiming and living out his faith in Christ. 

The truth is friends, Paul wasn’t ashamed of Jesus, because Jesus wasn’t ashamed to call him, and Jesus is not ashamed to call you and me as well.  Jesus bore on His body the punishment we deserve. His good work of saving the world from sin looked like foolishness to the world in Paul’s time, and it still looks the same to the world in our own time. Jesus said and did many things that the world considers offensive. He called a thing what it was.  If it was shallow lip-service faith, He said so! He showed the Pharisees, the Jewish rulers, and the Romans what true righteousness was; He exposed their phony faith that lacked the fruits of repentance and forgiveness. His “consistent” good works made Him public enemy number one. Even when He hung on the cross to pay for your sin He was ridiculed as a fool. Yet what looks foolish to the world is wisdom to the child of God. The words of the worthy prophets were proven true. God is near His people and not afar off. God is as near as the tree of the cross, the tree that bears good fruit.  And it’s that very tree that Paul stayed close to, even when he knew that it would cost him his life. 

II. Against the Judiaizers (Jesus Plus Nothing)—Well, let’s move on to the second threat to the church at Philippi—those who felt that Christ’s sacrifice, His grace wasn’t quite enough to ensure someone a place in heaven at Jesus side.  They said, “No brother, that’s not quite enough! You need to include with your faith in Christ the rite of circumcision and the fulfillment of some other Jewish rules.  Today, that spirit of legalism is still trying to lead the faithful astray—it rears its ugly head in any person or organization that presents a doctrine called Faith in Jesus PLUS!  It could be faith in Jesus plus tithing; faith in Jesus plus acts of contrition; or faith in Jesus plus faithful church and Sunday School attendance.  Paul called these kinds of people Judiaizers and mutilators.  They want to cut the skin but God desires that their hearts be cut.  He wants them to be cut to pieces over their sinfulness.  He wants them to see how lost they are and how badly they need a Savior, but these mutilators only like to impose pain on others, while ignoring their own hopeless condition.  St. Paul warns the church at Philippi about these people when he says, “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. [Philippians 3:2] St. Paul is warning them, and he is warning us, ‘Look out for anyone who brings to you a gospel that is Jesus plus this or that.  Look out for anyone who brings you a gospel that includes anything but faith in Christ alone!

III. Living for the moment and for the future—Friends, the true gospel always reveals God’s love and mercy to those who deserve neither of them.  It’s foolishness to the world because it’s been provided by a man who is also God, Jesus the Christ.  Yes it’s foolishness to those who are dying—those who persist in ignoring God’s Holy Law and those who wish to add to Christ’s gift of grace, but to those who believe, it is amazing!

In our Epistle reading this evening Paul began with a fairly impressive biography about his early adult life.  He did this to silence the voice of the dogs that were prowling; waiting to attack the church at Philippi.  At first, it might seem that Paul was presenting himself as a super-human, one who far surpassed the phony credentials of the false teachers, but then he added something incredible, he said that all of his accomplishments were garbage, just trash when compared to the unfathomable wealth he had acquired once he knew Jesus Christ as his Lord, Savior, and God!  He said that he had gladly traded his own accomplishments for those of Jesus Christ, who was crucified on a tree.  Why?  Because of God’s gift of faith!  Paul said that through faith, he gladly suffered the loss of all things in order to gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of his own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ.  Why?  So that He might know him and the power of His resurrection!

When Paul wrote this epistle, he most likely got to a certain point and thought, ‘Will these good people in Philippi think that I am now finished running my race in life?  Will they believe that my walk of faith is finished and I can “glory” and rest in my accomplishments?’  That wasn’t the impression He wanted to make, and to be sure that this didn’t happen he wrote: “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own.  Brothers I do not consider that I have made it my own.”  Paul made it clear from his prison cell that he still had a lot to do and to teach concerning the Christian faith and his own Christian walk.  His message was and still is, that while it is God who works salvation for us, we must continue working out that reality; we all must become what God has already declared that we are—perfect,  holy, and righteous!  We must continue our walk of faith, which is also many times a walk of pain, shame, and testing, because it’s also a walk of joy!  Its joy, because we’ve been assured that our life of faith is really a walk through the same veil of tears that Jesus walked.  It’s all joy, because we know that the closer that we come to our goal the sooner we will receive the prize!

CONCLUSION:  Friends, listen to how St. Paul closed our epistle lesson this evening: “I press on toward the goal—for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  Do you know what that upward call of God in Christ Jesus is?  It is the promise of victory over the grave, it’s the very promise God made to you in your Baptism; a promise that ensures you that you one day you will rise from the dead just as he had.  To those of us who are burdened with fear of sin, death, and the devil, these are the sweetest words we could ever hear.  What better New Year’s resolution could any of us make this year?  Let’s resolve to press on towards the goal—towards the prize of heaven that is ours through Christ Jesus! As we do this, Jesus assures us we WILL have a very blessed 2010!

Are Ya Saved?

Sunday, December 27th, 2009

First Sunday after Christmas, December 26, 2009
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message 

INTRODUCTION: “Are ya saved yet?” Have you ever had a well meaning Christian ask you that question or something similar?  Usually when they ask you a question like that they want you to recall some specific moment in your life when you knew for the first time that God loved you.  They seem to want to evoke some kind of emotional response from you as proof that God really saved you.  Well if you are like most truthful Christians you will probably find yourself struggling with an answer to this well meaning but misdirected Christian neighbor. 

This morning, we will be looking at the life of Simeon, the man in our gospel reading (Luke 2:22-35), to get a better handle on God’s meaning for the word “Salvation”.  I believe that by the time our message is complete this morning, you will see that the correct answer to the question “Are ya saved?” is: “Yes, I’m saved; yes I’m being saved; and yes I will be saved!” 

I. Yes I’m Saved: Let me ask you a question—Before Simeon saw baby Jesus in person, was he saved?  What I mean by that is, did he have the assurance from God’s Word that He was loved by God, and that he would receive God’s peace and forgiveness?  Before you answer, let’s look at verses 25 and 26 of our gospel reading: “Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon Him and it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” [Luke 2:25,26] 

Good old Simeon!  Have you ever heard or used that expression to describe someone?  Good old Bruce!  Good old Susan!  When we use those words, usually what we mean is that person in no one remarkable, their just ordinary but dependable people.  Usually they’re just like you!  And that was Simeon—good old Simeon.  In the world’s eyes he was no one worth calling attention to; he was just a man, one of many that seemed to always be at God’s house.  There was nothing great and wonderful about him; he had no high office; no authority or power, yet God called him a righteous man; that means friends, that God judged him worthy of salvation.  The Jews would simply say that he was devout, devoted to God’s Law and temple, but so what!  He is simply doing what everyone should be doing!  But God said, “Oh no!  He is far more than just a church-goer; he is a true child of Abraham… he is a man of faith!”  

Why?  What did God see in Simeon that others missed?  Friends, God knew that Simeon was anxiously awaiting and praying for the consolation of Israel… the coming of the Messiah.  Who was the Messiah?  He was the one foretold throughout Holy Scripture who would smash the head of Satan, by destroying the power of sin, death, and the devil.  He was the one who would restore man’s lost relationship of love with God their Creator! 

Simeon, like many people of faith who had gone before him, trusted in God’s forgiving love simply because God’s Word promised that very thing!  Simeon knew that no one deserved God’s mercy, love, and forgiveness, but if God said it then it was so!  That’s why Simeon was righteous in God’s sight, because he trusted or had faith in God’s Word.  Because of this faith, God saved him from his many sins.  But that’s not the end of Simeon’s faith story. 

In verse 26, we learn something even more amazing: “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.”  Are you amazed by this?  Good!  The work of God’s Holy Spirit should always amaze us!  Are you desirous of this experience?  Why?  You have the same promise that he had.  In your own baptism, God promised you that through the water and His Word, the eyes of your heart, your eyes of faith would be opened and you also will behold the Lord’s Christ!  Will you rest in that promise?  In your baptism you have been given Christ and the promise of salvation—peace with God.  Every day, God shows you His Chris so that you can say with Simeon…. 

II. I am Being Saved! Verse 27 of our gospel continues with these words: “And he (Simeon) came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God.” [Luke 2:27]  Now, let me pause here and say that up to this point, you are no different than Simeon.  You too were filled with God’s Holy Spirit at your baptism.  You too, are able to hear that same Spirit speak to you through God’s Word; and through that Word you too can lift up Christ in your heart.  And you can also receive Him in your hands at His Holy Table and bless God as He blesses you through the eating and drinking of His body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine.  Like Simeon, you too are promised by God that you can see His Christ, and behold, you have seen Him through the means that I have just shared with you! 

And like Simeon friends, God has put a song in your heart!  Let’s sing Simeon’s song together, before we talk about your song.  Simeon’s Song is the Nunc Dimittis, which in Latin means “Now Dismiss”.  “Lord, now let your servant depart in heavenly peace, for I have seen the glory of Your redeeming grace; A light to lead the Gentiles unto Your holy hill.  The glory of Your people, Your chosen Israel.” [Luke 2:29-32; LSB #211 vs. 1]   

Friends, unlike Simeon, our song, our personal testimony to God’s faithfulness will never be recorded as Holy Scripture, but in God’s eyes it is every bit as holy!  You see, it is your story… your testimony about how God met you in the waters of Holy Baptism and saved you from this evil age.  It is the story about how every day His own Word assures you that nothing can ever separate you from His love; not your sins, not your death, and not even the devil.  It is the story that explains that even if others give up on you, God is always your ever present hand in times of trouble saving you from anything that seeks to separate you from God’s love, which is yours through Jesus Christ!  So, you see friends, God has saved you and He is saving you, but there is still one more truth for you to proclaim; you must tell them… 

III. God Will Save Me! Friends, when you give your testimony to others, give it with certainty because that is how God makes His promise of salvation to you.  Let those who hear your testimony marvel as Mary and Joseph marveled at the words of prophecy Simeon spoke.  But don’t let them marvel at your faith but at the reason for your faith—Jesus Christ… God’s only Son your Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary; who suffered under Pontius Pilate, and was crucified, died, and was buried for you!  Don’t hold back; tell it boldly like Simeon did, listen: “And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” [Luke 2:34,35]  

Dear friends, when your well meaning Christian neighbors try to invoke a personal or emotional salvation story from you, send them and your own heart to the same place God through Simeon’s testimony sent mother Mary… send them to the cross!  Center all hopes there alone!  Tell them this: “I know that I will be saved only because God’s Word is true and that Word promises that because of Christ’s suffering and death upon the cross I am forgiven.”  Tell them that you have no experience to share that could ever be greater than our Lord’s cross.

Sadly friends, some will not want to hear your testimony; they will tell you that just your baptism and the cross are not enough, but don’t listen to them… don’t let them shake your faith in Him who is faithful.  Remember that it was by His stripes alone that you were healed… saved from all manner of sin!  This simple truth has always caused many people to fall away from God’s love, but it is also the reason that many WILL rise up and be saved.  When people choose to reject God’s grace alone, and add their own devout living or their emotional experience, they are only demonstrating their unbelief in God’s means of grace, and if they won’t abandon that false hope they will fall and die in their sins.  But, if through your witness they see God’s work of faith in your life through His means of grace… His Word, Holy Baptism, and the Supper, then perhaps, they like you will know the certainty of God’s love and salvation.  Then they can also say along with you, “I will be saved!” 

CONCLUSION: “Are ya saved friend?”  Yes, I was saved long ago in the waters of Holy Baptism when I received the washing of the Word.  I am being saved every day when I read God’s Holy Word, hear it preached and taught—when I hear my pastor speak the sweet Words of absolution, the very Word, which assures me that my sins are forgiven.  I’m also being saved when I approach His Holy table and eat and drink His very body and blood for the forgiveness of all of my sins.  And I will be saved because just as Jesus rose from the dead on the third day and ascended into heaven, I too have been promised that when I close my eyes for the last time in death I shall join my Lord Jesus Christ in paradise forever.  Tell them, “That’s my experience, brother.  It’s an experience of faith.  It’s an experience of wonder and awe!” 

Dear friends, let me close with the words of the great hymn, Chief of Sinners Though I Be: “Chief of sinners though I be, Jesus shed His blood for me.  Died that I might live on high; lives that I might never die.  As the branch is to the vine, I am His and He is mine. [LSB #611 vs.1]  We sing the Nunc Dimittis (Sung) In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost…AMEN!

A Christmas Eve Message

Friday, December 25th, 2009

The Angels Sing

A Christmas Message
Delivered by Rev. Brian Henderson
Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
December 24th (Christmas Eve)
Click here for audio of this message

While there is no written text posted for this message, it is my prayer that the audio version will be a blessing to you my Trinity family and to all visitors who will listen to this message.  May God richly bless you all through Christ Jesus our Lord.  Merry Christ and a blessed New Year!

Pastor Brian Henderson

A TRADITION THAT CONTINUES TODAY!

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

A Christian Funeral
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Rev. Brian T. Henderson, Pastor Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

A Song of Ascents. Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord! 2 O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy! 3 If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? 4 But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. 5 I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; 6 my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. 7 O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. 8 And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

Grace, Mercy and Peace to you, from God our Father and our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Long ago, a family tradition was started in a small Wisconsin town called Wild Rose, but the one who helped start it has left us; the tradition was helping the Sorenson family find peace and confidence in God’s Word, specifically with the familiar John 3:16 passage: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son, so that whoever believes and trusts in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life.”  That tradition continued on to other towns with names like Wisconsin Rapids, and Steven’s Pointe.  Oh it was a marvelous tradition of demonstrating exuberant love for God, family, church, and neighbor—the very same love that continues on through all of you who remain here still centered in God’s Word and the forgiving love of Jesus Christ.  A love, which the Sorenson children learned as their mother demonstrated it in a self-giving way; much like the description of the “Proverbs Woman” that we heard described in our Old Testament Lesson.  Yes it is quite a tradition, but the Christian woman, the loving mother who helped start that tradition has left us.   

God’s peace to you, children of Jeanette Louise Sorenson, to you Judy and Dale.  And God’s peace to you Patricia Sorenson, loving and devoted Sister-in-law.

God’s peace to all of you who are part of Jeanette’s Trinity family.  God’s peace to all the rest of you who are Jeanette’s friends, and that peace comes to all of us through the Word of the Lord.  If you, God, kept records on wrongdoings, who would stand a chance?  As it turns out, forgiveness is your habit, and that’s why you’re worshiped.” (Psalm 130:3-4 NLT)

Thank God for that! Because if God kept a record of our wrong doings, if He counted our sins, if He judged our hearts, who would stand a chance? No one would!  We would all be doomed. We cannot stand against the holy and perfect Law of God, because all of us have sinned and fallen short. No one has obeyed his conscience. But there is forgiveness through Jesus Christ. There is reconciliation to the Father, a cleansing of souls in grace, a bestowal of mercy through the death and resurrection of the Son.  Death has been put to the death. The devil has been trounced and Heaven is open, because there is forgiveness in Jesus Christ.

And so it is that Jeanette and so many others, who have gone before her can say that whatever mistakes they may have made, whatever weaknesses they may have struggled with, whatever they may have been guilty of, they have now found peace and grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  You see, it is only with our Lord that any of us—no all of us can finally find God’s undeserved kindness and love. Thank God for that! For without that, there would be no hope for any of us.

This forgiveness, won and paid for by Jesus, is complete for all of us who believe in Him. It is valid, true and its real and Jeanette knew this to be so beyond any doubt, and God wants us to know and believe in this as well.  God’s Word assures us that no matter what sins may have entrapped us in this life, eventually there will be peace and forgiveness because of what Jesus did for everyone. 

You can take great comfort today knowing that Jeanette was rescued by God’s work of forgiveness in a font much like this one, in a little church called Immanuel Lutheran Church of Grand Rapids, Wisconsin.  In 1922, when she was just an infant, Jeanette Louise Sorenson was put to death in the waters of Holy Baptism, and from those Holy waters, through the power of His Word, God raised up a new Jeanette; a person that would forever be loved and who could love Him and all of you in return.

While it is true that Jeanette was a woman loved by God and changed by His grace through Jesus Christ, she would not want you to think that she was some kind of angelic presence.  You see, like the rest of us here today, she also struggled with putting to death her old sinful nature, but it is also true that  she never forgot just what God had done for her at that font in that little church back in 1922.  How do I know this?  Because she told me so many times!  You see I am her pastor, and it was my privilege to minister to her as she courageously fought her battle with brain cancer.  Each day that I would visit her, we would always celebrate some sort of divine service.  And in each meeting, before we heard the Word of God, before we prayed or celebrated Holy Communion, we would enter together into confessions before God.    

At first, before her illness began to really debilitate her, she would recite the confession by memory.  You know it, don’t you?  “O almighty God, merciful Father, I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment.”  But after a couple weeks, as the disease began to advance, it became harder for her to remember things that earlier came so naturally from her lips.  So to compensate, I used the question and answer form of our confession, and it was in these moments that Jeanette Louise Sorenson began to truly teach me just what a strong and steadfast faith and tradition she really passed down to her children.  “Jeanette, do you confess to almighty God that you are a poor, miserable sinner?”  “Well sure.  We better all admit that or we’re in big trouble.”  “Do you confess to our merciful Father that you have sinned against Him in thought, word, and deed?”  “Oh my, yes!”  “Do you believe that our Lord Jesus Christ died for you and shed His blood for you on the cross for the forgiveness of all your sins?”  “I should say so!  Can you believe it?  Isn’t that a wonderful gift!  That’s just what I’ve always taught my children!”  At this point, I would start to fight a little chuckle that was bubbling up, because I wasn’t quite use to a running dialogue during confession, but she tolerated my hesitation as I found my place in rite and continued.  “Do you believe that our Lord Jesus Christ died for you and shed His blood for you on the cross for the forgiveness of all your sins?”  “Oh sure”, she would say.  “What a mess we’ve all made of our lives.  We all have.”  “Yes Jeanette,” I would reply, “all of us have”.  “Well that’s what I always taught my children!”  “OK sister, do you pray God, for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of His beloved Son, to be gracious to you?”  “Oh my, that is exactly what I pray for every day.”  “Finally sister, do you believe that my forgiveness is God’s forgiveness?”  “Well of course!”  “Then let it be done for you as you believe. In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  “Amen.  Can you believe it?  Just like that.  Isn’t God’s love something pastor?”  Yes sister, it sure is!”  “Honestly” she replied, “I don’t know how some people can even live without that kind of good news!”

That was Jeanette; a faith so simple yet so strong; a faith so childlike and yet so mature.  What a wonderful question she poses to us this morning.  “Honestly, how can anyone even live without believing in that kind of good news?”  Dear friends, on this side of glory we all live in the midst of temptation and sorrow. Like King David before us, we all must learn to live with our past, but also like King David we must learn to look to the future and proclaim, “As it turns out (O Lord), forgiveness is your habit, and that’s why you’re worshiped.” We need God’s forgiveness, his undeserved kindness every day, every hour, and every minute. And without fail, God is always ready to give it. His forgiveness is constant and unchanging. He gives us all that we need for this faith. He calls us to hear His Word and receive His Holy Supper right here in this very church, and churches throughout this World, so that like Jeanette, we too may come to know His peace. 

Long ago, a tradition was started in the ancient church, through the work of God the Son alone.  And the one who started that tradition still lives with us and reigns as almighty God today; and that tradition was to announce and provide God’s peace to all of you who believe in Him.  To all of you who have come to mourn the loss of Jeanette Louise Sorenson, –your Mother, your Sister,  and your Friend: God the Father’s peace be upon you to enlighten your heart to His Word of truth about eternal life for His children–even for His beloved Jeanette. Christ’s gracious peace shine upon you to bring the light of everlasting gladness to break up the gloom of your sadness over the peace that Jeanette has now received from her Savior. The Holy Spirit of God dwell within you, that you may know the peace that He brings to you on this day and for all of your days–and even forevermore.   In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

The Word Became Flesh!

Sunday, December 20th, 2009

Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 20, 2009
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

 INTRODUCTION: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” [John 1:1-3]

 Just when we think we have God all figured out, He comes out of left field and does something we never even considered. How many times have you encountered what you thought was a hopeless situation, only to have the whole thing turned around?  Oh we of little faith!

 The Jews knew that biting accusation all too well!  They were anxiously waiting for a warrior-king, a descendant of King David to come, who would make them a worldwide super power once again.  Oh their king came, a descendant of David certainly, but He didn’t come in a way they expected.  You see, there was no army carrying their king into battle; instead He was carried by a pregnant teenager who was about to give birth to their true king, God in human flesh.  Instead of defeating Rome and the Emperor, this King came to defeat sin, death, and the devil!

 How did they get so confused?  For the answer to that, let’s turn to God’s Word.

 Maybe they missed what God was doing because they concentrated on temporal things instead of eternal things.  Maybe they decided on concentrating on snippets of prophecy instead on the whole prophecy.  Maybe they used only portions of God’s Word, like those found in Micah, our Old Testament lesson this morning: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.”  So far, that sounds like help is on the way.  Let’s see what else they may have read that gave them hope that their warrior king was coming to fight for them.  How about this: “And He shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.”  Well that sounds like super power talk doesn’t it?

 The problem was, they were only paying attention to the parts of God’s Word that they liked, and they were ignoring the parts of His Word that continuously reminded them that they were not living as God desired… they were not living as people of faith who trusted in, and waited on God to provide for them.  Listen to just a few of the many reminders God gave them: “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the heart. To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.” [Proverbs 21:2,3]

“What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. [Isaiah 1:11]

“But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’ But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward.” [Jeremiah 7:23-25]

Israel thought that by observing a few religious rules God would wink at their sin.  They thought they could hide the evil in their hearts by appeasing God with a few sacrifices.  But do you know what God calls someone who only listens to parts of His Word, while comfortably ignoring the other parts?  Lost and damned in their sins!

Friends, God’s Word always comes to us in two parts, the Law and the Gospel.  When we only pick out the good news, the Word that speaks of God’s forgiving love, then we are sure to miss the way that He wants to bring us that good news… through our confession to Him that we are sinful.  We must be told by His Word that our hearts are sinful and we must admit it to Him before He will forgive.  His Word must show us that we are self-serving and prideful.  And by that same Word we must be convinced that the only way to know and experience God’s love is by confessing this truth.  If we do this as He asks, He in turn promises to make us self-giving and humble.  We must obey His call to confession and then admit our need for Him to change us before He will allow us to hear His Gospel Word of love and forgiveness.  If we will not approach Him as He desires then we, like the Jews will miss the true Gospel found in our reading from Micah: “Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace.” [Micah 5:3-5]  Like the Jews, all of mankind is lost unless we receive our Savior as He comes, as a baby; lowly and humble, through the womb of a teenaged virgin.

 “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” [John 1:14]  Dear friends, the warrior king that the Jews waited so long for did come, but He didn’t come as they expected.  If they had only drawn more deeply into God’s whole Word, it would have been so clear.  Their great King David, a man after God’s own heart spoke to them clearly in Psalm 40 about what this greater king and Messiah would do, listen: “In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted, but a body you have prepared for me.  Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required. Then I said, “Behold, I have come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me: I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; behold, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O LORD. I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart; I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation. [Psalm 40:6-10 LXX]

In these very Words friends, God was telling Israel and the world today, that He is saving sinful man in a way that we would never expect.  He comes to us in our own flesh; because we could never on our own delight to do God’s will, God sends His Living Word to us to do it for us.  Listen now to that same Psalm as explained by the writer of our Epistle lesson: “Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but you have now prepared a body for me; (hear the truth sinful children, God does) not delight in (your religious sacrifices)—in your burnt offerings and sin offerings (He takes) no pleasure. (But now Jesus says), ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in (their prophecies).”

 Dear friends, when Jesus Christ, the Word which became flesh said that God neither desires nor takes pleasure in the sacrifices and offerings of the Jews, He is speaking to us as well.  He is saying that our attempts to please Him by being good, by doing our best are not what He is looking for in us.  If these were good enough, then what need would any of us have for a Savior? Why must God the Father prepare a body for God the Son?  My friends, so that He could do what we cannot; so that in our flesh He can obey God in our stead! But friends, obedience wasn’t the only reason that Christ was given a body!  No, because of our many sins, something much costlier is required in order to make things right with God.  Willful sin has been committed on our part, and an acceptable sacrifice must be given… a life must be taken and blood must be spilled.  You see friends, Christ’s obedience is much greater than simply living a life that pleases God; His obedience also includes a sin offering, the offering of the very blood and life of God the Son.  This is the true and final offering for sin, because it is the ultimate sacrifice, which according to prophecy, God desired to be made, and friends He made it for you!

Think about the grandness of God’s love friends.  Hear the words of our Savior as He speaks them for you… as He speaks them to you in a way to make it clear that He alone can save you from the sin that has entrapped you.  With you on His heart He loudly speaks: “No, he will not die.  No she will not pay.  Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—I have come to do your will, O God.  Send me in their place!”  In that spirit, the spirit of love for the Father and love for you, Jesus offered his life to the Father. It was that very same love that motivated him (John 4:34) and guided Him all the way to Calvary. What a great cost He has bought you with!  Think of Him wrestling in prayer in the garden of Gethsemane and you will begin to understand the cost.  Think of Him calling out alone upon the cross as the last of His life giving blood and the love of the Father left Him: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” 

 This Christmas friends, it is good to remember the manger and the infant lowly, but do not lose sight of the cross!  Remember the cross, because to remember it is to remember a truth that will change the way you worship and the way you live your life in service to God: Jesus was born to die for you! 

A Christian once wrote a letter to the editor of the local newspaper and complained that it made no sense to go to church every Sunday. “I’ve gone for 30 years now,” he wrote, “and in that time I have heard something like 3,000 sermons. But for the life of me, I can’t remember a single one of them. So, I think I’m wasting my time and the pastors are wasting theirs by giving sermons at all.” This started a real controversy in the “Letters to the Editor” column, much to the delight of the editor. It went on for weeks until someone wrote this clincher: I’ve been married for 30 years now. In that time my wife has cooked some 32,000 meals. But for the life of me, I cannot recall the entire menu for a single one of those meals. But I do know this: They all nourished me and gave me the strength I needed to do my work. If my wife had not given me these meals, I would be physically dead today. Likewise, if I had not gone to church for nourishment, I would be spiritually dead today!”

Friends, do you want to live a life that pleases God friends?  Well the first step in doing that is confessing to Him that you can’t.  Confess your sinfulness to Him and then put His Law aside that terrifies you and hear the Gospel.  Hear the Good News that assures you that God does love you and He forgives you of all of your sins because of what Jesus has done for you.  Hear this good news often.  Come every week to this place of worship and let Him strengthen your faith and nourish your spirit.  Let Him change you from the inside out.  And as you do that, something new and different will happen, you will begin to find yourself becoming more and more like your Savior-King who died for you.  When God begins to look for your obedience in small things you will begin to find yourself saying: Here I am—Lord—I have come to do your will, O God.  Send me… use me!”  May the love of God through Christ Jesus move your hearts and minds to do this very thing…. I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Those Fickle Children

Sunday, December 13th, 2009

Third Sunday of Advent, December 13, 2009
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

 Grace, mercy, and peace to you friends from God our Father and our Savior Jesus Christ!  Our text this morning is our gospel reading, with special attention on these words: “And blessed in the one who is not offended by me.” [vs. 23]

In this season of gift giving, God wants us to remember the gift that He’s given to each of us in our baptism.  He wants us to remember that through simple water and the presence and power of His Word alone, we have been spared from His judgment and His punishment for our many sins, and He has done this by grace alone…that is by His love and forgiveness, which we can never earn or deserve.  And because we have receive this gift from Him, in return, He wants His grace to change us in such a way that our greatest desire will be to love and worship Him with all of our hearts, souls, and minds.  

Good news right?  Yet for some, the gift of God’s love is unacceptable to them, or it doesn’t suit their tastes, so they want to trade it in, upgrade it to something more in keeping with their life style.  What is it that they want?  Well let’s turn to our gospel reading for some insight. 

We join Jesus in the middle of a conversation with two of John the Baptist’s disciples.  They’ve been sent by John to ask for guidance.  You see John couldn’t come in person because he was locked up in King Herod’s dark and dank prison for preaching the very message God had given him to proclaim throughout the land, “Repent and be baptized!” Why did that offend King Herod?  Well, John empowered by the Holy Spirit, pointed out that king Herod was committing adultery by sleeping with his brother’s wife.  As you can imagine, the king and is illegitimate spouse didn’t like hearing that they needed to repent and dissolve their relationship.  Now it’s tempting for some to think that John had lost his faith as he sat suffering in his cell alone; feeling as if God had abandoned him.  Where is the judgment that God told him to warn people about?!  Now while it is true that any normal person would lose hope in circumstances like these, we must remember that John was not a normal man, he was a faith-filled man.  Could it be that such a faith-filled man had really lost his faith?  Well let’s consider that for a moment. 

Here is a man who was called by God to proclaim one message: “The Savior and the Judge of the world is coming.  Repent and be baptized!”  He knew that Jesus was that Messiah, the savior of the world, and he expected Jesus to do all of the heavenly works that had been promised by God through the prophets.  He knew that there would be works of grace, miracles that demonstrated God’s love and forgiveness and he knew that there would also be works of judgment.  He must have asked himself, “Where are the works of judgment?  Where is the day that is coming which none can endure and no one can stand when He appears?  Where is the refining fire and all of His furry that I have been warning everyone about?” [Malachi 3:2] 

You see friends, John wasn’t losing his faith, but rather he was confused.  So where does a faithful man of God go with his confusion?  Why He goes to the very source; he goes to Jesus!  So through a couple of messengers, John asked a very simple question, that when answered would restore his clarity: “Will another one follow you?  When will the works of judgment begin?” 

Jesus answered John’s question in a way that would strengthen his faith by reminding him of God’s faithfulness.  Jesus said, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the cripple are walking, lepers are cleansed, the deaf can hear, the dead are raised, and then tell him that just as the prophet Isaiah foretold, the poor have the good news preached to them.” [Isaiah 35:5,6; 61:1]  With this short answer, Jesus sends John’s disciples back to their teacher confident that this Word would relieve John’s worry and strengthen His faith in God’s faithfulness. 

Are you wondering how that relieved John’s confusion?  Well John’s disciples may have wondered that too, but make no mistake John understood it loud and clear.  You see, Jesus was taking John back to the same Old Testament prophets that John had been quoting in his sermons that proclaimed the need of repentance. He was helping John remember that God’s grace must take priority over the coming judgment.  The gospel must first be preached in its fullest before judgment would come.  All who confess before God that they are spiritually poor, completely empty and destitute will be filled by Him.  The gospel must continue to be preached until God’s predetermined time of judgment begins. 

Friends, John’s mistake was the same mistake that many Christians make today; they forget that how God marks time is not the same as how we mark it.  We along with John need to remember that throughout the Old Testament prophecies and even in the message given by John the Baptist, one thing has always been left unanswered—the interval of time between the first coming of Jesus with grace and mercy and His second coming when He brings judgment to those who have rejected His grace.  So we need to really hear the words that Jesus dismisses the messengers of John with, because they are also for us: “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”  We must not doubt God and be offended that He does not mark time as we do.  We must live every day as if Jesus is coming this day.  Blessed is the one who is not offended. 

Some of us might ask, “Why would anyone be offended by that?”  Well maybe for the same reason that some in the crowds that followed John and Jesus were offended: We are all by our very nature two faced and self serving… we are fickle!  We’ll take the baptism that saves us but we refuse to embrace and live out the message….Repent!  Turn away from your sins and turn only to Jesus who is your savior. 

This was the point that Jesus was making when He asked the crowds the same question three times, “What did you go out into the (desert) to see (when you looked for John)?”  Friends, when Jesus repeats anything three times you better believe that it’s important!  Did you go out to see a tiny marsh reed being swayed in the wind?  Did you go to see a person who is more worried about political opinion and the favor of the king than following God’s Word and Spirit?  If so, then that isn’t what you found is it?  So why did you let him baptize you if you didn’t agree with his message? Well maybe you went out to see a fancy talking, well dressed speaker who could get you motivated to improve and enhance your life?  Someone who would preach a message of blessings and prosperity…someone who would tell you that you could have heavens rewards right here on earth?  But you didn’t hear that either did you?  No instead you heard God’s true message: “Repent everyone of you and be baptized!  Turn away from your sinful life and in confession turn to God alone who can forgive and restore you!”  Where is your repentance and confession?  

Are you offended by Jesus evaluation of us this morning?  Are you offended by the truth?  Like the crowds that were judged by Jesus as fickle, are you shocked to hear that you are fickle too?  Are you shocked that you find yourself being judged as double minded and indecisive about your need for a savior, much like the children in Jesus’ story who neither wanted to dance nor to weep? 

If this is you friends, then may I say you’re not alone?  Because you see, this is all of us!  We are all convicted by the same verdict—guilty of not loving God with all of our hearts, minds, and souls.  Guilty of loving our flesh more than our savior!  Since this is true, and it appears God’s word has found us out, then hear the Word of God, the very lips of Jesus speak to you this morning:  “The blind have received their sight, the crippled can walk, the lepers have been cleansed, the dead have been raised, and you who are sinful and poor in spirit have been washed clean of your sins through simple water and the power and real presence of God’s own Word.” 

This morning friends, Jesus says to us: “Let this truth change your heart.  Let your heart hear this message and be changed by it.  By my stripes you have been healed.  By my death upon the cross for you, your sins have been paid for.  Behold, I have made all things new!  This is a gift from me to you…will you confess that you need it and that there is no other name or message under heaven that can save you?  Will you simply rest in this good news and let it change you? 

That is your gift this advent season from God friends.  I pray that as you open God’s baptismal gift to you every day, you will allow Him to make you like John the Baptist… resolute, strong, and faithful.  Open it every day friends and live out your new life.  Do not wait.  Remember God does not mark time as we do.  Jesus could come again at any moment.  Jesus is coming, He is coming indeed!  Maranatha… come Lord come quickly.  AMEN!

A Pastor’s Prayer

Sunday, December 6th, 2009

Second Sunday of Advent, December 6, 2009
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

 Grace, mercy, and peace to you friends from God our Father and our Savior Jesus Christ!  Our text this morning is verses 9 and 10 from our Epistle lesson: “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” [Philippians 1:3-11]

Our epistle lesson is a letter from God to the church in Philippi, through their Pastor—Pastor Paul, the apostle.  Now I ask you in advance to forgive the first person nature of the sermon this morning, but it can’t be helped.  Because you see, through it God has put me in Paul’s place, and all of us in the place of the Philippians.  This morning we will be talking about prayer—prayer that calls out to God because of love, joy, and concern. 

 You may have had Friends tell you that they’ve been thinking of you, and usually that will warm your hearts.  But an even greater encouragement comes when someone tells you that they’ve been praying for you.  This is what St. Paul is telling the Philippians and this is what I would like to tell you this morning.

 Some of you know that I try to start each day of ministry right here in this sanctuary with prayer.  I always begin my prayer by thanking God for bringing me here to Trinity.  I ask Him to let His love for this church and for all of you be my love.  I don’t ask that He help me to love you more, but instead, I actually pray that He will love you through me! 

 I. He does this by helping me remember how He has demonstrated His love to this congregation in the past.  He does this by helping me remember that it was God who began the good work in this church and within each of your hearts, and it will be Him who will complete that work when Christ comes again.

As I pray, I remember how God first started this congregation as a mission way back in 1890.  And as I thank God for His good beginning I remember the Pastors that He worked through.  I remember Pastors Leimbrock, Scherf, Knippenburg, Theiss, Hilgendorf Sr., Brink, Sorenson, Hilgendorf Jr., Robibnson, Lueker, Beyer, Cluver, Gunter, and Harms.  Each of them in their own way certainly prayed a prayer similar to what I am praying.  And this is what I pray: “Lord love and lead these people through me!”  And how does the Lord respond?  He tells me, “I have and I will!”

II. As I continue to pray, I also remember the joy that this ministry has brought to so many people.  And God did this by taking a tiny mission congregation that met in downtown San Diego, just a few like minded German Lutherans, and He turned it into the very first Lutheran church in San Diego.  And from that start little old Trinity went on to help plant one church after another in San Diego County.  And one of those new churches that Trinity helped plant was another little missionary church, perhaps you’ve heard of it?  Of course I am talking about Messiah Lutheran Church.  Again, God took something small, a group that started out with just a few kids in a Sunday School and He built the very first black Lutheran congregation in San Diego.  God did what no man ever could on his own… In both cases he took a little group of sinners and turned them into a vibrant and growing congregating of saints.  Yes friends, I thank my God in all remembrance of you!  From the beginning to the last day when Christ shall return, indeed, God must be glorified!

 Oh I can hardly wait to hear our Lord speak to us all as we enter into His glory.  I can just hear him now in my mind’s eye: “Saints of Trinity and Messiah… Well done my good and faithful servants!”  Friends, when we hear those words, we will know beyond all doubt that it was indeed He who began this good work within our congregation who completed it.  Yes, there is a lot to be thankful for and a lot to be filled with joy over.  Praise the Lord for the great things He has done!

 III. But my prayer doesn’t stop with joy and praise.  No you see while I celebrate God’s continued care for this church, I am also filled with concern.  I am concerned with those of you who are still here in this sinful world just trying to survive this thing we call the Christian life.  I am concerned for those of you who are just waiting to take your place alongside of all those other saints of our dear church who have gone home to be with the Lord.  I am concerned that many of you have grown tired and maybe somewhat cold in your love for the Lord, the one who first loved you!  I am concerned that you now look at your baptism as simply a “ticket to heaven” instead of an invitation to go deeper and deeper into a relationship of love with Jesus.  I am concerned that you no longer place your desire to know and please God as the most important priority in your life.  And finally, I am concerned that you may have let things like pride and comfort elbow out your need to receive and to give love and forgiveness, so I pray even harder for you.  And like St. Paul, this is what I pray…

 IV. May God fill you also with the love of Christ!  Friends, I pray that through His love within you, you will learn to love this little church with His love.  What I mean by that is that you would be so filled with His love that you will come to see this church as He sees it; as shining city on a Hill that represent both His presence and His love for you and the people within our community.  I pray that through Christ’s love within your hearts you will know that He is truly present here, filling you with even more love; and that through His Word spoken, taught, and preached here you will value this place above all others with exception to your own homes.  And in response to His love within you, I pray that you would care for and maintain this place of worship with the best of your time, talent, and treasure.

 But as I pray friends, God moves me even deeper into His love for you by leading me to pray that through Christ’s love and forgiveness you would learn to love and forgive each other just as He has forgiven you.  I pray that through Christ’s love you might learn how to praise, thank, and encourage one another as you serve together within your respective ministries here.  I also pray that through the same love of Christ, God would also give you a great love and concern for your Christian brothers and sisters so that when you see them straying from the truth or stumbling in their walk of faith you will want to warn them and then in love help them return.

 And finally friends, it is always my prayer that as you grow in the affections of Christ and your joy for His church and each other, that you would also have a burden in your heart for the lost… those dying without a love relationship with Jesus Christ.  I continually ask God to help each one of us to see our neighbors, those who live outside this church in these neighborhoods as Trinity’s mission field; I pray that Christ’s compassion for those poor souls would be our compassion; that His passion and zeal for them would also be ours.

CONCLUSION: Dear friends, I know that God hears my prayer each morning just as He has heard the prayers of the Pastors who have gone before me.  How do I know this?  Well, because it is self evident—you are still here!  Trinity Lutheran Church is still here.  Even now while I am proclaiming this message He is filling us with the fruits of righteousness; He is working within your hearts the desire to serve Him, each other, and our neighbors.  And as He continues to fill us and work through us we will walk as a congregation that has been changed, because we have!  We have been changed and we will continue to be changed because we are a people of faith who are growing and becoming more like our Lord every day.  And that is the message we take out to our community.  We tell them together as a congregation and alone as saved sinners, “Come and see a God who loves me and you just as we are.  But because He loves us He won’t leave us that way—He wants to change us by living in us.  Neighbor, God says to each of us, “Return to me and I will return to you.””

 Now it’s true, life is hard, there’s no denying that.  But God is good and He walks with us as our Savior and our friend.  So out of the love of Christ, which dwells richly within us, together we press on towards the day of Jesus Christ.  And as we do, we do it all to the glory and praise of God through Christ Jesus! 

Friends, Jesus is coming….He is coming indeed!  Maranatha…come Lord come quickly!  AMEN!!