Archive for February, 2012

Where’s the Lamb?!

Sunday, February 26th, 2012

Lent 1 B, February 26, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My Father!”  And he said, “Here I am, my son.”  He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”  Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” [Genesis 22:7,8]

In 1984, Wendy’s Restaurant entered the hamburger wars with one purpose, to demonstrate their superiority over McDonalds and Burger King.  They did it with one question: “Where’s the Beef?!”  In commercial after commercial they hammered home the idea that while their competitor’s buns looked nice, there was very little substance between them.

Today, like Wendy’s,  the church has many competitors also; places of supposed worship and spiritual renewal that promise a way to give your life meaning and purpose.  They have strategies and techniques all designed to help you make sense of this world.  But each of them, have very little or nothing at all to say about Jesus’ sacrificial death.  So we need to ask, “Where’s the Lamb!?”  You’ve got to have real sacrifice in order to pay for real sin.  Techniques and strategies won’t do it, and neither will good intentions.  There must be life, death, sacrifice, and atonement.  That is God’s only way.

Sacrifice for sins, our sins has been God’s way since the very first sin was committed in the Garden of Eden.    When our first parents sinned,  God Himself killed an animal to provide clothing for Adam and Eve.  An animal had to die so that they could cover their shame.  From that first sacrifice, God regularly commanded His people to choose a spotless lamb and sacrifice it as a sin offering; a way to cover their sins.

In a way to teach Abraham about the quality of His faith, God moved him to offer a sacrifice.  I’m sure that Abraham had done this many times.  He knew the proper way to choose the spotless lamb, he knew how to bind the lamb so that it wouldn’t be able to run, and he knew how to cut its throat so that the blood would be shed for the sins that must be atoned for.  So when God told Abraham that it was time for a sacrifice, this did not come as a surprise, but what did come as a surprise, no a shock, was the fact that his son, his only son Isaac was to be the lamb; the sacrifice pleasing to the Lord.

As a Father, I can’t even imagine being asked to do this, let alone actually performing it.  I am afraid, I would have refused, and because of that truth, I would have failed the test, God’s test.  So does that mean I would have been punished for my disobedience?  No because God Himself has provided the lamb!

Recall from our Old Testament reading, Abraham and Isaac, and two of Abraham’s servants made their way to a mountain in the land of Moriah.  When they arrived at the base of the mountain, Abraham instructed his servants to wait at the base while he and his son went up to worship.  And what did he say to them?  “I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.”  He said that both of them would come back, and yet he knew that his son was to be the sacrifice!

And then as father and son were walking up the mountain, the son carrying the wood and the father carrying the fire and knife, the son looks into His father’s eyes and asks a very good question: “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burn offering?”  (And Father) “Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burn offering my son.””  But as far as Abraham knew, God had already provided the sacrifice; it would be Isaac himself, or would it?

So why didn’t Abraham respond as I truthfully told you I would; why didn’t He refuse?  Because He had God’s Word, God’s promise that through Isaac and no one else, the promised Savior, the once and for all Spotless Lamb of God would come to give up His life, spill His blood for the sins of all mankind!  Abraham reasoned with Himself that because God can not lie, and because God is the giver of all good things, even if He were to actually have the father take the life of his son, God Himself would raise him up from the ashes of the burnt offering because it is through Isaac alone, that the Savior would come.  Without Isaac there is no Savior and without a Savior there can be no Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  So, God will provide because He always does!

There on the top of Mt. Moriah, bound in death, are both the father and son.  The son is bound with physical ropes, but both of them are bound just as tight, both emotionally and spiritually.  Have you ever felt so oppressed by an experience that physical death seemed insignificant?  That is certainly how this father and son must have felt; they both felt as good as dead.  That is always the result of God’s command, which demands, YOU MUST DO THIS, BUT I OFFER YOU NO HELP OR HOPE.  JUST DO AS YOU’RE TOLD!  But then, they both remember the promise….  “Through isaac shall come the Savior.”  Their fear has now been replaced by their trust in God’s faithfulness to provide, even in death.  In this moment, all of their pride and self reliance is taken away.  They are standing helpless in front of an almighty God!  The fathers’s hand grasps the knife, finds its mark on the throat of his son and begins to come down when God Himself calls out with the gospel: “Stop!  Don’t lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for (now you know what I know) that you fear God, seeing that you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”. Now instead of death, God’s Word speaks life!

And Abraham looked up, and there caught in the bushes by it’s horn was a ram.  And Abraham took the ram, bound it and sacrificed it as a burn offering instead of his son.  Where’s the lamb?  God will provide it.  Where’s the way to cover up our sins, to make all things right with God?  God will provide the way!  Abraham knew that God was faithful; He knew that He alone would provide a way out of what seemed to be a hopeless and helpless situation.  He knew that God would make all things new and right because somehow his son Isaac played a part in God’s ultimate way of making things right; through Isaac would come God’s own Son from heaven to be God’s ultimate spotless Lamb who would take away our sin.

Thousands of years latter Jesus Christ, true Son of God and Son of man would walk to the same mountain in the land called Moriah, a land that was now called Jerusalem.  As Isaac carried the wood intended to burn his own body as a sacrifice, Jesus also carried His own wood, the tree of woe that He would also obediently lay down upon.  But their would be no voice from heaven staying the execution; no, this execution must go on.  This son of man and Son of God must suffer and die.  He must spill his blood as a sacrifice for all sin.

Jesus is the spotless lamb that God has provided once and for all.  He is both the ultimate sacrificial lamb and the scape goat.  He is the fulfillment of God’s promise that was first given in Genesis, repeated in Exodus and every other book of the Bible.  At the cross of Jesus, God has provided the Lamb for the entire world.  At the cross of Jesus the fruit of redemption and forgiveness are yours.  But what good is the fruit if you do not receive it?

In your baptism God gives you the fruit of the cross.  From the fruit of one tree we received sin and the punishment, but in the fruit of the cross God gives us forgiveness and peace.  In your baptism, God washed away your identity as a sinner and he gave you the identity of His Son, His only begotten Son.  God did what you and I could never do, He sacrificed His Son.  On the cross Jesus fulfilled what Isaac could not; He laid down His life in obedience to the will and plan of the Father.  This atonement for sin, along with Christ’s obedience is what you have been washed with in your baptism.  It is Christ’s identity; it is your new identity!  Every day God’s Word of law speaks fear and death to your sinful flesh; putting it to death so that your new baptismal identity is strengthened in the proclamation of the gospel!

Each of us should forever rejoice that God called out of heaven to stop the hand of the father from taking the life of his son.  He did it so that His hand could give the life of His Son to save us.  But there was another call from heaven that day that we must also hear.  It is the call of promise; a promise to Christ’s church and a promise to you!  Listen: And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore.  And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.

Friends, you are all brothers and sisters because you have one Creator Father, God Himself, but you also have one father of faith and that is Abraham, just  as the children sing, “Father Abraham has many sons, many sons has father Abraham; I am one of them and so are you!”  You are his children because you relate to God by grace, through faith, just as Abraham did!  Abraham believed the Savior would come through his son and you believe that He already has; you believe that Jesus is the Lamb of God who has taken away the sin of the world, even your sin!

Because we believe, because we are Christians, the world is watching how we live our lives.  They’re not so much worried about how good we are as how good our God and Savior is.  They want to see what forgiveness looks like, because if they can see you living out forgiveness, they’ll know that they can have it too!  Do you want to be a good witness for the gospel?  Good, then demonstrate what it’s like living as a sinner who’s been washed clean by the blood of the lamb!

Where’s the beef?  Where’s the meat of our Christian life?  It’s in the forgiveness of sins; our sins and the sins of our neighbor.  Everyone wants forgiveness, but we can’t receive it without the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!

It Is Good To Be Here!

Sunday, February 19th, 2012

Transfiguration of our Lord Sunday B, February 19, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Mark 9:2-9

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“And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here.” [Mark 9:5a]

Have you ever had an experience so profound that it seemed to reshape your entire outlook on life?  Peter, James, and John did, but to understand  it more deeply, we have to rewind their recent experiences with Jesus.  In the last couple of years, they experienced one miracle after another, and  they must have felt like they were on top of the world, when out of nowhere, Jesus started talking about denying themselves, taking up their cross  and following Him.  Follow him to where?  To suffering and death!  Why He even said that if they wanted to save their lives they must first lose  them.  Then He said that even He would suffer and die at the hands of sinful men in order to fulfill the will of the Father.

Wait… What?!  To Peter, that was crazy talk, and he didn’t want to listen to anymore of that doom and gloom, so he took Jesus aside and tried to  enlighten Him on how He thought a Messiah should speak.  But Jesus wouldn’t have any of that; that was the devil speaking not Peter, so Jesus  rebuked Peter with the often quoted words, “Get behind me Satan.”  He said that Peter was seeking the way of the world, and not the way of God!

Peter and the other apostles must have been thinking, “What’s going on here?  This isn’t what I signed up for!  Where’s all the happy-clappy  moments that come with walking and learning from the Messiah?”  They wanted glory, fame, and the high life, but instead Jesus told them that  suffering, shame, and death were right around the corner.  And then out of nowhere, Jesus gave them this little bit of information to think about:  “Some of you will not taste death until you see the kingdom of God come in power.” [Mark 9:1]

I. So now, six days later there is Peter along with James, and John, up on a mountain top, watching Jesus pray.  Little did they know that they were  about to experience that kingdom of God in all of its glory!  It was getting late and they were tired; their eyes got heavy when all of a sudden, boom!  It was as if all of the light in the world was pouring out of Jesus and the two visitors that suddenly appeared.  And they weren’t just any visitors either; they were Moses and Elijah!

The three earth bound apostles were overwhelmed with the experience.  The other gospels tell us that Jesus, Moses and Elijah were speaking about Jesus death, resurrection, and the day He would leave this sinful world, but Peter skipped right over those Words.  All he noticed was the glory of Jesus… the glory of God!  He must have thought, “Now this is the kind of Messiah I signed up to follow!”  So with a mixture of fear and excitement (after all he was standing in the presence of God and the two greatest heroes of faith that ever lived), and filled with excitement, Peter interrupts Jesus’ discussion with these deep and insightful words: “(Hey, a) Rabbi, it is (a)good (thing) that we’re here (with you).”  Do you want me to pitch a few tents for you and your guests?

I call that a Homer Simpson moment: “Dolp!”. With all of the responses someone should or could have, maybe something like Alleluia, why in the world did he ruin that divine moment with such a stupid statement and question?  And after Peter’s Homer Simpson moment, what happened next?  A thick cloud suddenly appeared and Moses and Elijah were gone.

The experience was over.  Or as B.B. King would say, the thrill is gone.  But why?  Well simply put, Peter’s attention was centered on what He was experiencing and not the Words He was hearing.  He completely missed the conversation about Jesus leaving this world; he missed it because it was another message about suffering and death.

B. Aren’t we a lot like Peter too?  We love it when we come to church and we get to sing our favorite hymn.  We love it when the preacher is talking about heaven and a time where there will be no more suffering, pain, sickness, and death, but as soon as the message starts showing us where we fall short or what God expects from us, we tune it out.

We love to be entertained for about an hour, but as soon as the service starts cutting into our Sunday afternoon plans we get fidgety, and then irritated!  We love the fellowship and coffee but get bored with the liturgy and ritual!  You see, like Peter we say that it’s good to be here in church, but only if it meets our desires; as soon as worship time gets personal we become nervous and hope that it ends soon.

Now you might not interrupt the sermon or the readings with a foolish statement like Peter’s, but you too have your Homer Simpson moments.  For you, it happens the minute you tune out what’s happening in the Word and tune into what you wish was happening.  Peter wanted to silence the conversation and stay in the glory moment, and we aren’t any better.  We love those mountaintop highs of worship, and if we could make it happen, that’s all we would ever experience.

Does that mean that emotion during worship is bad?  No, not at all, but the good times aren’t to be the center of why we worship.  So what’s the solution?

II. Well, we just need to let Jesus be Jesus and then let Him do what He does.  Do you see what I just did?  I took the emphasis off of you and me and put it on Jesus.  That’s always the solution to most every thing, isn’t it?  Yes church, we must remember that worship, our worship of God is simply our response to what He has done and is doing right now for us!  This is what we call Divine Service; God’s service amongst and within us; His work of dealing with our sins.

In our Epistle lesson, St. Paul talked about a veil that remains over the eyes of the unbelieving Jews.  For us, that veil represents our flesh or physical desires; its our natural way of trying to get what we want, but Jesus always gives us what we need.  When we listen to Jesus Word, the Word of God, God Himself removes the veil of this world off of our spiritual eyes and He allows us to see an entirely different reality… a spiritual one.  Only through (Jesus) Christ can this veil be taken away.

You see, when we turn to Jesus and what He is doing or saying and receive that Word and that Word only, the veil is removed; we are freed from our own expectations of what our Christian faith and worship is and we can hear what Jesus is really saying.  When we hear what Jesus is saying, then and only then can we be transformed slowly but surely into the same image and glory of our Lord.

Peter and the boys missed the obvious.  They were awed by Jesus’ glory, because He was their man, the Messiah who would be their champion by righting all wrongs.  They were so excited about what they thought Jesus would do that they missed what God had already done.  There standing with Jesus were Moses and Elijah shining in the same glory as Jesus.  Moses the great teacher who brought us God’s law was listening to Jesus.  Elijah, the great prophet who was taken up to heaven in bodily form, was listening too.  What did it all mean?  Only Jesus could explain it; and to make sure that they would one day understand, God’s Divine Service kicked into action again.  Moses and Elijah disappeared within a dense cloud of God’s glory and the voice of the Father announced: “This is my beloved Son; listen to Him.”

III. How does our worship go wrong?  It happens when we shut down our hearts and minds to the message in exchange for the experience.  How does God make things right?  By taking our focus off of the experience and putting it back onto the Word, this Word:  “Jesus is My beloved Son; LISTEN TO HIM!”

The truth is, without the Word of God speaking to us, there can be no experience.  What is the experience?  Dying and living and Living and dying.  In the Word you hear God’s law make demands that you can never meet; this is a Word that terrifies you,  because you are a sinner standing in the middle of God’s perfect and blinding glory, and the result is your death, the death of your glory.  In the gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news about His life, death, resurrection, and ascension, you hear about a loving God who came to you, to take away your sins; the result is new life, a life free of condemnation and full of God’s love.  In this good news you are taught that Jesus walked the painful way to the cross for you; He suffered and died to pay for your sins.  In His death He conquered not just your sin and the devil, but also your own death.  In His death and resurrection, all things can be new again, even you!

In your baptism, Jesus brought you into His glory by drowning and destroying your old sinful nature and by bringing you into the cloud of His divine presence.  In your baptism He chose you and He cleansed you.  And what He cleanses, He also molds and changes.  What He molds, He fills.  And what He fills, He uses.  So now, you live!  Every day you choose to live for God as you put to death your old sinful and self-serving nature; you live for God and you live for others!

IV. This is the true nature of our hidden life in Jesus.  When the light show is over and the glory cloud vanishes, there is no one but you and Jesus.  But not the bright as the sun Jesus, but the flesh and blood Jesus.  He’s the one who moves around in this world of sin and suffering, dying for sinners.  He’s the One who speaks to them and through His Word makes them saints.  How does He do that?  Through His church… through you!

Remember in our gospel reading when He told the three not to say a word to anyone about what they had seen until He had risen from the dead?  Well that time has come and gone.  In case you haven’t noticed, everyone who knows is telling anyone who doesn’t what Jesus life, death, resurrection and ascension means!  They are telling them that they are free of shame, worry, and fear.  So now, guess what?  It’s our turn to share the good news.  But we can only do that if we come down off of the mountain top of worship and go out into the real world where there are real sinful and hurting people, dying without knowing Jesus.  The exciting part about all of this is the fact that God wants to reach them through you!

CONCLUSION: Are you a little afraid?  That’s alright; so were Peter and the others.  They didn’t want to leave the safety and awesomeness of their worship experience, but Jesus led them out, and He’ll lead you too!

I’d like to close with a little story that will help us remember that we aren’t alone as we go out into the mission field.  “One evening while flying on an airline, a passenger asked a sailor sitting next to him what time it was. The sailor pulled out a huge watch and replied, “It’s 7:20.” “Your watch must’ve stopped,” replied the passenger, “because I know it’s latter than that!”

“No,” he said, “I’m still on Mountain Standard Time. I am from southern Utah. When I joined the navy, my Dad gave me this watch. He said it’d help me remember home.  You see, when my watch says 5 a.m., I know Dad is rollin’ out to milk the cows. And when it says 7:30 I know my whole family’s gathered around the dinner table with some great food, and Dad’s thankin’ God for what’s on it and askin’ Him to watch over me. I can almost smell the hot biscuits and gravy.  You see, I can find out what time it is where I am easy enough. What I want to know is what time it is in Utah.  It’s thinking about mountain time that keeps me goin’ even during war!”

Dear friends, God is sending us out into the real world; a place where it can be tough.  But He is sending us out with our hearts and minds focused on His Word and the real change He’s made and is making within each of us.  When you get afraid or tired, and just feel like quitting, think of this place and all of the wonderful gifts that God has given to you here, all so that you would be His witness of love and life in a dying world.  Think of His glory that He has placed within you; a glory that can’t be seen with physical eyes but will one day shine as bright as the glory of our Lord’s own Transfiguration.  And when you remember these things, it’s alright to feel excited but just remember emotions will eventually die off, and then it’s just you and Jesus.

So, until we meet again next Sunday for our next encounter with God’s divine service and our next foretaste of the glory to come, may He forever lead and guide you in the Word of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior… AMEN!

There is a Prophet Among Us!

Sunday, February 12th, 2012

6th Sunday in Epiphany B, February 12, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
2 Kings 5:1-14, Mark 1:40-45

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“Why have you torn your clothes?  Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.” [2 Kings 5:8b]

What if we were to advertise throughout our community that next week, Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church was having a healing service?   What if we told people that all that was required of them was that they come with great faith to believe that God was going to heal them of  any and all illnesses and diseases?  What do you think would happen?  I think we’d have a packed house!  Why?  Because people are  desperate for healing and wholeness in their lives, but not necessarily the kind they really need!  But if they weren’t healed, who’s fault  would that be; theirs or ours?

In or readings today we are given two examples of healing.  One happened to a mighty man of war named Naaman, and the other was given  to a simple leper who remains nameless to this day.  Each was healed.  One lacked faith and the other had great faith, but both were obedient  to the Word and command of God.

Consider Naaman.  Not only was he a great military man, but he was admired and respected by his king, the King of Syria.  At the height of  his military career, he was diagnosed with an always deadly disease, leprosy.  It is a slow and painful death.  The symptoms start with specks  on the eyelids and then onto the palms of the hands as the flesh eating disease slowly spreads throughout the body.  The hair of the sufferer  turns white wherever the leprosy pops up next, and then crusty and foul smelling sores appear.  At first the sores are only on the surface of  the skin, but then they begin to penetrate deep into the muscles and tendons, then into the bone, which causes the diseased part of the body to fall away at the joints.  Ultimately, the disease ends up in the heart, and death is always the final outcome.

Such was the bleak future that Naaman was guaranteed.  That is, until a faithful Jewish girl who was his servant shared the news about the true and living God and His prophet, who still worked miracles in Israel!  So off went Naaman into a foreign land, the land of his enemy in search of a cure.  And when he arrived at the house of Elisha, the prophet of God, he’s told to go to the Jordan river and bathe.  And what was Naaman’s response?  He was infuriated, and he stormed away screaming: “(Can you believe it!) I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the (disease) and cure (me). Aren’t (our) rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?”

Now here is a case of a man expecting a healing according to his desire, and never once pausing to consider what God wants.  “Why couldn’t he just wave his hand over my sores and speak some mumbo-jumbo like the other faith healers?  Why does he tell me to jump into this little river in the middle of my enemies land?  I’m out of here!”  But God wasn’t not done with Naaman; you see, He didn’t just want to just heal him of leprosy, he wanted to give Him faith to believe that God knows him and loves him; He wanted Naaman to know that there really is only one God who controls not just sickness and disease but even men and their sinful hearts!

So Naaman allowed cooler heads to prevail, and he listened to the Words of faith repeated again by his servants.  Naaman was obedient to the will of God, and through the Word of God He was healed immediately and given faith!

Now let’s consider the leper in our gospel reading (Mark 1:40-45).  Somehow, he has heard about Jesus.  Yes, he knows about the rumored healing miracles, but he also knows who Jesus is, the holy one of God… the Messiah!

The other gospel accounts of this incident make it clear that there were great crowds surrounding Jesus, and crowds are the last place you would ever find a Jewish leper, because God’s Word in Leviticus made it clear that all lepers were to steer clear of crowds.  They were told that wherever they went, they had to declare that they were unclean, so that no one would have contact with them.  And now this leper pushes his way through the crowd with only one desire, to get to Jesus.  Why?  To be healed?  Well yes, but only if it is Jesus will; only if it is God’s will!  So kneeling at the feet of Jesus in an act of worship, he calls out: “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, (Jesus) stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.”  Make note of that; Jesus had pity for this lowly leper.

The leper believed that Jesus had the ability to heal his leprosy with a single word: “You can make me clean” but then he added “if it’s your will.” In those words, there’s no attempt to manipulate Jesus’ will, but only his humble acceptance to whatever Jesus’s will is! He leaves everything up to Jesus.  He knows that if Jesus wants Him to be healed, then he’ll be healed.  He left it all in the loving counsel and will of God!

You see, the leper knew that all he was asked to do was give his request to God and then trust that all things would work together for his good, because he obediently followed God’s call to turn to Jesus for help. This is the kind of faith that expects God to do great things; greater than it can imagine!  This poor leper demonstrated the kind faith that is willing to completely trust Jesus, even if it means death.  The Leper trusted that God would do what is best for him!

Do we still see examples of these two people today?  Yes!  In regards to Naaman, consider modern day cancer patients who have been told that their cancer is terminal.  They will travel to the ends of the earth for a cure.  They pack the sanctuaries of self-proclaimed faith healers, with the promise of a healing, if only they can find enough faith!  And when their healing doesn’t come they are told that the fault lies within them, because they lacked faith.  The result is always the same… anger.  Anger with God and anger against the church, because it couldn’t provide the hoped for result!

A boy once asked, “Dad, how do wars begin?”  The father thought for a moment and said, “Well, take the Korean War, for example.” said his father. “That got started when North Korea invaded South Korea.”  Immediately his wife interrupted him: “Tell the boy the truth. It began because somebody was murdered.” The husband drew himself up with an air of superiority and snapped back, “Are you answering the question, or am I?” Turning her back to her husband, she took off in a huff, and stormed out of the room slamming the door behind her as hard as she could.  After an uneasy silence followed, the son said, “Never mind Daddy, you don’t have to tell me anymore; I know now how wars start!”

Anger not only starts wars, but it can also prevent us from hearing God’s Word of peace; a Word that can bring not just temporary healing, but eternal healing.  In the case of Naaman, there was a clear Word from God that promised healing from his disease.  Is there such a Word for those who are sick today?  Yes, but to hear that Word we have to turn to our second case study, that of the leper in our gospel reading!

Like the leper, we are told to take our cares and our concerns to God’s loving heart, His Son, Jesus Christ!  “Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.” [Psalm 55:22]  “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” [1 Peter 5:7]  “Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act.” [Psalm 37:5]  And to keep all of this in the correct context Jesus adds, (When you pray) “Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name… Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Like the leper, we are given faith to obediently make our way to Jesus, to lay our petitions down at His feet, and trust that what is best for us has already been decided and is already being done!  This heart of faith makes no demands of God, but simply cries out to Him for help and then it worships Him, regardless of what He decides.

But what about the scripture that speaks of healing?  You know, by His wounds (or stripes) you are healed!  Surely that is God’s declaration concerning His desire to heal us, isn’t it?  Yes, but like the leper, we must place our request at the feet of Jesus and receive God’s will according to His desire and time.  Let’s look at that piece of scripture in its correct context, and then let God speak: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” [1 Peter 2:24, 25]  Remember the pity or compassion that Jesus had when the leper approached Him?  Well it was that same compassion for us that led Him to the cross to die for your sin!

Healing, true healing always comes according to God’s compassion, means, and will.  In our old testament reading Naaman wanted to know why he couldn’t have just bathed in the rivers in his own country, and why the prophet didn’t just wave his hand over the disease.  The answer is because those things did not have God’s Word of command attached to them.  While the leprosy that Naaman wanted taken away, was in fact cured, there was something else God, according to His compassion, wanted to take away; He wanted to take Naaman’s sin away from Him.  Sin was and still is a disease that is always terminal and can only be remedied by a God who chooses to take it from us, and in it’s place, give us faith to believe He’s done it!

God’s Word gave Naaman that gift of faith; He gave it to Him so that He would know Him and have a blessed life on earth and also in heaven.  After Naaman was healed, he returned to Elisha and proclaimed his faith with these words: “Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel”!  And so Naaman was cured of his sin by trusting in God’s Word!  The same is true of the leper in our gospel reading.  Both men’s stories are recorded for us, so that we will know the true meaning of “by His wounds you are healed.”

Jesus bore our sins in His body upon the cross, so that we would die to sin and live a life that God calls righteous.  By Jesus’ suffering and death upon the cross God provides a cure for our spiritual leprosy, and in your baptism He applies that cure to you.   In your baptism you are washed clean of death and you are healed and returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your soul; you are returned holy, perfect, and righteous!  And because of God’s work within you, you are now able to testify like Naaman, that you know that there is no other God in all the earth!

Through the cross, God defeated sin, death, and devil.  He made all things new.  In your baptism, God gave you this gift of forgiveness.  It is what He did that saves us and it is how He gives it to us, which is the only way we can receive it.  Through His Word He gives you faith to trust Him and place all of your worries and concerns into His loving will.  God always works according to His means!  His primary work is always to take away our sins.  His secondary work is to bless us in this life as a foretaste of the blessing in the life to come.

What is God up to this morning?  He is speaking faith, even now into our heats.  He doesn’t want us to “Tear our clothes” or tear out our hair in worry.  He wants you to trust Him and obediently follow Him through whatever circumstance you find yourself in.

Does God still hear and answer our prayers for healing today?  Yes!  Will he heal you today or tomorrow of whatever sickness or disease you may have, because you have asked in faith?  Maybe, but then again maybe not.  You see all of us will one day die of some disease or another; that is just the reality of living in this sinful world.  But because we have been saved, healed by the suffering and death of Jesus, because we have been washed clean in the waters of our baptism; because we are daily given the gift of faith through His Word and the care and power of the Holy Spirit, we shall one day, soon enough be eternally cured from all suffering and death.  Then on that great day we will know, not by faith but experience, that there is a Prophet who is great among us!  We shall call Him Jesus; not just our Prophet, but our Priest, and King; our brother and friend; our Lord and our God!

Great is Our God!

Sunday, February 5th, 2012

5th Sunday in Epiphany B, February 5, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Isaiah 40:21-31

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“Do you not know? Do you not hear?  Has it not been told you from the beginning?  Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?”[Isaiah 40:1]

I don’t understand how people can say that they’re not sure there’s a God.  I mean, where have they been all of their lives, living under a rock?!  Just look around; are we to believe that all of this just happened by accident?

A law enforcement chaplain was invited one evening to give the invocation at a St. Patrick’s Day celebration for a bunch of crusty old cops at a local cop bar.  After the invocation, he sat down to share an Irish beer with the boys, and one of the cops shouted so all who could hear, “Hey Chappie!  I say that there is no God; so what do you have to say about that?!”  The chaplain walked up to him, calmly laid his hand on his shoulder, and said, “Friend, what you just said is nothing new.  In fact, the Bible said the same thing over 2,000 years ago.”  The cop replied, “I never knew that the Bible made such a statement.”  The chaplain replied, “Yep, Psalm 14, verse 1, “The fool says in his heart there is no God.”  But there’s a big difference between that fool and you.  You see, the fool is modest enough to say it in the privacy of his own heart; he wasn’t so foolish as to go screaming it out in a tavern!”

Why is it so hard for people to see the existence of God?  I mean, it’s not like He’s hidden himself so that we wouldn’t know to look for Him!  He’s revealed Himself from the beginning.  He talked with Adam and Eve in the garden, and after they sinned, He continued to speak to them, and when He did, He promised that a Savior would come and destroy their sin and the devil who introduced it!  He spoke to Noah before and after the destructive flood, and promised something similar.  He used Moses to speak His holy and perfect Word to the people, so that they would know that not only was God with them, but He was protecting them.  God made sure that Moses and all of the other writers of Holy Scripture recorded His Word, and not the sinful imaginings of their own minds.  God inspired them, by giving them the words they were to write so that we could know Him and have faith in His love and care for us.  The apostle Paul makes this very point when he writes, “We speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the (Holy) Spirit. [1 Cor. 2:13]

All that a person needs to do is look at everything that’s around them, and they can’t help but know that something, or someone had to create it.  ILLUSTRATION: Let me share another story with you that will illustrate the foolishness of a creator-less reality.  An astrology professor constructed a small but elegant and precise model of the universe.  As the students came into the classroom, one by one they commented on how beautiful and intricate it was.  On student asked the professor who made it?  The professor said, “No one, it just happened.”  The students became confused and a little angry when time and time again the professor responded, “No one made this.  It just happened, so quit asking.”  Finally the professor replied “If you can leave this class and look at nature all around you, and still believe that it just happened, then why can’t you believe that this precise piece of work just happened without a creator?”

And that’s really what people want today; they want a creator-less society.  They want all of the good things that creation has to offer, but they don’t want the creator behind them.  For these opponents of God, it’s really pointless to try to convince them that there’s a God by using the Bible, because God’s Word is far above them.  If they can’t see God in His creation, how do you expect them to see Him in His Word?  So the prophet Isaiah starts at that very point.  He is essentially saying, “How do you think all of this came to be?”  The smarty pants atheists will say along with the popular sit-com, “It all started with the big bang!”  Ok, then what created the energy that caused the big bang?  At this simple question, all of their collective I.Q.’s stand silent.  But we of course know the answer.  God did, of course, but God didn’t just make our universe and our world and then leave us to contend for ourselves.  He is still here taking care of our world; He’s taking care of you!

Now at this point, you might see an atheist become somewhat enlightened and become an agnostic, and they’ll admit to a creator but not to a Creator who actually cares about every thing that’s happening in creation.  They’ll want to create God out of their own sinful imaginings; very often they’ll turn Him into some sort of absentee slum lord, who leaves us to fend for ourselves and maintain creation on our own.  And to those who question God’s presence and care (by the way, we call that providence), to those people, God replies in His Word this morning: “Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”?  Why do we say that God isn’t really active in my life; He’s just kind of left me here alone to grope in the dark and make sense of this messed up world.

“Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.”  And, this is where God moves us from what we see to what we hear; He moves us from things that are created to His eternal Word.

Now it’s true that God’s Word tells us that everything we are going through is our own fault.  It’s our fault because of our sin and other people’s sins.  And that same Word teaches us that that’s precisely why we are always witnessing one crisis and tragedy after another.  But God’s Word also promises us that we aren’t alone in the tragedies of life, and that one day in the twinkling of an eye, the promised Savior will right all wrongs.  So without His Word, when the tragedies come, we will fail to see Him with us and we’ll most likely resort to finding comfort and protection on our own.

An artist asked a friend to come to his studio and see his latest painting.  When he arrived, he was taken into a dark room and told to sit and wait.  After 15 minutes, the artist finally arrived and brought his friend into the studio.  Before the man left, the artist said laughingly, “I suppose you thought I was a little rude and strange by making you wait so long in the dark?”  “Yes I did,” replied his friend.  “Well,” said the artist, “I knew that if you came right into my studio with the glare of the street in your eyes, you wouldn’t be able to appreciate all of the fine coloring that was used in my painting; so I left you there until the glare had worn out of your eyes.”

Many times, when we are going through hard times, even tragic times, the glare of all of the pain in this sinful world can interfere with us sensing and seeing God’s presence, that is promised to never leave us.  It may seem as though He’s not with us, or that He doesn’t care, but in reality, He’s just giving our hearts and minds time to transition from a physical reality to a spiritual one.  This was true for every person in the Old Testament that God points out to us as models of faith.  God cared for Jacob, He blessed him, and protected him.  But in the middle of his tragedy and fears it appeared as though God had left him alone.  But God had not left him!  God appeared in the middle of his struggle, and then changed his name to Israel.  God appeared to Noah and Moses in the middle of their struggles, and then He promised them that a Savior was coming who would make all things new and perfect.

The prophet Isaiah, who God used to write our Old Testament lesson, experienced something very similar.  He was hated and despised by all of the important people of Israel, because he spoke a hard prophecy about God’s anger, but interspersed with these prophecies of punishment, God also had him repeat over and over that their Savior was coming and through His suffering and death, God’s Servant would bring His grace and peace to all of creation through the forgiveness of sins.

So do you not know?  Have you not heard?  The Savior has come; He alone has made all things right and new between you and God, even if what you see in this sinful world says the opposite!  His living Word has declared that you are saved!  In His Word, He has revealed to you that He is “the Lord,” Jehovah God, the God of free and faithful grace.  He is Emmanuel, the God who is always with you.  He was with you in the waters of your baptism, He is with you even now in His Word, and He is with you at His holy table, where He asks you to hear, smell, touch, taste, eat, and drink His presence and His forgiveness of all of your sins.

And yet, even though, by faith we believe that all of this is true, we still want to cry out angrily at God sometimes and say, “But life is too hard and it isn’t fair!”  When those feelings arise, and they will, God wants you to see them for what they are, a lack of faith in His presence and the salvation that He’s provided for you through His Son, Jesus Christ.  And this is exactly why He wants you to come here every Sunday for Divine Service.  It is here, where we gather around His Word and Sacraments that He gives you faith to follow Jesus along the narrow way, the way of the cross.

The way of the cross is a way that will sap all of your physical and emotional strength.  It’s the way that is lined with atheists, doubters, scoffers, and devils.  Every one of them will tell you to abandon your faith in Jesus.  But remember, you aren’t alone.  Jesus walked that same narrow way when He declared that He had come to set the captives free.  He walked it from the temple to Golgotha, the hill of the cross, where they crucified Him.  And as He walked to the cross, they beat Him, spit upon Him, and ridiculed Him with harsh words:  “He helped others, let Him help Himself.  If you’re really the Son of God, save us and save yourself.”

Yes, the way of the cross is a hard way; it’s hard because it doesn’t look for glory in this life, but the life to come.  The way of the cross is a hard way, because we can become discouraged and want to fall away.  And so, to make sure that we don’t become discouraged and walk away, Jesus says “My grace is sufficient for you.”.  Hear my Word and be filled with Living Water that will bubble up within you, and take and eat and drink my body and blood, which are real food and drink.

This life of a Christian, your life of faith is called the way of the cross, and it can only be maintained through God’s means of grace.  We can only receive His strength if we will look beyond creation, beyond what we can see, hear, and touch, and then see Him by faith walking through our tragedies with us.  It is a relationship of experience that comes when we constantly handle the things of God as His assurance that He’s really with us; caring for us and protecting us!  In His Word, God answers our prayers of fear and worry with the proclamation that all of our tragedies, the attacks of the devils and sinful people are nothing before Him.  Neither life, nor death, nor demons can separate us from the love of God, which is ours through Christ Jesus!

You are on the way of the cross, because you are following Jesus Christ, your Lord and Savior.  He said that in this life you will have troubles, but that does not mean that you are alone in those troubles.  He is with you.  He tells you that by faith, His grace lifts you up out of the temporary attacks of sin, death, and the devil so that you can soar in His eternal embrace of love and fulfillment.  Just as the eagles ride the air currents as they stretch out their wings and soar, God promises you that He will be the wind beneath your wings of faith.  Will you stumble and fall?  Yes, but Jesus is at your side, lifting you up and dusting you off and saying, “Don’t stop.  My strength is sufficient for you.  When you are weak, I am strong.”   This is God’s promise for our entire lives; all of our walking, running, and even our falling will end in a soar as we are continually filled with God’s boundless and tireless strength!  What wonderful comfort for all of us who remember how great is our God!

May God help us to remember this lesson, in Jesus name… AMEN!