Archive for March, 2012

How’s Your Heart?

Sunday, March 25th, 2012

Lent 5 B, March 25, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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So how’s your heart?  Have you been getting regular checkups?  Are you eating heart healthy food?  Getting regular exercise?  Do you  take your medications as prescribed by your doctor?  Good!

So how’s your spiritual heart?  Are you paying even closer attention to it?  You should you know; that heart will be around a lot longer  than your physical one.  The physical heart will eventually fail from sickness or old age, but your spiritual heart, the essence of who  you are, will last for eternity.  Your Great Physician, the one who created your bodies, has prescribed medicine and treatments to care  for your spiritual hearts as well.  If you follow His care and rest in His work, then you are absolutely guaranteed to have a blessed  eternity.  Listen: “For this is the covenant that I will make with (them)… declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will  write it on their hearts.  And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each  his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD.  For I will  forgive their iniquity and I will remember their sin no more.” [Jeremiah 31:33-34]

So there is God’s prescription for you; a new covenant!  But why do we need a new covenant?  Well, its because the old one can’t save  you!  Why; is there something wrong with it?  Well no; its just that sin-sick people, people like us tend to misuse it; we want to use it in  ways God never intended.  You see, in our sin-sick condition we don’t want to believe that we have spiritual heart disease.  The people  in the prophet Jeremiah’s time didn’t want to believe that either!  In fact, every time God tried to treat His people’s disease of sin with His Word, they came up with all kinds of excuses to avoid getting the treatments.  And if they didn’t like the message, why they would just attack God’s prophets, who were kind of like His spiritual paramedics.  So like a child throwing a tantrum in the doctor’s office before receiving an injection, they refused to listen.

We aren’t much better today really.  It’s getting harder and harder to even mention God’s name in public without someone being offended and trying to silence God’s wisdom.

Did you hear about what happened to the Christian fraternity and sorority on the campus of SDSU?  They had a very simple code of conduct based on God’s Law; a set of rules that you must agree with in order to be a member.  They required all perspective members to sign a pledge promising to avoid sex outside of marriage and agree that marriage as God defines it is between a man and a woman.  Well, as you may have guessed, the state of California determined that they were discriminatory and not eligible for any of the state’s support that all of the other fraternities or sororities receive.  Well both the fraternity and sorority sued in federal court and lost.  The U.S. Supreme Court refused to even hear their case.  So what does this case tell us?  Well, you can’t force people to live God pleasing and moral lives.  No, I’m afraid that before God’s can be received and follow we need something more than rules and pledges in our lives; we need something new and powerful that doesn’t depend on us.

Like the true and faithful children of Abraham in the prophet Jeremiah’s time, we’ve also discovered that on our own we can’t keep God’s law and rules of conduct.  We’ve all learned by experience that the old covenant, can never bring us God’s peace and salvation.

So this morning God wants us to admit that try as we might, we will never please Him by being good.  He wants us to see that on our own, we are by nature sinful and unclean.  We love to look at the trouble in our neighbor’s life and feel superior, while ignoring the big problems and sin that dominates our own lives.  This is why we need a new covenant; a new prescription from God.  In truth we need a new heart.  So this morning, God is telling us that right now, He’s doing that very thing, and He does this work through the new covenant.

This new covenant is “not like the old covenant (He) made with (our) forefathers.”  It contains no laws, rules, or regulations that have to be kept.  It has no priesthood that limits the right of who may approach God.  In fact, this new covenant invites everyone, regardless of nationality, to believe in God’s love and presence with them personally.  It sets aside ethnic, racial, and other man-made boundaries.  The prescription or invitation of the new covenant is for the entire world.  This new covenant invites everyone to worship the Lord in spirit and truth—“I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.”  This is God’s miracle of conversion or new life.  How does He deal with our old diseased hearts?  He rips them out in baptism and replaces them with new hearts.  With these new hearts, we see God’s holy and perfect righteousness and instead of being afraid, we call out to Him through the work and presence of the Holy Spirit, with the words,  “Abba, Father.”  We no longer look at God as angry and threatening, instead we see His forgiving love!  This change in heart is something that the old covenant could never give to us.

So how did God do this mighty work?  By showing us Jesus, His own Son upon the cross.  In God’s Word, we see  Jesus there upon the cross, high and lifted up as the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world.  Through Jesus’ obedience and death we see the once-and-for-all sacrifice that pleases God and removes the guilt of sin from the entire world.  He offered Himself freely; He willingly shed His blood so that all could be saved from their sins and be given a new heart.  Now there is nothing that can prevent anyone, including you from knowing the forgiving love of Jesus Christ.  When Jesus shouted from the cross “It is finished” he said those words for you.

This new covenant is sealed upon your very flesh in your baptism.  It really does not matter whether you can remember the day you were washed clean or not, because it was God’s work and not yours or any other man.  In your baptism God took the sacrifice of Jesus blood, blood shed for the entire world as payment of their sins and He made it your personal payment.  In your baptism God sealed you and gave to you His very Spirit and the forgiveness for all of your sins.  But that is not all… He also gave to you the gift of faith to believe in this new covenant.  In our baptisms, the Words God spoke by the prophet Jeremiah come true: “No longer will a man teach his neighbor… saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me.”  We know Him through both the gift of faith and the promise of forgiveness that was given to us in our baptism.  In both the cross and the baptismal waters, you hear God’s continuing promise to each of you: “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

But the work of the new covenant does not stop at the baptismal font.  Every day God feeds us with His Word; a word that can be read, spoken, and declared.  He calls us to His table and shares the meal of the new covenant within Holy Communion.  In this meal He draws us to Himself and feeds us His supreme gift; with the bread, we receive His body given on the cross; with the wine He gives us His own blood poured out upon that same cross.

Within each of these sacred gifts, God gives us complete forgiveness, and He removes all doubts about His love for us.  With these gifts He comes to us personally and works within us, strengthening our new hearts; hearts that beat to please Him.  When we keep God’s law and do what is right, we glorify and please Him!   When we fail, when we sin He wants us to confess these failures and turn to Him for forgiveness.  This is the rhythm of living in God’s Kingdom of Grace; this is the rhythm of our new hearts beating within us.  It is a life that God wants us to demonstrate to others.

Now, it might seem dangerous following Jesus and sharing God’s forgiving love with your neighbor; it might make you feel uncomfortable and vulnerable to shame and ridicule.  But if you will follow Jesus and the path of sacrificial love that He walked, after a while you will begin to grow in faith and learn to rest in the protecting presence of the Holy Spirit.

Before we close our message this morning, I want you to look up; look up at the ceiling of this church.  Do you see how high those lights are?  I would say that they are about 45 feet at the highest point.  How do you think those bulbs get changed?  That’s right; someone has to climb up there on a ladder, and that someone in usually Dwain and me.  The first time we went up there, we were pretty afraid.  Each rung of the ladder created more fear, but we went up because it had to be done.  Once we got up to the top, we felt every wiggle and jiggle of the ladder.  But something happened as we began to work; we became comfortable with the height because we were comfortable with the strength of the ladder, so comfortable in fact that we had to remind each other to be careful because it’s a long way down!

Well, that’s sort of like our walk of faith.  God has given us a new heart and a new covenant to live out and to share.  He’s assured us that if we trust in His presence and work within us, then we will be alright.  It might seem a little scary at first as you begin to share God’s forgiving love and Word with your neighbor.  But once you start walking with God and letting Him work within you, your fear will leave and God’s peace will take its place and you will be amazed at the good He can do through you!

Just as Jesus obediently walked to Jerusalem, He wants us to allow Him to lead our new hearts governed by a new covenant.  He wants us to go out into this world of sin and share His forgiving love and Word with others.  It can seem intimidating and even a bit threatening, but remember you have a new heart beating within you… and that heart is saying, “You’re not alone… not alone… not alone… not alone!”

Dead Man Walking!

Sunday, March 18th, 2012

Lent 4 B, March 18, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the  air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of  the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” [Ephesians 2:1-3]

Can you imagine being there at Mt. Hor, under attack from thousands of poisonous snakes, and knowing that God is really the one who is punishing  you for your despicable, sinful life.  The song you just heard is called “You’re Gonna Pay” by Jim Johnston.  The first few words apply to each and  every one of us, including those no good sinners who died in the Old Testament lesson.  “Dead man walking!  You’ve done it now.  You’ve gone and  made a big mistake.  I can’t allow you to think you can just walk away.  So turn around and face the piper you’re gonna pay; cause the end is now,  this is gonna be your judgment day!”  Dead men and women walking; that’s who the Hebrews were that day at Mt. Hor and that’s who we were;  sadly, that’s who many people still are today; Dead men walking.

You see, God can’t allow sinners to just walk away from their sin and sinners can’t help but to sin; it’s in their broken nature to sin; to choose to  satisfy their wants and desires over the desires of their God and their neighbor.  They’re broken; fallen in sin, and because of that, they have to pay.    On the day they die, that will be their judgment day.  Not only will they die in the flesh but the punishment for their many sins will be an eternally  painful spiritual death, forever separated from God’s love and the love of others.

What are the sins that they’re guilty of?  Well the very same ones we heard mentioned in our Old Testament and Epistle readings.  They grumble against God by complaining about their life.  They let the circumstances of living overshadow the presence of their creator God who is with them in the midst of their troubles.  But they are not alone.  Throughout this world there are plenty of other dead men and women walking who look down upon God’s means of grace, His real presence with them.  They don’t discern His spirit in His Word which is being read and even right now preached to you.  They find it impossible to believe that God can promise to take simple water and wash away a person’s sins.  They laugh at the idea that a pastor can speak forgiveness from God, and they completely dismiss Jesus’ real and sacramental presence in, with, and under the bread and wine.  Because of these many sins, God calls them sons and daughters of disobedience.  They are more comfortable following the desires of their flesh than the will of God.  In other words, they are controlled by the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in this sinful world instead of the Holy Spirit.

That is the painful truth about everyone out side of faith in Jesus Christ.  They are lost in a world of sin controlled by the father of sin, the devil.  They are dead men and women walking, and all of them are a breath away from judgment day.  Whether it be poisonous snakes, a car accident, disease, sickness, or death of old age, eventually they’re gonna pay!  Unless…

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” [Ephesians 2:4-7]  I once was lost but now I’m found.  I once was condemned and about to pay for my sins, but God, BUT GOD… He forgave the iniquity of my sins!  But God; if it had not been for God who made a way out of no way, all of us… would have been goners… a dead man walking!

At Mt. Hor, the way out for the sinful Hebrews was a bronze serpent on a poll, high and lifted up so that everyone could see God’s remedy to their sin and the way He chose to remove their punishment.  In that symbol came the promise of God to save and the faith to believe in that promise of salvation.  And where there is faith in God’s promise of life, there is salvation… there is forgiveness of sins.

Today this same God calls out to you with the same mercy and grace; He is telling you that He has created a way to take away your sins.  But the call of His Word does not direct you to look upon a serpent on a pole but upon His Son on a cross.  His Word promises that if you will see Jesus the very Son of God high and lifted up on the cross for you, as a payment for your sins, you shall not die but live.  You will not be a dead man walking, but a reborn, spiritual man or woman, who no longer has to pay for sin!  Oh it’s true, someone has to pay for your sins, and someone did; it was Jesus.  He paid it with His very life, in order to show us the immeasurable riches of His Father’s grace, which He has given to us through Jesus’ suffering and death.

You know, we use the words, justice, mercy, and grace so much in the church, that sometimes I’m afraid that the words lose their meaning.  Listen to what these words mean and let the realization of the work of the cross hit you like a thunderbolt from heaven.  Justice is getting what we deserve.  Mercy is not getting what we deserve. Grace is getting what we do not deserve. Through Jesus death upon the cross, God’s justice was satisfied.  You deserve to die for your many sins, but Jesus took your place.  Through Jesus death upon the cross, God showed you mercy by not giving you what you deserve.  Instead, He gave you what you don’t deserve, grace.  He gave to you all of the riches of heaven, His riches at Christ’s expense through Jesus suffering and death.

In His Word, Jesus shows you the Father’s love for the whole world; “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” (John 3:16)  He shows you the death of His one and only Son.  In His Word, He also gives you a wonderful gift called faith.  Through this gift, God opens the eyes of your heart so you can believe that Jesus death is for you.  By faith you can read His Word and know that God is speaking to you; He has made a way out of no way for you to enter into His forgiving love.

In His Word He allows you to see His real presence with you even in the worst circumstances of your life; in His Word you know that you are never alone.  In His Word He has convinced you that He’s taken a simple thing like water and attached His promise of eternal life to it and washed away all of yours sins.  So in essence, your baptism has taken the objective promise of the cross for the world and made it your personal gift.  In His Word you hear the absolution, the Word of forgiveness and you know that God is really talking to you; forgiving you!  Because of His Word you take and eat the bread and wine and you know that you are also receiving the very body and blood of God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your many sins!

By faith you receive all of this and you know it is entirely a work of God.  To think anything else would be ridiculous.  To see yourself playing any part in your salvation would be absurd; it would be like the man who tried to sail around the world trusting in only the wind.  When the wind died out he thought He could get out and push the boat while he swam.  When that didn’t work, He tried blowing air into the sail.  When that didn’t work, he began to take a seat cushion and fan the air next to the sail trying to create enough wind to move.  As he was franticly fanning the air, a soft ocean breeze picked up.  As the breeze began to slowly fill the sail, the man thought of how ingenious he was to come up with a solution that provided some progress until the weather changed.

Friends, what do you put your hope and faith in?  If it’s anything but God you will be disappointed.  Don’t you know that people will let you down every day, but God… but God, He is always with you; always on time.

The story is told of an elderly woman who was standing in the checkout line ready to pay for her groceries. She opened her purse. No money was there; neither was her checkbook. As she was about to ask the clerk to put her things back, a gentle voice said, “Don’t worry.  Today I want to treat you. Take your things with you; I’ll pay your bill.” Then the man wrote a check and paid for her merchandise and his own. A week passed by, and the woman came back to the store. The checker knew about the incident and recognized her. She approached the woman and whispered, “Ma’am, maybe you’d be interested to know. That gentleman from last week, well his check bounced!  We need to be paid for your groceries.”

What are you trusting in?  Is it people?  I’m telling you, eventually they’ll let you down.  Are you trusting in your own goodness?  I think we all nowhere that will get you, right?  No; listen, why go back to being that dead man walking when you can continue to follow and trust Jesus and His cross.  I know that it is tempting to want to play a part in your salvation; but you can’t.  Your good works won’t do a thing for you.  But if it’s good works you want, then God says relax,  He’s got you covered.  Those good works will come naturally to you and through you as you look to Jesus on the cross; as you look at God’s solution to your sin and the attacks of the little serpents or devils that surround you.  As you continue to look to Jesus, you will begin to see God’s work in your life; good works that He’s already prepared for you to do.  The only difference is, it will be Him doing them perfectly and not you doing them sinfully.

So just keep walking that way of faith.  Keep following Jesus and His means of grace; then you will see those good things, God’s good things coming out of you.  He wants that to happen, because he wants other dead men walking to notice Him working in you so that they too will look to Jesus high and lifted up on the cross for them and know that God has made a way out of no way for them too!  Yes, God has big plans for you if you will keep trusting in His way.  And if that old dead you keeps following, remind him or her that they’re just a dead man walking; they have no future!

Who’s Fool Are You?

Sunday, March 11th, 2012

Lent 3 B, March 11, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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1 Corinthians 1:18-31

“The Word of the cross (really) is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the (very) power of God (unto salvation).” [v. 18]

One of my favorite “evangelism” stories is the one about the man in Chicago who wore a sandwich board sign on Milwaukee Ave.  Every day for  months during the lunch hour, he walked along the busy sidewalk wearing his sign.  As you approached him, you read : “(1 Cor. 1:18) I am a fool  for Jesus Christ!”  As you approached him, he would make eye contact and say, “God bless you!”  After you passed him though, if you bothered  to turn and see what was on the other side of the sandwich board, you would read this question, “Who’s fool are you?”

So that’s the question that God wants us to answer.  Who do you want to be a fool for?  If you choose the world’s wisdom over God’s wisdom,  beware, because you just may hear these Words from your Savior, “You fool, today is the day God requires your soul!”  You see, in our reading  this morning we have ample warning that ultimately, all wisdom that does not find its source in the cross of Jesus Christ will be laid low, “For it  is written, “God will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning He will [frustrate].”

“Where is the one who is wise?  Where is the scribe?  Where is the debater of this age”  Or we could imagine God saying, “Bring me the talking  heads from CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, PBS and all of the other highbrow agenda seeking news celebrities, and see how they fair against my Word!   Bring me the legal activists that publicly attack my people’s faith and see what will happen to them on judgment day!  Bring out the double  talking politicians who tell you what you want to hear, saying one thing to this group of people and another to that group of people just so they can win votes along with earthly treasure and fame, and see if I do not destroy their lying and self-serving tongues!”

The truth is that many of these people have forgotten the God who gave them their wisdom.  They forget that each one of us was created to glorify God through the talents and gifts that He’s given to us.  Sadly, many not only forget about God, why they even attack the very thought of God!  They belittle anyone who professes faith in a Creator-God as foolish and weak.  They insist that we believe that we evolved out of swamp scum!  And what’s God’s response?  He takes the very idea of a Creator that the world dismisses as folly and makes it even more foolish; He comes to us in power in ways we would never imagine.  And because of our sin, He comes in ways we can never accept.

God comes to us this morning in great power.  It is power that even the strongest nuclear weapon created by the greatest human minds can’t even come close to.  It is an argument that confounds the keenest minds because of its simplicity.  God comes to us in the spoken Word.  The Word of God spoken by sinful men!  The very same Word that was spoken in the beginning of all things, that created all things, is speaking to you even now!  But if it were just the words of a preacher, why they would be just as hollow as the those know-it-alls who call us foolish.  No, this Word that is speaking to you now is the very power of God unto salvation simply because it is the message about the cross of Jesus Christ!

There’s an area in London, England that’s the geographical heart of the city.  It’s called the Charing Cross.  All distances in the city are measured from this location.  One day a London police officer found a lost child wandering the streets of London, alone, frightened, and crying.  No matter what the officer tried, he couldn’t get the child to remember his address.  Finally, in the middle of his sobs, the little boy said, “Sir, if you will take me to the cross I think I can find my way back home.”  And that is God’s plan for us.  If He can get us to the cross, He has made a way for us to get back home; back into His forgiving love.  At the cross we find God.   But not just any cross will do; no, it has to be the bloody cross of death that the Son of God suffered and died upon for the sins of the world.  It is at the cross of Jesus where the message about His love, suffering and death opens our eyes of faith, so that we can see the love of God.

This message of the cross is the only one that God has given to sinners so that they will know and return to a God who not only created them but also wants to recreate them back into His image.  But in order to have a cross, you have to have the Savior who died upon it.  You have to have the very Son of God in our flesh.  And it’s this very thought of God becoming one of us, and dying for us that causes men wise to the world to turn away from their Creator and Savior.  They will accept the cross as a metaphor of something greater and higher for each of us to strive for, but if you put a suffering and dying Savior God on it they will laugh in your face!

In 1959, Thomas Hoving of New York’s Metropolitan Museum purchased an ivory cross from a Yugoslavian art collector, who had stored it in a Swiss bank vault.  Hoving noticed that it lacked its central figure—the body of Christ.  Because of the missing body, the value of the cross was significantly less.  But on the other side of the world, a figure of Christ carved out of ivory lay in Norway’s Oslo Museum.  In 1969, Florens Deuchler discovered that the seven and a half inch figure of Christ in the Oslo Museum fit perfectly into the five holes drilled for it on the New York museum cross.  But the like the cross, the figure’s value is small without the cross.

You see, the cross without Jesus Christ, the Son of God is only a cross; a symbol.  And Jesus, without the cross is only a historical figure with no power from God.  It is only through the crucified Jesus Christ that God’s plan of salvation centered around His wisdom, power, and glory can be seen and understood by sinners like us.

Sadly, the world sees the cross and a crucified Savior as foolishness, and it uses its own wisdom, power, and glory to create a god in its own image.  But in the cross, God prevents us from making Him into our sinful image.  He does it through the foolishness of the cross.  If you won’t surrender all of your wisdom, glory, and power at the foot of the cross, then you will never see God’s glory.  At the cross, we are bewildered and confounded, but we are bewildered and confounded for a reason.  God wants each of us to see that we all fall far short of God’s demand of perfection.  He wants us to see that our only hope for eternal life in glory is to confess our complete emptiness.  Then and only then can God fill us with the mystery of the cross, which is His message about our salvation.

Do you want God’s wisdom?  Then be prepared to have the world call you a fool, because only the cross can make you wise unto salvation.  Only through the message of Jesus’ cross are you given wisdom from God to see your sin and your Savior who suffered and died to forever take that sin away from you.  In the message of the cross you are given faith to receive God’s promise of righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.  These three gifts of God are all that you need to be assured that you have peace with a God who loves you and wants you to be with Him forever.  Together with wisdom, these gifts are given to you within your baptism, where you were killed and reborn through the washing of simple water and the unfathomable power of God’s Word!

The righteousness of God is something only He can give to you.  It is the very identity of His Son who suffered and died upon the cross for you.  It is a righteousness that is imputed or injected into you when you were baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.  Your gift of sanctification is the very promise of God that He who began the work of salvation within you will complete that work.  No one can take this promise from you; in your baptism, He recreated you to live a life of good works centered on the love and sacrifice of Jesus and His death upon the cross for you!  And finally, through the cross of Jesus and the waters of your baptism, God gives you redemption.  He gives to you the promise that if you will not turn away from the death of His Son for you, you will one day join Him in His heaven, which will become your home forever.

Now the world will have no part of God’s plan of salvation.  They can’t admit that they fall short of any glory.  They will insist that man’s glory is real and tangible while God’s glory is a fiction for weak minds.  They see no need for divine righteousness, sanctification, or redemption.  In their minds, anyone who clings to these things above the vision of a man-made utopia that science and political order will one day provide is a fool, and they have no time for fools.  But it is the fool who says in his heart there is no God!  Sadly, without the cross of Jesus, they will one day hear God say, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. [Luke 12:20]  Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” [Matt. 22:13]  Who will be the fool then?  But for now, we are not to celebrate what we have at the expense of others.  Instead, God calls us to live for Him as we live out His Word of the cross for our neighbors.  He calls us to share His gift of wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption with the world that comes only through His Word about Christ’s suffering and death upon the cross.

As Paul says to us this morning, we repeat among ourselves and to our neighbors. “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” [1 Corinthians 1:31]  In other words, “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD. [Jeremiah 9:23-24]  May God give each of us faith and  strength to continue being fools for Jesus Christ… AMEN!

Let Me See Your Peace!

Sunday, March 4th, 2012

Lent 2 B, March 4, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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Romans 5:1-5

Do you have peace?  If you do, may I see it?  Show me your peace!  This is really the silent, yet always present demand of our unbelieving community that  surrounds us everywhere we go.  They will quickly tell you that they aren’t really interested in hearing about your Savior Jesus Christ, but if believing in  Him works for you, then they’re happy for you.  While they don’t care to hear about what you believe, they are watching to see if what you believe makes a  difference in how you live!  They want to see how you’ll stand up under the pressures of life as compared to them and their circle of friends.  In other  words, does what you believe make a difference in who you are?  And in order to evaluate your belief system they want to see your peace.

Now, whether we want to admit it or not, we Christians are prone to demand this same thing from God whenever troubles and tragedies strike our faith-  filled and grace centered lives.  It’s really a little rude and inconsiderate when we consider all that God has done to provide us with His peace throughout  our lives!  Did you notice that I said His peace and not yours?  That’s the way that it should be.  The objective is first and then the subjective.  That is  always God’s way.  In other words, you can’t know real peace without first having God’s peace!

The world teaches that peace is first personal and then corporate.  Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me!  The problem with this kind of  peace is that it is very self-centered and dependent on however you feel at any given moment.  This is a strange idea, because it assumes that you live for  yourself.  Not that this is anything new, William Shakespeare said long ago, “To thine own self be true!”  The problem with this kind of thinking is that it  leads to a personal peace at the cost of other peoples’ peace.

In the 1940’s Three Stooges skit called “I’ll Never Heil Again” the boys start their war council meeting with the chant, “Peace, peace, we want peace.”  And to this Moe rises and says, “Yes we want a piece of this, and a piece of that.”  And that, I am afraid is always the cost of our individual peace… it comes at the expense of others.  Like money, we can never have enough peace.  So, our natural tendency is to surround ourselves with as much of whatever we think will bring that peace, at the exclusion of other people’s peace.

But there’s another kind of peace, God’s peace.  Listen to the Son of God offer and describe this peace:  “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” [John 14:27]  So what is this peace that Jesus says that He has given to us?  Well we know it isn’t the kind of peace that the world wants, and we also know that it’s the kind of peace that brings comfort and security in times of trouble and fear.

In verse 1 of our epistle reading, Paul shares these words: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  So the kind of peace that Jesus gives, which Paul is telling us we already have, begins first and always with faith that justifies or makes us right with God.  Now knowing this, there are a couple of questions we must ask to completely understand this peace that comes from God.  The first question is, “Faith in Who?”  The Who is Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God who is the Savior of the world.  The second question is “Faith in what?”  The what, is the completed work of Jesus Christ; His birth, His life, His suffering, and His death, His resurrection and ascension.  In these things, which are recorded for us in Holy Scripture we are shown God’s work for us; a work that has taken away our sins, atoned for our evil and made us right with God!  Or as Paul says it, “Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Through Jesus we have been reconciled; made right with God.  Through this work, God addresses the one great obstacle that separates us from His love, and that is our sin.  He alone does what we could not do, and He does it through the atoning death of His Son.  In Jesus, God put forward His love for us by putting Jesus in our place; by having Him suffer and die for us, because of our sins.  In God’s self-sacrifice He points our troubled and sinful hearts to His solution for our sins, and His Word tells us to be reconciled; made right with Him!  In Jesus God assures us that we are reconciled; we are at peace with Him!

This proclamation of peace with God through Jesus Christ is the gospel!  If you will receive this truth by faith, then you will see God’s justice performed on the cross for you, and you will know peace!  This is the blessed assurance that saves the worst of sinners and then recreates them and gives them not just peace, but the ability to live out that peace, and even experience it.

What is assurance?  Well here’s the concise theological definition: It is the firm persuasion of faith that you are in a state of grace.  In other words, by faith you know that no matter what may happen around you, it is well with your soul, because God is with you and for you.  It’s the God-given ability to move from the cross of Jesus to the waters of your baptism and say with all certainty that “Jesus died for me!”  It’s hearing the promises of God to the world, and knowing that all of those promises were given to you when you were washed clean with the water and the Word in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.  In other words, as St. Paul says in the fifth verse of our epistle lesson, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”  Why has God’s love been poured into your heart?  So that you would know and experience His peace!  But aren’t we now talking about feelings?  Isn’t our salvation independent of feelings?  Yes, that is the objective work of God’s gift, a gift to the world.  But in your baptism it became very personal, very subjective.  You see, your salvation is something that is done and complete, but it’s also something you experience as you live it out!  Every day, come what may, Jesus is with you!  He is with you in trials, trouble, and tribulation.  Every day God asks you to experience His presence and then learn to rest in His comfort, care, and love for you.

Several years ago one of the astronauts who walked on the moon was interviewed and asked, “What did you think about as you stood on the moon and looked back at the earth?” The astronaut replied, “I remembered how the spacecraft (that I had to go back home in) was built by the lowest bidder.”

We as Christians can rejoice that the work of our salvation didn’t  go to the “lowest bidder” but was provided by an eternal and infallible God. There will never be any problems with His gift of salvation. Your salvation is as sure as the Creator of that salvation, Almighty God!  And because it is sure, we can learn to trust in Him and not our current experience or feelings.  We know by faith, that not only do we have peace with God, but we’re gonna keep on having that peace.  This peace, which now becomes very personal, becomes an experience that God gives to us.  An experience that reminds us that no matter what may or may not be happening in our lives, ultimately it is well and will be well with our souls!

What does this experience of peace mean to you and me?  Well, if you remember earlier, I mentioned the challenge from our unbelieving neighbors who want to see our peace, which now we know is really God’s peace in action.  This peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, not only keeps our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, but it also directs our hearts and minds outward to the people who live in our community; people who are dying without knowing the peace of God, which comes through the cross of Jesus Christ.  As they see us weather the same storms of life we all go through, and still able to rejoice and praise God in the middle of those storms, they will begin to notice that we are not giving up hope.  They will discover what you already know; your suffering produces endurance and endurance produces a Christian character of faith in the presence and work of God on earth and hope in the promise of an eternity in heaven.  All that’s left, is for you to give an answer to anyone who asks for the reason you have this great hope.  The reason is of course God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, who takes our faith and hope, and then assures us that no matter what we may be going through, no matter what we may be feeling, in the end it will be well with our souls; we will never be put to shame!  And because it will be well with our souls it is well with them right now!  This is our blessed assurance!

I’d like to close with a final thought that is based on the background of our sermon hymn.  It was written by Horatio Spafford.  In 1870 Spafford, a Christian attorney from Chicago, suffered a great financial loss.  Shortly afterwards, his only son died of scarlet fever.  A year later, the great Chicago fire destroyed his family home and all of the family’s investments.  In 1873, after seeing his family at the verge of a breakdown, Spafford used what little money he had left to pay for a family vacation and a missionary tour to Europe in order to help his family refocus on God’s peace.

As he was preparing to board the ship with his family, some last minute business came up, so he was forced to stay behind while his family headed to Europe.  He promised them that He would be on the next ship and would join them there.  So Mrs. Spafford and their four daughters sailed east to Europe, while Mr. Spafford returned to Chicago.  Just nine days later, Spafford received a telegram from his wife that informed him that the ship his family was on sank and everyone in his family, accept his wife had died.

Upon hearing the terrible news, Horatio Spafford boarded the next ship out of New York to join his bereaved wife. As he was traveling near the area where his children died, the captain called Mr. Spafford to the wheel house and said, “A careful reckoning has been made, and I believe we are now passing the place where the ship your family was on sank.” Mr. Spafford then returned to his cabin and penned the lyrics of our hymn, “It is well with my soul”.

It would be very difficult for any of us to predict how we would react under similar circumstances, but we do know that the same faith in the grace of the same Savior who sustained Mr. and Mrs. Spafford would also be with us.  No matter what circumstances overtake us, and no matter what fleeting emotions and feelings may come and go within our lives,  we can know for certain that God’s love, which He has poured out within our hearts will enable us to say along with Horatio Spafford… it is well with our souls!  In Jesus name… Amen!

Let’s sing that first verse one more time together:
It is well … with my soul! It is well, it is well, with my soul.
When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,

It is well, it is well with my soul.

It is well … with my soul!

It is well, it is well, with my soul.