Archive for August, 2010

“Move Up Higher”

Sunday, August 29th, 2010

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 29, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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This morning, in all three of our readings, one word seems to jump out at us, and that word is humility!   When we speak of humility we can speak it as a command or as grace.  Let me show you what I mean; “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord!”  That is the law… it’s a command.  It doesn’t offer you any help in accomplishing it and if you are truthful with yourself and God this morning you know that on your own you can’t fulfill that command.  But, if I put Jesus into the equation, Jesus for you, it becomes the gospel; it becomes good news for you!  Listen: Jesus humbled Himself in the sight of the Lord for you!  Jesus, who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant… He humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross (for you)!” [Phil. 2:6-8]

Do you see the point?  If the focus is on you and your abilities and actions then you have the law, but if the focus is on Jesus and what He did for you in His life and death upon the cross, well then, you have the gospel.  In one way of thinking you have yourself as the center of attention, as the provider of your needs and in the other way of thinking you have God as your focus and Jesus and His cross as your provider for everything… even your eternal salvation.  You see, that is the difference between a theology of glory and a theology of the cross.

In our gospel reading this morning we join Jesus at a dinner party.  But make no mistake, this was not a friendly gathering of supporters or men who simply wanted to hear Jesus teach the Word of God; no in fact this was a hostile crowd that invited Jesus with just one purpose… they wanted to observe Him and use His own Words in order to destroy Him!  But Jesus accepted the invitation so that He could observe them and then offer them His Word, both law and gospel so that He could save them.

Picture in your mind’s eye, Jesus has entered the home of the host, a Pharisee, when He observes other Pharisees in attendance rushing to get the best seats at the dinner party.  There in front of him are a group of men, the distinguished teachers of Israel behaving like a bunch of first graders playing musical chairs; they are each trying to elbow the other out of the way so that they can have the best seats.  Jesus files this observation away as an object lesson for his second topic of instruction, but first He wanted to address their false teaching about what constitutes doing work on the Sabbath day.

Jesus looks around and spots a poor soul looking in on the diner party.  This man had a disease called dropsy.  which is also known as edema, an illness where parts of the body retain an unhealthy amount of fluid and become swollen.  Jesus motions for this man to come to him and asks the Pharisees a question: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?’  But they remained silent.” [Lk. 14:2-3]  I imagine that Jesus let such an unusual amount of time lapse that they were very uncomfortable.  The question was a very simple one, yet because of their pride and self-serving interests, they refused to answer, so Jesus humbled them. “(Then) Jesus took (the man) and healed him and sent him away.” [vs. 4]  And there is your answer, it is always good to do good on the Sabbath!

Now it was time for lesson #2!  This lesson would deal with their self-serving and self-glorifying behavior, which Jesus observed earlier. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place.  But when you are invited go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’  Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you.  For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” [vs. 7-11]

In this parable, Jesus was using an earthly example in order to make a heavenly and eternal point.  He was speaking to the Pharisees, but He is also speaking to us.  And He does this by showing us His own life.  It was Jesus who stooped down to our level.  It is Jesus, God the Son who humbled himself by becoming a man!  He took on the humble form of a servant so that He could serve the sinful world his own obedience unto death, even death on a cross.  Jesus served us by taking the last place at the banquet of death when He sat Himself upon the cold and splintered bench of the cross!  What is the point of this parable?  Simply this, “Everyone who exalts himself (above God and his neighbor) will be humbled, and He who humbles himself (before God and his neighbor) will be exalted!” [vs. 11]  “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up!” [James 4:10]  Once again, Jesus demonstrated that a man centered theology of glory stands in complete opposition to God’s way… the way of the cross!  Jesus is saying that it t is better to be honored by God than by men.  It is better to be humble so that God will reward you than to be full of pride and thus causing God to humble you.  And to understand this parable Jesus decides that we must hear one more.

“Jesus said also to the man who had invited him (to the party), “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid.  But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.  For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” [vs. 12-14]

What is the point of this parable?  It simply finishes the thought of the first one; don’t do things with a self-serving agenda.  Don’t worry about rewards in this life, but concentrate on Jesus and the humble way of the cross and you will acquire your reward in heaven.  Jesus knew that the only reason that He was invited to the party was so that the host would gain standing with his fellow Pharisees.  He wanted to be known as the one who helped bring Jesus down!  But what he was really doing was bringing himself down, down to hell.  Jesus was using the thunder bolt of the law to shatter the man’s self-righteousness so that once broken and exposed as an enemy to God, he would then seek God’s mercy and forgiveness by repenting of his self-serving theology of glory.  If he would allow Jesus’ Words to humble Him in repentance then the eyes of his heart would be opened and He would see Jesus as He truly is… the Savior… his Savior! 

The idea wasn’t that this man should go out and find the poorest of the poor and the most needy of the needy and have them alone sit at his table.  Instead, Jesus was getting at the man’s motivation behind having this party.  If his motivation was to be admired and repaid by self-glory, then he was paid in full.  But if his motivation was to serve God and be a sincere servant of the kingdom of heaven, then he should do something that no one would notice, or if they did notice they would never reward.  The only way these Pharisees and even you and me can change our motivations from being self-serving to becoming God-serving is if we allow God’s grace to change our hearts and our minds.  But like the Pharisees, we must first see that it is part of our sinful nature to live a life that serves our own interests.  We must confess this tendency to be a theologian of glory as evil and then ask God to help us take our eyes off of ourselves and teach us to look to the cross and to Jesus Christ!

Dear friends in our readings today Jesus asks us to take our eyes off of the things that this sinful world says are good and pleasing and instead place our eyes upon Him and the ways God’s Word teaches are profitable to us and pleasing to Him.  This morning, God’s Word teaches us that Jesus is both the Law and the Gospel.  He is the law when he tells us that if we seek first and foremost glory and fame in this world God will punish us by withholding both in eternity.  But He is also the gospel, when he clearly teaches that He humbled Himself for you so that you would be exalted before God.  Jesus then is our liberty and freedom, but because He humbled Himself for us, he has also become our sin.  His righteousness became our righteousness and His death became our death.  If we will rest in this exchange then His glory in heaven is also our glory!  Because He permitted the Law to accuse Him and allowed our sin to damn Him, and death to devour Him He removed the threat of the law against us, He damned sin, destroyed death, and He justified and saved you!  So the question each of us must ask ourselves this morning is simply this: “Will I rest and trust in this gospel truth?”  If you’re honest with yourself, you will admit that while your heart says yes, you know that your sinful flesh will work with all of its might to break this promise, and that is because it is in the nature of our sinful flesh to serve ourselves and not God.  So what can we do?  We must remember who Jesus is; He is God with us and God for us!

While it is true that right now, Jesus is seated at the right hand of God the Father and from there He will come again to judge the living and the dead; it is also true that He is here with us right now in His Word, in the font, and there at His holy table.  In heaven He stands before God and intercedes for you the baptized with the marks of His suffering and sacrificial death.  But He is also here with us in this sinful world!  He is walking with you and strengthening you through His means of grace.  He is daily working to take your eyes off of the things that are based in earthly glory and moving your gaze to things centered in a heavenly glory; He is moving your focus to His cross and to the place He has prepared for you in heaven.  He is working within you and around you so that as you are strengthened in His grace you won’t be afraid to humble yourself and place God’s will and the needs of your neighbor above your own.  Why He even leads you into your neighbors suffering that is caused by sin, and He does this through the power of His blood poured out for you on the cross and in His Supper; the very blood that has changed you forever.  Because you haven’t rejected the work of the cross and the font, in essence you have taken your own humble seat next to your Savior.  And you know by faith that one day soon you will hear your Savior call to you, “Friend, move up here!”  I pray that you will always desire to hear those Words and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

“Are Ya Saved Yet?”

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

Wednesday Evening Gospel Celebration, August 25, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             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.  Most Christians who correctly understand salvation will usually find themselves struggling with an answer to this well meaning but misdirected Christian neighbor.

 This evening, we will be looking at the life of Simeon in order 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. Well let’s talk about the answer,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.  In other words, they’re like you and me!  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.  Now 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 churchgoer; 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!  The question for you this evening is, “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 saved and 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 me read to you Simeon’s song before we talk about your song.  “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]  Simeon’s Song is the Nunc Dimittis, which in Latin means “Now Dismiss”. 

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 has saved me; God is saving me and 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 Mary 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]  In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost…AMEN!

“We May Touch What May Not Be Touched!”

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 22, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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 This morning, God calls us to touch what others may not touch; He calls us to enter into an eternal place of rest, peace, and joy that others have been barred from entering.  We have come to listen to the inerrant Word of God, to remember our baptism, feast at His table, and simply receive these things and believe that through them we have peace with God.  And as we come and receive, we know that there are still others who out-right refuse to hear this Word or they will hear it and then change it so that it agrees with their sinful way of life.

This morning friends, God is assuring us that that through His simple yet holy means of grace, we have a God who loves us and will never do us any harm.  By faith in God’s promise of forgiveness and love, we know that we can only come to Him by entering through the narrow way of the cross and repentance.

I. Yes, because of faith in the cross of Jesus Christ, we know that we are saints, but we also know that we are at the same time sinners.  We know that like the disciple in our gospel reading, our sinful flesh wants to look into things that are not for us to know.  We want to ask questions that God has not provided the answer to; we want to know if our family, friends, and neighbors will be saved.  The disciple showed this sinfulness when he asked Jesus, “Will those who are saved be few?”  What he was really asking and saying to our Lord was, “Lord, will only the few of us who are following you enter into heaven with you?  That doesn’t seem fair!”  Either way we ask the question, Jesus is telling us that we are asking the wrong question.  He’s telling us that He won’t answer that kind of general and academic question.  He wants us to ask the right question.  What’s the right question?  Well the right question is this, “How can I be saved?”  He telling you not to worry about your family, friends, and neighbors salvation, that’s God’s job; instead Jesus wants you to worry about your own relationship with Him.   

“But how?” we ask, and Jesus answers us this way, “You must strive to enter through the narrow door.”  What is the narrow door?  It is the cross and repentance.  Through the cross we are assured that we have a God who is for us and not against us.  Through the cross and the living Word of God, Jesus promises you that by His suffering and death He has assured you of eternal life and the forgiveness of sin.  And then by that same Word He gives you the gift of faith to live out this forgiveness.  Through His cross, Jesus then leads you to your own cross of suffering and shame which is found in a life of repentance.

Repentance simply means rejecting the desires of our sinful flesh and then struggling to live a life that is in line with God’s will.  Repentance means turning away from the world and turning to the Cross of Jesus Christ.  As we said last week, each of us has been called to be a theologian of the cross.  We are to call a thing what it truly is.  If God’s Word says that something is sin then so do we, regardless of what our society or even our own logic tells us. We know that we are called to reject the sinful self-glorifying ways of the world.  When we turn from this theology of glory and turn to a theology of the cross we are living a life of repentance!

II. This morning, our epistle lesson tells us that this life under the cross is a struggle.  It requires God’s discipline and even our own self-discipline.  It requires discipline that hurts.  The originals readers of this letter to the Hebrews were Christian Jews living in Rome who were taught the good news about Jesus Christ.  They eagerly received Christ as their Lord and Savior.  They desired to live under grace at all costs; at least that’s what they told themselves.  You see when they became targets of animosity and persecution from non-believing Jews, one by one they left the message of God’s unmerited love through Jesus Christ and they began to sink back into their old way of following the law of Moses in order to please God.  Their Christianity became wimpy, weak, and lame.  It became a theology of glory.  They were following the age old mantra of every sinful society, “Go along to get along!  Roll with the flow!”

Now the writer of this letter was telling the Hebrews to think about what they were really doing.  They were rejecting the cross and grace of Jesus Christ and turning to the glory of the sinful world, all so that they might have an easier life.  He was encouraging them to look at their sufferings in a different light with these words, “In your struggle against sin you have not resisted to the point of shedding your blood (have you?).  And have you forgotten the (encouraging words) that address you as sons?” [Heb. 12:4,5a]  What the author of this letter was doing was reminding them how far they had fallen.  He was saying, “You are sons and daughters of the Most High God!  You are children of the King of the Universe; the Creator of All Things; your Redeemer and Savior Jesus Christ!  You have peace with God!  Are you really ready to abandon all of this?”  I know how they must have replied because I know how many in similar circumstance reply to me today.  They probably said something like this, “But pastor, that’s just our opinion or belief.  I’m not going to confront someone with an opinion.  Besides, it’s hard living a life of faith when I’m in the minority.  You don’t hear the words they call me or the mean and hateful way they treat me.  They call me ignorant and hateful.  We have our way of believing and they have theirs.  I simply am agreeing that my way is no better than theirs.”

And to this way of thinking, God replies, “Oh?  I thought that it was my way; the way of the cross?  Have you had to shed your own blood because of their evil treatment of you?  I did you know; and I did it for you!”  “But you are God” we reply.  And to that your Savior replies, “But look at how many martyrs shed their blood and gave their lives so that you would be able to hear my blessed Word and know a life of repentance and forgiveness.  Think of how much courage it took for them to obediently gather a congregation so that you would be able to receive the blessed sacraments of baptism and the holy supper.  What if those who went before you also decided to go with the flow, and to go along to get along?  Where would you be?”

III. This morning friends, this truth from God is also for us.  It is the same truth that the writer of the letter to the Hebrews was encouraging those Christian Jews to hold onto.  What is that truth?  It is the inerrant and complete Word of God.  The message that comes to us in Law and Gospel!  We are facing and enemy that wants us to water down God’s Holy Word.  They want us to call good the sinful ways that God is already called evil.  Oh its true, that following God’s inerrant Word and refusing to back down will bring hatred and yes, maybe even persecution, but we must remember that it’s hatred and persecution that God has allowed to come our way for His sake; for the sake of Jesus Christ!  God is using this persecution in a way that’s always correcting us; driving out the sin that is still in us, and drawing us closer to Him.  When we stand up for Him, He draws closer to us!  Listen, wouldn’t you do the same thing if someone was attacking the character of you earthly parents?  Shouldn’t we do even more for our Heavenly Father?!

Now, to the outside world, our suffering doesn’t look any different than the suffering of those who have rejected God’s plan of the cross and repentance, but to God we are His precious saints who are demonstrating to a sinful world His most valuable essence that He has given to us… holiness!  While holiness is what we are assured of when our race here on earth is over, it also the very thing that we are to work and suffer for while we are running the race.  And like an athlete that is training to receive the prize, we are always keeping our eyes on that great reward… peace with God!  In essence friends, we are partakers of God’s holiness now although it is true that perfect holiness will only be ours when we enter our rest in heaven.

Do you really want to throw this reality and promise away?  Do you really want to shrink away from the challenge of living out God’s will and speaking out His Word when called upon to give a witness?  If that is really your intention, then God wants you to know what the consequence will be.  You will not be allowed to enter the Holy City of Zion and the Assembly of Saints to which you have been called!  You will be told “You may not touch and you may not enter!”  And when you hear those words, you will say, ‘Lord, open to (me)’, then Jesus Himself will say, “I don’t know where you come from.”  “But Lord” you will say, I was baptized in your church.  I ate and drank at your Holy Table.  You taught me from your pulpit!  Don’t you remember?”  But Jesus will say, “I tell you, I do not know where you come from.  Depart from me, you worker of evil!”  And He will banish you eternally to a place where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth; a place where you will be able to see all of the blessings of heaven and all of the faithful saints who lived a life of repentance under the cross but never able to touch or to enter.  That is what is meant by the first being last.  For the last there is no reward; there is no prize!  The last will be those who lived as if they had faith but their real desire was to live a life of ease here on earth and in doing so they rejected a life of peace in heaven.

CONCLUSION: Dear saints, because you are resting in God’s grace through Jesus Christ and because you are struggling to remain faithful to His Word you are continually strengthened through His means of grace so that you will not fall out of faith.  Through His Word and Sacraments you are always assured that you already have peace with God and a place at His banquet table in heaven.  You have nothing to fear. And when you discover that you’ve sinned and fallen short of God’s will for you, don’t let that sin separate you from God’s love which is yours through Jesus Christ; instead God is simply calling you to repent, turn away from that sin and then turn to the cross of Jesus Christ.  It is a cross that calls you to follow your savior by faith and trust in Him even when others will ridicule you because of that faith.  This is your cross; this is your struggle, but it is also the very thing that assures you that you may touch those things which others cannot and you may enter where others have been barred.  We do this together as His church and  I pray that we will live out this truth, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Baptism by Fire!

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, August 15, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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This morning God’s is speaking a very personal message to us; He is speaking to us about the cross of Jesus Christ!  It’s the same cross that has brought us peace, love, and happiness from God; but it will also bring us rejection, pain, and suffering!  It is a cross that demonstrates the passion of God for sinners and the walk of faith for those who are forgiven!  Through the cross God is saying that no matter where your heart is right now; no matter what you have done or will do, God loves you and wants you to turn away from your sins and turn to Jesus Christ alone to receive the pardon and forgiveness that He bought for you upon that cross.

This morning, God is telling you… listen now, don’t worry about what He is telling others, because He is talking to you right now; this morning God is telling you to turn away from the sin that has caught you and turn to the cross of Jesus.  He wants you to know that it really is that simple.  There is nothing more you need to do than to admit that what you are doing right now is sinful and that you need his forgiveness and real presence in your life.  He wants you to admit that on your own you are helpless to defeat that sinful nature.  He wants you to admit that you need Him more than you need the approval and love of anyone or anything in this world!

For many, and I trust for you as well, this is good news!  But to many more, this message is a threat to their way of life and their very happiness and existence.  You see many in this world only want to live for themselves; they seek glory and honor for their own lives and not for the God who created them.  They only want to silence the message of the cross, because the cross says that they must change.  The cross says that they must die daily to their sinful desires, and then live to give God glory!  They hate this message, because if it is true, it means that they are wrong; they’re life style is wrong.  So what are they to do?  Well, they’ve created a new message; a message of self-realization and fulfillment.  They’ve create a new theology… a theology of glory!

This morning dear friends, God is speaking to all of us and He warns us from our Old Testament reading to avoid these false teachers.  He says, “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes.  They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord.  They say continually to those who despise the Word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’” [Jeremiah 23:16-17] 

This morning God is warning us to avoid these false teachers; He is saying that He sees and knows what they are doing and they will be punished.  He asks us, “Am I a God at hand (only) and not a God far away?  Can (any) man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him?” [Jer. 23:23]  “Isn’t my Word like fire and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” [Jer. 23:29]

This morning dear friends, God is speaking to you.  Don’t worry about what He’s saying to your family, your neighbor, our nation, or the world, but know this, He is speaking to you.  He wants you to know that in the past He spoke through a nation, the people of Israel.  He called them to be a light unto the unbelieving world.  They were sent to call all nations unto repentance.  But they rebelled, which led to their rejection.  But now, God raised up a new nation.  A nation that relates to Him by faith in spirit and in truth!  God raised you up!  How did He raise you?  Through the cross of Jesus Christ!

This morning friends, God is speaking to you.  He is asking you to turn away from your sins and then turn to the cross of Jesus Christ so that you will know that you are saved.  Do you believe this Word from God?  Good, then live it out!  How?  By being His witness and ambassador of hope and love in a dying world.  Speak the truth, God’s truth, but speak it in love!

This morning, God is asking you to trust Him and follow Him.  “But follow Him where” we ask?  Follow Him to the cross of Jesus Christ.  It is the cross that Jesus had in mind when He said, “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!  I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!  Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division!” [Luke 12:49-51]

Dear friends, when our Lord spoke those words He was thinking about you; he was thinking about today!  When He spoke those words he knew that once He was crucified upon His cross it would set the world on fire.  He knew that people would know once and for all that there was no other way, no other religion that would please God except the true religion; the religion of personal faith that comes to us only through the cross of Jesus Christ.  He knew that this message of the cross would bring both peace and hatred.  He knew that through His death on the cross, those who received His gift of passion, suffering, and death would receive eternal peace with God.  But He also knew that those who related to Him by faith in this gift of the cross would be the targets of scorn and hatred throughout the world!   

This morning dear friends, Jesus speaks to us from His cross and He says follow me.  Suffer with me and do not lose hope.  But following Jesus to the cross is hard; it’s hard because we know it will bring division and suffering.  We know that we will be ridiculed and looked down upon, because we know that we will not only have to live a life of repentance and forgiveness, but we will have to speak this message to others; we will have to speak it to the theologians of glory!

This morning, Jesus warns us not to follow these theologians of glory.  He warns us that the time of judgment is coming for all of those who call evil good and good evil.  Listen to what He says:  “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A shower is coming’ And so it happens.  And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘(It’s going to be a scorcher)’ and it happens.  You hypocrites!  You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” 

“But Lord” we counter, “it’s just that I am afraid!  I’m afraid of the way people will treat me if I speak up!”  And to this God says, “Oh?  Are you more afraid of their judgment than mine?  Would you rather have your friends say, ‘away from me, I never knew you’ or me?”

Dear friends, this morning Jesus is showing each of us that we have all the proof we need to trust in Him and follow Him.  He is warning us not to be like the theologians of glory who certainly know how to test the weather and many other things but ignore the spiritual signs that God has provided to make us wise unto salvation.  This morning Jesus says that we must first remember that all of His Word is true and it will never be less true.  Remember the great work that He did for you upon the cross and then remember the very personal work He did for you within the waters of your own baptism.  Remember the consistent teaching of the church about sin, repentance, and forgiveness.  And when you remember, remember also that God is not a man that He should change His mind.  What was sin then is sin today.  Do not call good what God has called evil.  Remember that you have been called out of this evil world to relate to God by faith and grace, because of the truth of His Holy Word which has shown you your Savior Jesus Christ and His cross!  So live out this life under the cross.  Call sin what it is, without fear.  This is your baptism by fire.  The fire that first kindled in your Savior’s heart has now been poured out on you.  It is the power of the Holy Spirit which changes you and sends you to speak the very same message to other sinners who are not yet relating to God under the cross.

Dear friends, this morning God wants you to have the heart and mind of your Savior Jesus Christ.  He wants you to see how tragic it is that men and women today can predict the movement and growth of stars, split the atom, and even put men out in space, but they are blind to God’s will.  They know how to satisfy their self-serving desires but they refuse to know the will and love of God.  They know how to get to space, but they refuse to know how to get to heaven!  Our educated world and its theology of glory has a lot of knowledge about science and sociology but very little divine and spiritual wisdom. 

This morning dear friends, God is sending you out into this unfriendly world to speak this wisdom.  But He is also sending you out with this reminder of His love for you: His baptism of fire began the day he entered the Jordan river and allowed John to baptize Him.  When He went into those waters He had no need for a baptism and forgiveness of sins; but He went in for you!  When He came out of those waters he willingly took upon Himself the sins of the world, even your sins.  He did it to prove to the world and to you that He took upon His own body the entire load of guilt that you should answer for.  But then He also took them to the cross and by His suffering and death he removed the guilt of the world; He removed your guilt.  In your baptism He has soaked you with this same fire.  Now He asks you to live out this fire by speaking this message of the cross to a world full of self-serving sinners.  Why?  So that some might be saved; so that they too might know and be changed by His baptism of fire!  I pray you will do this very thing, and I ask this in Jesus name.  AMEN!

Faith To Be a Sheep!

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, August 1, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

“Faith… the final frontier.  These are the voyages of the church of Jesus Christ; people who relate to God by faith.  Their on-going mission—to live a life that is completely dependent upon their Creator and Savior; to believe in the unseen as if it has been seen, simply because the Word of God declares it true; to seek out new ways to praise God and help build His kingdom.  To boldly follow Jesus Christ where ever He leads!”

Ok, maybe that’s a bit too much.  How about this then: Faith… is living life as one of Jesus little lambs.  Do you have faith to be a sheep… to be a sheep in God’s flock… the true church?  Jesus wants you to have this kind of faith so He speaks these Words to you: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.  Sell your possessions, and give to the needy.  Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” [Luke 12:32-34]

This morning little flock, your Good Shepherd is expounding on the story He told us last week about the rich fool!  He was rich certainly; he had more wealth than he knew what to do with.  But He was also a fool!  He was a fool because he wasn’t rich towards God.  He was a fool because he failed to understand that His wealth on earth was really God’s wealth; wealth that he was expected to use to build the kingdom of God!

This morning friends, Jesus desires to teach us how to avoid being a fool so that we can be assured that we are a saint.  How?  By being a sheep!  “But sheep are dumb” we argue!  Yes and that’s why they need a shepherd.  Sheep truly are incapable to care for themselves.  They are prone to wander, and when they do, they are prone to be attacked and devoured by wolves.  The smart sheep… or maybe a better way to say this is, the faithful sheep know they need a shepherd.  And when they find their shepherd they know they better learn to know and trust His voice.  But to hear and trust the voice of your Good Shepherd requires faith, and that is precisely what He has been giving to you since your baptism and it is what He is giving to you right now!

What is faith?  Our epistle reading this morning (Hebrews 11:1-16) answers this question for us.  Right away it defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not see.”  Now some may counter, “Hold on now.  I am one that has always believed that faith and logic are equally valid.  In fact I pride myself on the fact that I have learned to rely on both!”  Very well let’s put that to a test.  Remember you are a lamb; you are prone to wander; that’s why you follow your Shepherd.  If all of the sheep followed their Good Shepherd they would always be assured of plenty of food and drink, because that is the job of the Shepherd, to lead them to green pastures and sources of water and safety.  But the sheep that do not have faith alone in their shepherd are lured into wandering off to nearby sources of food and water that the Good Shepherd intentionally bypasses.  The faithless sheep see this contradiction and say to themselves, “This is foolish!  Where is he leading us?  Can’t he see this is good right here?”  So they wander away from the flock only to be attacked and eaten by the wolf.  And that is precisely what will happen to us when we allow logic to interpret the Word of God.

Little lambs, we must remember that we live in a world that is full of dangers and enemies.  As harsh and threatening as this world is, we would be without hope if we did not have a Good Shepherd to guide us.  He sees and knows the dangers that we can’t see and know.  He knows where the traps of the devil are hidden; a devil that is simply waiting for us to leave the safety of the flock and the protection of the Good Shepherd, so he can pounce upon us and devour us!  So the faithful sheep simply follow their Shepherd and place their trust in things hoped for and promises as yet unseen, because they are following their Good Shepherd.

What is it that we are hoping for?  Peace with God and a sense of safety and security in this life certainly, but it is much deeper than that.  We are also placing our faith in the promise of being with our Good Shepherd forever.  We are following the promise of the resurrection of our flesh!  We believe and hope in an eternal life of peace, joy, and happiness.  Why?  Simply because our Shepherd’s Word promises that this will be our reward for trusting in where He is leading us.

Faith, confidence, and conviction are all different ways of describing the same thing.  In these words we are saying that we trust God, and our Good Shepherd Jesus Christ above any and all contradictions!  These words at first seem very subjective and personal, and that is because outside of the Word of God, they are!  You must test and live out faith in order to believe it as fact.  You must trust daily in something in order to be confident in it.  And you must hold onto and practice your convictions in order to keep them strong!  But when the Word of the Good Shepherd is inserted into the equation, all of these words also have something very objective behind them.  Isn’t it true that faith is a hard thing to hold onto, especially in this society that we live in?  Think of all of the people and promises that have disappointed us!  Isn’t it true that confidence is something that is inspired within us?  Yes to all of these.  We need to be assured that we have a true faith and not a false faith.  Eve had great faith in what Satan promised her, even though it was simply a lie dressed up like truth.  The cults and false religions do the very same thing as they twist lies so that they will appear to be the way of God!  No, I am afraid little sheep that there will always be someone or something evil lurking around us, pretending to be genuine, true, reliable and trustworthy; something that wants you to have false hope instead of true faith.

What then?  What are we to do in order to ensure that we are safe and resting in the true faith?  When there is a contradiction between the Word of God and the way of men, we must stay with our Good Shepherd and listen to His voice only.  We must remember that true faith is produce only through the Living Word of God and His Holy Spirit who come to us through His Word and Sacraments.  If we will not trust God’s Word and the promises of His Sacraments then we will inevitably wander from His care and certainly be attacked and devoured by the devil. 

Faith dear sheep is a sure and certain confidence in all of the glorious things promised and hoped for, which are given to us within God’s own Word.  Everything given to us within the Bible is God’s own truth.  All of the past events that are recorded for us are true and all of the future events that are promised will come! 

God’s Word begins with the creation of the world and it ends with the promise that our resurrected and redeemed bodies will live with our Good Shepherd in a new heaven and a new earth.  Every one of these promises is as of yet “unseen,” yet we are to regard them to be as certain and serious as gravity. 

By means of faith we understand that the universe was created solely by the Word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible… instead it was made out of nothing but the Living Word of God! [Heb. 11:3]  “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth… Then God said “Let there be light”; and there was light.” [Gen. 1:1-3]  In the very first paragraph of the Bible we read and we believe it; we believe because the Good Shepherd calls to us and tells us to believe.  Because of faith we need nothing else to go by.  Because of faith we hear these words and believe, that “without faith it is impossible to please (God), for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.” [Heb. 11:6]

By means of faith, Abraham obeyed God when he was called to go out to a place that he had never seen in order to receive an inheritance.  By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise.  Why?  Because he was looking forward to a place that has its foundations in heaven, whose designer and builder is God Himself! [Heb. 11:8-10]  What was the true evidence of Abraham’s faith in God?  He heard the voice of His Good Shepherd and he responded.  He went out into a place that was a complete mystery to receive an inheritance.  He didn’t know where he was going; he only knew he must follow the Word of His God.  Abraham believed God and His promise concerning his Fatherland and future heritage; he had faith to believe in things hoped for and as of yet unseen.  Abraham was walking completely by faith; trust in God.  How could he do this?  Because he was not looking only to an earthly city, but instead he was also looking forward to a city that has its foundations in heaven, one designed for him and his spiritual children who would relate to God by faith.  A city that has been created for you… Jesus little lambs!

Faith dear lambs is what God gives to us through His Word and Sacraments so that we will hear Him and trust in Him; so that we will not wander away following after the things of this world; things which lure us out of the fold… the church of Jesus Christ.  Abraham understood that God’s promise of a Fatherland wasn’t just referring simply to some piece of country in Palestine.  No, Abraham understood that one day his spiritual descendants, you and me would possess as our inheritance a place for eternity where there will be no more suffering, shame, or tears; a place where there will be only the joy of being safe and secure and at peace with our Good Shepherd.

Do you want to have and keep the gift of faith that turns you from a wandering sheep into a little lamb that rests in the flock of the Good Shepherd?  Then rest in the voice of God, the voice of your Good Shepherd found in Holy Scripture, and let it be your greatest source of wisdom and hope.  When you rest in this wisdom you will discover that everything in your life, including your money and possessions are completely safe in the hands of your Creator and Shepherd.  Abraham did this and I pray that you will continue to do this too.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

“Vanity of Vanities!”

Sunday, August 1st, 2010

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 1, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities!  All is vanity!” [Eccl. 1:2]

Webster’s dictionary defines vanity as, “something that is vain, empty, or valueless”, and that is a pretty good way to start off our message this morning.  God wants to take are eyes off of things… things that are vain because they’re self-serving; He wants to take our hopes off of things that are empty because they offer no eternal promises; and He wants to take our hearts off of things that are empty because our eyes, our hopes, and our hearts should be centered on nothing but Jesus and His righteousness, because all other things are vanity!

But make no mistake friends, God is not saying that things of this world are inherently evil; instead it is our focus on these things that make them evil.  In short, God is saying that you are evil, your very heart is evil, and your only means of defeating this evil depends entirely on God and His means.   It is God’s desire that you will choose these means and not the means of the world. 

I. In our gospel reading this morning Jesus is teaching a vast crowd of disciples and others who have gathered to hear the words of eternal life.  He has just finished teaching this important heavenly truth.  God is aware of and concerned with even a small creature like a sparrow.  Since this is true, Jesus asks us to consider how much more God is aware of and concerned with us; we who have been created in the image of God by God’s own hand!  Think of the meaning of this wonderful truth; while birds are plentiful and come and go from this world, you who are created in the image of God are a deathless beings who will continue to exist in self-conscious awareness throughout eternity.  So don’t be afraid of people who can kill your body, but instead fear the judgment of God upon your life; a judgment that can send you straight into hell; forever separated from a God who created and loves you!

Now, the crowd along with each of us is left to ponder this truth because Jesus taught it with such authority.  But a selfish man, not at all affected by this teaching shouts out, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”  Oh you poor fool you have missed the point, and I am afraid so do many of us do as well!  Jesus warns the rude man from the crowd and He warns us this morning: “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” [Luke 12:13-15]

Well let’s turn to Webster’s dictionary one more time and get another definition.  This time lets define covetousness.  “Covetousness” is marked by an inordinate desire for wealth or possessions or for another’s possessions.  It can also mean a craving for possession.  People are often covetous of another person’s power or position.  Now make no mistake, the rude young man knew exactly what Jesus was saying, and I am afraid so do many of us.  But to ensure that His warning would hit its target, Jesus tells us this story: “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, “(self) What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store (my overflowing) crops?”  And he said (to himself), ‘I will do this: I will tear down my (old) barns and build (newer) and larger ones, and there I will store ALL of my grain and (all of my other riches) and goods.  And I will say to my (self)… self, you have (plenty of things) laid up for many years; (so) relax, eat, drink, and be merry.’” [Lk. 12:15b-19]

Now so far this sounds like the American dream doesn’t it?  “What’s so bad about preparing for the future” we wonder?  But Jesus continues… He always does: “But God said to him, ‘(You) fool!  (Tonight) your soul (will leave this earth and your body), and the things you have prepared, whose will they be (then)?”  And so is the (way for everyone) who (also) lays up treasures for (themselves here on earth) and is not rich toward God (with heavenly things)!”

II. Pension plans, 401k’s, Annuities and savings accounts are all something each of us is encouraged to  maintain.  We would call this our earthly portfolio.  Now, as I said earlier, these things are not evil in and of themselves.  In fact it is wise to invest your money so that you can be cared for when you are older, and if possible also leave a little something behind for your children.  But if we listen to Jesus this morning, we’re also taught that there is another heavenly portfolio that we must be more interested in.  In one, you work hard all of your life to build up and maintain, only to be guaranteed that eventually you will lose it all; either with the collapse of the stock market or at your own death.

In the other, in your heavenly portfolio, God has done all of the work through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, your Lord and Savior, and He promises you that no one can take this treasure away from you.  He alone has created and amassed and unfathomable amount of wealth, and He has given it all to you!  These are the things that Jesus says that we should be worried about so that we are rich toward God!  Our hope should be centered on nothing less than Jesus and His righteousness.  All other ground is vanity of vanities! 

Can you see friends that one of the most blatant reasons that covetousness is a sin is the simple truth that every bit of our identity, every bit of our actual life is not drawn from our earthly possessions but from the giver of those gifts and possessions, including our very lives?  The simple truth is this, that the possession of life, the greatest possession we have, depends entirely on the God who created us!  If we can see this truth, then the question begs to be asked and answered, “Do you trust Him to keep you and care for you with all that you need?”  And what is it that we need?

III. We need to receive and put away!  What shall we receive?  Things from above!  What are those things?  Forgiveness of sins, the assurance of eternal life, and the joy of our salvation, which come from the Word of God!  We need to receive a new identity that has been hidden with Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  We need to receive the assurance that in our baptism, our old sinful nature has been drowned, crucified with Christ.  We need to receive the assurance that when Christ appears to us, our new life will appear with Him as well.  We need to put away our old sinful way of thinking that cares only about the vanities of wealth of this world and receive and put on the wealth from above.  We need to put on the new self, which is the heart and mind of Jesus Christ!  We need to be renewed daily in this new image of our creator.  And we can only do this by daily dying to self and living to please God by embracing our new identity! [Col. 3:1-11]

Jesus called the rich man a fool and he was!  Jesus asked him what would happen to all of his rich things of this world that he prepared when God required the judgment of his soul.  Yes his wealth was his; he acquired it along with his ripening harvest.  He poured out his best strength to acquire it at the exclusion of everything else that was higher and needed.  And now when his life is over, “whose shall they be?”  “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities!  All is vanity.” [Ecc. 1:2]  But the Preacher, the Savior of our souls has this truth to leave us with and it is good news: “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil.  This (is from) the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?  For to the one who pleases Him, God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner, (one who gathers up treasures only for this earth) He has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give it to one who pleases God.  This is also vanity and a striving after wind.” [Ecc. 1:24-26]

Dear friends, to be rich in God is to have the wealth that is found in God.  This wealth is nothing less than the pardon, peace, and salvation that is given to us when we are trusting in Jesus Christ.  You are indeed rich in God when you receive the saving gifts that Christ acquired and gave to you in your baptism, which He continualy gives to you in His Word and Sacrament.  And because we are now rich in Christ we are encouraged to daily claim these gifts and hold onto them with gratitude.  We who are baptized into the life and death of Jesus Christ are truly rich no matter how little or how much of the world’s wealth we possess!

Friends, this living hope in our heavenly treasure and life to come is what guides us and transforms us.  It fills our hearts with joy and hope.  Because our Lord may come to us at any time, we are always refocusing our love on things of God and not things of this world.  We look forward to a true inheritance that shall always be ours and we do not put to high of a value on earthly things.  Our entire lives here on earth are forever being filled with the promises of God to the point where it is changing how we think and how we live.  We do not live as those who have no hope, but instead we live with the great assurance that because we belong to God, it is His obligation to care for us.  I pray that you will rest in this truth always and see all other things as simply vanity… and I ask this in Jesus name AMEN!