Archive for August, 2011

Don’t Cross-out the Cross!

Monday, August 29th, 2011

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (A), (Worship in the Park) August 28, 2011
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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 “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” [Matthew 16:24]

INTRODUCTION: One of my favorite shows on TV is the “Myth Busters”.  So following that shows premesis that some things that we accept as true are simply false, We are going to debunk a couple of myths is Christianity.  What is a myth?  Well, it’s a little bit like an Old Wives’ Tale.  A wives’ tale is s traditional belief or a societal myth that’s often founded in superstition.  Here are few to try on for size:  If you swallow your gum it will sit in your stomach and turn into a hair ball!  No not true.  Gum passes out the digestive track like everything else!   How about this one: If you eat water melon and drink milk you will get a poison in your system and it could kill you!  Sorry, you might get a belly ache but it won’t kill you!  Here’s one more myth that you mothers won’t like me debunking: If you go outside in the cold with a wet head, you will catch a terrible cold!  Sorry Moms, that isn’t true either.  No matter how much you protest, science has known for some time that colds are caused by germs that enter our bodies through our mouths!

This morning we are going to debunk a couple more myths about our Christian faith.  These are myths that were created in a sinful world by sinful people.  The first myth says that your Christian faith will protect you from harm, misfortune, poverty, and even sickness!  Now this sounds good; we might even get in line to learn about this kind of Christianity, but if we did, we’d be falling into a trap! 

Now the second myth about our faith says that what Christ did on the cross was a good start for us, but we have to reinforce that work of His with our own suffering and sacrifice; No pain, no gain!  The folks that follow this myth really set aside Jesus suffering as perfect, and they believe they’ve got to add to it in order to please and angry God!  But now Jesus takes this “no pain, no gain” mentality and He turns it on its head!  Jesus says, without my pain you can have no gain.  Follow me to have eternal life, but as you follow me, you too will know pain!

 I. So where did we receive our call to follow Jesus and live under His cross?  Well through His Word of course!  It was His Word that spoke to many of our parents long ago, teaching them the need to bring us to the life giving waters of baptism.  And it was that same Word that latter grabbed ahold of each of us and convicted us of our sin and our need for our Savior, Jesus Christ.  It is the Word of God that mysteriously and lovingly speaks to our hearts after we confess our sins and convinces us that we are forgiven.  And it is the same Word that somehow creates the real presence of Jesus’ body and blood along with the bread and wine at our Lord’s Table, all so that we can know and experience forgiveness of sins!

It is this same Word that speaks to us now and says: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” [Matthew 16:24]  Now why did Jesus speak this word about following Him and the need to pick up our cross?  Because He knows that we like Peter want to follow the easy way; the myths of this world.  But these myths were created first by the prince of this world the devil and they’re spread by the sinful people who have been trapped by his lies and myths.

In our gospel reading this morning Jesus began to teach his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer and die for each of them, even for you and me!  And what was Peter’s reaction to this discovery?  Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him with these words, “Far be it from you Lord!”  That’s just not going to happen (and I’ll make sure of it)!  And how did the Son of God, the Savior of the world respond?  He rebuked Peter, or maybe a better way to put this is that He rebuked the sin in Peter and the cause of that sin; He rebuked the father of all lies, Satan Himself! [Matthew 16:21-23]

Jesus knew that voice and the temptations that it brings; He recognized the devil and his ministry of lies which promises glory without sacrifice!  He encountered that same voice out in the wilderness on a forty day fast.  That voice tempted Jesus with food, power, and glory!  And how did Jesus defeat the devil?  With the same Word he now speaks to Peter: “Get behind me Satan!”  And after Jesus rebukes the devil, He speaks and teaches both Peter and us with these Words of life, He says: “You are a hindrance to me.  For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”  Now what did Jesus mean by that?  He meant that Peter wanted to follow the way of the devil and not the way of God!

II. Friends, the truth is that each of us are a lot more like Peter than we care to admit.  Let me show you what I mean.  The word that Jesus used, which our Bible translates as hindrance is really the Greek word skandalon.  It’s where we get our English word scandal.  A skandalon is the little stick that holds the mouth of a trap open.  Trappers will use some kind of bait that is irresistible to the prey they’re hunting and place it at the skandalon.  And when the prey goes for the bait, they trip the skandalon and… SMACK!  The trap springs shut trapping and killing the bait.  So Jesus is telling Peter that his plan and idea to cross out the cross is actually that kind of trap!  First it was a trap for Jesus; but Jesus is God, and far too wise to be tempted away from the cross.  But it is also a trap for Peter and it is a trap for us.

Peter like us, wanted things the easy way.  He wanted a life of ease and a cushy ministry.  He wanted a Savior that would be a champion who would defeat the devil and create a Christian government here on earth!  He wanted fame, fortune, and glory now, not latter!  How would he follow a dead Savior?

So what are some of the scandalons in our lives?  Well let’s be honest, each of us wants the same thing!  We want a great high paying job, a beautiful or handsome spouse, obedient children, a nice home and car, lots of bling, and we want it now!  We might even reason that because we are children of the Living God, called out of darkness into light, forgiven of all of our sins, we should have a prosperous life, free of pain, suffering, sorrow and poverty!  So when God’s Word talks about suffering, we might not say it out loud but we think it, “Far be it Lord!”  So what are we tempted to do?  We’re tempted to go off in search for a different message; a message about prosperity and glory!  We look for a message with less cross and suffering and more prosperity and glory; a message that tells us that we can have heaven here on earth!  But if we follow this way of thinking, we are following the way of the devil.  If we follow this way of thinking we are crossing out the cross and Jesus saving work upon it; we are following the way of glory or the scandalon of the devil!

So what does Jesus want for us?  Well, He wants the same things for us that we want, He just wants them in a different way; He wants them through the way of the cross!  You see, Jesus was committed to the cross, because it was the only way that salvation could be won for Peter and for us.  Jesus committed Himself to the cross because He knew the will of His Father; a Heavenly Father who sent Him to suffer and die as the Savior of the world.  He knew the reason for His gruesome death… “All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory;” a glory that was first with us in the beginning.  He knew that the only way that this glory could be recovered for us was if He was willing to pay for our salvation with His very life.  So, He came to do that very thing.  He came to give His live as a ransom for us (Matthew 2:28) and as a sacrifice for our sins!  He was wounded for our transgressions, and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquities of us all. [Isaiah 53:5-6]  This was and is God’s love for us in action!  Jesus didn’t cross out the cross and neither will we when we see our lost sinful condition and by faith turn to that cross for forgiveness!

 II. As we follow Jesus we must take up our own cross!  Again Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me!”  Now don’t confuse Jesus cross with our cross.  The truth is that only Jesus’ cross, His suffering and death can and does save sinners like us.  So then what is this cross that Jesus wants us to take up?  Well, it is a pattern for our whole lives!  Our cross is all of the suffering, trouble, and hardships that will come to us because we are His followers.  Whoever would follow Jesus Christ must follow His example.  They must live to please God and give all that they have to bring His kingdom to every sinner.  Whoever follows Jesus must be willing to deny themselves and live to please God.  To deny, simply means to turn away from someone or something.  In this case, God wants us to turn away from our old sinful nature and turn to Him.  Every day He wants us to refuse to be associated in anyway with our old sinful nature that was drowned in our baptisms.  He wants us to live a life that disowns our old sinful desires and live to only please our Savior Jesus! 

The cross meant suffering for Jesus and it means suffering for us, but it is suffering for a purpose; suffering for a hope!  We lose our lives so that we can gain them.  If we refuse to die to our old sinful desires and embrace the ways of glory we are turning away from our only source of help and hope, the cross of Jesus!  But if we receive and live out our new nature of sacrifice for God and our neighbor we are gaining not just the promise of a new and glorious eternal life, but the ability, the faith to live out this temporary life of suffering. 

Young people, if you are ridiculed and unpopular because of your Christian faith you have God’s promise that you are blessed in God’s heavenly kingdom.  Older people, if your Christian convictions cost you money and promotion at work, your cross is to keep on following Jesus, keep on fighting until you get the victory… eternal rest and joy in God’s Heavenly Kingdom.  Parents and grandparents, God knows your pain for a child that seems to have walked away from their faith in Jesus and His cross!  Through His Word He gives you faith to hold on and know that a change is coming; He gives you faith to keep praying for them.  The truth is for all of us, whatever crosses we have, we have them only because we are followers of Jesus and His cross!  And as we follow Jesus and live out our cross, we are also exalting His name with the sweet song of alleluia!  

CONCLUSION: Dear friends, as we fight the temptation to cross-out the cross of Jesus, God is strengthening our faith.  We fight the temptation to cross out the cross by looking to Jesus alone who suffered and died for us in order to show God’s deep love for us!  As we follow Him He is always urging us to continue taking up our cross and follow Him until the day He calls us home to a place that He has prepared for us in heaven! 

I would like to close our message with a story: There was once a monastery that raised monarch butterflies. One day a young monk watched a butterfly struggle for hours to free its self from its cocoon.  Finally, the sympathetic monk could take no more.  He began to help the butterfly be free by peeling away the cocoon.  Once the butterfly was free, the monk expected it to spread its wings and fly away; instead it only clung to the stick that it was perched on and finally toppled over and died.  An older monk watched with great interest, and approached the sad young monk and offered this wisdom.  “Brother you tried to help the butterfly by removing its burden, but what you didn’t realize was that it is the struggle under the burden that brings strength and vitality to not just its wings, but to its entire existence.  So by providing and easy way out you removed the very thing that would bring it life!”

Brothers and sisters, we have been given the gift of eternal life with God.  It is ours now, but not yet.  Until our time in this sinful world is through, God calls us to struggle in our faith.  He asks us to follow the way of Jesus’ cross.  Not to save us but to strengthen us for an eternity of living in God’s glory.  He asks you to struggle, putting to death your sinful nature with the sure and certain hope that one day you will enter heaven! This is faith in action; it’s a faith that doesn’t cross out Jesus’s cross or our own.  It’s a faith that comes along side of others who are struggling with their own cross and helps them shoulder the burden.  It’s a faith that knows and declares that we are not alone in our struggle; we are in this struggle together, and Jesus is here with us promising that soon and very soon we will be going to see our King; our King who comes in glory to pour out the fullness of His gift of eternal life.  It is a Kingdom that will richly compensate each of us for all of our own suffering and loss for His sake.  May God help each of us to continue having faith in this promise… in Jesus name… AMEN!

Not of This World!

Sunday, August 21st, 2011

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (A), August 21, 2011
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Sorry, no auido is available for this message. 
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” [Matthew 16:2a]

 INTRODUCTION: The story’s told about a neurologist who performed an amazing surgical procedure on a 50 year old man named Virgil, who was born blind.  As a result of the surgery the man was given the gift of sight.  But very soon it became apparent to the doctor and the patient that having the physical capacity to see isn’t the same thing as seeing. 

Virgil’s first experiences with sight were very confusing.  He could make out colors and motion, but putting them in some logical pattern proved difficult and frustrating.  Over time, with the help of his doctor he learned to identify different things, but his habits—his behaviors—were still those of a blind man.  The doctor, in an attempt to help Virgil adjust made this profound statement to him: “Virgil, you must die as a blind person (in order) to be born again as a seeing person.”  And that is the work God’s Word will be doing in our hearts this morning! 

To truly see Jesus and understand God’s grace in His Word means more than just hearing and agreeing with the message in our Bibles; you see, we must learn to die to our old way of thinking, agree with God’s Word and allow it to change our identity!  This morning in our gospel Jesus asks each of us an important question: “Who do you say that I am?”  In this question, Jesus is asking for a confession of faith from each of us.  It is a question that can only be truthfully answered by our hearts.  Now you can mouth words similar to Peter’s and say something like, “Oh, you’re my Savior.  You’re the Son of God!” but unless you mean that Jesus is your Savior, that He is the Son of God who died for you and your sins, your confession of faith is simply something you say when you’re in church.  Unless it is more than that, unless it is a statement of faith that radically changes and guides your whole life, change, real change is impossible.  In other words, each of us must learn to die to your old sinful nature so that we can be transformed!  This kind of transformation  happens among us in two different ways:  First it is personal and second it is corporate, that is, it will change the way our congregation lives and breathes within our community! 

I. In our Epistle lesson (Romans 11:33-12:8), St. Paul addresses us with words that talk about change; real change.  Listen: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” [Romans 12:1-3]  What St. Paul is talking about is first and foremost a real spiritual transformation?  He is talking about a change in the very core of who we are!  Now it’s true that this transformation first took place in our baptism, but if we let it just stop there, I’m afraid that we’re simply frustrating the miraculous work that God began in us.  You see, while it’s true that all of the work of our salvation is entirely God’s work, it’s also true that it is an on-going process! 

Maybe a better way to translate Paul’s words is that we should be transformed by the “renewing” of our minds.  How are our minds being renewed?  Through the work of God and His gift of faith!  How do we receive this gift?  Through the Word of God!  Our Old Testament cries out to us with this same message in these words: “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the LORD: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug.” [Isaiah 51:1]  Where did your new nature, your citizenship in heaven come from?  Through the Word of God, specifically that Gospel Word that is about Jesus Christ! 

So this morning, like St. Paul, as your pastor, I am appealing to you as one who looks to the same rock as you, faith in Jesus Christ; I appeal as one who was hewn from the same quarry and called through the same Word of God and placed into the kingdom of God as you were placed, do not turn back to the ways of this world, but stay connected to God through His Word and Sacraments, and let Him continue to change you; let Him continue to reshape you into His image!  I appeal to you to live your life as one who is already dead to this world; one who is already offered to God as a living sacrifice.  

As each of us are daily resting in God’s Word and praying for His power to not just save us but sustain us in our new identity, something interesting is happening… we are being transformed!  Every day you care less about what you want and more about God’s plan for you and how He will use you here in this world.  This is your reasonable service, your spiritual service to God.  

Now, as this transformation continues in our lives, we begin to look less like our neighbors and more like our Savior.  This is when we begin to understand that our true citizenship is in heaven and not of this earth.  And as God continues to change us, we’ll begin to see that everything that we have and everything that we are is by God’s design, so that we can glorify and please Him!  This then is what we might call kingdom thinking; it’s a way of life that no longer thinks, understands or judges as those who are still of this world, but instead it is being led by the heart and mind of Jesus!  But there is something else that each of us must always remember, we are not in this alone! 

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” [Romans 12:3]  Yes, while it is true that you have been called out of the dark sin of this world and into God’s wonderful Kingdom of Light, you have not been called alone or without a purpose!  You are not alone because we are with you!  We are many but we are one.  Each of us has been called out as individuals, but we have been put together in one spiritual body, and our heart and mind is Jesus Christ!  Now as individuals who make up the body of Jesus, we are to realize that each of us is simply a lost sheep who’s been gathered together by the same Good Shepherd.  We must never to lose sight of this truth or we will begin to see ourselves as less than or greater than others.  The truth is,  I need you and you need me, and together we each need Jesus!  Each one of us has a purpose in the Kingdom of God.  Each one of us has the gift of faith that activates special talents that help the body, our church live, grow, and function! 

II. “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.” [Romans 12:4-8]  You see, as individuals our calling out of darkness into God’s Kingdom of light makes each of us fellow members of Christ’s church and citizens in His Kingdom.  As such a member, I belong to you and you all belong to me, and together we each belong to Jesus Christ! 

Did you notice that the very first calling or ministry that Paul mentions is prophecy?  This is no accident friends; you see it is the proclamation of the Word of God that feeds and strengthens all of the other ministries.  As your pastor, I have been called into this office as my ministry so that God can feed and clothe you with the very things that will strengthen your own ministry; He feeds and clothes you with the forgiveness of sins!  And because you receive this gift through His Word and Sacraments, He now equips and sends you out into your own ministry.  So in each calling or ministry, when you are serving others, it’s really Christ within you who is the one serving them!  If you are busy in one of the many ministries of love we have here at Trinity, then I’m sure you already realize that it’s Jesus who is loving and serving others through you, and this truth moves you to continue serving with excitement and joy!  Each of us do these things not because we have to, but because we want to; we do them because we have been changed, and we know that the reason we’re changed is because we are forgiven! 

III. In our gospel lesson Jesus gives us the very key that unlocks this truth; He pulls the curtain aside and shows us why we are who we are; and it is entirely because of Jesus authority to forgive sins!  But that’s not all, He’s actually given us His authority to do the very same thing!  Listen to what He says after Peter’s confession of faith: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” [Matthew 16:18,19]  

What is the rock that Jesus builds His church on?  It’s the confession of Peter which is our confession!  What is that confession?  That Jesus is our rock; that Jesus is our Christ, the Son of the Living God!  Because we confess with our mouths and believe in our hearts that Jesus is Lord (our Lord), we are saved!  [Romans 10:9] We are no longer of this World!  Our sins have been forgiven, and we have become citizens of heaven!  But what we must never forget is that we are forgiven with a purpose! 

And what is that purpose?  To tell others about Jesus!  We tell them with the same Word of God that saved us and then we tell them by the life we are living!  We tell them about Jesus when we tell them about God’s desire to forgive even their sins if they will simply agree with God’s Word and admit that they need Jesus forgiveness!  If they do this, then it is our privilege to tell them that they are forgiven! 

But what if they will not believe?  What if they will not turn to Jesus?  Well then, I’m afraid they won’t be forgive; but that doesn’t meant that God has given up on them and neither should we.  We can still invite them to come to church with us, because we know that “Faith comes by hearing the Word of God which is the message about Jesus and the forgiveness of sins!” [Romans 10:17]  That is how God saved you and is saving you, and that is how He will save each unbeliever in our community!  And the most amazing part of all of this is that He chooses to use you to help build His kingdom, one forgiven sinner at a time!  

CONCLUSION: I’d like to close with a story about a man who had a huge boulder in his front yard. He decided one day to turn it into an object of art. He went to work on it with hammer and chisel, and he chipped away at the huge boulder until it became a beautiful stone elephant. When he finished, a neighbor asked, “How did you ever carve such a marvelous likeness of an elephant?”  The man answered, “I just chipped away everything that didn’t look like an elephant!” 

If you have anything in your life right now that’s interfering with God’s work of transformation and renewal, then let God chip it away! If you have anything in your life that doesn’t look like compassion or mercy then let God chip it away! If you have hatred or prejudice or vengeance or envy in your heart, then for God’s sake and the sake of His Kingdom let Him get rid of it for you! Let God chip everything out of your life that doesn’t belong in His kingdom and you will see two wonderful things happen: you will see His kingdom grow within you and you will see it  grow around you!  We will do this because we remember that we are not of this world!  In Jesus name… AMEN!

Great is Our Faith!

Sunday, August 14th, 2011

Ninth Sunday in Pentecost, August 14th, 2011
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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“Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.””[Matthew 15:28a]

INTRODUCTION: Perhaps our gospel (Matthew 15:21-28) reading this morning may leave some of us a little unsettled; the reason is that we aren’t used to hearing Jesus say “No”!  And yet it seems that He’s doing that very thing!  Now He didn’t actually say no, but instead he was silent; He spoke to His disciples instead of answering the Canaanite woman?  Why did He do that?  Isn’t He the savior and God for all sinful men and women?  Doesn’t He care about everyone?  Well, yes He is, but we must remember His mission, the mission that was given to Him by His Father.  He was sent first to be the Messiah for the people of Israel, after all God promised this very thing to them.  

After His death and resurrection, after He announced the completion of His mission with the Words, “It is finished’ , then and only then would His disciples would be sent, they would be propelled out into the entire world to announce God’s mercy and salvation; the forgiveness of sins to all who would receive Jesus Christ as “their” savior.  But that time hadn’t come yet.  Jesus was required to focus first on the Jewish people, the children of Abraham, so that He could fulfill the promise made to them by their faithful God.  Listen to that promise restated over and over again by God: “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.” [Genesis 17:4-4]  “And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.” [Exodus 2:24-25]  “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” [Exodus 19:5-6]  “For the LORD your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them.” [Deuteronomy 4:31]  “I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” [Isaiah 42:6-7] “And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” [Isaiah 60:3]  you see, it is within this context that Jesus encounters this poor Canaanite woman. 

I. “And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon.  And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” [Matthew 15:21, 22] Why was Jesus going to a different district, which was essentially another country.  Well He was trying to find a place of safety, a place where the Jewish authorities couldn’t find Him.  But why did He need a safe place?  Was Jesus, who is God in human flesh hiding from the very people He had created?  Yes!  You see, the Jewish authorities were trying to trap, capture and kill Him.  So was Jesus, the Son of God afraid of men?  No, but Jesus’ time, the time appointed by His Father had not yet come.  Jesus would indeed give His life as a ransom for many, even for these stiff neck people, but it would be in His time and not theirs! 

So where did He go?  He went to the border of another nation; a nation that was once known as Canaan.  He was laying low, trying to avoid the public lime-light; if people knew where He was it would be blabbed throughout the region, and sooner or later the religious authorities would be hot on His trail again.  If this were happening today, it might be the Paparazzi that Jesus  would be running from! 

Well you can’t get much safer than the regions of Tyre and Sidon; that was  a place full of gentiles, a god-less people who cared a less about God’s covenant, the Kingdom of Heaven, and the forgiveness of sins.  Surely no one would care that Jesus there, right?  Wrong!  Behold… there was this one woman… a Canaanite woman… a gentile woman who had a divine appointment to keep!  She had to get to Jesus no matter what!  Now how did she know about Jesus?  How does she know anything about the Jewish Messiah?  Well, she found out about Him the same way you and I did, through the Word of God!  Somehow, through God’s design, this woman heard about Jesus, His mission and His divine power to not just heal but to drive out demons and forgive sins!  So when she discovered that He was in her area, she dropped everything she was doing so that she could get to Him!  Why?  Because she needed God’s touch!  You see, sin had invaded her life and the life of her daughter and she knew by faith that the only way to defeat that sin was to turn to Jesus! 

We aren’t so different today are we?  Jesus is here with us right now and you didn’t have to come here but you did.  There are probably a lot of other things you could be doing with your time, but you chose to come here.  Why?  Because you know, by faith that you need Jesus; you need the forgiveness of sins that only He can give.  You gather to hear even one word of hope; one word of peace.  Maybe like the Canaanite woman you keep trying to get God’s attention, but sometimes, maybe it seems like He isn’t listening.  Maybe you’ve had people try to influence you to quit going to church and encountering Jesus.  This may come as a surprise to you, but you’re not the only one to experience that.  Listen to what the Canaanite woman had to deal with: 

II. “But (Jesus) did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.”  [Matthew 15:23] Has it ever seemed that the God who never sleeps and is always watching and working was silent in your life?  Have you ever had friends or family members try to discourage you from going to church “every” Sunday?  Maybe you’ve even had them ridicule you for your faith, a faith that they think is a waste of time?  And maybe, just maybe you’ve been close to agreeing with them.  Maybe, even now you’re considering taking a break from you regular attendance at divine service, because it seems that there are other things… better things you could be doing with your time?  Well if that’s the case, remember the Canaanite woman and the audacity of her faith! 

You see, she knew that Jesus had been sent for the Jews; a people she would never, could never be a part of.  She heard the words of the apostles, and she knew why they wanted to send her away!  She was born a gentile, but in her heart she knew that the God of the Jews was the true and only God.  She knew that if there was to be any help or hope for her and her daughter it could only come from this man, the Son of David; this man who was somehow also God’s own Son!  So putting all of the reasons why Jesus wouldn’t help her aside; tuning out all of the criticism about her misplaced faith she fell at Jesus feet and she simply worshiped Him and cried out: Lord have mercy on me; pity me, Son of David… Son of the Living and most high God! 

III. And now here comes the part we find difficult.  Jesus seems to be discouraging her.  “He answered, ““I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”  She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”  [Matthew 15:24-27]

In her heart she knew that she had no right to expect God to hear her plea; after all she truly was a gentile sinner, or as the Jews called her a wild gentile dog.  But in Jesus own Words she heard the possibility of hope; and in His Words she had the audacity to have faith!  You see, Jesus didn’t call her a dirty gentile dog, instead He called her a little dog, the kind that you keep as a pet in your home!  So she wouldn’t try to discourage Jesus from fulfilling His mission to the Jews and she wouldn’t try to convince Him that she wasn’t a little dog.  Instead she would repeat back to Jesus the very Word He used to describe her.  Why?  Because she understood the mission that Jesus was on was essentially a mission to save sinners; by faith she knew that she was part of that mission, because she was a sinner.  She only wanted a bit of God’s mercy, a crumb of compassion! 

Here friends is faith in all of its glory!  Here is how mighty God’s Word and Spirit work within the heart of a sinner who has been given the audacity of faith!  Knowing full well that God could and should say no, she is moved by God Himself to ask any how!  Here friends is a picture of you and me; we are beggars at the thrown of God asking for mercy; asking for forgiveness.  When God’s Word calls us sinners, we repeat that Word back to Him; we agree with Him and we ask for forgiveness!  When others wouldn’t even bother, or when they might turn away discouraged, we are moved by the power of God through the Word of God to call out for mercy.  Why?  Because it is God’s will! 

Yes, it was Jesus intention to move quietly out of harm’s way.  Yes, He was on a mission to save the faithful people of Israel.  Yes, it was not time yet to send His church out into the world offering God’s forgiveness, comfort, and joy to the non-Jewish people, but there in that moment, in that one heart the Kingdom of God was breaking out in a mighty way.  So the God who seems to have been distant and silent, stops and receives the worship of one heart and the need of a mother and daughter and He speaks the Holy absolution; He speaks the gospel Word of forgiveness: “Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.” [Matthew 15:28] 

CONCLUSION: Friends that is a picture of you and me.  We too were once separated from God because we were not His people.  We weren’t His people because of our many sins.  Yet somehow God’s Word entered our hearts and gave us great faith.  Somehow He came near to us and gave us forgiveness.  Somehow God’s kingdom broke into our lives and recreated us.  We who were once not a part of His people have been made His people!  Oh thank the Lord and sing His praise and tell everyone what Jesus has done for you!  God has made a way out of no way to save you.  He has called you out of darkness into light, and by faith you heard Him call and you responded.  Oh happy day!  Oh happy day when Jesus gave me great faith and in the waters of my baptism washed my sins away!  Friends, we are holy because God is Holy; through Jesus Christ He has made us holy!  But not only that, He has called us with a purpose; we are to share His love and grace with as many people as possible!  Why?  Because now as part of His people, His church, we are to take His Gospel Word with us and be His light in a dark sinful world. We are to explain to all who will hear that God loves the whole world, even them!  

Yes friends, you are here this morning because by faith you see all of this happening within you and around you, and it is marvelous in your sight.  It is so marvelous that you know that you must never lose this faith that God has given to you; so every week here in this little church, you throw yourself at Jesus feet and simply cry out, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of the Living God!”  And Jesus hears your cry of faith each and every time, and He responds, “Great is your faith!  Be it done for you as you desire!”  And because He answers you this way, you are healed, you are forgiven instantly!  Thank you Jesus for your grace and faith, and may we always be bold to share these things with whoever you put in our path.  In Jesus name… AMEN!

Faith Comes By…

Sunday, August 7th, 2011

Eighth Sunday in Pentecost, August 7th, 2011
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us? So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. [Romans 10:16-17] 

INTRODUCTION: If I were to summarize our message from God this morning in just a few words, I would say: We can’t have faith, saving faith that never will fails and pleases God, without God’s Word.  It just can’t happen!  You can have faith in many things, and it can be justified, built on experience, but ultimately the person or thing you have faith in will fail you.  Let me give you an example: My son Thomas use to love to jump into my arms from great heights.  We started with easy heights, about one foot, but something interesting happened.  Over time, he was jumping down to me at distances of about 3 to 5 feet over my head.  What happened?  He developed faith in my ability to catch him.  He learned that having faith in my ability to catch him was justified!  And something similar happens as we read God’s Word!  Through the word we begin to hear God speak to us.  We hear Him speak because He gives us a gift called faith.  By faith we learn that God is faithful in accomplishing what His Word says He will do for us; namely He will save us from our sins.  So with God, not only do we have faith that is justified, but we also have faith that justifies, or faith that saves us!  So God’s Word is more than just a way He communicates with us, it is also a Word that creates and sustains us unlike man’s word which will eventually fail us.  Remember my story about my son jumping into my arms?  Well one day when he was getting a little older and a little heavier, he insisted on jumping into my arms from about 5 feet.  I told him that it wouldn’t be a good idea, but he insisted.  Up the tree he went and down into my arms he crashed.  I was able to slow his fall but he broke through my grasp.  He was alright but that was the last time he asked to jump into my arms.  He learned a valuable lesson; man will fail you, even Dad, but but I reminded  Him that God never will! 

“In the beginning was the Word.” [John 1:1] “And God said, ‘Let there be …’  and all that exists came into being—by the power of his Word.” [Genesis 1:3- 24]  God likes to talk because in His Word there is power! He began the world by talking it into existence. When Adam and Eve doubted his Word and hid from Him because of their guilt, God came to them in order to call them back into a relationship with Himself. [Genesis 3:9] As a way to reclaim and restore his people, God has placed his power in our language as we speak His Word so that His gospel will lead people to trust in Him. So, we can say that God’s good news or the gospel, is the power He uses to save sinners, even you and me. [Romans 1:16] God’s good news brings us back into His grace and favor; the very thing we were first created to exist in.  So this is why God loves to talk; because His message of forgiveness and new life brings us back into a right relationship with Him. And this “being made right” with God is given to us only through His Word, and only because we are allowed to receive His Word of promise through His gift of faith. [Romans 1:17]  And yet so many people still think that they can make things right with God in their own way. They see God’s 10 Commandments as suggestions or a loose code of conduct that they can adapt to fit their life style. They believe in this so strongly that they are willing to completely dismiss God’s gospel message. 

Through the prophet Moses, God speaks to them this way: “For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.” [Deuteronomy 30:11-14] 

I. [Here] Moses is speaking about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments [all of the commandments] shall live by them. But [a] righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down)  or “ ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).” [Romans 10:5-8] 

The point that God wants us to understand is that we are broken.  We are trapped in our sin, and on our own we can never be right with God. If you know this in your heart and you agree with God, then you have experienced the work of God’s Law.  It’s like a hammer that crushes us and it is like a sword that pierces our very souls, but it only does this work so that you will call out to God for His healing balm!  And that healing balm, the forgiveness of sins is the work of the Gospel.  The gospel tells us about God’s grace, His forgiving love through Jesus Christ.  But why do some find it so hard to receive and believe in the gospel?  Well the problem isn’t in God’s Word, the problem is in us; it is a problem of sin being in our hearts! 

Both God’s Law and the Gospel come to us through the same means; they come to us through the Word.  It is the same Word that we are to take into our mouths and then into our hearts!  Both Law and Gospel are essential for making us right with God.  If we truly want a relationship of love and trust with our Creator, it can only come to us through God’s Word, both the Law and the Gospel; we can’t have one without the other.  If we reject either one we are simply lost in our sins; separated from God for time and eternity.  We need to hear both the Law and the Gospel if we are to be right with God.  That’s what Paul was saying when he wrote: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven’ or ‘Who will descend into the abyss!”  In other words, if God’s Law has taught you how sinful you are and how much He hates sin, good!  Don’t panic and think that it’s some how up to you to make things right with God; don’t feel abandoned by God thinking that God’s love and forgiveness are beyond you; do not think that He has left you helpless and alone in your own sins!  Because if you feel that way then you won’t hear the gospel; and without the gospel you are forever lost, because you’re rejecting the very means that He has provided to save you! 

What is the Gospel?  It is the Word of God that tells you that you have a God who has come to save you.  You have a champion that has destroyed the power of sin, death, and the devil!  You have a Savior and His name in Jesus Christ, the Son of God!  If you go off looking for help in any other means, then you are bringing Christ down from heaven where He has gone to prepare a place for you; a place that brings you back to God.  If you insist on making yourself right with God by your own code of conduct then you are denying Christ’s death for you, and you’re in essence telling God, “No thanks Lord.  I’ve got this!”  If you do that then you can’t have a new and eternal life! 

You see friends, Christianity is unlike any other religion.  It is the only absolute and perfect religion because it alone uses God’s means of making sinners right with Him. It doesn’t ask you to do a thing, but instead, it teaches you to accept and receive God’s work for you through Jesus Christ—“God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself.” [2 Corinthians 5:18–19]  In other words, the Christian religion is absolutely perfect because it isn’t a moral code that teaches us how to earn forgiveness of sins, but instead it teaches us that through God’s Word of Law and Gospel we receive faith that recreates and sustains us while God reshapes us.  All of this was given to us through Christ’s work upon the cross.  There on the cross He was pierced and killed for our sins.  By His stripes, by His suffering and death we have been healed!    

II.  So what must we do to be saved?  Well, what does God’s Word say?  It says, “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” [Romans 10:8-13] 

Sadly people today, will hear this Good News and still think that we Christians and our Bibles are narrow minded and bigoted.  They will say how presumptuous it is of us to assume that we are the only ones that are right about God.  They will point out that the great Creator God would never limit Himself to just the printed and spoken Word.  They love to point to the marvels of the world we live in, the universe around us and our own history to prove that God can and does speak to men and women outside of His recorded Word.  But the truth is, when people say something like that, what they are really trying to do is neutralize the Law of God.  Why?  Because to them, the Law is like a mirror, and they don’t like what it is showing them!  In the mirror of God’s Law they see the ugliness of their sin and they see the perfection that God demands!  

Now while it is true that God does make use of creation and our history to communicate to us, He does this only to direct our attention to His Word, a Word which alone tells us of our need for our savior, Jesus Christ!  The knowledge about sin and grace, can only come to us through God’s Word of Law and Gospel.  It is through the Word alone that we are recreated back into God’s image!  Without the preaching of Christ’s Word darkness still covers the world and our sinful hearts.  Even though our history shows that God speaks to us through the majesty of the heavens and the earth, even though God speaks to sinful man with a loud voice in earthquakes, war, and famine, we are lost without God’s Word of Law and gospel speaking death to our sinful flesh and recreating new life.  

III. (But)“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” [Romans 10:14-17] 

Isn’t it sad that so many people still reject The gospel!  But this isn’t any thing new; even Isaiah lamented to God and wondered if he was preaching in vain.  But God’s Word corrects this thinking; He corrects it by reminding us that the working of faith is His business.  He reminds us that He gives faith only through His Word, and that Word teaches us that saving faith is always faith in the Word of Christ, faith in the external Word of the Gospel, which Christ commanded His Church to preach and to teach. [Mark 16:15–16; Romans 1:1–2]. This external Word is both the object of our faith and the means by which faith is created.  This is why churches call pastors and it is why seminaries train and send them!  Any belief centered in anything that is not proclaimed in the Word of Christ as we have it through Moses, the Prophets and the Apostles (John 17:20), according to the Scriptures is a delusion and a product of the sinful human heart and mind. [1 Timothy 6:3–4; 1 Corinthians 2:1–5]  And this is also why God expects you as His priests, to be His witnesses to those who don’t know Him through His Word; because He wants them to know that there is power in His Word… Power unto salvation! 

CONCLUSION:  Through the proclamation of the gospel, the preached Word of God is sent out to every corner of this sinful world, inviting sinful men and women to believe and rest in God’s Word of forgiveness.  Through our witness as to how God’s Word has restored us, others can see Jesus living in and recreating us, and by God’s grace they will be moved to ask us about our faith.  This then is a God given moment to invite them look deeper into that Word by hearing it preached and taught in God’s church, even our little church here that we call Trinity. 

So you see, faith does grow out of hearing the Word of God.  Through God’s Word, new life is created and protected by the giving and sustaining of faith. Now our faith might not always understand the mystery of how God can speak to us through His Word and Sacraments, and faith won’t always be able to explain why God does what He does for sinners like us, but that’s alright, because you see, “faith is the assurance of things for which we hope for; it is the conviction of things that we don’t see. [Hebrews 11:1] So faith is simply hearing and resting in God’s message about Jesus Christ!  May God continue to give us ears and a heart to hear and believe this message!  In Jesus name… AMEN!

Martha, Martha…

Saturday, August 6th, 2011

Friday Night Gospel Celebration, August 5, 2011
Rev. Brian HendersonPastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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Tonight God’s Word is teaching us something both about both worship and service.  What is worship?  I’m fairly certain that if I ask 7 people to define worship I will get 7 different answers.  So to avoid any confusion, I’m going to give you the Lutheran definition of Worship, which by the end of the message, I hope you will see is the Biblical model of worship. Our definition of worship is based entirely on service.  “OK”… many of you are saying, “I can see that.”  But here comes the portion of our definition that often times can lead to disagreement:  It’s not you and me serving the Lord, but instead it’s God almighty serving us!  You see friends, when you decide to go to church on Sunday morning, you won’t be doing God any favors, and your attendance won’t earn you any brownie points with God either.  No, I’m afraid that coming to church isn’t a good work that serves God and wins His favor. 

Then what is worship?  Well, true Christian worship is simply sitting at the feet of Jesus… hearing His Word and letting Him serve us!  That’s why we call our worship a Divine Service; it is God serving us!  We go to church out of need.  We go to receive the precious gifts that Christ has to give to us.  What are those gifts?  Well, nothing but forgiveness of sins and God’s love and real presence in our lives won for us by Christ’s suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven.  These wonderful things friends are given to us through His precious Word and Sacraments—the very things we come to receive at Divine Service! 

I. Scripture talks about a lawyer who approached Jesus wanting to know what He could do in order to serve God and receive His approval.  Jesus tried to show him through the Law, that it wasn’t what he did that would save Him but the gift that God had to give… and that gift was Jesus Himself!  Tonight, in our gospel reading we are introduced to two sisters.  Both knew that they needed Jesus… both knew that through Jesus God was with them.  But one sister insisted that her service to Jesus should come before Jesus could serve her.  You see, she knew that she needed Jesus, but she wanted Him on her terms.  Listen to the first portion of our gospel reading and see if this isn’t true: “But Martha was distracted with much (service).  And she went up to (Jesus) and said, “Lord, (don’t you) care that my sister (Mary) has left me to serve alone?  Tell her then to help me.” [Luke 10:40]  And what was Jesus answer?  Listen: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.  Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” [vs. 41,42] 

So what’s the point?  Well, our Lord was implying that by Mary’s desire to hear His Word, the very place where He was seated had become a pulpit, and Mary’s own humble seat at the feet of Jesus became a pew.  In fact the entire home had become a sanctuary filled with God’s mercy and love!  It was a place where God had drawn close to sinners so that He could change their hearts and fill them with grace and forgiveness!

Friends, Mary’s natural devotion to Jesus’ Words will forever stand as a witness to the church as the true mark of worship and discipleship.  Here we learn that if the Words of Jesus are received by a humble and empty heart wanting to be filled and changed, then God is more than ready to do this good work or service within us!  And here we learn that whenever God’s holy Word is offered to us, we should be willing to drop everything else just to hear it.

The problem Martha had friends is the same problem many of us have… we’ve lost sight of God’s priority!  You see, Martha forgot who came to serve whom.  She thought that it was better for her to do a good work than for God to serve her.  This type of thinking goes like this: “There’s something important that needs to be done today at home or even at church, so I’ll skip worship and work on that!”  The truth is, each of us can come up with some pretty good excuses to justify not coming to worship on Sunday or during the week; each of us has a little bit of Martha in us!  Think about that for a moment; while Jesus was teaching she was preparing Him a meal.  She thought that the God who fed over 5,000 people with just a few loaves and fish “needed” her service!  Friends, Jesus didn’t need any food from her she needed food from Him!  And He doesn’t need any service from us either; he wants to serve us!   “Wait a minute pastor… are you saying that my service to God isn’t important?”  No, of course not!  But my point is that before we offer service to God we must first seek to be served by Him!  That is His will and that is His priority.

II. St. Paul inn his letter to the Colossians helps us keep our priorities straight.  He says that we must first become reconciled to God.  Listen to his inspired Words: “And you who were once alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, (God) has now reconciled (you) in His body of flesh (Jesus body) by His death.”  And to this we ask, “But why?”  And Paul answers: “In order to present you (as) holy and blameless and above reproach before (God).” [Colossians 1: 21, 22]

“Ok pastor.  I see that I must be born again… I must be given a new heart and mind.  I know that I must be given the heart and mind of Jesus.  But wasn’t all of that given to me in my baptism?”  Yes it was friends, but this is a gift that is continuously given and it must be continuously received.  Listen once again to Paul.  He says that all of these gifts of grace, love, and forgiveness are ours, “if indeed (we) continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that (we) heard. [vs. 23a]  Do you hear in those Words the need to continue… to be steadfast and stable… not shifting from the hope of the gospel?  The only way this can be done is if Jesus is serving us with His life giving Word!

You see friends, unlike Martha, we have the ability to look backwards into time.  We can see that it was Jesus who first served us at the cross, and from there we can follow Him to His resurrection and ascension.  We can hear and read that His Word is real food and that He is really with us in a mysterious way through our baptism, the absolution ( forgiveness of our sins), and His Holy Supper.  In all of these things friends, Jesus is inviting us to regularly sit at His feet and be nourished and strengthened in our faith.  It’s His desire that we faithfully gather each Sunday and hear that we are forgiven… but He also wants us to remember that we are forgiven with a purpose.  And that purpose is where “our” service becomes part of our worship. 

Each one of us has been called to receive the forgiveness for our many sins and then we are called to praise God and share that forgiveness with our Christian brothers and sisters and even our unbelieving neighbors.  This is what is called our service to God.  It is first demonstrated during our divine worship as we offer up and sing praises to our God for His faithfulness.  And that spirit of praise and thanksgiving first shown in worship then leads us out into our families and our community, demonstrating a life which is centered around God’s grace.  And as this reality about God reconciling us becomes clearer, we will not only want to attend Christ’s Divine Service, but will also see the need to be reconciled with each other and to see others reconciled to God as well!

III. Martha lost her focus; she lost sight of God’s priority.  She forgot that the one thing most needful was the Word of God.  Jesus wasn’t telling her that her service was unimportant; no, He was telling her that it was not the most important thing.  Her sister Mary knew that her service was important, but she also knew that it would come after the Word of God had done its work within her heart. 

Dear friends, we should never lose sight of the need to show Christ’s love to others.  But we must always remember that the gospel… God’s forgiveness through Word and Sacrament are the reason we can love them; it is the one thing most needful.  We must remember that we are simply a glove that Jesus uses.  If we remember this we will also remember that it isn’t the glove that does the work but the hand that’s in it… the hand that was stretched out upon the suspended portion of the cross and nailed in place for our sins.  This is the hand that was stretched out in agony to a Heavenly Father who would not answer the plea, “My God, My God… why have You forsaken Me?”  Friends, Jesus asked this question for our benefit; He knew why His Father had forsaken Him… and it is my prayer that you do too!  He was forsaken so that you would not be!  He was pierced for your transgressions so that you would know God’s love for you.

CONCLUSION: Dear friends, there will always be a time to give thanks and service to our God, because it is always good, right, and admirable to do these things.  But these things must always be done as a result of God’s service that is first done within us.  I am sure that Jesus taught Martha this truth and I believe that she did take her place at Jesus’ feet along with her sister Mary.  I believe that Jesus not only changed Martha’s priorities, but He also blessed her service towards Him.  I pray that you will believe this also and be content to regularly allow God to be of Divine Service to you so that He can use you as a glove for His had that will serve His church and your neighbor.  I ask this in Jesus name…. AMEN!