Archive for September, 2010

Abraham’s Bosom?

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 26, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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This morning God’s word jumps out at us like a Hollywood movie.  It’s a story of contrasts and a story of tragedy.  If it was a movie, we might call it “Rich Man-Poor Man” or “Eternally Trading Places”.  Remember from last week’s gospel lesson that there are three different groups of people listening to Jesus teachings.  There are Jesus disciples, the open sinners who are drawn to Jesus Word because they really hungered for a life of forgiveness and peace with God, and then there are the Pharisees who have been eavesdropping.  Well eavesdrop no more you brood of self-righteous vipers, because now Jesus is going to talk directly to you, but in doing so He is also talking to everyone else who longs for God’s love and forgiveness.  In short, He is talking to you and me!

Jesus sets the stage for His parable by telling a story of two men.  Both were Jews who worshiped the same God.  One was empty but would be satisfied and full; the other was already satisfied and full but would be emptied.

The first character that we are introduced to is the “Rich Man”.  Jesus says that he was “clothed in (a) purple (robe and wore) fine linen (under his robe), and (he) feasted sumptuously every day!” [Luke 16:19]  In other words he was living large; he was living a lifestyle of the rich and famous.  His lifestyle was so opulent that even Robin Leach would have blushed!

The second character that we’re introduced to is Lazarus, who was more than poor; he was a terminally ill beggar who counted on the pity and care of others.  Listen to how Jesus introduces and describes him: “And at (the rich man’s) gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table.  Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores.” [vs. 20-21]

Like a Hollywood script, these two men are flashed before our eyes.  One lives in the lap of luxury and the other in extreme poverty.  Now we must remember that being rich is no sin, but how you use your riches can be!  The Pharisees were lovers of money in addition to being self-righteous, so they knew that Jesus was talking to them.  They knew that Jesus was forcing them to look into their own hearts and they didn’t like it one bit! 

Now, did you notice that the rich man had no name but the poor man did?  His name was Lazarus.  Do you know what that name means?  It means “God helps”!  This was a direct appeal to Levitical Law where God commanded that the poor be taken care of by those who had plenty.  You can be sure that the Pharisees knew that this story was aimed at their hearts.  In the character of the rich man, Jesus had put his finger or their love of money by comparing it to the nameless rich man’s greed and opulence. 

Poor old Lazarus!  He was dumped at the rich man’s front gate by some people who thought, “Surely this rich man will give him a little something!”  Did he?  No, not one thing!  I’m sure that a lot of other rich people came by every day to visit, and none of them gave him a thing.  The only comfort that Lazarus found was the companionship of roaming dogs that licked his sores with their soft tongues!  God provided brute comfort when human comfort failed!

Now Jesus moves us to a place where all good stories and Hollywood movies seem to start and end… in death!  We are at a cemetery.  On one side of the grounds we find well-kept and peaceful tombs.  This is where the body of the rich man is laid.  Oh, you can be sure that his tomb was the finest that money could buy and that all of his rich friends were there to say their last good-byes.  If this was a Hollywood movie, they would all have on designer suits and dresses and their Limousines, Bentleys, and Rolls Royces would be lined up as far as the eye could see!  And on the other side of the grounds, where the poor people were laid to rest, there is another burial taking place.  But unlike the rich man’s funeral no one attends.  Like the Beatle’s song Eleanor Rigby, nobody came… nobody cared!  There was only the grave digger and the Rabbi and the body of Lazarus.  How sad!  Was the good life only a dream for poor old Lazarus; a dream that never became a reality?  No, because Jesus’ story flashes to another reality; not an alternate reality but an eternal one. 

“The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom.  The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.  And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.” [vs. 22-24]  Like a bit of Hollywood magic, Jesus’ parable somehow combines two places into one.  Now we are simultaneously taken to heaven and to hell, and there we observe both the rich man who still has no name because God has forgotten him, and Lazarus, who once was hungry, poor, and pitiful but now is rich, blessed, and seated at God’s heavenly banquet table leaning on Father Abraham himself! 

What determined the fate of these two characters in Jesus’ story and what determines our fate?  This was the question that Jesus was confronting the self-righteous Pharisees with; it’s the answer to this question that we all must hear and learn from this morning.   And to get that answer, let’s get back to the story. 

“But Abraham said (to the rich man), ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime receive your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are (there) in anguish.  And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’  And (the rich man) said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send (Lazarus) to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’  But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.  And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’  He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets (that is holy scripture), neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’’” [Vs. 25-31]

Dear friends, Jesus is teaching us that it is God’s selected and declared means of grace alone that will save us from sin, death, and the devil.  It is His holy Word alone that has saved us, is saving us, and will save us!  It is God’s means alone that not only directs our lives here on earth but determines where we will spend eternity.  Jesus wants us to understand that it is God’s Word alone and our treatment of it which creates faith and the ability to do two things: Please God and to have a desire to be with God!

We please God when we desire to hear His Word and receive His Sacrament.  When we receive these things, they change us by giving us not just forgiveness of sins but the faith to believe in that forgiveness.  Hearing God’s Word and believing it are the only way to please God.  His Word is the only way that a sinful heart, your sinful heart can be cleansed.  But our sinful hearts don’t like to hear this, so we invent new means, our own means that we think God should have provided but didn’t, so we take it upon ourselves to fix what we feel God overlooked.  This is why the rich man wanted a miraculous raising of Lazarus’ dead body.  He wanted the dead to do the proper work of the living Word of God!  He wanted Lazarus to bring repentance and faith unto salvation instead of God’s law and gospel!

Friends, God’s means of grace, His Word and Sacraments and nothing else, are the very things alone that change our hearts so that they desire to do the things that please God.  How do we please God?  By hearing His Word and then building His kingdom!  How do we build His kingdom here on earth?  We do it by hearing His Word and then sharing that same Word with whomever He puts in our lives!  When we share His Word with those who are living without it we are opening the very gate of heaven to them.  Will they enter and be saved or will they reject His Word and only know the torments of Hell?  God alone knows and not us, so we continue to feed them God’s only means of salvation!

But what of those who are physically poor and pitiful like Lazarus?  What does God want us to do for them?  Well they too need the Word of God, so we also speak it to them, but they also need acts of loving kindness here on this sinful earth, so we feed them and care for their physical needs as well!  You know, our church pantry is a wonderful way to do this very thing!  We can always use donations of food and even financial support so that we can continue to show simple human kindness and compassion to them.  But we could also use your time there as well!  What a wonderful way to spend a few hours, sharing God’s Word and a sack of groceries with some of our neighbors!

Dear friends when we become centered in God’s Word, we will also begin to see it changing us and leading us.  And when that happens we will begin to find ourselves doing the things that need God.  And as you are doing the things that God wants done you will begin to see something else wonderful happening within your heart… you will begin to want to be with God!

When we desire to be with God we will also desire to stay in His Word and receive His sacrament, and when we stay in His Word and are fed in His Sacrament we discover that we are already with God!  Friends, through His Holy Word God draws all men, all sinners unto Himself, even you and me!  Through His Word He creates our desire to come to His heavenly banquet table and feast on a meal of forgiveness!  At His table and through His Word we discover that we’re already where we shall always be… at Abraham’s Bosom!

 What is Abraham’s bosom?  It is the living Word of God; the very person who has just shared this wonderful story with us; it is Jesus Himself!  He alone is Abraham’s heart and He is ours as well!  His living Words are real food and drink and they are the only thing that moves us not just to the gate of heaven but into heaven itself where we will discover that our place at His banquet table has always been our place.  It is a place where we have been communing with Him and we will continue to commune with Him.  It is the only place where we are assured of real rest and peace and peace with God!  I pray that God’s Word continues to do this mighty work within our hearts.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Either—Or!

Sunday, September 19th, 2010

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 19, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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This morning’s gospel reading is really a continuation of Jesus teaching from last week.  If you recall, last week Jesus responded to the criticism of the Pharisees and scribes because He received open sinners.  Jesus shared with them and us His wonderful teaching about the extravagant measures that God takes to find and return any and all of His children who are lost in sin!  That parable was told especially for the benefit of the self-righteous and judgmental people who looked down their collective noses at sinners.  He forced them to see that they too were also lost in sin!

Well now, Jesus turns His attention away from the open sinners and self-righteous Pharisees and He is addressing His disciples; those who followed Him as their Lord and Savior, but as always, the Pharisees were right there eavesdropping and looking for a way to trap and attack Jesus.  So Jesus tells another parable… a story that communicates an eternal truth in a way that will make sense in a temporary and sinful world; He tells us a story about an unrighteous manager or steward.  This story is first a teaching about God’s mercy and second it’s a story that forces us to look at our own response to God’s Mercy.  Like Jesus’ audience of that day, we too can hear this teaching in one of two ways: First, we can hear it as His true disciples; people who know that their God is merciful and forgiving.  Or we can listen in on Jesus teaching as an eavesdropper—a person who is self-righteous and worldly and dismiss this parable as a silly story.

At the very heart of this parable then is a teaching on stewardship.  This story forces us to ask ourselves a very simple question: How do I view material goods and money?  Do I see them as mine in order to make life easier for me here or do I see these things as God’s which are simply on loan to me so that I can help build and advance His kingdom of grace here within a sinful world?

By the time Jesus is done teaching us, we will be forced to pick a side; either we will feel blessed to be called his disciple and we will see our money and possessions as tools which God uses to expand His kingdom or we will leave here feeling unchanged  and put-off; as if we are being pressured to do something we don’t believe in.

Now at first, Jesus parable about the unfaithful manager might seem strange; it might seem as if Jesus is saying that the manager who is also a thief is to be admired!  Well that would be the case if you made the manager the focus of the story.  But, if you change the focus of attention to the rich land owner, suddenly the story is not centered on the criminal activity of the manager at all, but instead it is focused on the mercy of the rich land owner.

What should have happened to the manager?  Well, what happens today when people cook the books, embezzle money, or at best misappropriate funds that belong to someone else?  They go to jail or they get sued!  And yet, the rich land owner in Jesus story not only didn’t throw that rascal in jail he let him leave and go and get the ledger book; why he even gave him time to cook the books!  Outrageous!!  And that is the point that Jesus is making… God’s mercy, His forgiving love for sinners such as you and me is outrageous!  Think about that for a moment; think of all the things we could have done to further God’s kingdom and we refused; think also about all we have done that has actually hurt His kingdom, yet  He still loves and forgives us.  He IS a God of forgiveness and grace!  Outrageous but true… God still loves me and you and He still loves you!

Well, now that we have properly adjusted our focus and placed it onto the mercy of the rich land owner and compared that mercy with the mercy of God we can safely and correctly evaluate the conduct of the manager or steward and look for some personal comparisons.  Remember now, Jesus is talking to the disciples.  Are you a disciple of Jesus Christ?  If you answered yes, then this morning Jesus is talking to you too!  He’s asking you to look at the conduct of the manager and see if you don’t find yourself there as well.   

In Jesus parable we are shown what a great amount of wealth the manager misused and stole.  Now as a disciple of Jesus Christ, ask yourselves “What greater wealth could there be than the Word of God and His Holy Sacraments?”  How have we treated these things?  Have we taken them for granted and neglected their use?  Have you treated God’s heavenly treasure in a lower fashion than you treat worldly wealth?  Have you hoarded this wealth instead of using it to create more heavenly wealth by sharing it with others?  These are some important questions that Jesus’ parable forces us to ask ourselves.  Do you fall short of God’s demand?  Of course you do, and so do I.  But what now… what should our response be to this now apparent sinful condition of our heart?  We must confess this sin to Him.  You see, we really are like the crooked manager and God has confronted us with our thievery.  So like the manager in the parable, we must confess that God is right and then rest in His mercy and forgiveness.

But there is still one more issue in this parable that we need to address, and it is this: What did Jesus mean when He said that “the master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness”? (vs. 8a)  Well again, if we take the focus off of the crooked manager and put it back on the land owner it becomes clear.  In other words if we take the focus off of our own sinfulness and put the focus on God’s mercy and grace it all makes sense!

The manager was shrewd because he quickly began building a future for himself so that he wouldn’t be homeless.  He couldn’t do manual labor and he knew he couldn’t beg.  So what was he to do?  Well the very thing he always did… he would count on the merciful nature of the rich land owner to carry him through.  You see, he knew that by chopping considerable amounts of money off of each of the debtors bills they would be obliged to him for using his masters’ mercy as a way to save them money.  And he also knew that because it was his master’s nature to be merciful he would be merciful to him as well.  And He was right!  When the master found out, he was commended him for his shrewdness; he was commending him for understanding his master’s true nature… his merciful nature.  

Now to make sure that our focus is still on the mercy of God and not on the actions of the unfaithful servant, Jesus sums up the parable with this application:  “for the sons of this world (meaning those who find their identity in the treasures of this world instead of God’s treasures) are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation (which means our present sinful generation) than the sons of light (which means those of us who are saved by grace and who by faith know that we have a God of love who mercifully forgives us).”  And to make it clear to us what we are to do now that we know we have a God of mercy, Jesus says, “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth (that is through the wealth of this world), so that when it fails (as it did with the dishonest manager, your heavenly friends) may receive you (not into earthly homes) but into the eternal dwelling.” (vs. 8b)  What is the eternal dwelling?  Friends it is your mansion in heaven; your personal and real home that is greater than any possession you could ever have here on earth.  After all, every one of the good things that you possess here in this world have been given to you by God.  He is the creator and owner of all.  What you have is simply a trust from Him.  But your eternal possession, your salvation is truly yours.  He has freely given that to you through Jesus Christ, and it is really is yours!  No one can take it away from you.  It is your birth-right that was given to you in your baptism and it is a gift that is always growing as you continue in the Word of God and make friends in heaven.  And who are those friends?  They are God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit! 

So Jesus is saying that because of all of this we should be faithful with the little wealth we have been given here on earth.  What is that little wealth?  Certainly it is not God’s grace and mercy which are showered upon us in His Word and Sacrament!  Then what is it?  Friends it is the wealth of this world.  How are we faithful in this little wealth?  By using it to build the kingdom of Heaven; by using it to spread the gospel.  We don’t use it to feather our nest here in this sinful world, but instead we use it to spread God’s wealth and build His kingdom.  Does our money, time, and talent that we use to further His kingdom then buy our mansion in heaven?  No, and again I say no!  If it did, then that would mean we could buy our salvation.  Then what does our money accomplish?  It helps to spread the message that our God, their God is loving and merciful and He desires that none should perish but that each one would turn to Jesus Christ, the Son of God so that they too might eternally know God’s love and mercy, and then join with you the church in continuing to build the Kingdom of God, one heart at a time.

What must we do to ensure that we never become an unrighteous manager or steward?  We must keep our focus on the mercy and love of God; mercy and love which come to us only through Jesus Christ and the cross He chose to die upon for the sins of the world, even your sins!  When we turn to Jesus and His cross we are also turning away from our sin, even our sinful love of this world and its treasures.  Jesus said, “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”  (vs. 19)  It is an either or proposition friends.  You can’t love and serve both!

So it comes down to this: Who is your Savior and God?  For some, money and the things of this world are their god’s; and they will leave here this morning like many of the Pharisees, unchanged and feeling put-off.  They will look at this message as just another attempt by the church and one of her preachers to get more time, talent, and treasure out of them.  But because you know that through Jesus Christ your Creator God is merciful, loving and kind, you see your time, talent, and yes your money as well, as a tool that God uses to build His kingdom by pointing others to a merciful God who forgives and saves only through Jesus and His heavenly treasures, which are His blessed Word and Sacraments, the very things that saved you!  May God continue to give us this same mercy and grace through Christ Jesus our Lord… AMEN!

You Are Found!

Sunday, September 12th, 2010

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 5, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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In our gospel lesson this morning Jesus told a story about a lost sheep.  It was a parable He used to illustrate God’s joy in seeing an open sinner turn away from his sin and receive forgiveness and salvation.  It communicates in a very wonderful way how important each of us is to God!  This morning, let’s allow God’s Word to show us something about being lost, how He searches for the lost, the need to celebrate when the lost are found and finally the great joy in being found!

In our Old Testament reading we’re given a wonderful depiction of how God loves us and cares for us in our time of need; in the times we wonder off and get lost!  When is our time of need?  Well, it’s pretty much all of the time, because you see we are sheep who are always prone to wonder!  Listen to how God explains His role and ours: “Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out.  As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.” [Ezekiel 34:11-12]   Let me ask you a question, who is it that gets lost?  Isn’t it us?  But why are we lost?  Friends, we become lost when we lose sight of our Savior; when we cease to hear our Savior’s voice in the clear Word of God.  You see, when we lose our focus on God’s Word, we begin to wander into a world of thick darkness, which is our own sin and the sins of this world that seek to separate us from our Good Shepherd, who knows that we are lost and promises to find us!

But what if we don’t know that we’re lost?  Could that really happen?  Isn’t God’s Word pretty clear in describing the sin we get lost in?  Yes, but you see, the devil is like a cunning and hungry lion, and he’ll do anything he can to separate us from God’s fold, the church and then lead us out into the dark world of sin.  How does he do this?  By turning other lost sheep into false teachers in order to confuse God’s clear Word so that we become confused and disoriented!  Listen to how God speaks to these false teachers in our Old Testament lesson: “Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture; and to drink of clear water, that you must muddy the rest of the water with your feet? And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have muddied with your feet?” [vs. 17-19]

Friends, this treading down the pasture and the mudding of the clear water is precisely what happens when false teachers manipulate God’s Word so that what God calls evil seems to be good!  What does God call evil?  Well listen to what He says through St. Paul: “Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine”. [1 Tim. 1:8-10]  Who are the lawless and disobedient, the ungodly sinners?  In short, it’s you and me!  How are we saved?  By knowing that we are lost and in danger and then turning to God to be saved!  But if we allow God’s Word to become clouded by the opinions of our sinful society then how are we ever to know that we are lost and in danger?

In our gospel reading this morning we see an interesting example of this.  In our lesson, we see two classes of people, those who knew they were sinners and those who thought they weren’t.  The first group was described as publicans and open sinners.  They heard Jesus pure teaching of the law of God and they knew they were lost.  The second group of people, the Pharisees and the scribes had the same law of God, but they had muddied it so much with the traditions of their religious society that they would never see that they were lost!  They had also heard Jesus teaching but they wouldn’t listen, because if they did, that would mean that they were lost too!  As Jesus was feeding them God’s pure Word, all they could think about was how good they were and how filthy the sinners following Jesus were!  They must have been listening to Jesus and thinking “Look at Him there; He’s surrounded Himself with a bunch of dirty open sinners!”   Indeed, scripture teaches that “sinners were always drawing near Him.  And to this observation Jesus decides to tell a parable.  “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?” [Luke 15:4]

Did the open sinners know they were lost?  Yes!  God’s Holy Law, like a mirror showed them all of their ugliness, which was their open and militant sin!  What was their reaction?  They felt lost and separated from God because Jesus’ Word had showed them their sin!  What was their response?  They turned to Jesus for help!  They wanted to hear how to find forgiveness and peace with God their Father.  They wanted salvation!  Did the Pharisees and scribes know they were lost?  No!  You see, they wouldn’t let God’s pure Word judge them because they thought that God had given them the right to judge… judge another person’s salvation!  They were so focused on the lost and sad condition of others that they wouldn’t look into God’s Holy Law and see their own lost and sad condition!

What was the point of Jesus teaching?  Simply this, God cares about each and every lamb!  He will go to extravagant measures to save them.  How extravagant?  How about becoming a sheep to save the sheep!  Friends we are the sheep that need saving, whether we admit it or not!  It is God’s clear Word that calls attention to our sin… sin that we can’t get rid of; sin that has caught us and trapped us like a little lamb caught at the edge of a cliff with a hungry lion bearing down on it!  But Jesus, the Son of God, our Savior and Shepherd has come to us and freed us from this trap by taking our place!  He died the death that we were to die so that we would be saved! 

The truth is friends, the only difference between the open sinners and the Pharisees is that one group saw a need for a Savior and the other group didn’t.  Isn’t it true that if a person refuses to admit that they’re sick they’ll also refuse to call on a doctor even when they are dying?  If a person won’t admit that they’re lost aren’t they more likely to run away from their rescuer rather than run to him and be saved! 

Has God’s Word convinced you that without Jesus you are lost in your sins?  Are you also convinced that you need to be found?  If you answer yes, then you have already been found!  God found you with His Word!  When you hear the ugly accusations and terrors of the devil and your own conscience, then you must also hear the sweet words of the gospel… the absolution… the forgiveness of all of your sins.  Friends, when you feel the weight of your sins closing in on you then you must also feel the purifying washing of the water and the Word, your own dear baptism that is always cleansing you of all unrighteousness!  When you feel as though God can’t keep forgiving you because you keep sinning, then let Him strengthen your faith; let Him lead you often to His Holy Supper so He can feed you a meal of forgiveness; a meal where He promises to nourish you with His very body and blood!  Let His holy Word convince you as it did the open sinners that you too have been found by Jesus!  Let God’s Word teach you as well to rest in His means of not just finding you but saving you!

So now what?  Well now it is time to allow God to use us in order to find others.  How?  By going out as sheep who ourselves were once lost but are now found.  We go out as former open sinners looking for other open sinners, but we don’t go out like the Pharisees and scribes, looking down our collective noses at the dirty sinners, instead we go out singing “Amazing Grace”!  Oh how sweet the sound of the gospel that saved a wretch like me.  I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see!  Why do we see?  Because God’s pure Word, the law and the gospel has shown us our sin and then continually shows us forgiveness and eternal life through our Savior and Shepherd Jesus Christ.  How do we work with God to find others?  By showing them the same Word that saved us!  We don’t change it or rearrange it, instead we allow it to change and rearrange us and them! 

Yes there is much work ahead of us as God LEADS us out to find others, but right now it’s time to celebrate the finding of the lost, even you and me!  If you think about it, Divine Service is really God’s on-going celebration of finding the lost.  Jesus says that “there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” [vs. 10]  Think of our worship every Sunday as simply a response to God’s Divine Service of saving us!  It’s a divine service of Word and Sacrament that continuously saves us and then celebrates our salvation.  

Dear friends, when you leave here today let this reality completely over take you… YOU ARE FOUND!  Let God teach you the great joy in knowing that no matter how lost you were in your sin and the sins of this evil world… He searched for you… He found you… He saved you… and He cares for you!  You are found!  You are found!!  Now thank the Lord and give Him praise and tell everyone what He has done.  Oh amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me and like you! 

I pray (that God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost always) guard this Word entrusted to you. (May you) avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of (the false teachers that have caused) some (to leave the Christian) faith.   (May God’s) grace (always) be with you. [1 Timothy 6:20-21]  AMEN!

Living a Cross Culture Life

Sunday, September 5th, 2010

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 5, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

 “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” [Luke 14:35b]  Let him really hear; let him listen!  Do you have ears?  Good, then Jesus says, “Listen!”  But even now, some of you aren’t listening.  You’re thinking about what you need to do this afternoon.  It’s the Labor Day weekend, so maybe you have a family barbeque planned.  Perhaps people are coming over, so you’re thinking about cleaning your house?  Well listen to what Jesus is saying.  Do you have ears to hear?  Then listen!  Maybe the title of the sermon has turned you off: Living a cross culture life.  Maybe you’re thinking, “Oh here he goes again, another sermon on the cross!”  And to this Jesus again asks, “Do you have ears to hear?  Good, then listen!”

This morning God wants us to hear Him with our ears so that His Word can continue to touch and change our hearts, because only then will we be able to really listen.  You see Jesus knows something that we seem to forget, and that is that because our hearts are essentially sinful they are prone to wander from His grace; grace which comes by the gift of faith, which He has given to us through His Word!  It’s this gift of faith that creates within us a desire to hear His Word and believe it; believe that God loves us and will never leave us!  This is the most important thing He wants you to believe and rest in!

This morning God wants you to know that if you will not continue to hear and listen to His Word then you are choosing not to rest in His love and grace.  He wants you to know that there is an eternal cost in leaving Him!  Listen to His warning that comes to us in our Old Testament lesson this morning: “But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish… I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse.  Therefore choose life that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days”. [Deut. 30:17-20b]

God’s message is simple!  The God of Holy Scripture is your God!  He is the God of your salvation and your very life.  His promises of blessings and love are true and more than that, they’re yours.  In His Word He assures you that He chose you to be His child; He proved this by ensuring that you were saved in the waters of your baptism.  In His Holy Supper He feeds you His very body and blood for the forgiveness of all of your sins!  And even more amazing, He promises that this forgiveness even extends into the future, to your children and your children’s children if they too will walk by faith according to His means.  But you can’t have any other gods; in fact He is saying you don’t need any other gods!  But what does it mean to have another god?  Well to have a god is to have something that is most important to you; something that you place your hope and trust in… something that you would fight to hold onto.  And if it’s anything that takes first place over God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit well… then you have a false god!

If you continue to choose to follow a sinful lifestyle and you refuse to embrace holy living then your sinful life style has become your god, and you have chosen death!  If you continue to place your family and friends above your relationship with God, well then they’ve become your false god and the instrument of your death and damnation!  Now listen; do you have ears?  Of course you do!  So God is calling you to hear Him and listen with your heart.  He’s telling you to turn away from your false gods and turn to Him.  What He’s saying is “Choose life!”

Now, for those of you who attend our Wednesday morning bible study, your ears may have perked up and you may be saying, “Choose life?  I thought our sinful flesh can only choose death.  I thought that the Law of God was impossible to follow?”  And to that, may I say, congratulations… you are right!

The words choice and freewill are a little misleading.  You see, God really does give you the freedom to choose, but your choices are very limited.  You can only choose to live to please the desires of your sinful flesh.  Think of it this way; let’s say that you are in a burning building.  It’s fully engulfed in fire and it’s ready to burn you alive.  In front of you are two doors.  One leads deeper into the flames and the other leads outside; it leads to freedom and life.  There’s one problem though, that door is chained, locked, and barricaded shut.  So go ahead, choose!  “Not fair” you say, “there is really only one choice and that’s death!”  And to that observation, God says, “Very good.  Now you are hearing; now you are listening!”

Friends, the truth is, there really is only one choice; you will always choose what is in your sinful heart to do, and that’s a sad truth.  In your heart are all the things that you love and wish for, and those things are always self serving and never God serving!  So you see damnation and judgment are your destiny and future unless something miraculous is done by God to change your heart!  And now enters a second choice, a divine choice; God has changed your heart and He chose life for you!  So how do we choose life?  By resting and trusting in God’s mercy and His means of grace that He has given to us!  In keeping with our burning building illustration, God’s means, His Word and Sacraments are the only way the door to eternal life can be opened.  Jesus alone is the key that unlocks the door and removes the barricade of sin in your life! 

Moses told the people that the Word of God was in their mouth and in their heart.  Then he gave them a simple command… do it!  But how?  Well, you have ears to hear, so listen.  Listen to the Word of life that tells you about God’s love and forgiveness.  Dear friends, Jesus is the Word of life in human flesh.  He is a Word that assures us that we will have an abundant life, even an eternally abundant life.  How do you choose life?  By continuously choosing to stay in a relationship of love with God through Jesus Christ!  You have ears to hear, so listen to Jesus, the Word of eternal life and live!  “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light”. [Matt. 11:28-30]

How do we choose life?  By continuing to choose to hear the Word of God; by resting in the choice that Jesus made for you.  Listen friends, the Son of God always has been and always will be the Word of God, but He chose to become so much more than that… He chose to come to us in our flesh.  He chose to be incarnate by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary and take on the name and person of Jesus.  He chose to suffer and die under Pontius Pilot; He chose to die a terrible and agonizing death upon the cross; a death you deserved to die and a death you certainly will die if you do not continue to choose life; if you do not choose to use the ears He has given to you to hear the Words of eternal life; words that bring faith and salvation.  How do we choose?  By staying in the relationship of love that He has already given to us!  Jesus is your God and you are part of His people.  In your baptism you have been promised that God has chosen you!  So your choice is simple: Either choose to continue to walk in this relationship of grace or choose to walk away from it.  Friends, God has already chosen life for you, will you rest in that choice or will you make the only other choice that you are capable of making?  God encourages you to choose life and since you are here, hearing and listening to His Word then God simply asks you to rest in His choice of life for you!  But Jesus warns us this morning that there is a cost in continually choosing to rest in God’s grace!

 In our gospel reading, Jesus clearly defines that cost with a warning similar to the one Moses gave long ago.  We must protect our relationship with Jesus and have no other gods; even if it means that we must leave the company of family and friends, wealth and comfort, and even at the expense of our own life!  Listen: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.  Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” [Lk. 14:25-27]

Now perhaps it is the ears of our catechism students that are perking up!  “What about the 4th Commandment, which says that we are to honor our Father and Mother?”  Dear friends, God hasn’t set aside that commandment, instead he is simply allowing you understand that there’s one that is more important… the 1st Commandment!  “You shall have no other gods before or beside me!”  You see friends, Jesus is not just God, He is your God.  He is God for you, and you are His child.  He bought you with a great price.  And because He is your God and you are His child, you must hate anything that would seek to separate you from that eternal relationship.  You must even hate your own sinful flesh!  This hating is simply keeping God first and protecting that relationship from all other relationships.  But our challenge is living out that relationship in a sinful world.  And this is where your cross comes in; this is the counting of the cost of living a Cross Culture Life!  Following Jesus and bearing your cross means that that it’s your desire to put God first, even if it means that you will lose the love and respect of family and friends; you’ll fight to place Him first even if it means you could lose your employment.  But this fight to keep God first doesn’t mean that you’ll quit being a loving father, mother, wife, husband, child, brother, sister, or neighbor.  It doesn’t mean that because you are tired of fighting your own sinful flesh, you’ll take your own life.  No, instead it means that you will continue to choose living a life that trusts in God no matter the cost!  Counting the cost friends means that you will continue to fear, love and trust God above all things, even above your own family and your personal comfort.  Hating your life then means walking with God even if it requires you to die for Him!

Have you counted the cost of being a disciple of Jesus Christ, of keeping God first?  God did!  In Christ, He not only proved that He counted the cost of saving you, but He also proved that He loves you… He gave you forgiveness and peace with Him.  Through His living Word and Sacraments He has assured you that He not only loves you but that He will never leave you or forsake you.  Through His love that was given to you through the cross He calls you to follow Him and bear your own cross.  I pray that you will continue to choose life and make it a wonderful and holy cross culture life! I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Familiarity Breeds Contempt!

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

Wednesday Evening Gospel Celebration, September 1, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of Song of praise and the sermon
 

A Fable, by Aesop, the African—a slave and a learned teacher of wisdom: When first the Fox saw the Lion he was terribly frightened, and ran away and hid himself in the woods. Next time however he came near the King of Beasts he stopped at a safe distance and watched him pass by. The third time they came near one another the Fox went straight up to the Lion and passed the time of day with him, asking him how his family were, and when he should have the pleasure of seeing him again; then turning his tail, he parted from the Lion without much ceremony.  What do you suppose happened to the fox the next time he met the Lion?  What if the Lion was hungry?

 Of course the moral of this ancient fable is the fact that familiarity breeds contempt.  In our gospel reading tonight it was the towns people’s familiarity with Jesus that caused them to dismiss him; to think less of Him than His Words and His miracles demanded.  The good town folk of Nazareth would never accept that Jesus was the Son of God, because they could not even accept that He was a man of God.  They knew Him.  Familiarity is a tool of the devil; a tool He uses to cause us to look down upon the ways and the things of God.  Instead of standing in awe of God’s presence through the simple person of Jesus, they sneered at Him.  Today, many of us, instead of standing in awe of God’s presence in our lives in simple things like the Word, water, wine, and bread, we may look upon these simple things as common and ordinary; things that could never be miraculous.  Yes friends, familiarity is a barrier to the gospel, but it is also God’s means to bring us the power of the gospel.I. The people of Nazareth who rejected Jesus did so because they thought they already knew Him.  They knew where Jesus grew up and they knew His mother, His brothers, and His sisters.  These Nazarenes represent a group of people that are still with us today, people who follow a way of thinking that says: “If you know the origin of something, you know all there is to know about it.  Case closed.  NEXT!”  For instance, some learned scientists have decided that the origin of man was in protoplasmic ooze, so man is nothing more than evolved protoplasm.  “Sorry God, we don’t need your account of creation that narrow minded people for thousands of years have refused to turn away from.  We learned men instead choose to preach, teach, and confess that man evolved from swamp scum!”  Some scholars have decided that love is based in man’s sexual appetites.  So love is no longer a commitment based on what is good and right, but instead on what feels good.  “Sorry God, but we don’t need your Word, which teaches that love is a commitment to You and our neighbor, instead we choose to preach, teach, and confess that if it feels good, do it!”

Another way that familiarity breeds contempt is by validating our misconceptions; misconceptions based on stereotypes—social and intellectual snobbery.  This way of thinking teaches us that race, politics, and social standing are more important than personal character and faith.  In our gospel reading this morning, you can still hear the cynicism and superior attitude hissing out in the way the good town folk of Nazareth said “Carpenter”.  After all, Jesus and His family came from a lower level of life than the brightest and best that become Rabbis and teachers.  How could He possibly have learned more than us.  He hasn’t been gone long enough to gain all of this wisdom.  Today, this thinking still plagues us.  The old prejudices and hatreds are still here, but they’ve been legislated away by laws that threaten to punish them as hate crimes.  Oh yes, those feelings are still there, but they are just hidden, swept away under a fancy judicial throw rug.

I’ve read that the most segregated day of the week in the U.S. is Sunday.  On any given Sunday you will find the rich worshiping with the rich and the poor worshiping with the poor.  We have black churches and white churches; Hispanic congregations and Asian congregations; traditional worship and contemporary worship.  You stay on your side of the worship tracks and we’ll stay on ours, and never the twain shall meet.  And to this many people answer, “Amen!  Glory, Hallelujah!”

With all of these obstacles standing in our way, isn’t it amazing that our Lord’s church can get anything done?  How many times has a dear member of a church been raised up by God to speak a Word of wisdom or love only to be dismissed because they’re too young, or they are too new or inexperienced in “the ways and Word of God?”  We say things like, “Why I knew her since she was a baby.  What can she teach me?”  Or maybe when someone speaks God’s Word we can only think of the mistakes they’ve made in the past, so much so that we can’t hear God speaking through them in the here and now.  Yes, with all of this familiarity and contempt, how does God get things done?

II. Well friends, He gets things done through the power and work of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus said, before He ascended into heaven that He would not leave us as orphans to find our way alone in this world; He said He would send us the counselor who would continue to teach us.  Friends, Jesus has kept His promise—you see, He’s gave us the supernatural ability to live by faith and not by sight.  By faith, we understand and believe that God has revealed His power through human weakness.  The people of Nazareth said that “Jesus can’t be the Messiah, because He is one of us.”  “Jesus can’t be the Savior of the world” declares the unbelieving world today, “because He died on the cross like a common criminal!”  And to this God smiles and simply says “Your ways are not my ways O sinful man.”

In Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians, he gives us yet another example of how God chooses to use human weakness in order to demonstrate His power.  Paul pleaded with God to take away His thorn in the flesh; his weakness that the devil used as a tool in order to cause him to lose faith.  What was Paul’s thorn?  I don’t know and neither does anyone else, but whatever it was you can be sure it was a weakness of some kind—a weakness in his human flesh.  When Paul asked the Lord to take away this weakness, how did the Lord respond?  He said, Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in (your) weakness”. [2 Cor. 12:9]  And to this Word Paul responded with these wonderful words of faith: “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” [2 Cor. 12:10]

 Do you want God to be strong within you?  Then you need faith!  How do we get faith?  We need to be in His Word!  “Faith comes by hearing the Word of God!  It’s that simple!  And when we have faith, we can trust in Jesus’ real presence in our lives, and know that He will provide all that we need to please Him and follow Him; when you are at that point, you will know that God is doing a strong work within you and through you!  Just as the apostles were sent out two by two to proclaim God’s Word without making provisions for their journey God also sends us out.  He wants us to know by faith that He has already provided all that we will need to make it through this journey we call life.  Through the preaching and teaching of His Word He nourishes us with divine power.  Through our own study of that same Word and our personal prayer life, God allows us to see how much He cares for us, and He allows us to see our love for Him grow as we learn how much He loves us!  As we live out His promises that were given to us in our own baptism, and as we feast upon His forgiveness at His holy table, we no longer look down upon His simple means of grace as simply the familiar activities of a boring church day, but instead we see all of these things as wonderful mysteries that God uses to draw us closer to Himself and each other.  It’s these simple things that empower us to go out to a dying world as His messengers, His Holy Ambassadors proclaiming His Word.

 III. But what are we to proclaim?  Well, whatever He wants us to proclaim.  Now, some here this evening may counter that they are afraid to talk about the Lord because they don’t know enough Bible verses.  But friends, we can’t let this stop us; instead we should follow the example of the apostles and latter the 72 disciples who went out 2 by 2 proclaiming a very simple message.  We need to remember that these people were simple fishermen and laborers who had very little education.  How much Bible do you think they knew?  None of that mattered to them, for you see they had the simple message of God…Repent!  Turn away from your sinful life style and trust in the love of God as given to you through the Savior, Jesus Christ.  Turn away from your fear and worries and trust in the loving heart of God, who pleads with you to turn to Him.  “Not enough” you say, “I need to say more or they may ignore me.”  Fine; then tell them your own story of faith.  Tell them why you love Jesus.  “But what if they look down on me because I am different than them?  Dear friends, the gospel, which is God’s message of love for sinners is not about skin, it’s about sin!  It’s not about race, it’s about grace.  The gospel crosses all barriers—race, age, social and economic differences are all removed by God’s power when you are sent by Jesus Christ.  All the walls of separation come tumbling down when you are giving your witness about God’s love.  When you are speaking as God directs, “whether they hear or refuse to hear (because of their sinful hearts), they will know that a prophet (an ambassador of God) has been (with) them. [Ezekiel 2:5]

CONCLUSION: Friends, let’s not get caught up in a numbers game, thinking we have to keep track of how many people received Jesus as their personal savior because of our testimony; God has never asked us to do that.  Instead, He simply asks us to speak His message of repentance and forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  Just as Jesus sent out the 12 He is also sending you.  He wants you to build relationships of trust with your neighbors.  He wants you to let Him create new friendships with people who are dying without knowing Jesus as their Lord.  Once they know you and trust you, they will hear your testimony…God’s Word of love for the world.  Once you have spoken, then just leave the rest in the Lord’s capable and loving hands.  May God continue to work His powerful and miraculous will through His simple means…even you and me.  In Jesus name….AMEN!