Archive for July, 2011

Christ’s Compassion is Our Compassion

Sunday, July 31st, 2011

Seventh Sunday in Pentecost, July 31st, 2011
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA 
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“When He went ashore He saw a great crowd, and He had compassion on them and healed their sick.” [Matthew 14:14] 

INTRODUCTION: This morning, we see the heart of God going out in compassion to the great crowd that followed and gathered around Jesus.  In spite of all of their unbelief and disobedience, Jesus has a great feeling of love, compassion, and mercy for them.  Why?  Well St. Mark’s account of the same incident tells us that Jesus sees them as sheep without a shepherd. [Mark 6:34]  They were separated from God because of their sins, and they needed to learn that they had a God of mercy, compassion, and love! 

I read recently that flight attendants are having an ever growing problem getting passengers to listen to the emergency instructions.  So, some of the attendants have resorted to humor in an attempt to get the passengers to pay attention.  Listen to one of these attempts: Ladies and gentlemen, in the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, masks will descend from the ceiling.  Stop screaming, grab the mask, pull it over your face.  If you have a small child traveling with you, first secure your mask and then help them with theirs.  If you are traveling with more than one small child… well pick your favorite!” 

This morning we will be talking about God’s compassion for each of us!  The good news is that God does not have a favorite; He has chosen all of us!  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” [John 3:16]  “As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live”. [Ezekiel 33:11] The bad news is that some will reject God’s offer to turn to His ultimate demonstration of compassion, which comes to us only through Jesus Christ, and unfortunately they will die!  Here are three truths that we will explore: Knowledge of God’s compassion comes to us only through His Word; God wants each of us, the whole world to experience His compassion; and God wants us to share His compassion. 

I. Knowledge of God’s compassion comes to us only through His Word.  Those of us who have children know that they can tend to be insecure about life around them, even about our love and God’s love for them.  That’s why repetition is so important for children.  We must speak words of love and affirmation to them all of the time.  Here are some phrases that I’ve found to be helpful with small children: “You know, I couldn’t love you anymore!”  “You will always be Daddy’s little princess!”  “I don’t like what you are doing, but I sure do love you!  Let me teach you how to do better!”  These are words of affirmation, love, and compassion.  I’m sure that you have your own catch phrases that communicate the same thing.   

Let’s listen to some of God’s: “Because of the tender mercy of our God, (His) sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” [Luke 1:78-79]  ““In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,” says the LORD, your Redeemer.” [Isaiah 54:8]  

Because God has compassion on us, He sends His powerful Word to us in such a way that we will have no doubts about his forgiving love.  There is no limit to His kindness and gentleness towards us; it is boundless and limitless.  On the other hand, if He were to take away His Word from us then there is no way to measure His anger.  But when He promises to be our Father and that we will always have His Word, He is revealing Himself in a way that those who don’t call Him Father can never understand!  In our Father, there is no bitterness, no terror, and everything in our lives is safe and peaceful.  And to prove to you that this is a fact, God sent His Son to make the message clear.  “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” [Romans 5:8]  “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved”. [Ephesians 2:4-5]  “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” [1 John 4:10] 

Dear friends, God’s love and compassion, His goodwill and favor is free and it’s universal.  In other words it is for every sinner that lives on the face of this earth, without exception.  God came to us in our own flesh for the benefit of everyone; He came to us as the incarnate Jesus Christ; He died as the payment for our sins, everyone’s sins.  Through His death upon the cross, all sinful men have been pronounced righteous and through His resurrection all have been promised victory over man’s most ancient enemies; sin, death, and the devil!  This is God’s invitation for all sinners to turn to Him through the cross of Jesus Christ and find peace with God through the forgiveness of their many sins.  In this invitation, no one is excluded from God’s compassion and grace.  God wants you to read, hear, and receive His Word so that you’ll know for sure that this promise is for you!  There’s nothing you need to do, only rest in God’s promise.  But now here is the bad news, this grace… this compassion of God is resistible!  You can reject His love and the death of Jesus!  This is why God wants you to see your great need for His compassion and His gift of grace.  You see… 

II. God wants us to see a need for His grace and experience His compassion.  But why is that necessary? Well, just as you probably won’t go see your doctor unless you’re feeling sick, in the same way you probably won’t seek out God’s grace, His forgiving love and compassion that’s  offered in Christ, unless you’ve been shown your sinful and lost condition! Through His Law, God forces us to see our sickness and our unstoppable death, and then He urges us to seek His compassion and forgiveness through His grace in Christ. 

So you see, God wants all to be saved, He wants each of us to have the life-giving gospel proclaimed to us, but only if we will admit through the work of His Law that we are sick and in need of a cure.  He wants us to be rich in His grace, but only if we will admit that without it we are poor!  He wants His Word of freedom to be proclaimed, but only to those of us who want to be set free; He wants to set us free, but only if we will admit that we are held captive by sin; He wants to comfort all, but only if we are grieving.  So God really does want to give His grace to the world, but you can only receive it if confess a need for His mercy, compassion, and forgiving love! 

In the parable of the prodigal son, Jesus pictured the grace of God in a wonderful way; He pictures God as the Father of a young son who left home in a cloud of sin and pride.  And in that story, Jesus showed us a God who is always ready to pardon the repentant sinner. He showed us a Father who is always watching our road of life, waiting for His sons and daughters lost in their sins to turn towards the cross of Jesus with the desire to go home to the compassion of our Heavenly Father.  And what happens when we return?  Our Heavenly Father’s sees this and His heart is filled with compassion!  And what does the Father do; what does our Heavenly Father do?  He runs, to us, falls upon our neck in a divine embrace and He covers our face with heavenly kisses!  What does all of this show us?  It shows us that God’s sinful children, you and me are already forgiven before we can say speak a single word.  Our all-knowing and always present God pardons each of us no good sinners, the moment we rest in God’s cure for our disease of sin and death!  

So before we go on with our message this morning, let’s make sure that we understand that repentance isn’t something we do once and then get on with our lives, it is something we do every day of our lives as we are surrounded and comforted by God’s compassion and forgiving love!  Every day, every moment of our lives, we need to turn and look at Christ’s cross and see how much the Father loves each of us, and then look to the baptismal font and remember that there in our baptism, all of His love and compassion was given to us!  And as we live this kind of life, we will also remember that… 

III. God wants us to share His compassion.  In God’s Word, we are taught that His goodness should be reflected in His children. “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” [Luke 6:36]. In His Word we are taught to love one another (1 Thessalonians 4:9). We are shown that we must love, bless, help, and intercede even for our enemies, because they too are children of our heavenly Father. [Matthew 5:44–45] We are to be kind to one another, forgiving, tender-hearted, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven us. [Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13]  Throughout God’s Word, His message to His children who relate to Him by faith is this: “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.” [Romans 12:1; 2 Corinthians 8:9] 

So in God’s Word, not only is His message consistent that we must turn to His compassion through Jesus Christ and live, but we must also reflect that same compassion of God to others so that they too will receive His Word, His message of grace and be saved and changed!  

CONCLUSION: Dear friends, let me make sure that you leave this place with God’s compassion; let me make sure you leave here with the Gospel!  Your Heavenly Father, like any good parent, wants to be sure that you are dressed properly. In your baptism, you have been baptized into Christ; in other words, you have been “dressed” in Christ. In those holy waters, your Heavenly Father removed your filthy rags of sin and in exchange He placed on you Christ’s robe of righteousness. He no longer looks at you and sees your sin or what you are or aren’t in this world.  In Christ, each of us have been baptized into Him and we are one in Him! [Galatians 3:26–29] 

 So you could say that God sees us through Christ-colored glasses. In our lives that are connected to God in Heaven, His Word has killed us as sinners; He’s stripped us of our torn and tattered garments of sin—and buried us in Christ’s tomb. And in that same Word He’s has brought us into a new existence with him and redressed us in Jesus’ own innocence and righteousness. Now because of God’s work alone, we stand in the Father’s presence, holy and righteous! We are his perfect children, but only because he has said so. His promise to us in our Baptisms gives us peace and a clean conscience.  But we are still living here in this sinful world, so we are still experiencing the attacks of the devil and sin, even our own sin.  We still experience temptation, and we can still fall to that temptation.  So our Baptism then initiates a lifelong process of repentance, confession, and forgiveness; its a life long process of dying to the habits of hell and rising to the habits of heaven in a daily struggle against the sin that destroys our humanity. 

As we daily recall God’s baptismal promise to be our God and to keep us safe as his children, may we always see His Compassion, the compassion of Jesus Christ, and may we always remember that Christ’s compassion is now our compassion.  We need that compassion in our struggle to put to death the sin that is always within us, and the people in our community need that compassion if they are to also one day receive God’s gift of eternal life and love. 

So, dressed up in our new nature, having shed our old nature through this baptismal death and resurrection, we will continue to experience God’s renewing compassion in our lives and we will share that compassion with everyone that God puts in our path.  May God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit enable us to do this very thing… in Jesus name… AMEN!

Away From Us!

Saturday, July 23rd, 2011

Friday Night Gospel Celebration, July 22, 2011
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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“Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear.” [Luke 8:37]

Tonight, these words cause me to wonder how many people turn away from a real relationship with God because they are afraid of Jesus.  How many people are afraid of the change that they know will come once Jesus is truly Lord of their lives?  But I also wonder how many people are afraid to follow Jesus because they think that God is angry with them.  Maybe they received Him and His love, saw real change take place in their lives only to fall back into the same sinful behavior that He once freed them from. 

At this very moment, God’s Word declares to each of us who have been harassed, captivated, and even possessed by sin, that He is spreading out His hands “to a rebellious people”; people who aren’t even seeking Him or asking for Him.  He calls out to you with an invitation to come to Him in peace through His Living Word, Jesus Christ.  Will you listen?  Will you come?

I. In our gospel reading tonight we are taken to a rural area outside of Galilee, on the shore of Lake Galilee.  Jesus has just gotten out of a boat with his apostles when he’s immediately confronted by a man who’s been possessed by a demon.  Where did this guy come from and why is he confronting Jesus?

Well, he came from some vacant tombs near the shore of the lake.  Yes there were vacant tombs there and occupied ones as well, because you see, this was a cemetery.  In the Jewish mindset, this was unclean land, because it housed the dead.  Isn’t it fitting that an unclean spirit would be inhabiting an unclean… and unholy place?  But why has this demon possessed a person and why is it confronting Jesus?

We don’t know how this poor man came to be possessed by a demon; in fact we don’t know much about him other than he was most likely from one of the two towns close by.  We don’t know what his life was like before he became possessed, but we do know one thing… he wasn’t alone!  In Matthew and Mark’s accounts of this same incident, we know that there was still one more man living in the tombs with him who was also possessed.  We know that they demonstrated both supernatural strength and a foul disposition.  We know that they were naked!  Ok, you would expect these things from someone who isn’t in their right minds… someone who’s possessed by an unclean spirit, but why confront Jesus?  Wouldn’t you think that the minute they saw Jesus from a distance they’d run away and hide from Him?  Why are these demons drawn to Him like a magnet?  They actually run up to Him and scream, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?  I beg you do not torment me.” [vs. 28]

Friends, isn’t it apparent that the very will and power of Jesus drew the demon to Him?  This shouldn’t surprise us at all, because you see, just as Jesus is the supreme master of the wind and waves, He is also the Supreme Master of even the demon world.  When and how He determines to summon anything in creation, that thing must respond, because He is the Creator, the Son of the Most High God!  The demons know this and they can only tremble in fear and acknowledge His control over them when He calls.  And so it was in this case as well.  But why did He think that Jesus would torment him?  Because that is the inevitable future of all evil spirits; each and every demon knows that they have no future other than eternal suffering and torment in the very pit of hell where their leader Satan is already bound!  So the demon begs not to be sent away before the appointed time of final judgment.

And what is Jesus response?  He asks the demon his name.  And what is the demons response?  Legion!  The reading says that many demons had entered this poor man.  Legion is actually a Roman term.  It refers to a Roman Legion that signifies more than 6,000 soldiers.  Imagine, this poor guy had over 6,000 demons inside of him!  And now because they are being confronted by the very Living Word of God, they are in a panic wondering if this was in fact the end of them. 

“And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.” [Vs. 31-32]  What a fitting place for these demons… they fled into an animal that God had designated for the Jews as being unclean!  These demons had no place living in a child of God, a man created after the very image of God.  The truth is, they possessed this poor man only to mock God.  And now, God mocks them; He places within their hearts, the desire to inhabit pigs.  “Done!”  Jesus says, then they left the man and entered the pigs, and everyone of them ran off a cliff and into the lake and were drowned!  But why?  Why destroy the only home they had left?  Because dear friends, it is in complete harmony with their nature.  They are self destructive.  They destroy anything that they possess, because anything they can possess is a creation of God, and remember, demons hate God and because they hate God they hate all of His creation; they hate you!

II. “When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country. Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. [vs. 34-35]  Dear friends, that is you sitting at the feet of Jesus!  You have been clothed in the robe of Jesus own righteousness, washed clean in the waters of your baptism, given a new mind and a right spirit; you’ve been placed at the feet of Jesus here in this Holy house to hear Him speak to you and teach you with His Living Word!  Each one of us have been freed from the bondage of sin, death, and the devil.  Each one of us can and should give an account of just what evil we have faced in our lives; what evil spirit has harassed us and for some even possessed us!  But Christ has set us free!  By His stripes, by His suffering and death we have been healed.  And because of His resurrection and our own promised resurrection which He gives us within our baptism, He asks us to believe that He will never abandon us within the very pit where each and every demon and unclean spirit will inevitably be sent!  God does not want you to go to hell… that place was not meant for you!  He has freed you!

But some may say, “I know that Jesus loves me, and I know that He wants me to be free, but the demons that chase me are just too strong to resist!  I keep falling to the same temptations.  At some point He will just give up on me.  Maybe that point is now?!  And to this, God answers, “No!”  He will never leave or forsake you in that pit of hopelessness.  Whether the unclean spirit has moved you into addiction, lust, depression, or pride, God shall never abandon you because He has sealed you for eternity in the waters of your baptism as His very own!  All of us, with no exception, have been enslaved and driven mad by the attacks and accusations of the devil, and each of us has been set free by the Word of Jesus Christ!  He has drown and destroyed the old Adam within us and each day He brings out of that death a new creation, the new you that was born in the waters of Holy Baptism.  We are no longer living naked in our shame amongst the dead; instead we have been brought into the kingdom of God, the Lord’s house, fully clothed by Christ.  And all He asks us to do is to not give up; don’t lose hope! He asks us to daily put to death our old sinful nature and walk in his forgiveness and love.  He wants us to walk in His Gospel Word that ensures us that no matter how many times we sin, no matter how many times we fall, we are forgiven!  But not just forgiven…

III. We are forgiven with a purpose!  “The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.” [vs. 38-39] Dear friends, when we come to church and hear the sweet words of the gospel and hear that our sins are forgiven, when we eat and drink the Lord’s body and blood at His table and taste forgiveness, we have a tendency to wish we could stay in this protective environment and be with Jesus.  We want to stay where we feel protected and loved.  But Jesus says, “Return to your home, and declare how much I have done for you.”  But Lord, those are the same people that continually reject you and ask those of us who love you to shut up!  “Yes, that’s true.  But they only do that because they are afraid of Me.  That’s why I am sending you to them.  Through you, they will know about my love for them.  They will see Me in you, and they will hear your story, your witness about My love for you and then they will hunger for the same thing, and I will never turn away any of them who come to me.”  Remember, just as your sinful flesh does not want to die, neither does theirs!  Just as God works to kill the sin within you every day, He wants to do the same work within them.  So tell your story!  Proclaim it to anyone who will listen, and then watch Jesus give them freedom and a new life just as He gave it to you!  I pray that each of us will take on this calling and always declare how much God has done for us!  In Jesus name… AMEN!

The Good Seed and the Solid Rock

Sunday, July 17th, 2011

Fifth Sunday in Pentecost, July 17th, 2011
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” [Matt. 13:30]

Let’s start our message this morning with a question!  If Casey Anthony were to walk through our doors next Sunday looking for a new church home, how would that make you feel?  Who is Casey Anthony?  Well she’s been almost the only name in the news for the last several months!  She is the young mother who was accused of killing her 3 year old daughter several years ago, and then trying to hide the body with one lie after another.  After a lengthy and very public trial, she was found not guilty by a jury of her peers.  In our judicial system that means that she is an innocent woman and she is to be afforded all of the rights that you enjoy!  So, I’ll ask you again, if she showed up here at Trinity next week how would you feel?  Would you accept and welcome her or would you judge her guilty and a threat to the rest of us here at Trinity?

 This morning we will be talking about bad seed, judgment, and the Kingdom of Heaven!  By the end of our message, it is God desire that you will let go of your fears about the evil that seems to threaten not just His Kingdom but our very salvation, and by faith trust in the completed work of Jesus Christ your solid rock of salvation!

In vs. 27 of our gospel reading, Jesus portrays a common emotion that each of us feels when we encounter evil; surprise!  Listen: “And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, (didn’t you) sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?”  With the explanation that Jesus latter gives, we know that the Master is Jesus, the field is the world, and the seed that grows wheat and weeds are both good and bad people, we might say along with the servants, “Hey, aren’t you all powerful Lord?  Doesn’t Your Word always accomplish your will?  Wasn’t it your intent that there be nothing but “good people” in your kingdom of sowing and reaping?  Then what’s up?!  What are these weeds doing flourishing among the wheat?  Why are there so many evil people around and why are they so hard sometimes to distinguish from people of faith?

And Jesus answers this question with a statement of fact: “An enemy has done this.” [vs. 28]  In other words, He’s saying, “Your assumption is right; I did plant good seed, I do desire that all would be children of my Heavenly Kingdom, but we have an enemy who has been working from the beginning to turn a plentiful harvest into a disaster!”  So here is a biblical truth for us to remember, “Whenever Christ “plants” true believers to bear fruit for His glory, Satan the enemy of the Church is always planting others who will oppose His work and prevent His harvest.

The first mention of these two seeds in the Bible can be found in the book of Genesis when God made a promise to man and the devil that the struggle of good and evil would continue for a long time until God would put a stop to it!  Listen: “he (the Savior of mankind) shall bruise your head, and you (Satan) shall bruise his heel.” [Gen. 3:15]  And soon after in Genesis we are told that when Cain murdered his brother Abel, he started this struggle between good and evil within the heart of all mankind!  In the book of John, Jesus tells us that Cain was of the wicked one, a child of the devil!

 So Cain represents “children of the devil and Abel was the first saint to die in faith.  This struggle still rages on today.  We see it come alive for us in the New Testament and in our daily news!  Satan’s seed opposed John the Baptist and did nothing when he was killed by Herod.  They opposed the entire ministry of Jesus and asked to have Him crucified.  At the cross, Satan bruised Christ’s heel, but Jesus the promised Savior of mankind bruised Satan’s head and defeated Him forever.  But the battle rages on!

 In the news we see, read, and hear about all kinds of evil around us.  So we gather around God’s Word and Sacraments for comfort; we gather together as His good seed and comfort each other through prayer and the practice of forgiveness, but then we discover that the evil seed has somehow made it inside the church and we are shocked!  But why are we shocked?  Isn’t the common theme throughout scripture that those of us who relate to God by faith must live in this world but not be part of it?  We are continually reminded that our true home that awaits us is the Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!  So then, when evil enters even into the church we shouldn’t be surprised; we must remember that there are really two churches, one that we can see and one that only God can see.  We must trust that as the Master of His church, He WILL deal with the bad seed in His time and in His way!  This is the answer that He gave to His servants in verse 28 when they asked, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?”  In other words, do you want us to pluck them out?  And what was Jesus answer?  “No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up wheat along with them.”  What Jesus is telling us is that only He knows who ultimately will be judged evil and a seed of Satan, not us!  Now this doesn’t mean that when evil and sin pops up in the church we can’t deal with it!  Certainly God has given us complete instructions in Matthew 18 how we are to deal with evil and sin in our congregations, but the steps that we are to take aren’t meant to punish the offender, but rather to lead sinful members into repentance; that is to turn them to the cross of Jesus for forgiveness and restoration to God and us, and regenerate them back as good seed!

What we learned last week should still be fresh in our minds; the devil is always working to lead us away from Jesus.  If He can do this, then He is confident that He will turn us into bad seed.  He snatches the Word of God from our hearts, tries to smother our faith in the gospel with worldliness, or choke off our faith with persecution.  Sometimes, maybe many times he is successful in turning good seed into bad, and when he does this he is able to plant false Christians wherever our Lord plants true children on faith.

 I am sure that no one knew the secrets that Dennis Raider hid in his heart as they sat next to him every Sunday at Divine Service!  Who is Dennis Raider?  He was the president of a Lutheran Church in Wichita Kansas, and he is now a convicted serial killer!  He was charged and found guilty of killing 10 people!  Ok, Lord, at least we can cross his name off of the heavenly roll call and judge him guilty of eternal punishment like the court has, right?  And to this, Jesus says, “No!  Let him grow until the harvest.”  But why?  Well because only God knows the heart of a person, even sinful people like you and me and only He is capable of pronouncing the final judgment of eternal separation from His love and His kingdom.  So what in the meantime,  we are to do the only thing we can do; continue to be good seed!

As we gather around God’s Word and Sacrament we are to allow Him to care for us and protect us from others who might see hints of evil seed in us and want to pull us up!  We do this when we recognize our sin, confess it before God and each other and turn to the Cross of Jesus Christ and be saved.  As I said last week, this is the rhythm of a Kingdom lifestyle.  It’s the heartbeat of the body of Christ made of good seed; not good seed by nature but good seed through the work of Jesus Christ!  And as we are being daily recreated, protected, and nurtured we are called to stay awake!  We must stay awake and protect our doctrine and watch how we live.  We are called to live a life of faith that demonstrates God’s presence in a sinful world.  And when we sleep and fail to pay attention as the church has done many times in the past, Satan works.  He plants false teaching, false Christians, and false preachers, all so he can destroy the church from within!  But ultimately thank God, we must remember and trust that it is God’s Church, and He alone is able to protect it!  It is His Kingdom, and He alone builds it and preserves it.

So what is the Kingdom of God?  Well, in Mark chapter 1, John the Baptist told us that the kingdom of God had come near; he announced that God was, through Jesus the Messiah, laying the foundation for His rule of grace within the hearts of sinful men and women.  He does this through repentance and forgiveness of sins by faith in the completed work of Jesus and the gift of baptism.  When what we would judge as bad seed accepts this work of God, then God declares them fit for His Kingdom.  So the work of the kingdom of God takes place in others in the same place it takes place for us; it happens in the heart.  And since we cannot see into another person’s heart we trust in the only one who can; we trust in God the Father who created our bodies, God the Son who redeemed our bodies and God the Holy Spirit who sanctifies our bodies.

 So will Casey, Dennis, and countless others who appeared evil really be in heaven?  Ultimately, we don’t know, only God does, but we do know that if they do enter the kingdom of heaven it will be through the same way that we do; it will be through confession, repentance, and forgiveness that can only come through Jesus Christ!  Let’s remember that while the kingdom of Heaven is a place where we are promised to spend our eternity it is not the center of God’s message to us, He is!  On every page of our Bibles we are encouraged to center every aspect of our lives around God and His real presence with us and within us!

 Now, as each of us thinks about death, it is natural that we will also think about judgment, and this can cause fear in us sometimes, because it is God alone who knows our hearts.  But we must always remind ourselves and our brothers and sisters that we are now truly the good seed, that will be put into our Masters barn, that is into the Kingdom of Heaven only because Jesus was and is, and always shall be the Good Seed for us!

And when our struggle against evil and sin is over, “Then (we) the righteous will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of (our) Father.  He who has ears (and eyes of faith), let him hear.” [Vs. 43]  Let them hear that they are now the good seed, built on the Solid Rock, Jesus Christ!  “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’s blood and righteousness; no merit of my own I claim but wholly lean on Jesus name.  When darkness veils His lovely face, I rest on His unchanging grace; in every high and stormy gale my anchor holds within the veil.  His oath, His covenant and blood support me in the raging flood; when every earthly prop gives way, He then is all my hope and stay.  When He shall come with trumpet sound, oh, may I then in Him be found, clothed in His righteousness alone, redeemed to stand before His throne!  On Christ, the solid rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand!”  [LSB Hymn 575]  In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit… AMEN!

Kingdom Sowing and Kingdom Reaping

Sunday, July 10th, 2011

Fourth Sunday in Pentecost, July 10th, 2011
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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INTRODUCTION: Imagine that you are part of a large crowd gathered on the shore of a lake; you’re there to hear Jesus speak and teach about the Kingdom of God.  Jesus is seated in a boat that’s tethered to the shore and He begins speaking.  You can hear Him clearly, because the water acts as a natural amplifier.  As He’s speaking, He notices a farmer scattering seed in a field not far from you, so He points to this activity and says: “A sower went out to sow.  And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them.  Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched.  And since they had no root, they withered away.  Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.  Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grains, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.  He who has ears, let him hear.” [Matt. 13:3-9] 

This morning we will use our ears to hear a message about the Kingdom of God; a Kingdom of sowing and reaping.  This morning we must first see Jesus in this message and then we must see ourselves.  Dear friends, this is a message about God and it is message about you!  Do not worry if it is a message about your spouse, your children or your neighbor, but for now receive it as a message about only God and you. 

I. This story is about God in this way.  God the Father is the Sower in the story, because it is He alone who gives the seed to the sower and bread to the eater.  It is He alone who determines how His Word goes out and what it will accomplish.  And it is the Father who promises that His Word will not return to Him empty or void, but it will accomplish His will and His purpose.  It will do what He has declared it will do! [Isaiah 55:11] 

God the Son is the seed.  He is God in our flesh, the very seed of Eve who was promised to come and defeat our true enemies sin, death, and the devil.  God the Son Jesus Christ is the Living Word of God that proceeds from the mouth of the Father to accomplish the will of the Father.  And what is that will?  It is that where sin and death once ruled in the hearts of men, new and eternal life would take its place.  Where fear of the wrath and anger of God once filled the hearts and minds of sinful people, forgiveness and peace with a God of love would take its place! 

God the Holy Spirit is the producer of the good and fertile soil; a soil that will produce much grain and good fruit.  He does this through the creative work of the Father’s sowing, the fertile seed of the Son who is the Living Word of God, and He does it while driving off the birds that pluck the seed.  The birds that try to destroy and stop the will of the Father are the devils.  They are a bunch of idiots, because they ignore our Old Testament reading that assures us that God’s Word and His will cannot be prevented. 

II. And now this is where you come in… you are the bad soil.  You are the broad path where God’s good seed fell and never took root because you allowed the devil to take that seed.  Broad is the way that leads to hell and judgment, but narrow is the path that leads to everlasting life!  But you are also the rocky soil, because there have been times when you gladly heard and read the Word, why you even tried to follow it, but as soon as trials and sacrifice became part of your life in Christ, you fell away!  Now, God’s Word isn’t done yet, for you see you are also the ground that is covered in thorns!  You need to understand that there have been times in your life when the cares of this world and the temptations of our society have pulled you away from your walk of faith with God; maybe that time is right now?!  When that happens, you become guilty of breaking the very first commandment; you leave the Living God in order to chase after an idol that promises happiness of the flesh instead of spiritual and eternal joy.  

Now this would be a miserable message if it ended here, but it doesn’t!  You see, this has never been about you, it has always been about God, who is not only the Sower and the Seed, but He is also the Creator of the soil, a soil that is your new nature.  In your baptism God the Holy Spirit created new and fertile soil within your heart; a heart that use to be deceitful, and full of rocks and thorns.  Through the power of His Word, He has spoken new life in you, and you are able to produce heavenly grain and fruit.  How can this be?  Well to understand this parable you must receive the mystery that is the Kingdom of God.  A mystery which declares that through the work of God, the Kingdom of God exists within you and around you.  A mystery that invites you to no longer identify yourself with just the soil, but with the Sower and the Seed. 

III. How does this happen?  It happens when we agree with God’s Word, specifically verse 12 of our Epistle lesson, which states that we are debtors.  Another way to say this is to say we are beggars.  We must agree with God that our true life or our new and spiritual life exists entirely outside of ourselves; we must agree that without God’s work of Sower and Seed we would be lost in sin and subject to the attacks of the devil, which can only lead to eternal death.  We need to agree with God that in order to keep this new eternal life and hold onto the promise of the resurrection we must live to satisfy the spiritual desires of our new nature, and we must also put the sinful flesh to death!  We do this when we remember that we are debtors, people who owe our very existence to God the Father who created both our bodies and our new nature, God the Son who redeemed, that is rescued our bodies from the penalty of our many sins, and God the Holy Spirit who is continually remaking us into the image of God and assuring us that no one can interfere with the will of the Father who desires that none shall perish, but all would have eternal life! 

You know, in our own community right outside the doors of this sanctuary are thousands of people separated from God, and dying in their sins. God wants us to know that that kind of life style only brings death.  But He also wants us to have the same compassion for them that He has demonstrated to us.  He wants us to share His message of the kingdom with them, the same message He is giving to us this morning!  What’s that message?  It’s this: “if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live!” [Vs. 13]  God wants us to explain to our neighbors in word and action, that there is a living that brings only death and there is a dying that brings life, or a dying that continually makes us alive.  He wants us to explain to them, that it is only with our spirit then that we can hear God’s Word, agree with that Word, and then follow Him as He daily provides new life.  This is what we might call the rhythm of a Kingdom life style.  And the beat of that rhythm comes to us only through God’s Word, a Word of Law and Gospel.  If they like us are living out this rhythm, then they too will become fertile soil, and used in God’s Kingdom of sowing and reaping! 

What each of us must remember is that the proper work of God’s Law is to remind us that on our own, we will only encounter sin and separation from God, a separation that leads to eternal death.  That’s what God’s law is suppose to do; it’s purpose is to turn us from our sins and into His forgiving love through the cross of Jesus Christ, and there we cry out to Him, “God have mercy on me a miserable sinner!”  This is our confession; it’s the cry of a heart that wants to know God’s forgiveness personally!  And when this cry of fear and agony is true, then the gospel enters into our heart and speaks life!  Where once there was only dead rocky ground, covered with thorns and thistles, suddenly there is new fertile soil that is created through the absolution, the forgiveness of sins.  And when a heart that is heavy burdened with sin hears that Jesus Christ through the work of the cross removed that burden so that it may forever have peace with God, it has a new cry; it cries out, “Abba! Father!”  “The Spirit (the producer of good soil within our hearts) Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” [Vs14-16]  What is it we are heirs to?  What have we inherited?  Well that is part of the mystery of the Kingdom of God; you see we have inherited all of the treasures of Heaven and one day soon we will be glorified with Him!  We have been assured of a place of honor in heaven with Jesus! [Vs. 17]  We have the honor of working alongside of Him as He sows and reaps! 

CONCLUSION: How can we be assured that all of this is ours?  By agreeing with God that His Word is true and His will that is taught to us in that Word can never be defeated!  What is that will?  That you would repent, that is turn to Jesus Christ and be saved.  How do we turn to Jesus?  We turn to Jesus every day when we suffer and die with Him by putting to death our old sinful nature and allow our new nature that He provided in our baptism to become stronger every day! 

I’d like to close with a story about a wise old man who people sought out for answers.  One day, a smart-alecky teenager came to him with his hands covering something he was holding. He told the old man that he had a small, newly hatched bird in his hands. He challenged the old man to tell him whether the bird was alive or dead. Of course, he planned on embarrassing the old man; if the old man said the bird was dead, he would simply open his hands to expose a perfectly healthy baby bird. But if he said the bird was alive, then he would crush the bird before opening his hands. Well, the old man was wiser than that young man thought, because this is the answer the old man gave, “The bird is whatever you choose him to be.” 

And that’s the way we live in the rhythm of God’s kingdom. Will we die to live with Jesus or will we live for this world, only to die to God’s love?  May God continue to help each of us rest in His presence and work within us and around us, and then share that message with our neighbors; I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Wonder Bread!

Saturday, July 9th, 2011

Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA 
Friday Night Gospel Celebration, July 8, 2011
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Introduction: Everyone is impressed by miracles.  We love to hear about mysterious, unexplainable events that others have experience.  When we hear the stories, we wish that something like that would happen to us too!  And when we do experience something great and unexplainable in our lives we inevitably want more and we long to repeat the original experience.  This is how the crowd that followed Jesus from the other side of the Sea of Galilee must have felt.  They wanted more…more of His wonder bread! 

I. We read in our gospel, “On the next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. (Jn.:22)  When the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.  When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” (24-25) Oh they were saying, “Bless us again Jesus!”  They knew there was something miraculous happening once again with Jesus.  “He didn’t take a boat to get here, and he couldn’t have walked around the shore or we would have spotted Him.  OK you wonderful miracle worker, how’d you get here?  Come on fess up.  You did something fantastic again didn’t you?  You’re the man Jesus!  As long as you keep making that wonder bread and amazing us with these unexplainable happenings, you are our lord and teacher!” 

The people wanted things.  They wanted to be amazed.  They didn’t really need more bread; they simply wanted the experience of the bread.  Now anyone who’s heard me preach God’s Word knows that one of my common themes is that we shouldn’t look to politicians for a plan for a better future or to a preacher for simple steps that we can follow so God will bless our lives make life more pleasant.  Today, we’ll expound on this. 

In our Old Testament reading (Exodus 16) we see the very same kind of attitude from people who lived long before Israel was even a nation.  They too had an insatiable appetite for miracles.  God had brought them out of slavery in Egypt with one miracle after another.  He even parted the Red Sea so that they could escape the Egyptian Army.  God had proven time and time again that He would care for His children whom He had called out of darkness and into His light.  Did they trust Him?  Well only so long as the miracles continued.  When the daily supply of food was running low, instead of waiting on the Lord to provide, or even asking Him to provide, they began to grumble: “Oh that we would have died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate our fill of bread, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill us with hunger.” 

To all of these people and to us today, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw the sign, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.  Don’t work for food that perishes (for things), but (work) for the food that endures (and will give you) eternal life, which (I) the Son of Man will give to you. For on Him God the Father has set His seal.”  (There is no other way for you to obtain this true food of God except through me!) (Jn. 6:27)  Friends, in Jesus own Words, we hear Him explain exactly why the crowd followed Him; not because of His miracles and His teaching but because they wanted “things”!  They wanted Him to be a political savior, their messiah who would free them from the tyranny of the Roman Empire.  They wanted Him to provide them with the desires of their hearts and gratify all of their wants.  Even today, we see these people gathered in churches across our nation eagerly welcoming politicians to speak during worship, so that they can assure them that if they elect or reelect this person, they will have their needs met and they will have a bright future.  And right along with those eager to hear from politicians, are those who are just as eager to hear a gospel message of prosperity from their preachers.  They don’t want to hear God’s message of Law and Gospel; no these people are flocking to churches wanting to hear a message that will ensure them of an easy life here of earth.  And then there are those who gather where God’s Law and Gospel is correctly and boldly preached, but they find no meaning or comfort in His Word.  And when they leave worship and the company of other Christians they seek out a new message; a different way to satisfy their desires.  They live as if Christ didn’t matter and God doesn’t see.  They long for the experience of another type of teaching.  Just like the Hebrew people that were led out of the Egyptian captivity, they begin to pant after the meat of prosperity.  You see friends, in all three cases each group has turned to God and said, “Don’t give us want you say we need, but instead give us what we want!” 

II. And there is yet another type of person that listens to Jesus but doesn’t hear the message; it is the kind of person that looks to replace His ministry of grace and faith with a ministry of self righteousness.  These people actually think that they can earn God’s love and forgiveness, and a place in heaven.  Listen to their words in our gospel reading: “They said to (Jesus), “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” (vs. 28)  It’s as if they’re saying, “OK teacher, tells us what you say is the bottom line of your teaching.  What do we have to do to make God happy?  Tell us and we’ll do it!”  Do you know how St. Paul answered these holy rollers?  He said something like this: “OK let’s look at how God wants us to love Him and our neighbor, and treat each other.  Aside from living out your calling to love God with all of your heart and soul, He’s also called you to live a life of humility and gentleness, with patience, putting up with one another in love, and being eager to maintain the unity of peace with Him and each other.” (Paraphrase of Eph. 4:1-3).  So how do you think the people Jesus was addressing were doing in their attempts to fulfill God’s demand for perfection and holiness in their lives?  Well, never mind them, how are you doing with it?  Not too well huh?  But Jesus spoke the gospel to them then, and He speaks the good news also to us here tonight.  He says that there aren’t many works that “we” must do, but only one work that God must do so that we can please Him.  “This is the work of God” Jesus said, “that you believe in him whom He has sent.”  (vs. 29) 

Friends, the only work that is sure to please God the Father is to believe in and not reject the person and teaching of His Son.  You see, the Son is the only way that the Father has provided salvation for us.  He’s the only one who has come with the Father’s seal.  Believing in Jesus is the only work that assures you of eternal life … we must have faith in Him!  Now Jesus did call faith a work, but He doesn’t call it our work; you see, it is a work of God.  Sure, we are the ones doing the believing, but we believe because God is working within our hearts.  Yes, we are the ones who must trust Jesus, but it is God’s Spirit who first moves us to trust Him through the hearing of His Word.  So you see, faith is the opposite of all of the other works we can think of.  Faith receives from God and the other works only return to God what He first gives to us.   Friends, the truth is that if we don’t know and trust the Son we can never truly know and please the Father.  And a heart that is not trusting in Jesus is always saying… 

III. Prove it to me!  “What sign do you do, that we may see and believe you?  What work do you perform?  Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” Oh how quickly they forget!  They forgot the miracle of the wonder bread because they wouldn’t receive the teaching that went with it.  You see, once their appetites were satisfied by the teacher, they no longer were impressed by His teaching.  But to these selfish hearts Jesus still reaches out with His grace; with His message of forgiveness and says: “Truly, truly I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread of heaven.  For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (vs. 32-33)   Oh friends, do you understand the wonderful meaning of these words?  God isn’t giving us worldly bread that will only satisfy our hunger for a few hours, or for just a select group of people.  No He is giving you bread that will last forever and satisfy the whole world.  He is giving you Himself.  Then “Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”” (Vs. 35) 

CONCLUSION: Friends, do you want to prosper and experience God’s blessings?  Then come to the bread of life!  Do you want to know that you are accepted and loved by God?  Then come to Jesus!  Come to church each Sunday expecting to hear Jesus speak to you; come here on Friday nights expecting Him to teach you and change you.  Hear His message and hunger for the bread that He is giving to you.  It’s bread that you neither earned nor deserved.  It’s the gift of His Spirit, real food and real life.  It is His Word!  A Word that you get in every aspect of your worship here in His house! 

Dear friends, by faith we trust that the supply of His bread of life will continue to nourish and strengthen us.  And by faith we will continue to receive it and give Him thanks and praise.  Every time we gather dear friends, may we come hungry, with a holy appetite!  We ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

God Forgives Us Just as We Are!

Sunday, July 3rd, 2011

Third Sunday in Pentecost, July 3rd, 2011
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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“Wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” [Rom. 7:24-25a] 

Wretched man and woman that you are!  You are trapped in a body of death; a body that produces nothing but death and sin, and you deserve death, and that is exactly what you will receive, unless… unless God intervenes!  And He has; He has come to you as your champion, as a humble carpenter, mounted upon a donkey, and not as a mighty warrior armed for earthly combat.  Because you see, this is a spiritual battle that was waged for your very soul!  The good news is that Jesus suffering and death upon the cross has assured you certain victory against your enemies who are sin, death, and the devil!  Your baptism freed you from being a slave to sin and it has transferred you instead under the rule of your kind and gentle King.  So rejoice!  Give thanks to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! 

But there is some news that is not so good to our ears; you see we still find ourselves engaged in the battle against sin; our sin and the sin of our neighbors and community!  While the war is over, the battle rages on!  Where must we fight?  Unfortunately, the very first theater of combat is within our very hearts!  We must continue fighting the evil that is common to every man, woman and child who ever lived and ever will live on this sinful earth.

 On March 5, 2001 at 9:20 in the morning, something terrible happened; something that would forever mar the psyche of San Diegans.  A student at Santana High entered that school with a gun in his hand and hate in his heart and he gunned down 15 of his classmates.  When the smoke cleared, 2 students were dead and 13 were wounded.  Police found the person who personified evil that day hiding in a bathroom!

 On April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh parked a truck full of explosives near the Federal Building in Oklahoma City.  He walked away and detonated the bomb killing 168 people.  To this incident, the Santana High School shooting and many others, people ask in anger and fear, “Why did they do this?  Were they insane?  Were they totally evil?”

In an attempt to answer these types of questions, psychiatrists by the dozens are sought out by T.V. reporters for some clarity.  There answers very, but the most consistent message is something you and I already know from God’s Word: “All of us have the capacity for horrific evil.  Within each of us are the roots of evil!”

In the book of Matthew, Jesus tells us this: “Out of the heart comes evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, (and) slanders.” [Matt. 15:19]  But you dear Christians know this, don’t you?  You know it is true because you know the evil that lives in your own hearts.  But thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!  He has assured you of His constant presence within you, as His Holy Spirit is daily fighting the sin within you that so easily entangles and traps you!  Thank God through Jesus Christ that God forgives us just as we are and that He has assured us that He won’t leave us that way!  Thank God through Jesus Christ, that He also assures you that upon the cross, Jesus has defeated your enemies, and because of this victory He can assure you that one day you will be free of your body of death and you will receive a new glorified body that is free of sin!  But as I stated already, the challenging news is that we must remain in our bodies of death and fight the enemy within.

St. Paul declared this very message in verses 22 and 23 of our epistle lesson with these words: “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.”  These words sound like they come from a noble knight who lives and fights for an even nobler kingdom, under the leadership of the most noble king.  As a warrior of the noble king, Paul is looking out at the battlefield, which is his own body and he sees his entire body engaged in a battle.  His spirit and mind, which forever follow God’s perfect law, are engaged in a bloody battle against a different kind of law, a law that was put in place by an evil ruler; the law is sin and the ruler is the devil!  Paul’s mind knows that through Jesus Christ victory is certain and in fact already proclaimed, and yet he must still engage the enemy!  But make no mistake, this is no mere mopping up operation; you see Paul knows that if He fails to follow His King Jesus, His soul will be lost to the enemy that is within!

How do we and Paul stay close to Jesus?  Scripture makes that clear; we must continue to trust in God’s means of grace, the very things He gave to us, which assure us that Christ’s victory upon the cross is our victory!   St. Paul and all of the apostles knew that the only way to be assured of victory was through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ!  We receive both of these things in God’s Word, our baptism, and the Lord’s Supper!

You see, when God through His miracle of baptism united you to Jesus, He also united you to His death.  You see, through His death on the cross, Jesus broke the back and proclaimed victory over sin, death, and the devil.  In your baptism, you were united with Jesus and you received those same blessings.  So Holy Baptism for you broke the back of all of your enemies!  But Paul wants you to remember that just because you are saved from your enemies, it doesn’t mean that you are exempt from joining in the fight!  You must remember that sin can still tempt you, but if you are resting in God’s Word and your baptism it can’t control you! 

I suppose another way we can think of this battle that is being waged within us is like a spiritual cancer!  The good news is that it is curable.  The cure was given to you in God’s Word and within your baptism, and it is already destroying the cancer of sin within you and eventually you will be completely free of its presence.  But in order to experience this cure you must die so that you can live the new and eternally happy life, which God has prepared for you.  But you must follow God’s treatments until He has determined that it is time for you to be free.  What treatments are those?  Faith and forgiveness!  How do we receive this medicine that brings eternal life?  By remaining in God’s Word and by receiving yet one more means of grace… His Holy Supper!

In our Lord’s Supper, He gives us the ability to not just believe that we are saved from our sins but the ability to continue following that belief.  In His Supper, our Lord pleads with us to come to His Holy Table with a holy appetite for forgiveness and the strengthening of our faith!  Martin Luther once wrote this to those who thought that receiving Holy Communion to often was inappropriate because they didn’t always feel a need for it.  He said, “For those in such a state of mind that they cannot feel (a need), I know no better advice than that they put their hands to their (hearts and feel their heart beat in order) to determine whether they are made of flesh and blood.  If you find that you are, then turn to (scripture) and hear what (the fruits of your flesh are): adultery, fornication, impurity, immorality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, murder, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.”  For this reason, if you cannot feel the need (to come to Holy Communion), at least believe the Scriptures.  They will not lie to you, since they know your flesh better than you yourself do.  Yes, and St. Paul concludes, “For I know that nothing good dwells within me that is, in my flesh.””  So why come to the Lord’s Supper often?  So that your faith may be strengthened and you may believe that Jesus removed the penalty of every sin, even your many sins!

 Then what about doing good?  Aren’t each of us required to do good?  Well it isn’t so much a requirement as it is a reality.  In your baptism you were given a new nature, a perfect nature, and that nature can’t help but love God with all of its heart and soul and love its neighbor as itself.  You see doing good just comes natural to your new identity.  The struggle is living out this new nature.  This is what we call our cross.  Just as Jesus died upon the cross to save you, you too must die daily to your old sinful nature and embrace the goodness that lives within you.  And it is that goodness that loves God and serves its neighbor!  Just as Christ bore the cross for others, to deliver them from death, so too, we His people bear not just our own cross of defeating the sin within us, but we also bear our neighbor’s crosses.  We give them support as evil surrounds and attacks them.  Christ bore the cross to pay for the sins of His people, and His people bear crosses to relieve the sufferings of their fellow man.  In our homes and at our jobs, in our community and in our church, our calling to bear our cross and suffer with Jesus is a calling to fight the sin within us and around us!  Christ call us to stand next to those who are suffering and help them bear their own afflictions. 

So the next time you hear of horrible events such as the Santana High shooting or the Oklahoma City bombing, don’t just look at the sin within those people, look at your own sin and remember your own potential for horrific evil that exists within your own heart!  And then remind yourself that God forgives us just as we are, and he continues to not just forgive us but help us to destroy the sin that is within us!  And when you fall to sin, do not think that God has given up on you, but remember to say with Paul, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord (who has given us the victory)!  AMEN!