Archive for January, 2011

How to Live Under the Cross!

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany (A), January 30, 2011
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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These last few Sundays God’s Word has invited us to live a life under the cross of Jesus in these Words, “Repent because the Kingdom of God is at hand!  We discovered that while the world looks at this kind of life as foolishness God assures us that this is really the only way to experience His power of grace, which brings eternal life.

This morning, we’ll continue this teaching by looking at what this power of grace gives to us; namely it gives us the truth and experience of being blessed!  Now again, let me remind you that to the sinful world this is all just a bunch of nonsense!  They can’t hear Words of blessing in Jesus message because they don’t think that they are sinners who need to turn to God; in fact they think that God is right there with them in their sins!  What if we considered our gospel lesson this morning as Jesus state of the union message?  Well if that were the case, then His opponents should have equal time.  Maybe their response or rebuttal might sound something like this: “Dear friends, our simple little preacher would have you think that you are blessed or happy if you rest in weakness and poverty.  He sees the world as a place where we simply prepare to die in whatever state we find ourselves.  But we of the prosperity party say no… this isn’t what you need to hear and it is not what you should expect from your leaders.

 We say rather, happy are the aggressive people, those who know what they want and do anything to make that dream a reality.  They will be the successful ones of this world.  We say happy are those who are tough and hard-skinned, for they will never let this life hurt them or prevent them from knowing prosperity.  Happy are they who complain unceasingly.  We know that the squeaky wheel gets the oil and the ear-marks, so we will not be happy until we get our own way!  Happy are they who give very little thought to a Creator-God, because they are happy in their own skin and never worry about such a small thing as sin!  Happy are the demanding and self-serving business owners and managers, because they know how to get results!  Happy are the educated and knowledgeable men and women of this world because they can teach others how to be productive and serve the greater good, which we all know is seeing the rich get richer!  Happy are the troublemakers, because they really know how to make people take notice of them!”

And to this rebuttal, we hear the Church speak yet another message; we say: “Our Lord’s opponents once more prove that they do not understand the Kingdom of God.  They are talking about a material world which soon enough will vanish and no longer matter.  They don’t understand that the reality that Jesus speaks about is an eternal reality; a reality where there is a different kind of world, one where heaven and earth are combined into something real and something perfect.  They will not acknowledge this eternal reality because they will not repent of their sins.  They will not repent because they do not believe that the Kingdom of God has come!  But the time will come when they will believe in this reality because they will see it with their own eyes, but then it will be to late for them to enter.  They will experience it outside of God’s grace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth!  There in that place, there will be eternal mourning and persecution that will never be relieved.  But you dear Christians are of another reality.  You by faith know that you are blessed and protected by God!”

This word “blessed” is repeated over and over like the sound of steeple bells from heaven.  Their ringing goes out to everyone in this sinful world inviting them to enter into peace with God through Jesus Christ.  Its God’s invitation assuring everyone that they can know peace with God right now, and soon enough never again experience sin, pain, suffering, or death!  This Word of blessedness is for everyone if they will just hear it and believe.  For those of us who believe, we are assured that we already have this rich possession of Heaven right now, but we have an even greater promise that guarantees that riches far greater than these will soon be ours!

Jesus says to us who place our hope in this Kingdom of Heaven, “Blessed are you who are poor in spirit, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.”  What does it mean to be poor in spirit?  Well, it means that God’s Word has convinced you that on your own you’re lost in your own sins.  It means that you know that unless you receive help from Him you can never know peace with God.  It means that you know that without Jesus Christ and His cross you have no hope.  It means that in your spiritual poverty you are moved to follow Jesus’ call to turn to Him.  And when by faith you turn to Him you also learn to rest and trust in Him, because in Jesus you have found the Kingdom of heaven!

It’s within this eternal reality that Jesus also says, “You are also blessed if you are mourning, because you shall be comforted!”  Don’t we all mourn and don’t we all have a great need to be comforted?  We mourn when a loved one dies or when we experience a great tragedy.  But don’t we also mourn intensely over our own sins?  Yes, when we sin, we feel deep pain and lose, we feel separated from God.  But God’s Word comes to us in the absolution and assures us that even in these times of great mourning over our sins, we are forgiven; that Christ died even for those sins.  We are assured that because we turn to the cross of Jesus and cling to what He has done for us He will never leave or forsake us!  What greater comfort could you receive?  Only this, one day you will see Him face to face and you will no longer need faith because you will live in His eternal presence and love.  But doesn’t the sinful world mourn and receive comfort too?  Yes friends, but their mourning shall never end and the little comfort they get here in this sinful world will soon end.  All because they would not believe that the Kingdom of heaven had come to them through Jesus Christ!

But Jesus also says, “Blessed are you who are meek, for you shall inherit the earth.”  Oops!  We might have a problem.  We aren’t always meek, in fact we can be outright aggressive and mean!  And to this fear, Jesus says, “But I am meek.  I was meek for you!  I let them lead me to the cross like a lamb going to slaughter; I let them kill me for you.  By my stripes, blood, and death, you’ve been healed.  You’ve been forgiven.  And because you believe that I did this for you, I have come and made my home within your heart.  I am in you and you are in me.  And because I am in you, I’m changing you… I’m making you meek!  All that I ask of you is that you rest in this truth, cling to it and allow me to transform you.  And because you rest in my truth I have declared you righteous!”

But now, our sinful minds remind us that we are not righteous and we never will be!  We are reminded that we may look righteous and clean on the outside but inside we are like the Pharisees and Scribes, we are full of deceit.  We are like freshly painted white tombs that on the outside are pleasing to the eye but on the inside we are full of dead men’s decay and bones!  And to this Jesus says, “Blessed are you because you see this; because you hunger and thirst for righteousness, you will be satisfied.  You know that you can never be righteous on your own, but you also know that I was righteous for you.  You know that I gave you this righteousness in your baptism, and you know that I continue to fill you with my righteous Word.  So listen to and read my Word.  Step up to my table and be nourished by my very body and blood that is yours in with and under the bread and wine!  Eat and drink, and be satisfied knowing what I have given to you through my means!

Well, now that we are beginning to understand just what the mercy of God means and how it has saved us, Jesus asks us to go demonstrate this mercy to our neighbors.  And He does it with these Words: “Now blessed are you who are merciful to others as I have been merciful to you!  I guarantee that you shall receive mercy!  You shall receive mercy because in me, you see the very Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world… even your own sin!  And because you see this in my Word, because you see my cross as a means of peace with your Heavenly Father, you are judged to be pure in heart.  Blessed are you friend because of this pure heart, for you shall see God.  You see Him even now in me.  In my Word you see me, in your baptism you see and hear me through the Word of forgiveness, and in my Holy Supper you see, smell, touch, and even taste my very body and blood which gives you a pure heart.

Dear friends, the Kingdom of God, the reign of heaven in Jesus already belongs to those of us who are poor in spirit, even to those of us who are persecuted because of our faith in Him.  But the promise of final comfort, our final inheritance, our final righteousness and experience of final peace with God will not come until we receive the final vision of God on the Last Day.  In the meantime, we who are the disciples of Jesus Christ must expect that our lives will be experienced through the lens of mourning, thirst, and hungering.  But our eternal reality is that we are saved in hope… “But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait eagerly for it through endurance.” [Rom. 8:24-25]  This present tension of blessing and joy, suffering and mourning until the Last Day of comfort is central to our lives as we live under the cross of Jesus, as we follow Jesus on this narrow path.  But we follow Him as His peacemakers, as His ambassadors of the cross, and as we follow Him we know that as His peacemakers, we should expect some persecution because we speak His Word to our neighbors.  In our witness, we bring the very peace of God and that peace is breaking violently into a sinful world that will have none of it!  So Jesus leaves us with this last truth; a truth that will only become clear under the cross: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven!” 

I pray that this reward and joy of the Kingdom of heaven will become powerful and transforming in your lives as you learn to rest and live out the cross of Jesus Christ.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Power in Folly!

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011

Third Sunday after the Epiphany (A), January 23, 2011
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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INTRODUCTION: This morning, we’re allowed to briefly look into the heart of an apostle who is also a pastor.  This pastor, the apostle Paul is troubled by some news he’s received.  It seems there’s controversy brewing back in the parish over who is the best teacher, or preacher.  Some say its Paul himself, others say that it is Paul’s assistant pastor, Pastor Apollos, and others say that it’s Peter.  Then there’s another group who is trying to stay out of the whole argument, and they simply say, “I don’t know and I don’t care, I just follow Christ!”  Paul now wants them to examine themselves and their faith and see the error in what they have started.  He wants them to be of one confession of faith, and he wants them to be of one heart and mind, the heart and mind of Jesus Christ! 

Now before we begin to click our collective tongues at this whole mess, let’s see if we too have a need to repent and refocus our lives. If you call yourself a Democrat or Republican Christian, you may have to repent.  If you call yourself a poor, middle class, or wealthy Christian you may need to repent!  If you only call yourself a Christian around other Christians then friend, you really do need to repent!  Now why do you think that any of this really matters?  Friends, it matters because the world is watching us; your neighbor is watching you!  They want to see if you’re the real thing; they want to know if you’re any better off than they are; they want to know if you really have the power of God unto salvation!

I. [1 Cor. 1:10-18] Was Paul angry when he wrote this letter to the church at Corinth?  No, I doubt it, but he was concerned.  There have always been disagreements among people of faith and there always will be.  Paul simply wanted to get everyone back to common ground… he wanted them to go back to the very foundation of their faith, Jesus Christ.  If he could get each person’s heart back to what Jesus did equally for each of them, then these other matters, like who is the best preacher, or what political party you vote in become secondary, and may I even say unimportant?

Divisions weren’t anything new in Martin Luther’s day either.  Listen to what he said regarding divisions that were created because of his preaching of the gospel: “For the operations of God are not childish or bourgeois or human, but divine and (they exceed) human (understanding).  But you do not seem to see that these tumults and divisions are marching through the world by the counsel and operation of God, and you are afraid lest the heavens should fall.  But I, by the grace of God, see this clearly, because I see other greater troubles in time to come, by comparison with which these present seem no more that the whisper of a breeze or the murmur of a gentle stream.”  What is Luther teaching?  He’s teaching the same thing that Paul is teaching and it’s this: Each one of you is saying something different, and that is what will cause divisions.  Instead of being different for your own purpose be different for God’s purpose.  Instead of preaching opinion to your neighbor, and causing division, preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and let the divisions be between light and dark, good and evil!  Speak of Christ crucified!

Now there’s a danger when we share our faith with our neighbor, and Paul wants to be sure that we don’t fall prey to this threat.  What is that threat?  Friends, it’s the temptation of proclaiming a bloodless gospel, or if you will a cross without a the body of Jesus!  Why would we do that?  Because many people today don’t like to hear about a Savior who died a criminal’s death.  They don’t want to hear about a savior who was beaten near death, and executed on a cross.  So instead of simply sharing the gospel as it’s found in the pages of the Bible, the temptation is to explain these things with modern ideas, or to just share the moral ideals of our Christian faith.

Then there are those that we will encounter who don’t mind hearing the mysteries about a dying God, who came to us in our flesh and lived the perfect life on our behalf; they enjoy hearing how this God paid the penalty for our sins,  but to just leave it there, doesn’t seem fair.  This group of people insists that they need to add something to Jesus work upon the cross!  So for these challenged individuals, the church has, in error I will add, come up with little rules and regulations to help sell the message of the cross.  These false teachings say things like, “Jesus starts us on the right path with His cross and with our own baptism by giving us His grace, but after that” they say “it’s our responsibility to finish what He started by living a good life!”  With this sleight of hand, they turn God’s work into the work of sinful men and women!

To both of these groups, Paul is almost shouting at us in vs. 17 and saying, “No!  Christ didn’t send me or you to proclaim a gospel that’s centered on eloquent wisdom, the work of sinful man, or in a way that will be more accepting to sinful people!  If we do that then the cross that’s saved us will be emptied of its power!”

II. [Matt. 4:12-25] Do you want God’s power in your life?  Then look to the cross!  What kind of power am I talking about?  Well how about this… it’s a power greater than the power that God used to create the entire universe!  It’s the power of God unto salvation and we call that power grace!  Grace is the undeserved kindness of God; it’s God making you right with Him and not the other way around.  Its new birth through the washing of the water and the Word!  It’s the power of grace that gives you faith to believe in God’s Word and follow it where ever He leads!  It’s the power of the Word which moves you to trust God even when you doubt Him.

In our gospel reading this morning, Jesus demonstrates that power for us when He calls Simon-Peter and his brother Andrew out into the mission field.  If you remember in last week’s gospel reading, Jesus had already spoken the Word of eternal life to them.  They were given God’s power of grace and faith unto everlasting life, and now Jesus calls them to learn to use that power to build the Kingdom of God.  What was this Word that Jesus spoke to them that was so full of the power of God?  It was “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.  Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” [Matt. 4:17-19]

Dear friends, in these Words of Jesus we see two things.  First we hear that we must repent.  “That seems easy enough” many think, “I must simply quit doing bad things and try my hardest to do good!”  But friends, this is a grave and mistaken way of looking at repentance.  This type of repentance becomes your work and not the work of Jesus!  Do you want to see the work of Jesus?  Look to the cross!  That is His Work, His work for you!  To repent does not mean turning away from your sin to be saved it means turning to the cross and seeing Jesus suffering and dying for you.  It means clinging to a Savior, to a God who died in your place so that you will be saved!  Now some might say, “Oh that’s just semantics preacher.  They both accomplish the same thing!”  And to that I say, “NO!”  Not at all; you see one way of repenting gives you glory for having the wisdom to know that you are a sinner.  It gives you glory for taking the initiative to turn away from your sin.  But the other way, the Biblical way to repent is to simply turn to God’s mercy and forgiving love and see Him dying in your place.  To turn to Jesus is to know that only through Him can we find life, abundant life!  And when we turn to Jesus we also hear Him say, “Follow me!” 

Why do we follow Jesus?  Because we have heard Him call and invite us through the mighty power of His Word.  Why do we follow Jesus?  Because His Word has moved us to turn to Him and trust Him.  Can you see friends that it is God alone who has done this great work of repentance within you and it is God alone who should get the glory!  Through the Word of God and His invitation to follow Him we begin to hate our sin, and we are given the power to live a new life—the life of holiness.  Through the power of God unto salvation we are not only forgiven but we are changed.

The story is told of a former alcoholic who met up with a bunch of his former friends.  They were shocked that he became a “goodie two shoes” Christian, so they began belittling him. “Man, you use to be so sensible!  How can you believe in miracles like Jesus turning water into wine?”  The man responded by showing the evidence of his own changed life: “Whether you believe that Jesus turned water into wine I’ll leave up to you, but I know that in my home He’s turned whiskey into furniture and food and clothes for my wife and kids!”

CONCLUSION: Yes, the Word of God often does seem like folly to our unsaved neighbors, family, and friends, but to us who have been saved by seeing Jesus’ cross as our only means of salvation, it is God’s mighty power!  It is a mighty power that is always changing us and demonstrating His saving love and just how real He is!  Through the Christian artist the world is shown that Jesus and His cross are the source of all beauty.  Through the Christian musician they discover melodies that even the angels can’t sing.  Through the Christian builder, the world is shown that Jesus is the sure foundation.  In the service of the Christian baker, the world is shown that the church, which is Christ’s body is the one true loaf.  Through the Christian doctor, the world learns that Jesus is the great physician.  Because of the Christian geologist, the world learns that Jesus is the Rock of Ages.  In the love and care of a Christian parent, Jesus is pointed to as the way for the world to know the true Father.  And when each of us is living our calling through Jesus Christ, the sinner learns that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  And for we who make up the Christian church, together we declare that Jesus is the Son of the Living God, our great savior who calls each of us to follow Him to His cross by living out our own cross of service and suffering for our neighbor and together building the Kingdom of God.  I pray that you will continue to follow this call and find your vocation as a means to be fisher of men.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Is Your Vocation Clear?

Sunday, January 16th, 2011

Second Sunday after the Epiphany (A), January 16, 2011
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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INTRODUCTION: The title of our sermon comes to us in the form of a question: “Is your vocation clear?”  Another way to ask this is: “What are you going to do with your life?” 

When I was 9 years old, my grandfather said to me “Brian, one day you are going to serve the Lord!”  “Huh?”  What did that mean?  I never gave his words much thought; after all I was just a kid!  But, by the age of 14, I thought I knew the answer to our question this morning… I was going to be a Jazz musician, a trumpet player to be exact!  I worked hard at my craft, and studied everything I could get my hands on.  I excelled in all types of music and received some of the best training.  At 18 years of age, I was a music major at the University of Wisconsin.  My professor said I showed promise as a young jazz musician, but He said my music lacked drive and purpose.  “Whatever!”  I didn’t have a clue what he meant by that; all I knew was that I was having fun; I was playing every weekend in two different bands and getting paid enough money to pay for my tuition.  And then one day two things happened to me that changed my life.  First, a fairly accomplished and somewhat famous jazz trumpet player told me to get out of the music business.  He said in a very colorful way that I won’t repeat, that I didn’t have the heart or the talent to be a real jazz musician.  He said I should find a vocation that’s more suited to my calling!  And to this I thought, “What does he know, he’s just an old guy!”

Well right after that, I was in a club trying to book a gig for my band when someone broke into my car and stole not just my trumpet, but my guitar, amplifier and microphone.  In a moment, all of the tools of my trade and schooling were taken from me!  I was heartbroken.  Now what would I do?  I thought about this question and talked to many people I loved and respected, and each of them told me the same thing: Find a job that will make a difference in people’s lives.  Find a calling!  And what did I become?  A cop!  I spent nearly 30 years in that profession, and it wasn’t until I reached the half way mark that I remembered my grandfather’s words, “One day, you are going to serve the Lord!”  What did that mean?  Wasn’t I serving Him as a law enforcement officer?  Yes, I was supposed to be doing that very thing, but was I?  This is the question that caused me to begin to dig deeper and deeper into God’s Word and the meaning of vocation and what I discovered is explained in a wonderful way in all three of our readings this morning!  

I. [Isaiah 49:1-7] In our Old Testament lesson this morning the question, “What is our calling?” is explained quite nicely.  First and foremost, we discover that our calling comes directly from God.  This becomes clear in the very first verse, and it continues throughout: “Listen to me, you coastlands, and give attention, you peoples from afar.  The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother He had (already) named (me).” [Vs.1]  “And He said to me, “You are my servant”. [Vs. 3]  “And now the Lord says, He who formed me from the womb to be His servant” (Vs. 5a), “I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

Friends, God calls each of us to be a light for the nations through His Word!  And it’s that same Word that is always leading us to Jesus Christ, who not only puts our names in the book of life, but in fact, He is the book of life! [Phil. 4:3; Rev. 3:5]  That same word assures us that “God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.” [Eph. 1:4]  Before the foundation of the world, God chose to set you apart as His own child.  At that time it was God’s desire to speak to your heart through His Word and create faith.  And by faith your heat has been moved to look to the cross of our Lord and see the place where He suffered and died for the entire world; even for you.  In your baptism, Christ has assured you that He chose to die upon the cross for you!  It was there in your baptism where Jesus offered himself to you in a very personal way.  He confirmed to you that He really does want you to hear His Word and let it save you, change you and lead you.  In His Word, Jesus gives you what He has promised, namely the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.  He gives you divine assistance to remain faithful; He gives to you the assurance that through this washing of the water and the Word you will attain salvation.

But like Isaiah, we might say, “But (I feel like) I have labored in vain; (Like) I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity!”  And to this statement of doubt, God’s Holy Spirit speaks to us through the Word.  He takes us back to the day we were washed clean and He gives us faith to remember and proclaim, “Yet surely my right is with the Lord, and my recompense, (that is my promised reward) is with my God and what He has done for me, is doing for me, and will do for me through Jesus Christ!”  In essence, the Holy Spirit takes our doubts back to the source of our call and our salvation, God’s Word, and through the Word, He holds Christ in front of our eyes and says, “Behold the Book of Life!”  He then opens the book of life and reveals that through our baptism and our reliance on the promises that come from the living Word of God, our names are there recorded.  How does God reveal these promises to us?  Through the preaching of the holy gospel, which gives us Christ crucified and resurrected for us.  It is the gospel alone that gives our lives true meaning, direction and purpose!

II. [1 Cor. 1:1-9] By now I trust you see how important and certain your calling from God is?  And at this point, many will ask, “But what if I made a mess of my life?  Won’t I just keep screwing things up?”  Yes, but that’s why you need to always go back to the Word of God, which promises that it is He who began the good work or calling in you Who will complete it! [Phil. 1:6]

You know friends, no one more desperately needed to hear and believe these Words more that St. Paul.  Remember, this was the man who was known as Saul; a man who helped persecute, punish, and even kill Christians.  But one day, on the way to Damascus, He encountered the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ.  There Paul was called to repent of His sins and then be baptized and receive salvation.  Latter, Paul would even be called to be an apostle.  That is why Paul begins our epistle lesson this morning with these words, “Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God…” [Vs. 1]  But Paul has more to say about this call from God; he isn’t content to just speak about his call, he also wants to speak to the whole church, first to a local congregation, and then to each and every person who has been called and set apart as holy, and invited to walk with and serve God.  He says, and to “the church of God that is in Corinth, those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours”.  [Vs. 1-2] 

Friends, can you hear in these Words that our calling isn’t just a personal calling, but it is also a collective calling?  We’ve been called “together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours!”  Do you hear the inclusiveness of those words “together with all” and “who in every place”?  This togetherness is also known as fellowship.  It is a fellowship around a common calling.  Each of us has been called into a fellowship with God the Son, Jesus Christ.  We have been called to rest in His Kingdom of Grace but we’ve also been called to help build that kingdom.  We’ve been called to take God’s Word outside of our little congregation and follow our Lord where ever He leads and live out our lives in a way that gives Him glory.

You see friends, it isn’t enough to say “Jesus is my personal Lord and Savior,” because your calling through Jesus Christ isn’t just the call of any single person; instead, it is the call of the entire Church.  We are called and we follow by faith together.  Think of how our Lord taught us to pray: “OUR Father,” “Give US this day” and “Forgive US our trespasses!”  In spite of all the things that divide us these days, we still have a very common ground that we stand upon.  Each of us has been saved from our sins, sanctified in Jesus Christ, and set apart to serve God together with all those in every place who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours!”

III. [John 1:29-42a] So what will this calling look like first in our individual lives and then as the body of Christ? Our gospel lesson this morning answers that very question for us.  Immediately we are allowed to see John the baptizer sharing His faith in Jesus the Messiah, and he does it with these words, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” [Vs.29] And very soon after he says: “And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” [Vs.34] Dear friends, these are the words of a Kingdom builder.  A kingdom builder always takes the attention of his neighbor off of the one who is proclaiming God’s love, and then he directs them to the true source of forgiveness and peace with God.  A kingdom builder always leads others to the Lamb of God Jesus Christ!

What is it that this Lamb of God takes away?  It is the entire sins of the World.  As many people who have lived, are now living, and will live in the world are included in this statement.  Each and every life stained with sin, all sin, even your sins are included.  So many individual masses of sins are gathered, and all of these individual masses are gathered into one super mass, so that you have the “sins of the world.”  In Jesus, “God laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” [Is. 53]  Remember that just one sin in God’s eyes is enough to separate your from His love and presence, and Jesus takes upon Himself all of this super-mass.  Through Jesus Christ, the lamb of God, your sins, your guilt has really been taken away.  He burdened Himself with your sins.  These sins that He takes upon Himself are what moved Him to suffer and die so that all of our sins would be removed and so that we would know that we really may have an eternal life of peace and joy.  Do you want to know peace with God?  Then you must look to the Lamb of God crucified and risen above.  Do you want to build the Kingdom of God?  Then you must encourage your neighbors to look to this Lamb of God and see by faith that their sins have also been placed upon the back of this Lamb!  That’s why John the baptizer points to the Lamb of God and that’s why we should do the same thing as we share our faith.   

This was the message that Andrew heard from John and this is the message that He heard from Jesus Himself.  We see first that Andrew heard the testimony of a Christian, and then he was encouraged to go directly to Jesus, the living Word of God.  How do we follow our calling?  By resting in the Kingdom of God and then by introducing people to our Savior; we assure them that He is their Savior and then we leave the whole matter with Jesus.  And how will Jesus speak to those you lead?  Why the same way He spoke to Andrew.  Listen:  Jesus asked Andrew, “What are you seeking?” And then He said, “Come and see!” [Vs.38-39]

Friends, Jesus could have easily said, “Come back tomorrow” or “make an appointment for latter and I’ll get back with you.”  Important people in our day do that, don’t they?  They don’t want to be bothered by daily distractions, so they protect themselves with secretaries, unlisted phone numbers, and even personal security, but Jesus isn’t like those people.  Nothing could be easier than having time with Jesus.  All we need to do to speak with and know the King of Kings is to call out to Him in repentance and prayer and open His Word, and He will be their immediately to speak and to listen!

CONCLUSION: Dear friends, Jesus said to Andrew, and He says to us this morning, “Come and See!”  These Words are meant to bring an invitation and they’re mean to bring comfort.  They’re meant to encourage us to seek the deeper things of life that can only come from Jesus, the Son of God, who is the Living Word of God.  These Words say to us, “Come with me to a secret place where you can speak to me and learn from me and about me everything that your heart desires to ask.  All this is yours if you will just follow me!  And Andrew did follow Jesus, and where did Jesus lead Him?  To His brother Simon!  And Simon believed because of the same living Word of God, which spoke to Him in a way that no one else ever could!  But Simon didn’t just believe, He also followed and became a Kingdom builder by repeating the same scenario over and over.  This dear friends is how God has always built His kingdom; He builds it through His means of grace and simple little redeemed sinners like you and me.  He builds it with three simple words, “Come and see!”

Is your calling clear?  Yes it is!  What does God want you do with your life?  He wants you to live out your faith in Him and share that same faith wherever you are and with whomever He puts in your path.  So the next time someone asks you if you go to church, don’t just be satisfied with the simple answer “Yes,” instead follow up with a question of your own, “Do you want to come?!”  I pray that you continue to follow this high calling that God has given to you and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

God’s Own Child!

Sunday, January 9th, 2011

Baptism of our Lord (A), January 9, 2011
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

INTRODUCTION: We just finished singing that we are “God’s own Child.”  As sinful as we are and through no work of our own, God has declared and we have declared and sang right along with Him that through the waters of baptism, we have been taken out of the reign of sin, death, and the devil, and translated or transferred into the Kingdom of God… paradise.  How did this happen?  Well that is what we will discover in our message this morning.

I. Picture if you will, thousands of people being moved and gathered at the banks of the Jordan river by the Word of God, through the preaching of John the Baptizer.  Most of them have been cut to the very soul, because God has shown them their many sins, but He’s also promised that because of their repentance, that is because they have turned to God for salvation, He alone will wash them clean!  Now I said most of them had been moved by the Word, but a notable few hadn’t!  They were the Pharisees, the hypocritical teachers of the Law!  They loved to point out other people’s sins while conveniently ignoring their own.  To these few who are gathered at the banks of the Jordan, John shouts out, “You brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the wrath and judgment of God that’s coming?  (Do you really want this baptism?  Then) Bear fruit (true fruit that comes only through) repentance. [Matt. 3:7-8]

Wow!  Right away we know that this baptism business is serious business, and why wouldn’t it be?  You see, it is the business of God and any business of God’s is ALWAYS serious business!  So why was Jesus there?  What did He want with this baptism?  This is a baptism of confession, repentance, and forgiveness of sins, and now Jesus has come to the same place, why?  And a shocked John asks this exact thing when he says, “I (myself) need to be baptized by you, and (you are coming) to me?” 

Do you hear the confession of the very one who is performing the Blessed Sacrament?  John had just proclaimed that while He was baptizing with water for repentance, there was one who was coming soon after Him Who is mightier than Him, Whose sandals He was not worthy to carry.  He said that this one would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire!  He warned that when this one would come, He would bring judgment and the punishment of Hell’s fire with Him.  And now here He stands waiting His turn at the font of forgiveness?  So John was saying in essence, “For some unknown reason, God has chosen a wretched sinner like me to give this gift of forgiveness to other sinners, which I don’t understand but am obediently doing; if you were here to perform this miraculous sacrament on me, I would understand, because you are the only one who could wash others of their sins and yet have no need to be washed yourself.  But now you ask me to wash what is already pure and holy, why?  I don’t understand Lord!”

This was John’s conundrum and it is also a stumbling block for many today.  Here the Creator and judge of all sinful flesh comes as promised, but not as One who baptizes with the Spirit and fire of judgment, but as a passive recipient of John’s own baptism.  Why?

II. Jesus quickly reassures John that all is going as God desires through this answer. “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” [15a]  Friends, do you want to know along with John why Jesus is at the banks of the chilly and cold Jordan?  Do you want to know why He who has no sin or need of baptism steps into those life cleansing waters?  He does it to fulfill all righteousness.  But what does that mean?

Well, it means, that God through Jesus Christ has broken into our sinful reality to do what He said all along He would do, save us from our own sinfulness. John’s message of repentance was direct and true, God would come through Jesus Christ to judge and punish sinful man, but first He would come through Jesus Christ to save sinful man.  Before Jesus comes with power and might, He must come in lowliness to be baptized by John.  Here we begin to understand the true ministry and mission of Jesus first for the Jews and then for you and me.  Jesus comes as was declared long ago; He comes as Emmanuel… God with us!  Remember, John declared and asked, “I need to be baptized by you, and you YOURSELF are coming to me?”  And to this God answers, “Of course I am!  I’m Emmanuel and that is my mission.  I have come to you and I will stay with you, and if you’ll let me I will save you!

What John didn’t understand, many still don’t; Jesus who is the One who was promised to come and be judge and punisher for sins is also the One who comes as the descendant of David to bring comfort to God’s people.  He comes with the Balm of Gilead to heal the sin sick hearts.  He comes as the humble sin-bearer.  He comes to fulfill all righteousness.

What does it mean to fulfill or enact the scriptural plan of all righteousness?  It means that God’s real presence has broken into our reality.  It means that God’s mighty act of creation has come to us for re-creation.  Jesus who is the God-man will not only repeat John’s message of repentance, but He will also make it come true in the hearts of many by giving Himself in both power and might!  Friends, when Jesus stepped into those waters God was beginning to act, and God’s promised righteousness among us would be fulfilled once John baptized Jesus. 

And what is God’s righteousness?  It is His saving act that He performs on behalf of all the people on this earth.  It is God accomplishing what we could not; in God’s righteousness He gives you an eternally clean heart!  Jesus Himself will perform all righteousness, that is, He will begin God’s act of salvation for His people by literally standing with sinners, taking the place of sinners, and receiving from John what only sinners need to receive.  Ultimately, by stepping into those waters, Jesus was committing Himself to all that Holy Scripture foretold about our Messiah.  When He stepped into the waters, He was really laying down at the cross!  When Jesus went into the waters of the Jordan He was the sinless One.  When He left those waters, in a sense He left bearing all of our sins… all of your sins!  And from those waters He methodically proceeded over the course of three years to the cross.  And at the cross, the sinless One would offer up His own life as a ransom payment in your place.

John was obedient even though God’s plan was a great mystery to Him.  And because of His obedience, God confirmed to Him and to us who read this gospel today, that everything is going according to God’s plan.  And after “Jesus was baptized, immediately He went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on Him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, with whom I am well pleased.”” [vs. 16]   

III. This opening up of the heavens is hard for us to understand.  I like to think of it as something like our picture in a picture technology we have in our televisions.  Somehow a window was opened and for a brief moment we were allowed to see what one day we will see eternally; heaven and earth become one!  This opening of the heavens to Jesus signals to John and to us that John’s proclamation of the end times and judgment are coming, but only at God’s prescribed moment.  And what of the dove descending upon Jesus?  Well we know that through this open window into heaven that answer was clear; it was God the Holy Spirit who would forever be with the flesh of God the Son and within and among even our own flesh.  Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit Jesus is identified as the humble servant of God who will gently minister to those of us who He calls smoldering wicks; those of us who are weak and helplessly carrying around with us our sinful and dying flesh.  And to us, He brings true hope of salvation, simply because by faith, we trust in the name of Jesus!  It is Jesus, with the Spirit upon Him in a mighty who preaches the Good News to the poor in spirit.  It is Jesus who comforts all those who are contrite and mourning because of their own sinfulness!  Jesus who is God’s Son from eternity friends has come to you; He takes on your own flesh and even your sins, and now confirms that God has come to us.  And He does this by declaring, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” [vs. 17b]

CONCLUSION: But what does this mean for us?  Well it means dear friends, that God has come to you personally in the waters of your own baptism!  Through simple water, God’s promises of Salvation through His Word are applied to you in a miraculous way; in a way that gives you peace with God first and then peace with each other.  “Don’t you know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were (also) baptized into His death?  We were therefore buried with Him by (our own) baptism into death.  (That is our sinful flesh was crucified, drowned and buried with Him upon His cross.  Jesus paid the penalty for our sins on our behalf.  It was a penalty that He paid for us.  Why?)  In order that, just as Christ was raised (on the third day) from the dead (to life) by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” [Rom. 6:3-4]  So, since we have been united with Him in a death like His, “we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.  (Because Jesus obediently went from the Jordan to the cross for us we can be certain that in our own baptism, our old sinful nature was crucified with Him, in order) that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.  (So now, those of us who have died have) been set free from sin.  (And since we have died with Christ, we believe that through our own baptism we will also live with Him in paradise!) [Rom. 6:5-8]

Dear friends, your baptism isn’t something that you can play with and attach your own meaning to, because it’s really Jesus baptism; a baptism that fulfills all righteousness.  You can never say that it’s simply an ordinance of the church.  Why is that?  Because it comes with God’s own command and the promise of salvation.  And what God declares as His own means of salvation can never be considered simply a formality.  Instead, we must see our baptism, Jesus baptism that fulfills all righteousness as the most precious gift that God can give.  Because within those waters of your baptism are the very life and blood of Jesus, poured out for the forgiveness of the entire world’s sins… even yours!  The Waters of your baptism are really the waters of Jesus baptism poured into the cup of God’s own Word, so that by clinging to Jesus work for you and His promises of forgiveness you might know forever that you truly are a “child of paradise!”  I pray that you will always cling to these truths and to the source of them, Jesus Christ you Savior, the Son of God.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Faithfully Obedient in Christ’s Word!

Sunday, January 2nd, 2011

2nd Sunday after Christmas A, January 2, 2011
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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INTRODUCTION: “And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom.  And the favor of God was upon him.” Vs. 40  A man was sleeping one night in his cabin in Montana when suddenly his room filled with light and Jesus appeared. The Lord told the man he had work for him to do, and He showed him a large rock in front of his cabin. The Lord explained to the man that his job was to push against that rock everyday with all of his strength. So the man was obedient, and every day he worked at the task; his shoulders became strong as he daily pushed against the massive surface of the unmoving rock, pushing with all his might.  Each night the man returned to his cabin sore, and tired.  Eventually he began feeling like his whole day had been spent in vain.

Seeing that the man was showing signs of discouragement, the devil decided to pay him a visit and place negative thoughts into the man’s weary mind: “You’ve been pushing against that rock for a long time, and it hasn’t budged. Why kill yourself over this? You are never going to move it.”  After a while, these suggestive thoughts started giving the man the feeling that not only was his task impossible but also that he was a failure.  Eventually the man became depressed and he thought, “Why kill myself over this?  I’ll just put in my time, giving just the minimum effort and that will be good enough.”  And that’s exactly what he planned to do until one day he decided to take his troubled thoughts to the Lord in prayer.

“Lord” he said, “I have worked long and hard, putting all my strength into what you’ve asked me to do.  And after all this time, I haven’t even budged that rock by a millimeter.  What is wrong? Why am I failing?”

And to this the Lord lovingly responded, “My friend, when I asked you to serve me and you accepted, I told you that your task was to push against the rock with all your strength, which you have done faithfully.  Never once did I mention to you that I expected you to move it.  Your task was simply to push.  And now look at yourself.  Your arms and back are strong and muscled, your shoulders are square, your hands are callused from constant pressure, and your legs have become massive and hard.  Through opposition you have grown strong and your abilities now far surpass what you used to have.  And it’s true, you haven’t moved the rock.  But your calling was to be obedient and to push and to exercise your faith and trust in My wisdom.  This you have done.  And now friend, I will now move the rock.”

Obedience and faith; these are two things which always seem to go together.  We need faith to believe that God will do what He said He would do, and we need obedience to follow the path that God has put us on!  Mary and Joseph were obedient, but for the ultimate example of faithfulness and obedience we must turn to and trust Jesus!

I. Every year, Joseph and Mary obediently did the right thing; they took their son Jesus and made the long journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem to celebrate the eight day long pass-over festival.  This year was a little different, because Jesus had now turned 12 years old.  This was the age when a Jewish boy became “a son of the law” and was expected  to obediently learn and observe all that the law demanded.  Well the festival is over, and now it’s time to head back to Nazareth.  Joseph, Mary, and Jesus would return home along with of the other families from Nazareth and near by villages and towns.   

Well after the first day of travel, as everyone in the caravan was pitching their tents for the evening, Joseph and Mary realized any parent’s worst nightmare Jesus was missing!  They quickly turned around and went back up the hill making the long trek back to Jerusalem to search for Jesus.  Once back in the city, the couple began to search for their boy.  They retraced their steps and went to every place they thought that Jesus might be.  Finally, towards evening, they found Him, sitting on the steps of the temple as a student, engaged in a learning discussion about God’s Word with Rabbi’s who were also gathered there.  They were relieved of course but they also must have been worn-out and a little irritated as well, but they held their temper and didn’t interrupt the discussion that was taking place between Jesus and all of those teachers.  It amazed them to hear Jesus asking and answering such deep spiritual questions.  The teachers were amazed at the boy’s wisdom too.  But now, Jesus seeing His parents suddenly rose, and He obediently walked over to them.  And His mother said to him, Son, why have you treated us so? See, your father and I have been searching everywhere for you; (we were worried sick over you!)” And Jesus who was honestly surprised by this said to them, “You were looking for me? Didn’t you know that I had to be doing my Father’s work?  Didn’t you know that I would be here in my Father’s house?”  And that was it, the dilemma was over!  Jesus and His family began the long trip back to Nazareth.  Mary and Joseph didn’t understand, but they knew that Jesus was a special boy, but someday they would understand that He was also the “God-man”.  So Jesus grew as any child, and he became wise and strong, and he continued to find favor in the eyes of God and man!

II. Why didn’t Mary and Joseph know where to find Jesus?  Why didn’t they remember what the angels, the Magi, and the prophets told them about their child 12 years ago?  Why didn’t they remember that Jesus was really God the Father’s Son?  Well, because Jesus was also a very real person.  As a boy, and latter as a man Jesus was under God’s authority and dependent upon him for all things just like we are.  As a boy, Jesus was expected to be obedient to His parents and keep the 4th Commandment perfectly, just as you and I must do, but the difference between Jesus and us is He was able to do it and we can’t!  But then why did Jesus become separated from Joseph and Mary if he wasn’t at fault?  Well the error was His parents.  When Jesus asked them how it was that they didn’t know where he would be, he wasn’t being sarcastic, but truthful.  “Why didn’t you look for me before you left?  I would have left with you, you know!  Have you forgotten who I really am?  Have you forgotten all that God told you about me?  Why would you need to wonder where I would be or where you must find me?  I must be in my Father’s house!”  Here in our gospel lesson, at the age of twelve we see that Jesus clearly knew most certainly that God was his Father in a way in which he was not Father to anyone else!

Dear friends, do you understand the wonderful mystery here?   This boy Jesus is speaking as God the Son; even before He took on our flesh He was always eternally the Son of God! Can you surrender to the mystery that declares that Jesus is true God and true man without trying to explain how this can be?  Yes you can if by faith you obediently surrender this mystery into God’s capable hands!  And it is by this same faith that we believe, teach, and confess that the divine and human natures of Jesus are now and forever inseparable; not pasted together like two boards, nor one transformed or absorbed into the other, but instead, each essence of God and man simply exist together in an unchanged way that truly makes Jesus the God-Man! 

According to this personal union this God-boy in our gospel lesson already and always possessed His majesty as God, and yet He allowed it to be hidden just as great clouds in the sky can hide the sun. This is how Jesus could grow in stature, wisdom, and grace before God and other people [Luke 2:52]. This is why Jesus, knowing that He was the true Son of God, continued being obedient to His earthly parents.  Make no mistake friends, Jesus knew that He was the Son of the Father, and He knew that He was divine, and yet, he continued as a child who was obedient to Joseph and Mary because by doing so He was being obedient to His Heavenly Father’s will. ILLUS: There’s a famous picture that depicts the boy Jesus running with outstretched arms to his mother, with the shadow of the cross being cast on the ground by his form as he runs. The picture’s underlying message is true. Jesus obedience is an example not just for children growing and preparing for adulthood, but for all of us!  He was obedient to His parents and He was obedient to God’s will; but His obedience is also so much more than just an example, because without it He could not have been our Redeemer, the Savior who came to free us from sin and death by His own death upon the cross.

III. Dear friends, when Jesus declared His relationship with the Heavenly Father and demonstrated His obedience to His earthly parents, He was also declaring His purpose for coming to this world; to fulfill his Father’s will, which was to seek and save all people who are lost to sin. By perfectly living His life, that same life became a perfect act of worship.  By being obedient to the will of God His Father in all things, He was obedient, even “unto death, even death on a cross” for us.  Through the obedient life of this God-boy, Jesus’ role as Savior was proclaimed every day until he obediently walked to His own death upon the cross.  As the God-Man Jesus lived and died to bring us back to God in an eternal way that would give us peace with God.  Jesus,  obedient to His Father’s will  brought all people back to a right relationship with His father, and He did that work finally just outside the very walls of the Jerusalem temple where His parents found Him—He did it on Calvary.  It was there upon that cruel cross that God the Father would forsake His obedient Son and lay upon Him the punishment for all of our sins.  But after three days, God resurrected His Son from death to life in order to ensure us of our own personal victory over sin and death.  Jesus was obedient, and because of His obedience we have been given the ability to call God our “Father,” not in the same way as Jesus can mind you, but in a very real way that eternally ensures you of a loving relationship between God and you.”

Can you accept this as truth?  Can you be like Mother Mary and simply treasure these truths in your heart?  Can you obediently accept that God’s mysteries are beyond your comprehension and simply believe and by faith allow the living Word of God to remain steadfast within your heart allowing Jesus Christ to strengthen your faith unto eternal life?  I pray that you will.  I ask this in Jesus name…AMEN!