Archive for February, 2011

Christian Stewardship

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

Friday Night Gospel Celebration, February 25, 2011
Mr. Mark Kunkee, Deacon-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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Matthew 6:19-34

Lay Up Treasures in Heaven
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
24 “No one 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.

Do Not Be Anxious

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Mt 6:19–34). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

The Power of Christ’s Compassion

Saturday, February 26th, 2011

Friday Night Gospel Celebration, February 25, 2011
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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INTRODUCTION:  Several weeks ago, I was singing a praise song to myself, and when I started singing the verse I made a mistake—I never would have know that it was a mistake if I had not gotten out the music and words; I sang the chorus like this: “That’s how it is with God’s love, once you’ve experienced it, you spread His love to every one, you’ve got to pass it on. What makes it incorrect is just one word, and that one word is “got”.  Of course the actual word is “want”.  “That’s how it is with God’s love, once you’ve experienced it—you spread His love to every one; you want to pass it on.”  There is a difference, one is natural and the other is forced.  Can’t you tell when someone is faking their affection for you—when they are trying to be nice?  But on the other hand, don’t you enjoy being with someone who just seems to naturally demonstrate care and concern for you—someone who goes out of their way to make you feel important? 

 I.  The Lawyer—Have you ever noticed that sometimes, even when we seem to be doing all the right things, we still feel unfulfilled?  Why do you think that it is?  I think that we feel this way because we have turned Gospel into Law.  We have passed over what God has done for us and instead allowed our attention to be focused on what we must do.  This was the problem with the lawyer in our gospel reading tonight, when he asked Jesus, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  Scripture says that he asked this question in order to test Jesus.  He wanted to use Jesus own words against Him.  I am certain that he was familiar with Jesus teaching about God’s grace and mercy.  The young lawyer must have been thinking, if I can just get him to say something against God’s Holy Law, then we can charge him as a blasphemer.

The lawyer, like many of the other Jewish teachers, was operating under the faulty assumption that it was God’s Law that would save them; it was what they could “do” that would earn them a place in heaven.  He thought he could work for his salvation by following the Law.  Did he really think that he could fulfill the demands of the law?  In our reading tonight, Jesus asks just one question so that the lawyer would understand just how preposterous his trust in the Law for salvation was.  Jesus asked him, “What is written in the law?  What do you read there?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and (you must) love your neighbor as yourself.” (So Jesus) said to him, “(Good),You have given the right answer; (now just) do this, and you will have eternal life.”  The key word is “do”; you must “do” the Law perfectly without failure.  To effectively see what an impossible task this was that Jesus gives us, let’s look at just one command and see how we do with it.  Let’s look at the 5th commandment, “You shall not murder.”  At first glance we might say, o.k., I’ve never done that so I’m o.k. with God, right?  Wrong!  You see within each command we must not look at just the simple meaning of the words, but we must look at the intent, or what’s behind the commandment.  We must consider certain aspects of the Law, which I call “the must not do’s” and “the must do’s”. 

In regards to the 5th commandment, God’s Word teaches us that we must not do anything that harms anyone, either by thought, word, or actions.  How are you doing so far?  We still have the “must do’s” to contend with!  You see, the work of God’s law does not stop at the must not do’s, because it also demands specific action from us.  He says that we must take “every opportunity to do good to our neighbor and to prevent, protect, and save them from suffering bodily harm or injury.”  Now how are you standing up under the law?  If you’re like me, you’re not doing so well.  Are you feeling guilty?  That is the true function of the law.  Remember, that’s just one commandment.

The young lawyer must have been feeling guilty as well, because he tried to get himself off the hook by asking a question meant to cloud the issue of loving his neighbor: “And who is my neighbor!?” he asked.  And at that Jesus began his story of contrasts.  He gave two examples of what a bad neighbor looks like, followed by one example of what a true or good neighbor looks like. 

In Jesus story, it was a Samaritan stranger, a person who would have been hated by the Jews and in turn hated them right back, which helped the injured traveler.  This person was the good neighbor.  Would you have stopped and helped your enemy?  Would you have done all that the Samaritan did?  You can be sure the lawyer asked himself these questions.

II. The Challenge—Jesus story of the good Samaritan is an example of what God considers to be perfect love to a neighbor; the kind of love that fulfills the law’s demand.  Within this love we see 4 things Jesus demonstrates.

  1. As the Samaritan gave up the comfort of his own transportation to the injured traveler, we too must be ready to use the many conveniences that God has given us to help others.
  2. As the Samaritan tended to the injuries of the traveler, we too must be ready to help bring comfort and healing to those who are hurting physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
  3. Just as the Samaritan used his finances to provide for the travelers needs, we too must utilize the money we have been given by God to help our neighbors (2 Denarius was the equivalent of two months room and board).
  4. Finally, just as the Samaritan was willing to pay “ANY” extra costs in the care of the traveler, we also must be willing to give sacrificially (until it hurts) so that our neighbor will be cared for.

Whew!  Could there ever have been or could there ever be such a person as good as this “Good Samaritan” in our Lord’s story?  How could anyone demonstrate such a perfect love for his neighbor, especially a stranger?  When Jesus told this story, He knew that he was presenting an impossible goal for this young lawyer and anyone else who was listening.  To make sure that the young lawyer came to that very conclusion, Jesus had one more point to make: “Which of the three do you think was a better neighbor?”  To this, the young lawyer could only say truthfully, “The one who showed mercy.”  Now Jesus is ready to deliver the final blow of the law, the law that the lawyer was so willing to put all of his hope in.  Like a thunder bolt Jesus closed with, “GO AND DO LIKEWISE!”

III. The Solution—Friends, the truth of the parable is this: Jesus is the Good Samaritan, and as our Lord He provides a model for our own acts of compassion.  There were no limits to Christ’s love for us.  But how can we copy such a mighty demonstration of God’s love?  As the lawyer discovered so we too must realize, on our own, we can not!  Then what are we to do?  Friends, we need a change of identification.  Like the lawyer, we too have been destroyed by the command of the Law, “GO AND DO LIKEWISE!”  Now we must stop identifying with the lawyer and start living our lives as the beaten and robbed traveler.  We must allow our Savior to be our Good Neighbor as He brings us back to new life and strength.  The truth is we can’t do a thing to help ourselves, instead we must trust our Good Neighbor, because we have been beaten down by sin so badly that without His help we will surely die in that condition.  But we can trust in His care for us, because He has set no limits on the amount of elaborate care He will give us, even undergoing death and damnation upon the cross for us.  Christ’s life, death, damnation, and resurrection not only give us eternal life, but He also nourishes and empowers us with His Holy Body, Blood, Water, and Word, so that along with mighty deeds of compassion, we are also enabled to “go and do likewise.”   

 ILLUSTRATION: On April 14, 1912, the Titanic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic and began sinking.  By the time the lifeboats were deployed, it was clear that the ship would sink at any moment.  Passengers were loaded into lifeboats, and the lifeboats were lowered into the icy waters.  Of the twenty lifeboats lowered into the water, most had room for more people.  Despite the cries for help, those in the lifeboats were afraid to return to the drowning people lest the boats be swamped.  Resisting the cries for help, the people in the boats rowed away from hundreds of people floating in the water.  In lifeboat 14, Fifth Officer Harold Lowe thought differently and acted differently.  He transferred many of his passengers to other lifeboats and returned to pick up more survivors.  Though he could not save them all, he could save a precious few from death in the icy sea.

We are like 5th Officer Lowe—we are survivors of vicious attacks of the sin within us and around us.  We have been rescued and are now sent out to find and help save other victims.  But sometimes we can be more like the people in the other boats.  We don’t want to take a chance with our own comfort and safety, so we ignore the leading of Christ’s compassion within us, which is responding to the needs of those who need their own comfort and safety.  Sometimes, we forget who we are, kind of like some of my wife’s rose bushes.

ILLUSTRATION: My wife Malia, has a wonderful collection of flowers and plants throughout our yard, but the rose bushes are perhaps her pride and joy.  Many times I’ve commented to her that some of the bushes seem to be dead, in fact I have said this with my shovel in hand, wanting to dig it up so she can plant something else.  With out fail, every time she tells me, no wait, you’ll see next season it will come back with pretty blooms.  Almost every time her confidence in those rose bushes is rewarded with beautiful blooms; it’s as if the rose bush forgot what it was created for.  It just needed some extra care and attention to help it remember.  That’s how it is with us sometimes—we become so overwhelmed with life’s cares that we forget that we have been recreated into the image of Christ; we forget that the Holy Spirit lives within us enabling, empowering, and leading us to do good things for each other and our community.  Once we remember why Christ died for us we can’t help but be just like our Good Neighbor, our Savior Jesus Christ!  

CONCLUSION: Now when we hear the words of our hymn, “That’s how it is with God’s love, once you’ve experienced it—you spread His love to everyone”—we will no longer incorrectly finish that hymn by saying “you’ve got to pass it on”, instead we will say “We want to pass it on.”

May God continue to move you my brothers and sisters here at Trinity, to live as the hands of Christ.  May He continue to fan your spark of faith, love, and Christian service into a flaming lamp which will light up the communities of Encanto, Jamacha, and Spring Valley.  In Jesus name…. AMEN!

Live Strong and Prosper!

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany (A), February 20, 2011
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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INTRODUCTION:  This morning we continue our message from within Jesus Sermon from the Mount, and we’ll let these words confront us and comfort us: “You therefore must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” [Matt. 5:48]  Here’s a question that I want you to wait until the end of our message to answer: Is this the Law or Gospel?  It’s my prayer that by the end of our message you will be able to answer this question, and that the answer will lead you in how you will live out the rest of your life.

In that question we must remember that  Jesus’ primary goal isn’t to speak the law and condemn us as sinners, which we are, but instead He is leading our hearts to understand the will of God and our new identity as saints; people He is sending out to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. [Vs. 13-16]  Jesus wants us to see our need for living our lives in complete dependence on God’s love and care, which will then compel us to demonstrate or reflect that same love to our neighbors where ever we me meet them.  And all of this is done within the tender balance of living a life of repentance and faith, which Jesus provided for us in the Beatitudes [Vs. 3-12], where He assured us of a life strong blessings.  When the reality of these blessing begin to control our very lives, we will begin to have an effect upon our community as salt and light.  But we must always remember that our quest for completeness has nothing to do with entering or staying in the Kingdom of God, because Jesus has already given that to us!

I. Now resting in this promise of blessing, hear the perfect Law of God: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  (Or if someone punches you, punch them back.)  But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil.”  Lord, are you saying don’t fight back against anyone?  “(Yes”, he says,) If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”  But Jesus isn’t done yet, He now takes it a step further: “And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.”  In other words, if part of a settlement to a law suit is your jacket, let them have your shirt also!  “And if anyone (say like the government or someone else with power over you) forces you to go one mile (say to carry something), go with him two miles.  Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” [Vs. 38-41]

“But Lord…. But Lord!  Do you know what that will mean to me?  That’s not only foolish it’s also impossible!”  And dear friends, that is the point.  Living the kind of life that Jesus is leading us to is the foolishness of the cross… the impossibility of fulfilling God’s perfect law.  Your “but Lord” should be enough to turn you away from any foolish ideas you might have that doing God’s law is doable!  It should be enough to not only turn you to God’s mercy and forgiveness, but keep you there as you learn to follow Jesus! 

You see friends, Jesus wants us to understand that it isn’t God’s law that brings about true justice for us but it’s His love and mercy that does that!  Now our Lord knows that this is the complete opposite of what the world calls common sense; it goes directly against our natural inclination.  You know what I am referring to don’t you?  “A tit for a tat!   I’m going to make sure I get justice!”  That’s the natural way of this sinful world!  They think that the law will give them wholeness and security; but we must always remember that the left hand kingdom or the kingdom of God’s law can never bring about any real change; it only demands it.  Instead, it is God’s way to provide justice by inviting His children to trust in His plan for them and then turn to Him in prayer.  And when we rest in God’s plan of justice, He then asks us to absorb the evil attacks of our neighbor and let it die there!  He is asking us not to live a life of tit for tat, but instead live a life of sacrificially turning the other cheek and trusting that God will repay!

What we must remember is that this is ultimately not about you and me, but it is about Jesus Christ!  He is the one who truly did turn the other cheek when He was struck by the Sanhedrin.  He truly did let them take both His tunic and His cloak as they rolled dice deciding who would keep them.  He truly did pick up His cross and walk more than a mile to the ominous poverty of Golgotha; with the sins we placed on Him.  But we must not ever say or even think that because Jesus lived this life perfectly for us, we no longer need to!  No friends, just the opposite is true; what Jesus did for us, demonstrates for us what it means to love!  He demonstrates to us the highest form of love… God’s own love; a love of intellect and choice.  As God has loved us, so we are to love our neighbor.  This kind of love means that we will stand against evil not by taking a physical and reactionary stand against it but by submitting to the one who is evil; by absorbing the evil and not matching it with our own form of pay back.  Why would we do this?  Because of God’s mercy and love that has been given to us through Jesus Christ!

Now I know, when we hear these words, we want to close our ears; we don’t want to do it!  We desperately look for another way to explain this hard teaching of Jesus, but the truth is friends there is no other way to explain it and no other way to follow Jesus; He always leads us to the cross!

ILLUSTRATION: This isn’t a new teaching friends, nor is it without those who truly understood it and lived out its truth.  Martin Luther understood it along with those who went before Him and became martyrs.  Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. also saw and lived out the beauty of this teaching, and they absorbed so much hate and evil that it eventually took their lives.  Martin Luther King Jr. not only walked the way of the cross but He taught others to do the same, and because of that obedience, God brought about great change.  He changed the injustice of hate not with the sword but with mercy and forgiveness, and this change is still in motion today!

Through Jesus we find true power and truth in the cross.  And that truth is that you don’t overcome evil by violently standing against it but by turning the other cheek.  But don’t mistake this turning of the cheek with weakness or tolerance!  Nowhere does Jesus say to turn the other cheek and refuse to speak up for what is right; nowhere does He say not to take on the cause of those who are being overcome by evil!  As salt and light, we are to speak the truth, God’s truth in love; a kind of love that move us to take the evil action of another upon ourselves; the kind of love that moves under the burden of the cross another is bearing and help them shoulder the load.  We are to take all of the evil action upon ourselves and let it die there, never bringing it up again!

ILLUSTRATION: Do you remember the movie that came out 10 years ago called “Pay it Forward”?  The premise was this: An 11 year-old boy named Trevor McKinney was given a class assignment to devise and put into action a plan that would change the world for the better. Trevor’s plan was to create a charitable pyramid scheme, based on good deeds rather than profit. He called his plan “Pay it forward”, which means the recipient of a favor does a favor for a third party instead of paying the favor back.  Well it is Jesus desire that those He brings into the Kingdom of God with Him would do something similar but different.  Jesus is telling us not to pay evil forward but let it end with you!  This is the love He demonstrated upon the cross and it’s the kind of love that He wants us to live in and demonstrate to others.

Do you want to learn to be obedient?  Do you want to become what God has already said that you are… holy?  Then don’t pay it forward; follow Jesus to the cross and agree with this teaching and pursue it!  This is the way of the cross!  So are you looking for a “how to” part of this sermon?  Good, then I have only one step for you to follow: turn to Jesus and His cross!  How?  Well you’ve already been given the heart of Jesus, so follow that heart; follow that love of God that has been put within you.  Love your enemy; pray for him.  You will be surprised just how much change and rearrangement God will do when your heart first agrees that He’s right and you’re wrong.  Once you learn to admit this, then praying for your enemy isn’t really that difficult.

But why must we do this?  Well, Jesus answers this question as well.  Listen: “(You will do this) so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” [vs. 45]  But that sounds like some kind of works righteousness!  Is it?  Is Jesus saying that I must work at loving my enemies here on earth so that my Heavenly Father can reward me by making me His son or daughter?  No, not at all!  Jesus is saying that when we are loving our enemies we are showing them the love of the Father; we are showing them that we ARE sons and daughters of the Father!  Through our acts of love that find their source in the heart of Jesus we are showing everyone, including our enemies that our God is also their God; a God who “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”  We are showing them that not only are God and His love real, but also His Law that threatens anyone who refuses to follow that love through Jesus Christ!  We are showing them that the same God who saved and changed us wants to do the very same work within them.

“For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?  Do not even the tax collectors (or open sinners) do the same?  And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others?  Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” [Vs. 46-47]  You see friends, Jesus is telling us that we are not to think that our Christianity is something nice that we share with those who are part of our congregation; He’s not saying that your Christian love is reserved for anyone else who calls themselves Christian; He’s not even saying that our Christian love should be shared with those who do nice things for us!  We are called not to love just those who love us, but to love those who hate us!  This is the way of the cross; this is the path Jesus traveled and invites us to travel with Him.

CONCLUSION: Listen to Jesus final Words upon the cross and let them lead and guide you.  As he was dying upon the cross, Jesus prayed: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!”  Who did He pray forgiveness for?  Was it only for those who placed Him on the cross?  Yes, He prayed for all those present, He prayed for you, and He prayed for your enemy, because it was all of our sins that placed Him there!  And as He prepared to take His last breath He shouted: “IT IS FINISHED… it is perfect… it is complete!”  What is?  God’s plan to remove the sins of the world, even your sins!

Jesus closes our teaching this morning with these words: “You therefore must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” [Vs. 48]  You must be complete as your Heavenly Father is complete.  You must be finished and you must be complete; this is the true meaning of perfect.  And that is what you are because Jesus has blessed you with His completion!  Through the beatitudes or God’s pronouncement of blessing at the beginning of Jesus Sermon, He gives you the very thing that He now tells you that you must have… completion!  What wonderful news!  Now take this blessing and live strong and prosper… prosper for the Kingdom of Heaven is upon you!  AMEN!

Have You Had Your Heart Checked Lately?

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany (A), February 13, 2011
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

INTRODUCTION:  Maybe you are feeling a little like me this morning, tired of all the commercialism around Valentine’s Day. For the last few weeks we have been bombarded with images and messages that say love is measured  by how much we spend on those we love.  But this has never been God’s idea of love.  God’s Word clearly teaches us that the quality of love isn’t measured by our pocket book, but instead by our hearts.

This morning the Words of Jesus come to us like a scalpel in the hand of a renowned surgeon.  Make no mistake, while these Words are spiritual in nature they are nonetheless real and they are God’s own truth.  So the surgery that Jesus will perform on each of us will be spiritual in nature and the focus of that surgery will be our very hearts!  But like any great surgeon, Jesus wants us to understand the nature of our disease; the disease that requires corrective surgery.  And to help us see the need for this surgery Jesus speaks some strong words to demonstrate to us that our physical hearts are diseased and in fact already dead! 

I. We must remember the context in which these Words come to us.  Our message this morning is still part of a large sermon we call “The Sermon on the Mount”.  Hopefully, we are still resting in our confession that we are spiritually empty and dead inside.  And if we are, then God’s Word assures us that we have found forgiveness and peace with Him.  So the procedure Jesus is performing this morning is simply corrective surgery because we’ve already been given a new heart and assured of our place in Jesus’ Heavenly Kingdom.   

But, if you haven’t yet entered the Kingdom of God through your confession of sin and hopelessness, you will find this whole procedure worrisome, frightful, and intimidating.  You have two choices, you can push away the hand that will skillfully wield the scalpel or you can take a deep breath of the Word of God and fall helplessly to its work and let that same Word perform a major spiritual surgery on you.  What is that surgery?  To be honest, it’s nothing less than a heart transplant.  Jesus wants to remove your diseased heart of stone and replace it with a healthy heart… His own heart!  Now you can refuse to let our Great Physician perform this procedure, but you must be warned that the result will be eternal death; eternal separation from God.  But if you will simply let go of your own self-centered interest and turn to Jesus and His love for you, you will never be the same.

Now I know that for all of us, this will be an uncomfortable time in Jesus’ spiritual OR, but we must remember who it is that is caring for us.  He promises that if we will simply trust Him, and let His Word work within us, we will be eternally changed and rearranged.  Well, are we ready?  Then let’s let the Master do His work!

II. “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” [Matt. 5:21-22]  Now, what we need to keep in mind in this entire message is that there is a common thread that connects all of Jesus teaching.  If we stay with our analogy of heart disease, then we can see Jesus directing our attention to one of the proofs that we have a diseased heart.  He does this by showing us how we incorrectly look at the 5th Commandment.  Just like the people in Jesus time, we too have a very narrow interpretation of murder.  Generally we think of it as raising our hand against our neighbor in a way that ends in violence and death.  Images of Charlie Manson, Ted Bundy and John Gardner come to mind.  But Jesus says, “No, that’s too narrow.”  OK, so let’s include drive-by shootings, domestic violence and DWI’s in the mix.  “No” says Jesus, “your still to narrow.”  Ok, so we will include unjust actions by our police officers that take a life, or an unjust war!  And to this Jesus says, “No you still do not understand that this is a matter of the heart.  What the heart feels and thinks is what gives birth to the sin.  If you are angry with your Christian brother or sister, or even your neighbor, and if you will not let go of that anger you are guilty of murder!”

“You see” says Jesus, “your anger at first is hidden away in your heart.  You think that no one can see it, but I can.  I know what will happen if you don’t get rid of it; if you don’t let me cut it out.  It will turn to bitterness which will overflow into hurtful words, which may then result in some type of action on your part.  I see all of this, and I am warning you that if you don’t let me cut this disease out, you will die eternally and end up in Hell!”

Now each of us may be tempted to think that Jesus is speaking of a procedure that we can put off until later.  Certainly He doesn’t have to perform this work right now?! And to this Jesus says: “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”  What does Jesus mean by this?  Is He telling me that I should get up right now and confess my sin to my brother and sister?  What if my brother or sister that I have sinned against is right now in this very sanctuary?  Am I supposed to interrupt the sermon and approach them?  Well yes, if you feel that is what God is asking you to do!  By no means should you approach our Lord’s Holy Table and eat and drink forgiveness if you are unable to confess your sin to the one you have hurt.  And by no means are you to approach our Lord’s Supper unless you are willing to forgive as Jesus has forgiven you!  Now some of us may have heard the wisdom in these words, we may have seen the need for a new and changed heart, but we want to have time to consider the ramifications of just what such a radical procedure will mean.  So, we will want to put it off until the right time.  And to this procrastinating Jesus brings the spiritual urgency of His Words into our physical reality with these words: “Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” [Vs. 25-26]

Here is where our spiritual and physical realities combine.  Here Jesus is assuring us that if we damage our relationship with our neighbor and do not take steps to repair that damage, it will also have an eternal effect on our relationship with Him!  “So” He says, “do everything that is within your power to live in peace with your neighbor, especially with fellow believers!”

OK, that part of the surgery is complete, so now let’s move onto the next procedure.  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” [Vs. 27-30]  What?  Who’s the surgeon here anyways?  Why does Jesus want us to remove our eye and cut off our hand?  Well haven’t you ever heard someone say, “I can’t help it, I just have a wondering eye.” Or when it comes to stealing they might say, “I just have sticky fingers.”  So Jesus is saying, “Go ahead and pluck and cut, cut and pluck until there’s nothing left to remove!  Or” He says, “you can just let me finish this surgery on your heart, which is the real cause of all of your problems!” 

Friends, here Jesus is showing us once again that the root of all of our sins can be found in the terminal condition of our hearts.  If we want to be free of sin, even the sin of adultery, we must first admit that we have that disease within us.  And to make this confession easier for us, Jesus has shown us that just thinking impure sexual thoughts is the same as carrying them out.  Looking at impure material on the internet and fantasizing about it and looking at a person of the opposite sex and imagining any contact outside of neighborly love is actually the same thing as actually performing the sinful act!  So who is guilty of such adultery?  All of us!  What is the cure for such a propensity to sin?  A new heart!  And that’s just what Jesus has done for us and is doing for us.  

Well, we’ve reached the final portion of our surgery.  And very soon we’ll be in the recovery room.  But Jesus has just one more major procedure to perform.  Listen: “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” [Vs. 31-32]

Now I know for a fact that this part of the surgery is perhaps the hardest and most difficult portion to sit through.  Divorce has become so acceptable in our society that we no longer think of it as a sin.  We can actually be tempted to tell our Great Physician that this is an antiquated procedure and has no place in a modern society.  We might be tempted to quote to Him all of the reasons why divorce is needed.  We might be tempted to begin to rise off of the operating table and tell Him were done!  And to this Jesus gently pushes us back down onto the table and says, “I say to you friend that unless your divorce was caused by unfaithfulness you have already committed adultery.  So lay back down and let me finish!  Hear what I will tell you now and confess that I am right and you are wrong.  Divorce is sin.  It shatters the lives of both parties as well as the innocent children and family members that are part of that relationship.  Do not divorce.  Instead, be faithful to your marriage vows and love and serve one another as if you are loving and serving me.” 

Now our Lord is finishing the surgery, and He closes the incision with these Words: “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.  [Vs. 37] And when you say you will do something simply do it!” 

III. How do we feel now?  Well like how we would feel after any major surgery, we are groggy and sore.  The strong medicine of God’s Law has done its work within us. But now it’s time for the healing Word of His Gospel to do its work.  Now we are reminded that we have already been forgiven and saved from our sins; we have already been given a new heart.  This procedure, while painful was necessary in order to continue the transformation that Jesus began within us after we were recreated and washed clean in the waters of our baptism.  Then and now, Jesus is asking us to live a life in agreement with God’s Word.  First we agree that all of our sins, past, present and future have been forgiven.  Second we agree that as salt and light in this sinful world we need to always turn to Jesus and allow His heart within us to teach us how to live a life that agrees with God’s Word.  We know that while it’s true that we live among people who want to do us harm, people we have every right to see as our enemies, we must learn to trust in God’s protection; His work around us and within us.  We know that even if we suffer great violence and loss, our Heavenly Father is always working to protect us from our greatest threat, and that is our own sins within us that seek to destroy our new heart, Jesus’ heart that He has placed within us.

CONCLUSION: So here is a picture of what salt and light looks like within us, our congregation, and even within our community.  It is a picture of how we live with each other.  Will we sin and fall short of God’s demand of perfection?  Yes, we certainly will!  And confronted with this reality we take our sin and shortcomings to Jesus and His cross.  We repent and confess our sins of thought and attitude, word and deed, to God, asking forgiveness for Jesus’ sake, and we ask for the strength of God’s Spirit to always turn us to Jesus our Great Physician.  And friends, God’s Word assures us that when we turn to Jesus and hunger to let His heart beat within us, we are also turning away from our old sinful diseased heart.  And because we do this, God assures us that we will be at peace with Him and each other, loving with a true love, and serving each other as Christ Jesus continues to love and forgive us!  May you always live out this new heart and mind of Jesus.  In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…. AMEN!

Salt and Light

Sunday, February 6th, 2011

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany (A), February 6, 2011
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

INTRODUCTION: Have you ever wondered why we start every Divine Service with our confession of sins?  It is so we can give God glory for what He has done for us, what He is doing for us, and what He will do for us.  What is that great thing?  Friends, He has saved us from ourselves; He is saving us from sin, and He will save us from death and the devil!  In our confession of sins we are admitting to God our complete spiritual poverty.  We are agreeing with Him that we are so hopelessly lost in sin that only He can save us!  And then after our declaration of poverty and hopelessness God’s kingdom breaks through in a mighty way and gives us the gospel; He gives us pardon and forgiveness in the Words of the absolution.  Listen to these wonderful words of Good News: “Almighty God, our heavenly Father, has had mercy upon us and has given His only Son to die for us and for His sake forgives us all our sins.  To those who believe on His name He gives power to become the children of God and has promised them His Holy Spirit.  He that believes and is baptized shall be saved!”

Dear friends, this essentially was our message last week.  It is the door that we must always walk through in order to correctly understand God’s Word and live by it.  It is the very means that God uses to help us differentiate His Law from His Gospel.  If we can admit that we are broken, empty and poor in spirit, then we will receive the help of Jesus Christ, who is our God in human flesh.  If we come to Jesus in confession, He promises that He will in no means cast us away from Him!  This is why we are blessed, because Jesus has come to us in His Word and Sacraments and saved us.  Jesus is coming to us in His means and is still saving us!  And Jesus will come to us on the last day, on our last day and He will save us!  If we understand this divine truth, then we will also understand that Jesus is with us, within us, and around us performing His mighty works of mercy so that God will be glorified.  So what does it mean to say that Jesus is working through us; what will that look like?  That’s what we want to look at this morning.  Because Jesus is working through us we will see Him being salt and light in our congregation and in our personal lives.

I. This morning our Lord speaks to our congregation with these words: “Dear Trinity Lutheran Church, I blessed you long ago as a tiny mission congregation by giving you my Word and Sacraments and a faithful preacher.  I blessed you with the power to take My living Word out into the little sleepy coastal town of San Diego, California.  You admitted to me in your confession of sins that you were not able to serve me as you must; you admitted your sinfulness but you also joyfully heard my word of forgiveness, which brought to you my love and peace so that you could rest in My Father’s love.  And because you were faithful in trusting in my real presence, I called you to do spectacular work for my kingdom.  In 1896 I gave you your calling as a congregation; a calling which came directly from my heart.  I called you to be salt and light in this sinful world.  You were called then and you are called now to be the salt of the earth, the salt in San Diego, CA.  And even now, because of my Word that you faithfully preach and teach, I am still the very thing that is preserving you and flavoring your community with my grace.  This is a marvelous thing.  So you must continue to speak My Word, both the Law and the Gospel to those who do not know Me or even refuse to know Me.  Teach My Word correctly and administer My Sacraments faithfully and I will continue to bless you.”

“Dear Trinity Lutheran Church, you are the light of the world.  Just as you must never cease being salt that flavors and preserves, you must also never quit letting my light shine out from this little church.  In my eyes you are not little but great; you are a city set on a hill.  You are like the city of Zion high on the Lord’s mountain.  I have made you a sanctuary of peace for your neighbors.  Continue to allow my light to shine brightly from 7210 Lisbon Street.  Continue to feed and clothe the poor, educate the youth, protect and care for the helpless and needy.  I see your school that is slowly taking shape around My Word and Sacraments and I am well pleased.  I see your pantry feeding your neighbors and I celebrate with you.  I see your ministry to the seniors and I am empowering that work.  I see you becoming all things to all people so that you may share my Word of Law and Gospel with them and I bless you for that.  Dear Trinity, continue to let my light shine so that others will see your good works, your works of faith and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

II. This morning dear friends, our Lord isn’t just talking to our church, but He is also talking to each of us as individuals.  He is saying to you and to me that “You are the salt of the earth, but if (the salt that I have given to you) has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?  It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” 

Do you hear a threat, the thundering of God’s Law within these Words?  If you do then you aren’t listening with a new heart; a heart that has been made new.  If you hear threats and punishment, then you must go back to the door of invitation where Christ asked you to enter into His gospel peace of love, mercy and forgiveness.  You must go back to your confession of sin and hear again the absolution and His proclamation which has assured you that because you are forgiven He will by no means cast you out!  You must rest in the work that Jesus alone has done, is doing, and will do within you.  You must only look to Jesus and let His real presence change you.

This morning dear friends, Jesus says to each of us: “You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

In these Words friends, Jesus reminds us that because we have been blessed with the gospel promise, we are not just blessed for ourselves but we have been blessed so that we are a blessing for others.  Because He has blessed us He has now called us to bless our neighbors and even our entire community.  In whatever place we find ourselves we are to be a great light that demonstrates righteousness.  But as you have confessed you have no righteousness to demonstrate because you are spiritually poor.  Then what light are you to let shine?  Only the light of Jesus Christ; He alone is the light of the world; He is our sun and we are His moon.  His light is to shine and be reflected out of us in such a way that others will see that light and give glory to our Father in heaven.

To let our light shine before others means that we must let it shine in a spectacular way.  If you are a parent or grandparent, be an extraordinary.  If you are a child, be an extraordinary child.  In whatever career or vocation you find yourself in, let your calling as a Christian, as salt and light be your central vision; let Christ be your purpose and your goal, and you will experience His light shining from within you.  But for what purpose are we to be the salt and light of this world?  Only for this, so that we may see Jesus ever expanding and building His Kingdom through us and among us!

CONCLUSION: How can we do all of this?  We can’t and we must admit this.  We must let go of all of our self-righteousness and then simply receive and be filled by Jesus’ own righteousness.  And friends, we can only do this by living in and living out the Word of God.  With Jesus leading us we can’t help but share the word of God with whomever He brings us to.  And what shall we say?  Friends, through us, He will speak the same word of peace that He speaks to us; the same word that saved us and brought us into His kingdom!  And as we speak this Word of peace we will also rest in it, and by resting in God’s Word we will also be empowered to demonstrate it in how we live.  Jesus Christ Himself, who is living and dwelling richly within us, will be the One doing all of the works of love through us!  And with Christ living within us and changing us, others will certainly see His presence and His works of love.  And when they ask why you do these things, simply explain to them that it is Christ alone who does them through you for them; simply share with them God’s love and His desire to give to them that same presence and peace.  Invite them into a relationship of friendship with you so you can continue to share the Word and love of God, and then invite them to our city on a hill; invite them to come to Trinity with you so that they too can be changed and blessed with a purpose; with a calling!  And what is that calling?  To be that same blessing to others!

Dear friends, I pray that as a congregation and as individuals we will let God’s light within us continue to break forth within our community like the dawn, so that God’s healing and life giving Word of the gospel will spread His righteousness.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!