Archive for July, 2010

“We Who Are Evil”

Sunday, July 25th, 2010

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, July 25, 2010 “Service in the Park”
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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On the day of Martin Luther’s death, February 18, 1546, his friends found a scrap of paper on which he wrote his last thought.  “We are beggars; this is true.”  What did he mean?  Now while some of us may have been homeless before and had to beg others for gifts of love, to say that all of us are beggars seems to be a stretch.  So what did he mean? 

To understand Luther’s point we must turn to our gospel reading for an explanation.  Jesus ends His teaching this morning with these Words, “If you then who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” [Lk. 11:13] For some here this morning, these are hard words to hear; Jesus is calling His disciples evil… He is calling you and me evil… and this is true.  We have sinned against heaven and God Himself… this is true!  But it is also true as our Old Testament reading promises to Abraham that we have been called by God.  It is God who is calling you right now, and if you will hear His voice in these Words and respond as He requests, you are also like Abraham in that you have been chosen!  But chosen for what?  Chosen to receive His forgiveness, mercy, and love!  Chosen to teach your children and your neighbor about God’s righteousness and justice; chosen to speak both His frightening Law and His comforting Gospel.  Chosen to keep the way of the Lord! [Genesis 18:18] But friends, we have a problem, we are evil and because we are evil we must depend solely of the mercy and love of God.  If you don’t believe that we are evil, let me prove it to you.

I. How does God’s love and forgiveness come to us?  Through His Word: Holy Scripture asks, “Who has believed our message?” Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”  So I ask you: Haven’t you been hearing the Word of God? Of course you have! [Rom 10:16b-17]  God’s Word is all around you.  It was first with you in your baptism.  You hear it often in the absolution and the comforting Words of the Gospel that is preached every week to you.  It is there in the Lord’s Supper.  But who is listening and who is in amazed at this truth?  Each of us are either moved to little or not moved at all by God’s great threats or His loving promises of comfort, forgiveness and peace which He gives to us through His blessed Word and Sacraments.  Who is to be blamed?  Certainly not God because He is always calling out to you!  Who then?  We are to be blamed… we deserve all of the blame because we won’t allow ourselves to be concerned with things that that the angels stand in awe of.  Even if we suddenly were visited by a band of angels preaching in all of their heavenly glory, we would not be any more affected than we are now when we hear the pastor or ministers of God’s grace preaching to us.

Dear friends, if we could believe the amazing truth that right now we are hearing the very Word of God speak to us, we wouldn’t become bored and sleepy.  But because we think that it is only a man speaking to us and that it is only the word of men that tickles our ears we treat the holy things of God as if we are a herd of pigs tramping priceless pearls and diamonds.  So what are we to do?  We are to cry out to God with cries of grief and anguish that our sin is so great that we on our own are helpless to do anything else!  What are we to cry out for?  Forgiveness and a new heart and mind; the heart and mind of Jesus Christ!  We are beggars… we are evil; this is true.  But this morning Jesus comforts us and reminds us that because of His love for the Father and God’s love for you, you are now so much more.  Hear the gospel of our Lord.  You who are evil have a Father who doesn’t want to leave you in that evil condition.  You have a Father who can give so much more than you can give.  And He desires to give it all to you!  How does He give?  Through the Word!  And how do we receive?  By asking through prayer!

Jesus said, and when you pray, pray like this: “Father, hallowed be your name, Your kingdom come.” [vs. 2] Who is this that teaches you to pray?  It is God Himself in our own flesh; it is Jesus your Savior, your brother and friend!  If you will not hear the Word of God which brings you faith, then you will care a less if God’s kingdom comes or His name is kept holy.  But because you have been hearing His Word, and because you have been called you will pray that His name is first kept holy in your own heart and that His kingdom would come first to you and then through you to others!  You will know that you are helpless to accomplish these things on your own so you pray and ask God to do them through you and He does!

Again Jesus says, “Give us each day our daily bread”. [vs. 3]  If you are shutting out the Word of God you will care a less how you get not just your food but your nice home, car and all of your bling.  An evil person simply keeps on taking because they believe they have a right to anything their heart desires.  But if God’s Word is indeed working within you, you know that all good things come from God above, so you pray that He will continue to provide you with all that you need in this life.  And whatever He provides you are content with.

But Jesus also adds this teaching, “Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.” [vs. 4a]     If the Word of God is being shut out by your hard heart you will care a less whether you are forgiven, let alone forgiving others.  After all, you follow the thinking of this sinful world: “Do unto others before they do unto you!”   But when God’s Word is changing you, you will not just see the need to be forgiven by God but also the need to forgive others.  Because after all we are all just beggars, and you know that this is true!

And finally Jesus says that we must pray: “Lead us not into temptation.” [vs. 4b]  An evil heart that will not hear the Word of God could care a less about this last portion of our prayer.  Why?  Because this kind of heart sees nothing wrong with what God calls sin, as long as it isn’t illegal or if it is, as long as he doesn’t get caught.  But a heart that is being changed by the Word of God sees the evil that is within itself so it prays that God would continue to destroy its evil desires and protect it from both the presence and the temptation of the evil within it and around it!

II. Do you see friends why your Savior asks you to pray?  Prayer is simply and extension of the power and the work of His Word.  The same Holy Spirit that empowers the Word of God which speaks of God’s love and forgiveness empowers your prayers.  The same Holy Spirit of God who hears your words of prayer also molds your words of prayer so that they are requests for the very things that are guaranteed to be approved and answered by God.  This same Holy Spirit reassures your heart to be bold in prayer; to have no fear in the fact that through Jesus Christ, your heavenly Father not only hears you but always wants to hear from you.  And to illustrate this, Jesus in a series of contrasts compares you who are evil in need of rescue to a righteous and holy God who doesn’t need a thing.

“What father among you, if his son asks for a fish will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?  If you then who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” [vs. 11-13]    Dear friends, Jesus is asking you to consider this heavenly truth: As earthly fathers prove themselves fathers by giving “good gifts” to their children, so your heavenly Father proves to you that He is, indeed, your Father, and you are indeed, His children by giving to you, in answer to your asking in your need, all things that are a benefit to you!  And what is the one thing that you are most in need of?  Forgiveness!  And what is the only way that you can receive this forgiveness?  By asking; by being bold in your asking.  By admitting to God that it is you who are in need of His care and His provisions.

III. Dear friends, Jesus’ illustration of the person who pounds on the door of his neighbor in the middle of the night isn’t telling us to be simply persistent in our begging to God; no instead He is telling us to be bold!  Ask, seek, and knock.  He is saying don’t be ashamed to ask for forgiveness because you have asked so many times.  Don’t be afraid that God has given up on you because you feel you have let Him down so many times!  Be bold and believe that you have a God who is for you and not against you.  Be bold to speak to Him as a son or daughter!  But we ask, “How can a miserable sinner like me be so bold and expectant with such a holy and righteous God?”  And to this Jesus answers because I have called you my brother and friend.  Because through my blood and righteousness, through my suffering and death you have been bought with a great price!  You are no longer the swine that tramples the pearl of great price beneath its feet; you are that pearl of great price! 

Dear friends, you are the Father’s and He is yours!  If a weary and stubborn neighbor will finally get up and help, how much more will your loving Heavenly Father (who never sleeps) meet the needs of His own child!  So keep on “asking, seeking, and knocking,” not to break down God’s door but to reveal to Him your great concern that His will be done, first in your own heart and then in the world.  And remember, the purpose of prayer is not to get man’s will done in heaven but to get God’s will done on earth.  And what is that will?  First he forgiveness of your own sins and then the sins of the world.

Yes, we are all beggars and that is true, but we are beggars with a need and a vision.  The need is forgiveness which God assure us is ours through Jesus Christ, and the vision is the restoration of relationships.  First our relationship with God and second the restoration of our families and community with the same forgiveness, so be bold dear friends and continue to live out the life of a beggar.  I pray this for you in Jesus name…. AMEN!

“Martha, Martha… (insert your name here)!”

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, July 18, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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This morning God’s Word desires to teach us something both about worship and service.  What is worship?  I’m fairly certain that if I ask 7 people to define worship I will get 7 different answers… especially if I ask our brothers and sisters from different Christian denominations.  So to avoid any confusion, let’s talk about Lutheran Worship, which by the end of the message, you will see is the Biblical model of worship. 

Lutheran Worship is based entirely on the model of service.  “OK”… many of you are saying, “I can see that.”  But here comes the portion of our definition that often times can lead to disagreement:  It’s not you and me serving the Lord, but instead it’s God almighty serving us!  You see friends, when you decided to go to church this morning, you weren’t doing God any favors, and the fact that you are here doesn’t earn you anything.  No, I’m afraid that coming to church isn’t a good work that serves God and wins His favor.  Then what is worship?  True Christian worship is simply sitting at the feet of Jesus… hearing God’s Word and letting Him serve us!  This is why we call our worship a Divine Service; it is God serving us!  We go to church out of need.  We go to receive the precious gifts that Christ has to give to us.  What are these gifts?  Forgiveness of sins and God’s love and real presence in our lives won for us by His suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven.  These wonderful things friends are given to us through His precious Word and Sacraments—the very things that we gather around during our Divine Service! 

I. Last Sunday, we discovered in our gospel lesson a lawyer that wanted to do something in order to receive God’s approval.  Jesus tried to show him through the Law, that it wasn’t what he did that would save Him but the gift that God had to give… and that gift was Jesus Christ!  This morning, in our gospel reading we are introduced to two sisters.  Both knew that they needed Jesus… both knew that through Jesus God was with them.  But one sister insisted that her service to Jesus should come before Jesus could serve her.  You see, she knew that she needed Jesus, but she wanted Him on her terms.  Listen to the first portion of our gospel reading and see if this isn’t true: “But Martha was distracted with much (service).  And she went up to (Jesus) and said, “Lord, (don’t you) care that my sister (Mary) has left me to serve alone?  Tell her then to help me.” [Luke 10:40]  And what was Jesus answer?  Listen: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.  Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” [vs. 41,42]

So what’s the point?  Well, our Lord was implying that by Mary’s attentive hearing of His Word, the very place where He was seated had become a pulpit, and Mary’s own humble seat at the feet of Jesus became a pew.  In fact the entire home had become a sanctuary filled with the very mercy of God!  It was a place where God had drawn close to sinners so that He could change their hearts and fill them with grace and forgiveness!

Friends, Mary’s natural devotion to Jesus’ Words will forever stand as a witness to the church as the true mark of worship and discipleship.  Here we learn that if the Words of Jesus are received by a humble and empty heart wanting to be filled and changed, then God is more than ready to do this good work or service within us!  And here we learn that whenever God’s holy Word is offered to us, we should be willing to drop everything else just to hear it.

The problem Martha had friends is the same problem many of us have… we’ve lost sight of God’s priority!  You see, Martha forgot who came to serve whom.  She thought that it was better for her to do a good work than for God to serve God her.  This way of thinking goes like this: “There’s something important that needs to be done today at home or even at church, so I’ll skip worship and work on that!”  The truth is, each of us come up with some pretty good excuses to justify not coming to worship on Sunday or during the week; each of us has a little bit of Martha in us!  Think about that for a moment; while Jesus was teaching she was preparing Him a meal.  She thought that the God who fed over 5,000 people with just a few loaves and fish “needed” her service!  Friends, Jesus didn’t need any food from her she needed food from Him!  And He doesn’t need any service from us either; he wants to serve us!   “Wait a minute pastor… are you saying that my service to God isn’t important?”  No, of course not!  But my point is that before we offer service to God we must first seek to be served by Him!  That is His will and that is His priority.

II. In our epistle lesson (Co. 1:21-29), St. Paul helps us keep our priorities straight.  He says that we must first become reconciled to God.  Listen to his inspired Words: “And you who were once alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, (God) has now reconciled (you) in His body of flesh (Jesus body) by His death.”  And to this we ask, “But why?”  And Paul answers: “In order to present you (as) holy and blameless and above reproach before (God).” [vs. 21, 22]

“Ok pastor.  I see that I must be born again… I must be given a new heart and mind.  I know that I must be given the heart and mind of Jesus.  But wasn’t all of that given to me in my baptism?”  Yes it was friends, but this is a gift that is continuously given and it must be continuously received.  Listen once again to Paul.  He says that all of these gifts of grace, love, and forgiveness are ours, “if indeed (we) continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that (we) heard. [vs. 23a]  Do you hear in those Words the need to continue… to be steadfast and stable… not shifting from the hope of the gospel?  The only way this can be done is if Jesus is serving us with His life giving Word!

You see friends, unlike Martha, we have the ability to look backwards into time.  We can see that it was Jesus who first served us at the cross, and from there we can follow Him to His resurrection and ascension.  We can hear and read that His Word is real food and that He is really with us in a mysterious way through our baptism, the absolution ( forgiveness of our sins), and His Holy Supper.  In all of these things friends, Jesus is inviting us to regularly sit at His feet and be nourished and strengthened in our faith.  It’s His desire that we faithfully gather each Sunday and hear that we are forgiven… but He also wants us to remember that we are forgiven with a purpose.  And that purpose is where “our” service becomes part of our worship. 

Each one of us has been called to receive the forgiveness of our many sins and then we are called to praise God and share that forgiveness with our Christian brothers and sisters and even our neighbors.  This is what is called our service to God.  It is first demonstrated during our divine worship as we offer up and sing praises to our God for His faithfulness.  And that spirit of praise and thanksgiving first shown here then leads us out into our families and our community, demonstrating a life which is centered in God’s grace.  As this reality that God has reconciled us becomes clearer, and the truth that every day He is transforming us into the very image of Christ’s, we will not only desire to always take advantage of Christ’s Divine Service, be will also see the need to be reconciled with each other and to see others reconciled to God as well!

III. Martha lost her focus; she lost sight of God’s priority.  She forgot that the one thing most needful was the Word of God.  Jesus wasn’t telling her that her service was unimportant; no, He was telling her that it was not the most important thing.  Her sister Mary knew that her service was important, but she also knew that it would come after the Word of God was had done its work within her heart. 

Dear friends, we should never lose sight of the need to show Christ’s love to others.  But we must always remember that the gospel… God’s forgiveness through Word and Sacrament are the reason we can love them; it is the one thing most needful.  We must remember that we are simply a glove that Jesus uses.  If we remember this we will also remember that it isn’t the glove that does the work but the hand that is in it… the hand that was stretched out upon the suspended portion of the cross and nailed in place for our sins.  This is the hand that stretched out in agony to a Heavenly Father who would not answer the plea, “My God, My God… why have You forsaken Me?”  Friends, Jesus asked this question for our benefit; He knew why His Father had forsaken Him… and it is my prayer that you do too!  He was forsaken so that you would not be!  He was pierced for your transgressions so that you would know God’s love for you.

Dear friends, there will always be a time to give thanks and service to our God, because it is always good, right, and admirable to do these things.  But these things must always be done as a result of God’s service that is first done within us.  I am sure that Jesus taught Martha this truth and I believe that she did take her place at Jesus’ feet along with her sister Mary.  I believe that Jesus not only changed Martha’s priorities, but He also blessed her service towards Him.  I pray that you will believe this also and be content to regularly allow God to be of Divine Service to you so that He can use you as a glove for His had that will serve His church and your neighbor.  I ask this in Jesus name…. AMEN!

“Can You Do It?”

Sunday, July 11th, 2010

Seventh Sunday in Pentecost, July 11, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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This morning, God’s Word confronts us like a bolt of lightning and the crash of thunder. “Do this and you will have eternal life!” [Lk. 10:28b]  “Go and do likewise!” [v. 37b] These aren’t Words of encouragement that Jesus gives they are the absolute demand of perfection, which God’s Holy Law insists on!  Follow the Law perfectly and you will be assured of peace with God and eternal life!  Can you do it?  The lawyer in our gospel reading thought that he could; he thought that he could not only follow God’s rules and statutes found in the 10 Commandments in a way that would please the Lord his God, but he also thought that he could teach others to do the same!  And if we are honest with ourselves, we fool ourselves into thinking that we can do it also!  We think that we should get a passing grade from God for our honest effort at being good.  But as the lawyer discovered, God doesn’t grade on a curve.  He doesn’t look at our best effort and say, “OK.  Good attempt.  I’ll take it from there!”  No friends, God demands perfection!  Are you worried about this?  Good!  Because this truth must never leave your heart and mind or it will cheapen the gift of grace that God’s has given to you and demands that you live by.  And what is this gift of grace?  It was the same message that Jesus commissioned the 70 disciples to proclaim in last week’s gospel reading: “The kingdom of God has come to you!  God’s forgiveness, love, and mercy are yours if you will not reject them.”

The lawyer, the expert in God’s law undoubtedly was aware of this message that they were sent out with.  He heard Jesus instruct them not to rejoice because demons fled at the mention of Jesus’ name.  Instead, Jesus told them to rejoice because they had received salvation themselves through Jesus Christ and the proclamation of the good news!  And to this, the lawyer was irritated and moved to confront Jesus.  “What about the Law?!  Are you setting a side God’s Holy Law!?  How then can I receive eternal life?  What must I do to be saved?”

I. And to this question, Jesus asks each of us who would find comfort in rules, God’s Holy Law, this one question in return: “What is written in the Law?  How do you interpret it?” [v. 26] And along with the lawyer, many of us “good Christians” can answer: I must love the Lord, my God, out of my whole heart, and in my whole soul, and in my whole strength, and in my whole mind; and I must love my neighbor as myself!”  And to this, Jesus replies, “Very good!”  Now go and do this perfectly and you will live!”  Perfectly?  Wait a minute Lord… no one can do it perfectly but God!  Come on now; isn’t that impossible?  Yes, but you are the one that wants to be doing something; so go ahead and do, do, do!  Do until there is no more time to do and then look back at what you have done and see if it was perfectly done!

And so the lawyer’s dilemma becomes our dilemma.  The very rules we sought refuge and protection in have become the very trap that springs its jaws of death upon us;  sinking its vicious teeth within our flesh and refusing to let go or offer any way out of a sure and certain death!  What can be done to help?

Like the lawyer, we must read the law the way that it was meant to be read.  We must understand the very heart and mind of God Himself.  We must learn that the heart of God is love, not anger; mercy not punishment; grace and not payment!  When we say that we must love the LORD our GOD we are calling upon His covenant names.  His name Lord or Kurios in the Greek is the very name He gave to Moses within the 10 Commandments.  And that name is Yaweh in Hebrew, which in English means “I am that I am.” The unchanging covenant Lord.  And the word God, which in Greek is THEOS and in Hebrew is ELOHEKA, means the God of power and might who puts all of His power on behalf of those who love Him and have faith in Him.  So the Lord that we love and trust is the God that does all of the work to save us!  Both of these names of God together make up one complete name.  A name that declares that our creator is both the One furnishing the means of our salvation and the ability to accomplish it!  He alone gives us both the desire to fulfill the Law and the ability to trust in His grace and love so that we can be assured that we have received both of them!

II. The lawyer and perhaps even we, ask the wrong question.  The question is not what must I do to inherit eternal life, but rather what must I have to receive eternal life!  And the answer is, you must have a new heart!  If we must love God out of our whole heart, soul, strength, and mind, but when we look at these things and we find them sinful and incapable of that which God demands, then we can only conclude that it is impossible for us to please God with them.  In which case we are either completely lost without hope, or we must look for a new source of strength and hope.  And that is the very place Jesus wanted to lead the lawyer and even you and me this morning. 

In our Epistle lesson this morning [Col. 1:1-14], St. Paul gives us a picture of a congregation that is demonstrating the kind of love that God’s law demands.  In vs. 4 he says that he had heard of the Colossians faith in Jesus Christ!  How did they know about Jesus?  Through the Word of God!  They heard about Him through Paul’s teachings about a covenant God who came to them in the human flesh of Jesus Christ, to do what they could not.  He lived a perfect life on their behalf.  But that was not all that they heard about; they also heard that this Jesus, the very Son of God died the death that their sinful flesh deserved, and He died that death also on their behalf.  Why?  To prove that the Lord their God, is first the covenant God of the Jews, and second to show that He is the God and Savior of the entire world.  “For God so love the world that He gave His only Son that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” [Jn. 3:16]  This is the very life that the lawyer was searching for but missed!

But what about the other half of the demand that the Law presses down upon us; you know, the part that says that we must love our neighbor as ourselves?  How can I love someone who only means we harm… someone who seems to hate me?  Well Paul tells the Colassians that they are fulfilling that demand as well, when he says that he also heard of the love that they had for all of the saints.  How did they receive this ability to love?  By receiving a new heart; the heart of Jesus!  Ok… then how did they get this new heart?  Again through the Word of God; that Word that we call the Word of truth, the gospel, which came not just to the Colossians but even to you!  It is this Word of truth that is bearing fruit within you and it is growing even now!  What is it growing?  The love of God… the very heart of Jesus Christ!  When did this happen?  The day you first heard it within the waters of your Holy Baptism.  The day you understood the grace of God… the love and mercy of God that was in it!  And it is happening even now!” [Col. 1:1-8]  And it is that same Word and your dependence upon the Lord your God that fills you with the knowledge of God’s perfect will and all spiritual wisdom and understanding.  Why?  So you CAN walk in a manner worthy of the sacrifice, love, mercy and grace of your Lord Jesus Christ!  And now, because of your faith in Jesus alone, God’s Word is creating within you a way to walk that pleases Him.  Through His Holy Word and Sacraments He is forever strengthening you with His power, according to His glorious might so that you can endure all things, even your own sinfulness and failures with patience and joy!  This is entirely the work of God dear friends, which has transferred you out of the kingdom of darkness and into His kingdom of grace and eternal life… the kingdom of His beloved Son Jesus Christ, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins!

III. Friends, it is your Lord Jesus Christ who is your Good Samaritan!  It is your Jesus who has taken you out of the world of sin, death, and the devil.  He has defeated this motley crew of bandits that has beaten you and left you for dead.  He has smashed them and sent them scurrying like a pack of dirty vicious dogs through His divine power.  It is your dear Jesus who is healing your wounds, wounds caused by the vicious lash of the Law, and He does this through the balm of His gospel Word.  He tells you that your covenant God is a God of love and mercy, not a God of hatred and revenge.  It is your Holy Jesus who puts you upon His own cross, which He bears upon His shoulders, and He carries you into His church, where you are forever cared for with the sweet taste of forgiveness and peace with God.  Even now He is nourishing you unto eternal life with His own Word and Sacrament… His means of grace, so that you would know that you have a God of peace and love. 

And what does He ask in return?  “God and do likewise.” [Lk. 10:37b]  But now, this command is not a demand that can’t be fulfilled.  No friends, God does not want you to leave here feeling helpless and confused like the lawyer.  Instead, He wants you to remember that you have been given a new heart; His heart.  He wants you to remember that it is He who is living within you and through you; you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you!  In Jesus Christ, you are more than a conqueror; for neither life nor death, powers nor principalities can separate you from God’s love which is your through Christ Jesus!

 Can you do it?  Si sepuede… yes you can, through Christ who is within you and strengthens you! 

Now may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus who is your “Good Samaritan”!  AMEN!

“Test Your Own Work!”

Sunday, July 4th, 2010

Sixth Sunday in Pentecost, July 4, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

Forgiveness_186There’s a battle ragging around us and even within us; it is the battle of good vs. evil; the battle of the cross against the sinful world.  In our battle of independence against the British Empire, the enemy was easy to spot; they wore bright red coats and they lined up in battle pickets; they suppressed any attempts at revolution with the hail of bullets and cannon balls.  Today we celebrate our victory over that enemy, who has now become our friend and ally.  But the battle that still rages today is against a completely different enemy; an enemy that will never be our ally or friend… an enemy that has been attacking and seeking to destroy us since the very first sin was committed in the Garden of Eden.

This enemy is lurking within our church, and he is even hidden within our own hearts.  He is working to cause division and discord, even while God is working to create harmony and peace!  God is calling each of us this morning to see the enemy around us and within us for who he really is.  Who is this enemy?  It is the devil and our own sinful desires.  This morning God is calling us to attack this enemy and rest in His truth that tells us through the cross of Jesus Christ, God has already provided the victory!  This morning God wants to show us how to rest in that victory.  Please pick up your Bibles (or bulletins) and turn to Galatians Chapter 6, and let’s get started in the first verse.

I. “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.  Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.  Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.  For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.  But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor.  For each will have to bear his own load.” [Vs. 1-5]  Do these words remind you of something Jesus said?  Let me jog your memory: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” [Matt. 7:3-5]  What Jesus and Paul are saying is essentially the same thing.  Take care of yourself first and then you can help your brother who may need your loving care to get right with God!  Of course in both instances, God’s Word is talking about judgment of others, and it is not telling us to put off  helping or doing good for others.

Do you know a Christian brother or sister who has fallen into sin?  Good, then help them get back on the road that follows Jesus!  You aren’t going to help them by judging them, they already know that they’ve sinned; the law is already accusing them.  But you can help them come back into God’s kingdom of grace by sharing His love for them!

“A friend and I were once traveling on a very muddy border road to do a safety inspection on a facility near the border.  We were in business clothes.  I suppose my friend was going a bit too fast for the condition of the road because our vehicle slid and ended up in a muddy ditch.  Neither one of us wanted to get out of the vehicle and do something helpful because, well we didn’t want to get muddy.  A semi-truck quickly pulled up and offered to pull us out of the ditch, on one condition… we had to get out and put the chain on our rear axle ourselves. What he was saying was that he would help us out of the ditch, but we first had to acknowledge the mess we’d gotten ourselves in by crawling through the mud to get ourselves out of the mud.  He was not willing to cover himself with the mud but he would pull us out!  “OK” we agreed; so in the mud we went.  As we were attaching the chain, the truck driver explained that he wanted the chain on the rear axle because the road conditions ahead of us were not good.  He said if he pulled us that way, he might wind up in the ditch right along with us.”

Friends, that’s what Paul is telling us.  He is telling us to go to our brothers and sisters who have sinned with our hearts and minds centered in reality, our own reality, which tells us that we too are vulnerable to temptation!  Yes that person has fallen into sin, but they are still our brother or sister.  God wants us to help them out of the ditch of sin they are caught in, but… we must be careful not to fall ourselves!  We must remember that each of us has fallen into our own sin-filled ditches so to speak and we are prone to do it again.  We would do well to remember this simple saying: “There but for the grace of God go I!”  If we remember this truth, we will be so busy testing and examining our own lives and work that we have no time nor room to look down on a brother or sister.  In this way, God’s Word teaches us that we can’t use someone else’s sinful life as a lens to make our own lives seem more holy and perfect.  This is what Paul means when he says that we should “bear” our own load.

II. “One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches.  Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.  For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Sprit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.  And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.  So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” [Vs. 6-10]

Now, right off the bat I must correct some bad doctrine that is being passed along by some TV and radio evangelists.  Verse 6 is not, I repeat not a proof text that you should give money to your spiritual teachers.  Instead, it is God’s Word encouraging you to strengthen your fellowship and relationship with that specific man of God.  And of course, this is all predicated on the assumption that you are being instructed by a man that has been rightly called and taught by God… one who has studied to show himself approved before God and men.  In short, your teacher should be teaching you nothing but God’s Word; no opinions and no strategies to help you live a more prosperous life.  The teaching that any pastor is called to provide is for your spirit and not for your flesh!  The purpose of God’s Word is to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to you here on earth, and to point you to the day when you will finally rest in His whole presence in Heaven.  Your pastor has been given the good things from God’s Word, and his job is to give you only those good things.  And your part, is to receive that instruction of spiritual truths and live in, with and under each and every one of them.  You have been called by God to participate in every aspect of that truth.  The riches of God’s Kingdom have all been given to the Church, and you have called your pastor to freely dispense them in this Holy House.  The riches are with the Church and your teacher and the need for these gifts is with the student and even your teacher.  God is calling each of us to come into fellowship with each other by hungering for the things that the church has to give.  And what are those things?  None other than fellowship in Word and Sacrament!  This is why you come to church.  You don’t come to church to get your praise on; you don’t come to church to be entertained; and you don’t come to church to catch up on the latest gossip.  You come to church to receive forgiveness, grace, and love so that you can give the same to others!

And as you regularly attend worship and allow God to feed you His Word, you will undoubtedly discover that His Word is changing you and rearranging you.  You will begin to see that through God’s Word and your investment of time He is bringing your heart and mind out of the reality of this sinful world and into the reality of His Kingdom.  His Kingdom in the here and now and His Kingdom that will come!

III. “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.  For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor un-circumcision, but a new creation.  And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.  From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.” [Vs. 14-17]  Has all of this talk about falling into sin, reaping and sowing, and not mocking God got you afraid?  Good, then you are right where God wants you to be!  Now through the inspired words of St. Paul, God wants to take your eyes off of your fear and put them on the cross!

Paul is asking not just the Galatians, but every true Christian to follow him on the only way path that leads to a life free of worry and fear.  He says, do not boast in yourself or anything that this world holds as important; instead, boast only in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ!  Boast in Jesus alone who purchased and won you as His own.  It is to Christ and His precious cross that you belong.  And under that cross you will find life, faith, and strength.

CONCLUSION: I will close our message this morning exactly how Paul closes his letter to the Galatian church: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers.” [Vs. 18]  Paul and I are closing our message with grace because God wants each of us to live in that grace.  He wants to remind us that it is only by grace that any of us can look forward to not just living in the kingdom of God, but also seeing it grow and expand!  The battle lines have been drawn, and the battle is still ragging.  It is a war just as real as and far more important than the battle that was wagged and won for our physical independence.  This is the battle for our spiritual independence.  It has been fought at the same place for centuries… the cross of Jesus Christ, which is mounted both on Golgotha and within the pure Word of God! 

It is this cross that changes our way of thinking about both the rule and reign of God in our lives—it is through the cross that the world with all of its differences are brought together: the King, our King, grants life through His own death, and with the death of death, creation is born again… even within your own hearts!

Friends, Jesus is leading each one of us out of the kingdom of darkness where sin, death and the devil rule, into another kingdom where the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit rule—not with the threat of war but with the promise of peace… peace which comes through grace, mercy and truth!  To God alone be glory… AMEN!