Archive for October, 2011

Woe To Us If…

Monday, October 31st, 2011

20th Sunday after Pentecost A, October 30, 2011
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

Matthew 22:34-46

INTRODUCTION: Woe to you if you will not hear God speak to you this morning!  Woe to me if I will not speak God’s true Word to you this morning!  Woe to all of us if we do not let God save us through His Word!  His Word brings both threats of punishment and promises of love and forgiveness.  They aren’t the kind of empty threats and promises that people throw out today.  There’s no bravado or manipulation in God’s Word; He means what He says and He says what He means!  Once He has told you what the punishment for your sin is, it’s settled!  The Jews knew this, and that’s why they wanted Micah to shut up!  “Hear this, you heads of the house of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel, who detest justice and make crooked all that is straight, who build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with iniquity.” [Micah 3:9,10]  “Therefore because of you Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins.” [Micah 3:12]

So what do you do when you don’t like the message from a certain man of God?  You go out and find a new message!  You push and you scream, you threaten and you manipulate until someone comes forward and preaches the message you want to hear!  “No more preaching about repentance and contrition, give us a message about prosperity and wealth!”  The funny thing about an audience that demands this kind of preaching is that there never seems to be a shortage of preachers who will respond.  Why is that?  Because there’s money in it!  And before you know it, the message no longer comes from God but from the greed of the speaker who wants more money to preach a message that will satisfy the desire of the listeners who are willing to pay to hear it!

I. That was the condition of the church in Micah’s day, it was the condition of the church in our gospel lesson this morning (Matthew 23:1-12), and I’m afraid it is still the condition of the church today!  Who is to blame?  We are; all of us, both the preachers and the people.  The preachers or prophets were to blame in both our Old Testament lesson and our Gospel lesson, and they’re to blame today.

Instead of leading God’s people closer to Him, by pointing out their sin and helping them remain faithful to His Word, the false prophets became experts in certain portions of God’s Word and then they used those cherry picked snippets of scripture to lead their listeners deeper into sin and farther away from their Holy and Righteous Creator!  Instead of leading people into God’s forgiving heart they lead them directly into the path of His vengeance!

But the people are to blame too; they’re to blame because they know in their hearts that a message of prosperity without a message of repentance is completely out of character with who God is!  They knew God’s law; we all know it, because scripture says that God has placed it within our own hearts!  Each of you know how short you fall from loving God with your whole heart, mind, and soul; you know that you do not love your neighbor as yourself and what’s more, you know that on your own, you never will be able to do either of these as God demands!

In our natural condition, we are all like heroin addicts!  Every time God’s law speaks to us, it’s like an addict who is coming off of a high.  He begins to feel the cravings; after the cravings comes the pain of withdrawal!  When the pains of withdrawal get stronger, he begins to crave the drug more than anything!  Like the addict, we don’t want to hear God’s law, which only brings more fear and thoughts of eternal death.  And like the addict, we know that the only way to be free of our fear and pain is if we can somehow quit our addiction to sin cold turkey!  We must let go of our former way of living and thinking and simply let God speak His truth to us and then admit that He’s right and we and our old way of thinking and living are wrong!  But our craving for sin, and our need for it like the heroin addict, keeps drawing us away from God’s truth and back into a life of sin!

This is where the false preachers come in.  In keeping with the heroin addict illustration, the false preachers are like methadone; they take away the fear of withdrawals by numbing the pain; they create a false sense of wellness.  But the problem with that is we’ve given up one addiction only to embrace another.  Like the addict, we don’t want to suffer and die by hearing God’s Word, so we embrace the “methadonic” (I know, I made that word up)  message of false preachers.  Like methadone, their message makes us feel better for a while by creating the illusion that all is well between God and us.  We learn to trust in the false message that says God isn’t really angry with our lifestyle!

ILLUSTRATION: There was a leader in the not-so distant past that often used Christian vocabulary to manipulate the people.  He talked about the blessings of the Almighty Creator and said that the Christian confessions would become the pillars of his new government.  He gave the outward appearance of a man weighed down by great divinely inspired responsibility.  He had pious stories on the tip of his tongue, ready to illustrate his point each and every time He spoke to large crowds or to the press.  He carried around His tattered Bible everywhere he went, and he often declared that he drew the strength for his great work from it.  Millions of people welcomed him as a man sent from God.  His name was… Adolf Hitler—a master of outward appearances, while inwardly harboring the heart and mind of a mad man!

So what is the point?  The point dear friends is simply to demonstrate how lost each of us are; how far away our hearts are from the very God who created them!  On our own, we will always fall for a false message of prosperity and hope; all the while we are like a wall of bricks that’s been put together without mortar.  We will fall, the only question is when!  We will fall, unless we hear a new message… the true message, and that message is Repent!

II. This message of repentance is a message of hope; it is a message about God making a way back to Him when there is no way.  It’s a message about God making a way for sinners, even you, to rest in His forgiving love.  It’s a message that we can only hear after His law has convinced us that we are addicted to sin and the only way to be free of it is if we quit cold turkey.  It’s a message that forces us to admit that we can’t quit our sin on our own!  It’s a message that says that God as your champion has come to you and taken away both the power of your sin and your fear of His holy presence in your life!

ILLUSTRATION: The story is told about a little boy who was frightened by a terrible thunder storm in the middle of the night.  He called out to his father from his room, “Daddy come here I’m afraid!”  “Son” the father said, “God loves you and he’ll take care of you.”  “I know” said the little boy, “but right now I want someone who has skin on them!”

We are that little boy, and God our Father has heard our cries of fear.  His law, like the terrible claps of thunder has terrified us, and instead of speaking to us from some distant room, He comes to us with our skin on Him.  God the Son comes to us as Jesus of Nazareth; He comes to us not in splendor as a leader demanding to be followed and feared, but as a servant who comes to suffer in our place.  He alone is to be called our Father, our Teacher, and our Lord!  He is our Savior Jesus Christ, and He has come for you.  He has come to set you free from your addiction to sin.  He has come to shut the mouths of the false preachers who claim that God’s love and blessings can be earned.  He has come to show us a way out of no way; and that is the way of the cross!  Jesus is the greatest among us because He came to serve us with His suffering and death; He has come to bring you back for ever into the loving heart of your Creator.  The Pharisees then and the false preachers today exalt themselves as someone great, but Jesus humbles Himself in death, even death upon a cross for you!  And now, seated at the right hand of the Father, God the Son Jesus Christ is somehow, right now here with you in His Word, and He is asking you to allow Him to come to you and teach you to walk with Him by faith, in the forgiving love of His Father.

CONCLUSION: In His Word, Jesus comes to us.  In His Law He’s showed us our terrible addiction to sin, but in His love, He also comes to us in His Gospel.  It is in that Word alone that He shows us a life of freedom and peace.  Freedom to follow God without fear or worry; freedom to follow Jesus first to the cross, then to the holy waters of baptism, where His Word of peace along with simple water washes us clean and recreates us into God’s own image.  And from the font we follow Jesus to His table where His supper of mercy and forgiveness is served.  And as we follow Jesus, the words of Micah, the true prophet of God become our words: “But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might, to declare to (all who remain in bondage and addiction) that their sins are forgiven.”

This is always how God comes to and saves this sinful world; one sinner at a time.  He sends out His Word to sinners who He changes and recreates into saints, and He does it through both the law and the gospel.  After His law has brought fear and death, then His gospel forever speaks word of comfort and new life to us.  It is this gospel Word that is forever transforming us from sinner to saint.  And it is that same gospel Word that sends us out into our community as God’s prophets speaking God’s true message of prosperity… the message about forgiveness and freedom; a message about Jesus and His cross!

Putting God to the Test

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost A, October 23, 2011
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

Matthew 22:34-46

INTRODUCTION: Well the crowd is gathered around Jesus within the temple listening to Him teach and the religious leaders are gathered together just outside of the group.  They’re sending one delegation after another to Jesus, with the unified goal is to disqualifying Him as the Messiah.  Last week, we looked at a question they asked Him about taxes.  Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar?  And Jesus answered, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s.”  Right after that the Sadducees had a ridiculous question about marriage in heaven.  Jesus’s answer was brilliant.  He told them it’s a pointless question, because in heaven there’s neither marriage nor the giving of marriage, as all belong to God alone!  Foiled again!  Now what will they do?  Well it’s time to bring out their power player!  Bring out the Lawyer!!  He’ll confound Jesus with a question that even we can’t answer; he’ll tear Him to pieces with a legal conundrum!

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”  Now how is this a conundrum?  Well you have to understand that after hundreds of years of interpreting their religion, the legal experts had somehow been able to turn the 10 Commandments into 613 of them.  And throughout the years, no one could agree on the order of precedence.  If they could get Jesus to either ignore the question or take a side, He would certainly loose favor in the eyes of some of the people!

And Jesus, without so much as a pause responds, “You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”  In other words Jesus is saying, “Do you want to earn favor and eternal life with God?  Do you want to fulfill all that God demands in all of the Law?  Fine, then go and love God and your fellow man perfectly and you will have achieved your goal!  But make sure you do it perfectly, if not it won’t be eternal rewards you’ll earn but eternal punishment!  So much for testing Jesus.  That was their last attempt and it failed as miserably as all the other attempts.

I. So why did the Jews keep testing Jesus?  Some people think that if they only knew who Jesus really was, they certainly wouldn’t have done that!  Oh they wouldn’t would they?  May I remind you of the account of the Hebrews as they were led out of Egypt? (Exodus 15-17)  The Hebrew people were safe and secure in the wilderness because God led them out of slavery.  He did it through a series of miraculous plagues, parting the Red Sea making a way for the Hebrews and then returning the sea upon the heads of Pharaoh’s army.  All of this they saw with their own eyes.  They knew how powerful God was!  But when they became tired and hungry they grumbled; they doubted that the God who had miraculously saved them from Pharaoh could provide food for them.  “Oh that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”  Now why did they forget what God had just done for them?  Because they were sinners, and sinners always do what is natural; they grumble and complain about how hard life is, and then they blame God for all their misfortune.  Sinners always demand that God provide for them when and how they desire!

Well God did provided for them?  Yes, He made the sky rain quail for their meat pots and manna or bread from heaven, to sop up all their gravy!  But there was a cost to their grumbling spirit and putting God to the test!  They would be forced to wander in the wilderness for 40 years.

II. So there we have Biblical proof that testing God isn’t wise!  So then, why do we test God?  Well, because we aren’t any better than the Jews that gathered in the temple to test Jesus!  We still want a savior created in our own image!  “Dear God, I know that you don’t really want me to smoke this crack, but all of my friends are doing it.  Please protect me; please help me to do it this one time and don’t let me turn into a crack head!”  Is that too extreme for you?  How about this: “God, I know that it would make you happy if I trusted you more with my money.  I know you want more than just the few dollars that I keep putting in the offering plate, but times are tough right now.  But God, if you help me win the lottery, I promise to give you half of all I win!  Oh how I could bless your church if you would just let me win!”  Or how about this one: “Dear God, I know that I promised to love my wife and be faithful to her until death, but things are different now; she’s distant and cold.  We haven’t been intimate for months and I have needs.  Please forgive me, but I just can’t be faithful anymore.  I’ll re-dedicate myself to her again after you change her!”  Or young people, how about this one: “Dear God, please don’t let me fail the test at school tomorrow.  I know I didn’t study, but please help me get an A so I can …”

So there you have it; we all put God to the test in some way or another!  But why do we do that?  Because like the Jews we want to create Him in our own image.  We want a God of convenience who will bless the messes we make out of our lives!  Now that may be the god our sinful minds have created, but that is not the God who not only created us but wants to heal our sinful and sick minds.  Instead of telling God what we want, maybe it’s time we stop and consider what He wants?  And what does He want?  He wants us to have faith!

III. That’s what He wanted the Pharisees and Sadducee  to have; even while they were putting Him to the test and planning how to kill Him, He was still offering them the gift of faith!  How?  The same way He always does it, through His Word.  In Jesus Words He was giving them wisdom unto salvation; He was giving them faith, if they would receive it.  In His Words, He was working to turn their sinful hearts and minds away from themselves and to God’s means of salvation.  He was asking them just as he’s asking us this morning to consider just what kind of Savior we really need.  “What do you think about the Christ (or the Savior of the world)?  Whose Son is He?  They said to Him, “The son of David.”  He said to them, “How is it then that David in the Spirit (that is by the Word of the Holy Spirit), calls Him Lord, saying, “’The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’?  If then David calls Him Lord, how is He his Son?”

In other words, if all you have is a political savior who will take care of your physical needs here and now, then who will defeat your real enemies that threaten your eternal salvation?  If all you care about are your physical needs, then what are you going to do about your heart, which in it’s natural condition, is dead and can never really love God or your neighbor?  If you are understanding the implications of Jesus’s Words correctly, then you must by now understand that your salvation can never come from a Savior who only finds His origin in this sinful world.  No, your Savior must be God Himself.  Only God can bring the kind of help that is eternal.  You see, we don’t need a new leader we need a new heart, and it’s the same eternal God that led the Hebrews out of bondage who gives you that new heart!  We need a God who comes to us in our own flesh;  we need the Son of David who is also the Son of God!  We need Jesus, because only He can be simultaneously seated and reigning at the right hand of God and be here with us right now, exercising God’s power and majesty over our true enemies, sin death and the devil.

Like the Hebrew slaves of old, we too have been led out of bondage.  The problem is that much of the time, like the Hebrews, we aren’t keeping our hearts centered on Jesus, instead we’re looking back at our old lives and thinking about the meat pots that we left behind; this is why we sin and fall victim to the temptations of this sinful world.  So this morning, God says, “Repent!  Turn to Jesus.  Walk with Him to the cross.  As He was faithful and went all the way for you, follow Him and be faithful as well!”

What does it mean to repent?  Well you’re doing it right now as you’re listening to His Word being declared to you!  You repent when you remember how He first loved you and saved you in the waters of your baptism.  You are repenting as you approach His table of mercy and receive a Holy meal of forgiveness.  You are repenting as you read and study His Word in your daily devotions.  You are repenting each time you pray for forgiveness and strength to live a life that is pleasing to God.  Repentance simply means returning over and over again to God’s forgiveness which is yours in Jesus Christ.  And as you repent, as you turn to Jesus, you are also turning away from a life of bondage, all because you are following God’s only means of salvation, Jesus Christ.

CONCLUSION: Do we put God to the test?  Well, as long as we’re still living in this sinful world, the answer is yes!  The question is will you confess this and receive His forgiveness?  Is there any test that God approves of?  Only one; it is the test of faith!  Will you keep turning to Jesus?  Even when you think God is done with you, will you keep asking Him to forgive you?  That is the one test that Jesus hopes you will never quit giving Him, because each and every time you ask Him to free you from your bondage of sin, He answers yes!  I pray that each of us will continue to be given faith to believe this, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Give to Caesar What’s Caesar’s and…

Sunday, October 16th, 2011

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost A, October 16, 2011
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

Matthew 22:15-22

INTRODUCTION: Our text for this morning is one that is very familiar with many of you.  “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” [Matthew 22:21b]  I’m sure that you’ll all agree with me that the one thing our modern day Caesar wants the most from us is our money!  Oh they’re going to get it, you can be sure of that, after all their name is all over “your” money… even though it’s in your pocket right now, it isn’t really yours, it’s Caesar’s, and he’s just letting you use it!

In this political season there’s a lot of talk about the best way to take our money and then the best way to spend it.  In our political system here in the U.S., we are assured that we have a say in how this decision will be made; we have elections and the man or the party with the best ideas in how to collect and spend our money will supposedly be the one elected.  But in the end, no matter who is elected we are always reminded that it never really was our money.  We are reminded that the golden rule of any form of government is, “He who makes and distributes the currency, makes up the rules.”

But if we would just remember that our money really belongs to someone else, life sure would have a lot more peace and contentment in it.  Like the old folks use to say back home, “Money will buy ya a nice dog, but only love will make him wag his tail and be your friend!”

I. In our gospel lesson this morning we discover something else about money… it can be a trap, even when you use it to trap someone else!  We meet Jesus teaching in the temple and it is the week of His passion; in other words He is only days away from His suffering and death.  He knows this; He knows what is waiting for Him, so this is His last attempt to bring faith to an evil self-serving nation.  He is teaching in the temple for good reason; it is the very heart of their identity as a people called by God to relate to Him in love and trust and then reflect that relationship to other people… other nations.  He has just finished condemning the religious leaders as phonies, impostors.  The word I used last week was posers!  And now they’re flaming hot with anger and thinking only of revenge; they want to trap Jesus with His own words so that they can arrest Him and turn Him over to Caesar for execution.

The Pharisees went off away from the others and devised a way to trap Jesus.  Jesus own words will be coaxed out of Him and they will be words of treason!  Once that was done with the members of the Herodian political party as witnesses, the governor will quickly arrest Jesus.  So the Pharisees picked some of their youngest and brightest disciples and taught them what and how to ask Jesus.  So while Jesus is teaching, this group of strangers approaches Him and begins to ape the words of admiration and praise that their teachers taught them: “Teacher, we know that you are (the real deal and that you) teach the way of God truthfully, and (we know that) you don’t care about anyone’s opinion (of you, because you’re) not (fooled) by appearances.”

Now stop and think about that for a moment.  If they really believed that, would they have said what they just said?  After all weren’t they just doing the very thing they said Jesus could see through?  If only they had eyes of faith to see that they were actually talking to God!  Well so much for that; the puppets had to ask the question that the puppet masters put into their mouths.  So here it is: “Tell us, then… Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”

Now remember, because of their lack of faith they do not see God in Jesus.  To them there is nothing divine about Him; he is just a man who’s causing troubles with the status quo; He’s rockin’ the boat and they want Him thrown out so that they will continue to have smooth sailing.  But Jesus is God and He sees the evil intent in their hearts, so He says to them: “Why are you putting me to the test you hypocrites? (You who say one thing with your mouth but then you do the evil that is in your hearts.  You don’t really want to hear God’s powerful Word and allow that Word to change you.  You are in it for the money!  You are here to just keep getting richer while God’s Kingdom suffers at your hands and His people pay for your greed!)  Show me the coin for the tax.”  And out of their own pockets comes the very thing they supposedly hate… Caesar’s money; money that undeniably belongs to Caesar, because it has his name and his face on it!  So Jesus asks, “Whose likeness and inscription is (on) this?”  And the answer they gave not only reveals their hypocrisy but Jesus divine wisdom.  “And they (answered) “(It’s) Caesar’s.”  (And Jesus) said to them, “(Then give back to Caesar the things that belong to Caesar), and to God the things that are God’s.”  Scripture says that they were amazed at Jesus answer; they marveled at the wisdom in His Words, but they would not let that wisdom change them.  Why?  Because they were hypocritical impostors that didn’t care one bit about being rich in the Kingdom of God; they only cared about becoming rich in the kingdom of men!

The funny thing about money is that it will buy you a bed, but not sleep.  It will buy you books, but not brains.  It will give you a beautiful house, but not a home.  It can afford medicine, but it can’t give you good health.  It will bring you amusement, but not happiness.  It can buy a beautifully hand carved crucifix, but not the Savior who hung upon it!  No, to have the things that money can’t buy, we have to be resting in God’s mercy and forgiveness, and that rest can only come through Jesus Christ!

II. When the Pharisees presented a coin to Jesus, He pointed out the image of Caesar.  By doing this He’s presenting the reality that each of us lives simultaneously in two kingdoms: the kingdom of man and the Kingdom of God.  He was teaching them and us that just as the coin was created in the image of Caesar, we are created in the image of God.  This means that every thing on earth and every part of our bodies, even the smallest of thoughts in our minds, belong to God!

Now there are some here this morning that are like those disciples of the Pharisees; they’ve given God their mind but their heart is far away from Him.  Some have given Him their heart, but they’re unwilling to truly hear and learn from the Word, because they have their own way of thinking about how God’s Kingdom should be built.  Some are willing to give their muscles, but unwilling to bring their bodies consistently to worship and Bible study!  Many give God 1 or 2 hours a week of their time, but God wants all 168 hours of every week!  Some consistently give God about 2% of their income, thinking that someday they’ll reach the 10% goal, when in reality it all belongs to God, even if Caesar’s image is on it!

It becomes so easy for us to forget that God is actually with us in this sinful society when all around us evil greed and injustice seems to control everything.  But just a few short days after the occurrence of our gospel reading, Jesus would be standing before Pontius Pilate, teaching him this very truth.  There before Pilate, Jesus stands beaten and bloody, and Pilate asks Him if He realizes that he has the power to free Him or execute Him.  And to this Jesus Words ring in our ears with the truth about the kingdom of men: “You would have no authority over me at all unless it were given to you from above.” [John 19:11]  And here is the meat of Jesus teaching for us this morning: While the kingdom of man and the Kingdom of God are two separate kingdoms, they both are ultimately controlled by God!

In God’s Kingdom of grace we are changed… we are recreated so that we can be in God’s presence even while living in the kingdom of man.  God’s Word gives and teaches us and eternal righteousness of the heart so that through us and the sharing of the gospel, others may know of God’s mercy and love and be drawn into His Kingdom of Grace also.  But God’s Kingdom does not destroy or take over the kingdom of men, instead it enters into individual families, communities, and governments it and changes them by changing the people who live in them.  What is the change that the gospel brings into these various groups that make up the kingdom of man?  It brings a realization of God’s presence!  As individuals, families, communities, and governments begin to realize that everything they do is not only seen by God, but ultimately judged by Him, God’s Kingdom is breaking in and His way of love, forgiveness, and mercy begins to be seen in how all of these groups serve each other.  Individuals begin to give of their time, talent, and treasure in a way that honors God and helps build His Kingdom.  Families begin to work, live, and worship together in a way that is pleasing to God!  Communities begin to care for the weakest and poorest members in a way that reminds them that they aren’t alone!  And governments remember that they are there to serve first the will of their Creator, and then address the needs of their constituents.

III. Now I know that all of this can seem a bit ideal, and that is because it is ideal!  It’s a picture of the Kingdom of God breaking into the kingdom of men!  It is what was happening that day in the temple when Jesus was teaching the people about God’s love as the Pharisees were demonstrating men’s greed!  Jesus, God in human flesh came to His people that day to plead with them one last time to repent.  He asked them to turn to Him and walk to the cross; a place where God’s own blood would be spilled for them as a payment for their sins.  He asked them to follow Him by faith and see a better way; a way that trusts in God even when it seems that evil has won the day.  He asks them and He asks us today to hear His Words of forgiveness spoken for those evil men that persecuted and crucified Him: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!”   And He shouts so all can hear God’s proclamation of victory, even you and me today: “It is finished!”  Your debt is paid in full!  I your God have broken into your reality; I came to you myself and became your Savior, your Brother, and Friend!

CONCLUSION: So there you have Jesus teaching.  It is not as simple as the simple minded hypocrites like to make it.  Living in two Kingdoms at the same time never is easy.  One kingdom says the rich should keep getting richer so that they can provide for the poor, and the other kingdom says you will always have the haves and have-nots, the question is what is it that they have or don’t have?  Do you have Jesus?  Is he the most important thing in life to you?  Are you resting in the Kingdom of God knowing that Jesus is with you while you’re waiting and working in the kingdom of man, or is the Kingdom of God something that you will take seriously someday, just not this day?

I’ll close with this story.  A businessman had an angel come to visit him, and the angel promised him that God would grant one wish.  The man asked for a copy of the Wall Street Journal, with the stock market quotes for one year in the future.  As he was studying the future prices on the stock exchanges, he became excited at the certainty of acquiring even more wealth, wealth beyond his wildest dreams.  But then he glanced across the newspaper page, only to see his own picture in the obituary column.  Suddenly, all of his current and future wealth meant nothing to him.  He fell on his knees and confessed before God his sinfulness and his lack of faith and trust in Jesus gift of eternal life.  How do you think that man spent his wealth from that point on?

And now dear friends, God grants the same blessing to you.  He tells you now, that one day, perhaps soon you will die!  Knowing that will you turn to Jesus?  Will you rest in what God has done for you upon the cross and within your baptism?  Will you allow the Kingdom of God to work within you and use the time, talents, and money that God has given to you to break into the kingdom of man?  Will you be satisfied with what  you have and use it to help those who don’t know Jesus have peace with God?  I pray that God will enable each of us to do this very thing.  And I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Living On the Edge!

Sunday, October 9th, 2011

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost A, October 9, 2011
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

Matthew 22:1-14

INTRODUCTION: Following Jesus is, well it’s… wonderful, amazing, fulfilling, exciting, and peaceful, but it isn’t easy.  It isn’t easy because it    requires faith, and faith requires you to release control of your life and your decisions to God’s direction.  Faith is the substance of things that    we hope for, but as of yet unseen!  To live a life following Jesus requires living by faith and not by sight!

This is the message that our gospel reading leads us to this morning; it was the message that Jesus was speaking to the Jewish leaders and  others that were listening to Him teach, and it is the message that He is giving to us this morning.  This morning, Jesus speaks this message to  baby Lilyana, her parents, and to you and me: live a life of faith by living on the edge!  But as I said, this kind of life isn’t easy; it never has been.

Throughout the history of the Kingdom of God here on earth, we have seen a picture of disappointment, fear, doubt; we see sin becoming  stronger, while the joy, courage, and faith of those who live in and proclaim the kingdom seems to be getting progressively weaker.  Jesus story  about a King who invited many to his son’s wedding banquet is told to illustrate this very point.  Like His story, the history of the Jews and even  our history displays sinful people refusing God’s offer of grace.  Within the ranks of these sinful men are a mixture of open and defiant sinners and those who seem like real believers, but secretly they’re posers, unbelievers; Jesus says that the time is coming when they’ll be unmasked!  Within His story, Jesus has miraculously compressed all of the New Testament time and even our time, into one story.

What we need to remember throughout the story is that the wedding and the invitations to attend it pictures God’s grace; His undeserved mercy, forgiveness, and love for all of sinful mankind.  But this grace can only come through Jesus Christ, the living Son of God!  The banquet table and the feast that’s being served on it represents the feast of victory for our God; a victory that celebrates first the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, and then the very same thing that’s promised to each and every person who is seated at the feast of victory.  Well almost every person.  You see in Jesus’ story, there is one person who doesn’t belong there.  There’s one person who isn’t wearing the robe provided by God!  That one person represents a vast number of people who refuse to turn to Jesus as their Savior, Lord, and King.  And the change of clothes they refuse to be fitted with represents the new identity that each of us is offered and given in our baptisms; just like the new identity that Lilyana has been given this morning.

Throughout the life of every person ever created, there are God-created opportunities to receive this new identity, to put it on if you will, to walk around in it and become comfortable in it.  But God in His wisdom allows each of us to reject this new identity and that is what causes tension; it’s what makes us feel like we’re living on the edge of joy and disappointment; the edge of courage and fear; and the edge between faith and doubt!

I. Living on the edge means living between joy and disappointment.  Have you heard about the family that moved into the neighborhood of a local congregation?  Well the good saints of that church decided to reach out to that family when they heard that they had 12 kids and were for the most part poor. They invited the family to divine service and even brought a package of wonderful suits and dresses to them and said, “We want you to know” they said, “that you and your entire family are welcome at our church anytime. We have bought you these gifts and we want you to feel comfortable and at ease in our congregation. We hope you can use them” and they left. Well Sunday came and the congregation waited for the family, but they never showed. Wondering what could have possibly happened, some members of the board of elders returned to the home and found the family just getting back, all dressed in their new clothes.  “We don’t mean to be nosey but we would like to know what happened. We had hoped to see you this morning in church,” the head elder said.  The father answered, “Well, we got up this morning intending to come. And we sure do appreciate your invitation. But after we showered, shaved, and dressed, why we looked so good we went for some breakfast and fun at the Casino.”

Now that’s a funny way of talking about a serious problem. Invitations are sent to many to come to church but so few people respond. It’s frustrating. Many of you have reached out to neighbors or friends and asked them to come to church and you know all too well the disappointment, how few respond.

Maybe that is why we find this morning’s parable so familiar. But we must remember that Jesus has told us that the Kingdom of God has always been like this; it’s like a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son and many would not come. They are just too busy to respond.  But not you… here you sit at the table!  You got in, so put aside your disappointment and receive the joy of the Lord!

II. Living on the edge means living between courage and fear.  In Jesus story the royalty, which represented the Jewish nation were the first ones invited to the feast!  As a group, they would not come, so they were destroyed.  In the year 70 AD the nation of Israel, the city of Jerusalem and more importantly their temple, their way of life and worship was destroyed, all because they would not come to a new Holy City, the Kingdom of God which can only be entered through the Son of God, Jesus Christ.  But their empty seats will not even be noticed because God is no longer inviting a nation of people, but all people from every nation, tribe, and tongue; that means He is inviting you!

Now for some people this can cause fear; even fear that paralysis them.  They see how God punished the nation of Israel for the way they mistreated their invitation, and so they see God as an angry and punishing God.  But if they see Him in this way, as if He has dark storm clouds draped across His face, they aren’t seeing Him correctly!  The very fact that He has invited you first in the waters of your baptism, and the fact that you are seated here right now hearing about His mercy and forgiveness proves that He is a God of love!  And because He loves you, He says to you this morning, “Take courage, put on your new baptismal identity and rest at my table of peace!”

III. Well finally, living on the edge means living between faith and doubt.  In Jesus’ story, the king invited everyone to the feast. Many have responded, and the dining hall is filled with guests, but there’s a problem. The king sees a man who isn’t wearing the appropriate wedding attire. He is wearing an old, perhaps tattered robe, obviously the garb that he wore in everyday life, his street clothes. “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe,” the king asks. The man was speechless, so the king had him bound and tossed into a place called outer darkness. Jesus concludes the parable with these solemn words: “Many are called, but few are chosen.”

What we learn from Jesus story is that everyone is invited into the Kingdom of God, but not everyone will respond to that invitation.  But we also discover that even if you get in you’re not really in unless the King chooses you to stay!  And here is where doubt can creep in; here is where we begin to ask what does it take to really get in?

Well it all depends on what you are wearing!  In your baptism you have been clothed with Christ’s righteousness; in essence, you’ve put on Jesus’ robe of righteousness.  No work or accomplishment of your own can be included.  Naked you came into this world and naked you must leave, accept for the righteous robe of Christ.  Remember, when we’ve done all that we can we are still worthless servants, because we’ve only done that which was our duty to do. [Luke 17:10]

If our garment isn’t the good life we live on this earth for Jesus, then what is it?  It’s faith in what Jesus has done for us!  Theologians call this the imputed righteousness of Jesus which becomes our hope and the object of our faith.  Because faith is the garment that is put on us, all we can do then is rest in it or wear it.  Another way to think of this is to say that our faith is like a cup or the sea shell I used to baptize baby Lily, it simply holds God’s free gift of righteousness.  In your baptism you can say that, “God has clothed me with His garments of salvation, and He has covered me with the robes of righteousness.”

CONCLUSION: And here you have the close of Jesus parable.  Oh wait, there is another little matter to address isn’t there?  If the banquet table represents the Kingdom of God, then how did that unbeliever get in there?  Isn’t there a great divided between heaven and hell so that none may cross?  Yes there is, so that means that the banquet table isn’t necessarily the Kingdom of Heaven, but it is the Kingdom of God!  Is there a difference?  Yes and no!  What we need to remember is that the Kingdom of God is where God’s people gather around His gifts.  What are His gifts?  Well they are His means of grace, or His means of faith!  Chief of all of these gifts is His Word, Holy Scripture, which is not just your invitation to the banquet but the very Son of the living God, Jesus Christ.  Within God’s Word you are given the gift of faith to believe that you really belong in God’s Kingdom, both here on earth and in heaven.  So what is the Kingdom of God here on earth?  It is the church, the very bride of Jesus Christ, which receives not just His Word but His Sacraments.  Just as we have seen Lilyana ushered into the Kingdom, in the same way so have you!  Just as we feast upon the Lord’s table and eat and drink forgiveness of sins, someday, as Lilyana’s parents continue to instruct her in God’s Word, so will she!  As each of us receive these gifts, we are reminded that we are living a life of dependence on God, a life of faith that’s filled with tension between heaven and hell.  But Jesus assures us that because we are resting in Him and receiving His gifts we will one day join Him at His eternal table of feasting where there will be no more suffering, pain, disappointment, fear, or doubt, and this is the gospel, the good news that gives us peace and joy.  But there are some here, in Christ’s church who will not put on this new baptismal identity.  There are some who are simply posers, mere impostors.  They refuse to be changed and they will not respond!  They already have the reward of living in God’s Kingdom, His Church, but they will not be allowed to enter the Kingdom of Heaven and eternally find their seat at His banquet table.

For these poor souls, there is only weeping and gnashing of teeth in a dark place where they will be forever bound and kept.  All because they would not receive the Word of God; all because they would not keep fighting to retain their baptismal identity; all because they would not confess their sinfulness and be fed their Lord’s meal of forgiveness!

Yes, living the life of faith is living on the edge, but if you are resting in the gifts of God through Jesus Christ you have been assured that even if you experience disappointment, fear, and doubt, one day very soon you will only know joy, love, and peace, all because you walked by faith and not by sight!

Now may the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen!

Kingdom Building Through God’s Word!

Saturday, October 1st, 2011

Friday Night Gospel Celebration, September 30, 2011
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

“Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light to my path.” [Psalm 119:105]  There are many ways to get lost.  People get lost driving from point A to point B all the time on our local roads and freeways.  But contrary to what my wife may tell you, I am never lost while driving, just a little confused.  “Honey” she says, “why don’t you stop and ask for directions?”  “What for” is always my response, “I’m not lost; I know exactly where we are!  I’ll get us there; don’t worry!”  She was greatly relieved when I finally broke down and bought a Garmin Street Navigator.  The truth is, each of us can and do become lost.  We can get lost in a world that hates our faith in Jesus Christ and our love for God’s Word.

I want to tell you a wonderful story about a man who found himself lost in just this type of situation.  He didn’t need a Garmin or a Tom-Tom to find his way; instead it was God’s Holy Word that ended his confusion.

Shortly after Vietnam fell to the Communists, Hien Pham, a committed Christian and translator for American missionaries was arrested. He was accused of aiding and abetting the Americans; he was in and out of prison for several years. During one long jail term, the sole purpose of his jailers was to indoctrinate him against the West – and destroy his Christian faith. He was cut off from reading anything in English… especially his Bible! After months of brain-washing, Hien began to buckle under the pressure. MAYBE, he thought, God doesn’t exist. Finally, he made up his mind; he would no longer pray or ever think of his Christian faith again.

The next morning, he was assigned to clean the latrines of the prison. It was a chore that everyone hated and avoided; so with much distress he began the awful task. As he cleaned out the 50 gallon cans filled with waste and toilet paper, his eye caught what he thought was English printed on a piece of paper. He quickly grabbed it, washed it off and slipped it into his pocket, planning to read that night.  Later, after his roommates had fallen asleep, he pulled out a small flashlight and began to read the top corner of the paper, “Romans, Chapter 8.” Literally trembling with shock, he began to read: “And we know that in all things God work for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” [Rom. 8:28, 31, 32, 35, 37-39]

Hien wept. He knew there was not a more relevant passage of conviction and strength for one on the verge of surrendering to the threat of evil. He cried out to Jesus, asking for forgiveness, because that next morning would have been the day that he had determined not to pray or recall scripture. Evidently the Lord had other plans.

The day came when Hien was released. He promptly began to make plans to escape from the country. After several unsuccessful attempts he began to build a boat in secret. About fifty-three other people planned to escape with him, and Hien was taking the lead. All was going according to plan until a short while before the date of their departure four Vietcong soldiers knocked on Hien’s door. When he opened it, they accosted him and said they had heard he was trying to escape. “Is it true?” they demanded.  With great fear but greater faith, Hien resignedly gave his answer, “Yes, I am, with fifty-three others. Are you going to imprison me again?” There was a pronounced pause. And then they leaned forward and whispered, “No. We want to escape with you!”  And they did!  Eventually Hien arrived on American soil where today he is a businessman – forever grateful to God and His saving Word!  Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path!

Does God still miraculously intervene in our lives today?  According to our Lord’s promise in our gospel lesson, the answer is a resounding YES…ABSOLUTELY!  Listen to His prayer for His apostles and His prayer for you: “(Father) I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.  I have given them Your Word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  Sanctify them in the truth; Your Word is truth.  As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world… I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their Word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” [John 17:13-16, 18-21]

What is it that Jesus prays that we will have?  His joy!  Not just any joy, but His joy!  When you are confused and afraid, and think that you’ve lost your way in this dark world, remember that Jesus has prayed for you and He is right there beside you, praying for you; He’s praying that you would not loose His joy.  And what are we to have as the source of our joy?  His Word!  Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path!

The next thing that we learn from Jesus prayer is that we are not of this world!  So what’s so bad about this world?  Well for starters it is ruled by Satan and his devils.  They are the princes of this world.  Second this world is so dark and lost in sin that people hate God’s light; they hate his only means of salvation… His Word!  Now this is where things get a little dicey for us.  We are each called to be a light, God’s light in this world of dark sin.  Remember you are not above your master Jesus.  The world hated and crucified Him, and they still hate Him because He is the living Word of God; He is the only light in this dark evil world that can’t be extinguished.  So if they hate Him they will also hate you!   The prophet Isaiah proclaimed this long ago when he wrote: “Lord who has believed what he has heard from us?”  As I said, this can be a little dicey, in fact this hatred of the world and the devils is the very thing that causes some Christians to be silent and avoid speaking about repentance and turning to Jesus for forgiveness.  Some have even abandoned their faith completely and become eternally lost in the darkness and confusion of sin.  For this reason Jesus prays something incredible for us and in this prayer we have a promise.

What is it that Jesus prays and promises?  Jesus prays that the Father will protect us from the evil one and the sin of this world; He prays that the Father will continually set us apart as His holy ones!  And what does He promise?  He promises that He who began the good work of salvation in us will continue this work and keep it safe until it is complete.  He is telling you that He promises that He will complete this work if… oh yes there’s always an if; if we stay in His Word.  Why His Word?  Because His Word is truth!  It is the very thing that has saved you, is saving you, and will save you, so we must not leave the Word.  Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path!

Think of the Word this way.  In a world pitch dark with sin, you can’t count on your eyes you need a source of light.  Have you ever been in a dark place with very little or no light?  Isn’t it true that your eyes can play tricks on you?  Well that is the way it is in this sinful world.  We need to quit trusting in experience, that is in sight and we must learn to walk by faith; we need to learn to trust Jesus and be led by God’s Word alone.  God wants us to use His Word as a lamp for our feet and a light for our path.  He wants us to let the Word alone guide our way; it alone must lead not just our feet but also our hearts.  Jesus is asking us to remember that it is the lamp of God’s Word that creates faith, but not necessarily understanding.  We don’t always need to understand, but we do always need to have faith and trust in Jesus prayer for us and God’s will.  Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path!

With God’s Word as our lamp and light, Jesus prays that we will have faith to do what we do not know how to do, go where we do not know the way, perform what we don’t understand, and follow the Word even when it seems we risk becoming stupid and foolish in the eyes of our community.  When we follow the light and path of the Word we will by faith also follow the path of obedience.  And what is that path of obedience?  Well let’s get back to Jesus prayer and let Him answer that: “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world… I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their Word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” [Vs. 20, 21]

Dear friends you have been saved by the Word because God is love… because through Jesus Christ, God has not only shown you His love like a bright light, but He has also made that love yours.  In His Word He promises you that no one and nothing can ever separate you from His love which is your through Christ Jesus!  But He has saved you for a purpose.  He has given you the light of His Word so that you can remain in this dark and sinful world for a reason.  What is that purpose and what is the reason?  The purpose is so that in the darkness you can seek and save others who are lost in sin.  The reason you are to seek and save the lost is because “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son Jesus Christ, so that whosoever believes in Him through the illumination of the Word of God shall not perish in darkness but have everlasting life!  God’s Word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our paths. God’s Word alone keeps us on the path of salvation while it also acts as a search light to find lost sinners.  God’s Word alone is how God builds His kingdom.  Kingdom building then is living in God’s Word and reflecting the light of that Word into the darkness of this sinful world.  You reflect that gospel when you share God’s Word of forgiveness and love with whoever you meet on the gospel path.  The kingdom of God is built one forgiven heart at a time.

What is the kingdom of God?  It is God’s Word which teaches us that God sent His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, into the world to redeem and deliver all sinners out of the power and kingdom of sin, death, and the devil, and to bring us to Himself so that He may rule us as a King of righteousness, delivering us into a new world of righteousness, eternal joy, and peace.  On this path, many are led by the Holy Spirit through the Word into the Father’s kingdom of grace so that together with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit we will each become joint heirs with Jesus and eternally remain in God’s kingdom of grace and light, a kingdom that has already begun and was given to you through His Word!  Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path!

May we forever stay in that light, God’s Holy Word and we ask this in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost… AMEN!