Archive for June, 2012

Comfort…Do You Need It?

Sunday, June 24th, 2012

The Nativity of St. John the Baptist, June 24, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

Do you need comfort?  Did you notice that I didn’t ask you if you wanted comfort, I asked do you need it?  There’s a difference.  If I were to ask you if  you wanted me to comfort you, and if you weren’t going through any perceived crisis or threat, you’d probably think I was out of my mind.  But if I  were to tell you, I have comfort to give and you will see a need for it in the future, would you let me comfort you?

Such was the case in our Old Testament reading (Isaiah 40:1-5).  The Prophet Isaiah is proclaiming the very heart of God; God wants to comfort His covenant people;  He wants Isaiah to speak tenderly to them and declare that their warfare is ended and their sins are forgiven.  In fact, He wants His people to know that  within this comfort comes a double portion of blessing, directly from the hand of their Creator and Redeemer God!  But they didn’t get it.  They saw no  need for comfort because their lives seemed to be going smooth.  They still had their homes, a good job, money to buy food, and national pride!  Why  what more could they want?  So comfort, no thanks Isaiah, but we will take that double portion of blessing from God that you mentioned.

What they refused to acknowledge was God’s appraisal of their sinful lives.  They refused to agree with God that how they were living was sinful; that God  was right and they were wrong.  They refused to hear God’s Word of Law.  And because of that, God promised through the prophet Isaiah that they  would be destroyed as a nation and occupied; they would be forcefully removed from their homeland and taken away in bondage.  They would feel  helpless and abandoned.  Then they would want comfort, because then they would see a need for it.  So through the prophet, God is saying, here is My  comfort, and after knowing all that I’ve told you, do you think you need it?

Do you need His comfort?  If you find yourself this morning a little like the stiff necked people of Judah that Isaiah was preaching to, thinking that your life is fine right now, let me help you out a little by being blunt.  You do need His comfort and so do I!  We need His comfort because we are sinful and broken!

Do you understand that everything that is and ever will be wrong with your life is the result of your sin and the sin of people around you?  Somewhere in your past, maybe even in the near past you have made decisions that you knew were unpleasing to God;  maybe you’ve done something or failed to do something that has had a drastic effect on your present or your future.  God wants you to know that you can’t undo that past, but you can find comfort.

Maybe there’s a character flaw in your personality that keeps hurting the people closest to you; maybe the hurt you’ve caused others is so deep that you may never have a loving and healthy relationship with them ever again.  Maybe because of that sin, you feel alone and abandoned?  If so God says that He has come to bring you comfort!

Perhaps, at one time you seemed to have everything.  God had blessed you with money, reputation, and authority, but now it seems that all of this has been taken from you.  You may see yourself as a shadow of what you once were.  If so, God wants me to speak comfort to you this morning.

Or maybe, you are looking back at your family, your children and it seems that what was once a strong Christian family has become dysfunctional and distant from God and His divine service.  Maybe the hunger to know God’s forgiving love and mercy is no longer a priority to you or your children.  Maybe you’ve struggled with answering the question who is to blame?  Is it your fault, your adult children, or a combination of the two?  This morning God is telling you that regardless of who is to blame, He wants to bring peace and comfort to you and your family.

And finally, maybe God wants us to look back together as a congregation and see how far we’ve fallen as a worshiping family of faith.  Maybe He wants us to look back at our strong legacy of sharing the gospel that was once Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church.  Maybe He wants us to see how we are but a shadow of what we once were, and then agree with Him that our fall from greatness is the result of our own sin as a congregation.  Maybe within our collective congregational guilt, you too can find some personal responsibility and guilt on account of what you failed to do or give that would have helped the church’s mission?  If so, God wants me to speak Words of comfort to you this morning!

What is this message of comfort?  Simply this, your warfare is over, the battle is won!  You no longer have to worry about how you will account for  your sinful life to God; you don’t have to wonder what you can do in order to take away your guilt.

This morning, God is telling each of us that it’s good that we see our sin and our inevitable death as punishment for that sin; that’s the proper work of His law.  But God also wants you to hear and believe the other portion of His Word that brings you new life, the gospel.  He wants you to know that if your sinful heart longs for freedom and release from your guilt, then He has heard your cry.  He has sent His Son, your Savior and King to take away your guilt.  Yes you have sinned, and yes your sin is offensive to your holy and perfect God, but He and He alone has acted to take away that sin.  You need never worry that God will not forgive, or that He will take away His love from you.  Instead, He wants you to hear His Words of comfort.  You are forgiven!  You are no longer locked up in a prison of your own making.  Your sin no longer defines you.  In other words, you are no longer a slave to your sin.  The devil can no longer threaten you with an eternity of punishment in hell, because Jesus has come to set you free.  Upon the cross His life-blood was spilled to set you free!

And to make sure that you will have no doubt about God’s complete and perfect work, He makes the gospel very personal, by coming to you in the waters of your own baptism.  It is there where He assures you that every one of your sins has been washed away and that you have been, and everyday are being recreated into the very image of your Savior, Jesus Christ!  Just as Judah could not pay for her own guilt that Isaiah made so plain to them in his preaching, you can do nothing as well.  You are helpless and must depend totally on God’s mercy; you must stake everything on His undeserved love.  And in your baptism, that is what you do every day.  You remember that it was God alone who saved you and is saving you.  Listen, its true, someone must pay for your sins, and someone has; it is Jesus Christ, not just the Son of God and your Savior, but the Heavenly Father’s Suffering Servant who came to suffer in your place! In your baptism, Jesus took away your guilt and sin and exchanged it with His obedient life and death upon the cross.  So in your baptism, God wants you to see that on the cross, Jesus not only took away the sins of the world, but He especially took away your sins!  Hear this word, believe it, and be comforted!

But there is one more piece of comforting news for you this morning.  God has not come to the world in one great moment upon the cross and then left us alone.  He did not come to you once in your baptism to wash you clean with the water and the Word and then abandoned you.  No, His Word this morning promises you a double portion of blessing; in other words the blessing of His real presence is with you, it is eternal, and it will never end.

In this season of Pentecost, God wants you to remember that His Holy Spirit is with you always.  When you were baptized, God put His seal upon you and declared to the devils and this sinful world, “This one is mine!”  He is always with you protecting and blessing you.  When you read God’s Word and stay in that Word, His Spirit is teaching you things so great that the angels stand in awe.  In His Word you hear and understand about a comfort from God that will never leave you or forsake you!  In His Word you learn that while God will not take away the discomfort and the temporary consequences of your sin, He has taken away the eternal consequence.  “You are free!  You are forgiven!”  Now that is a message of double blessing, and through the Holy Spirit He repeats it to you over and over!

Now do you see that you have really received a double blessing? Good, then God wants you to leave this place with not just gratitude and appreciation, but with a new personality; a new mindset.  God wants you to leave here knowing one simple thing.

You have been blessed to be a blessing to others.  How?  By speaking the gospel; by speaking the same message of comfort to your neighbor.  Speak the gospel and live the gospel.  And as you speak and live the gospel, God wants you to invite others to be changed by the gospel.  Tell them that there is a place at 7210 Lisbon Street, in the city of San Diego, where they too can hear a message of comfort that will change them just as it has changed and is changing you.

This morning friends, it is my prayer that you not only see your need for comfort but that you would also want it, now and always.  I pray that God has shown you that you are not to be defined by your past, by what you have done or failed to do, but only by what the Son of God Jesus Christ did for you upon the cross and what He gave to you within your own baptism.  I pray that this realization will change you and you like St. John the baptizer, you will leave this place speaking and living a message of repentance; always turning to Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith and your Christian life.  I pray this always in Jesus name… AMEN!

The Holy Trinity is a Mystery… Get Over It!

Sunday, June 3rd, 2012

Holy Trinity Sunday-B, June 3, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

Someone once told me that they thought the church ought to stop trying to teach the doctrine of the Holy Trinity for a little while, and just  stand in awe of God and worship Him for Who He Is.  And you know, there is a lot to be said for backing off from our western approach of  conceptualizing the Trinity, because it really can be an injustice to God. Isn’t it enough to simply say that God exists in three persons, Father,  Son, and Holy Spirit, and then just leave it at that? Well, yes and no.  While it is sheer folly to try to confine the reality of God into an airtight  doctrinal box it is also dangerous when we, the church, that means you and me, remain silent when we should be repeating who God says He  is in scripture. What kind of danger?  Well how about this.  I received this email from someone who said that the church and myself  specifically, must repent of what we teach about Jesus and God.  Listen:“(Pastor), Jesus did not intend to be worshiped; He wanted to be  followed. It is certainly easier to worship Him than to follow His teachings. He taught that we could become one with God and all his creation  (everything and everybody). That means that we should deny the world and focus primarily on God and forgiveness. It means letting go of  the ego’s need to be separate and right. It means loving everyone unconditionally. It means giving up judgment, righteousness, resentments,  greed, competition, envy, and hatred. It means joining with your fellow man and making his interest your own. It means setting aside the carnal pleasures of this world for something better. It means taking the log out of your own eye instead of the speck out of your brother’s. It means being generous with your time, talents, and energy (including money). Jesus summed it up by saying, Love God, yourself and everyone with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your soul. He taught to live life with an open and pure heart as He did.”

What you just heard read is a concise description of perfection, the kind of perfection that God demands both in His 10 commandments and throughout scripture.  The only problem with this ideal is that none of us can meet it, and no one ever will.  If this one dimensional understanding of who God is, was all that we knew about Him, then life would be pretty dark and hopeless, wouldn’t it?  But God has another message for us; a message of hope and security, and that message was communicated to Isaiah in our Old Testament Lesson. [Isaiah 6:1-8]

Isaiah was taken to the very throne of Heaven, the temple of God and He saw something that no sinful man or woman could have or should have seen.  He saw the perfect and all powerful God seated on the throne.  He saw an all present God who filled everything, and He was not struck down dead; he was allowed to live!  Now that’s amazing because even the chief angels called seraphim wouldn’t look upon God.  They covered their eyes with their wings and simply cried out to each other, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord!”

So why was Isaiah allowed to see God and still live?  Was it because he was able to please God with his righteous living?  Well let’s allow Isaiah to answer that himself.  Listen: “And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” [Isaiah 6:4-5]  Now Isaiah does not sound like a man who is content with the way he’s lived his life to me; in fact he even describes why he feels he is doomed; he is a man of unclean lips living with people who are unclean.  In other words, brother Isaiah is saying flat out, ‘I’m a dirty no good sinner and I live with a bunch of other dirty no good sinners.  I am doomed!”

And yet Isaiah was allowed to see God and live; why?  Because God Himself intervened, and saved him!  In the vision, it was a hot coal that touched Isaiah’s lips that saved him.  In the wilderness, when the sinful Jews were wandering, they were attacked by poisonous snakes; it was a bronze sculpture of a serpent that God had made, which saved every sinful Jew who looked to it, and today God still saves dirty no good sinners; sinners like Isaiah, and sinners like you and me!  How?  Well let’s go to our gospel lesson [John 3:1-17] and let Jesus explain it Himself.

Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews goes out to find Jesus by night.  Why night?  Well, he was trying to protect his reputation as a leader.  He who was supposed to be able to provide all of the answers had many questions about life and God that were just eating away at him. Society thinks that doubts and questions in a leader are a sign of weakness, so Nicodemus had to make sure that neither his peers nor the people knew that he was going to Jesus for answers.  They must not find out that his entire life had been consumed by these doubts and questions.  He wanted to know why he woke up in the middle of the night feeling empty and afraid.  The meaning of life itself had eluded him.  “There must be more to it” he thought, and it’s this questioning of things that caused him to seek out Jesus for answers!

When he found Jesus he started out the introduction with a compliment, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” [John 3:2]  And in effect, Jesus answered him like this, “Oh come off of your high and mighty view of yourself and your ignorant view of God Nicodemus.  You just want me to jump into the comfortable little box you’ve made so that you can make sense of life and God according to your terms.  What you really want to do is go back to your cushy mansion and get a good night’s sleep by placing your religion on the shelf like one of your trophies.  But it doesn’t work like that!  “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  You can’t fit God’s kingdom into your life, your life and all of your misconceptions has to fit into it!  You gotta be born again!

Nicodemus didn’t understand.  He didn’t understand and neither does the world today.  They don’t understand because Jesus is speaking spiritual, and they are thinking physical.  So Jesus restates his teaching in another way: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” [John 3:5,6]  In other words, quit trying to put my teaching into your sinful box.  You cannot understand, because you have not been begotten by the Father.  But there is a way for you to be begotten… reborn, and it is by the water and the Holy Spirit!  Repent and be baptized.  Repent of your sinful physical way of seeing the world and receive new life and new sight in the water and the Word!

Today, we poor sinners don’t find Jesus’ Words any easier to understand or accept.  We are caught up in the material world, but there is a spiritual wind that is blowing through our lives; it is the presence and work of the Holy Spirit.  It is impossible for us to keep it out.  It blows and blows until it either knocks down our house of self-righteousness or until we leave this temporary material existence and enter into our eternal reality; a reality that will either be eternal judgment or eternal peace with the source of the Holy Wind, the Holy one of Israel; the same Holy One Who caused Isaiah to say that he was doomed because he saw God!

The only hope for Isaiah, Nicodemus, or any of us, is if we can see the Son of God, Jesus Christ as the only way to enter into God’s eternal heavenly kingdom.  Jesus alone is the red hot coal that touches our lips.  Jesus alone is the serpent lifted on the pole in the wilderness of our sin.  And Jesus Himself makes that clear with these words: “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, (I who speak to you) the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. [John 3:13-15]

But is it really that simple?  Can an angry and perfect God really be approached simply by being baptized and believing in Jesus as the Son of God who came down to us in our flesh, to save us?  Yes, it is that simple, but people find it hard to believe because this is a spiritual truth that is breaking into our physical reality.  It is a work entirely of God; a work that we play no part in fulfilling.  But why; why would a holy, holy, holy God do that for no good sinners like us?  Well, again let’s let Jesus answer that: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” [John 3:16-17]. And there it is… God is not angry with us at all; in fact He loves us, but He is also holy and righteous.  He created us to be holy and righteous as well, but sin, death, and the devil entered into our physical reality and ruined that.  And now, the only way He can save us is by coming to us and removing our sin Himself!

What we’ve learned this morning is that God is far too holy and mighty for us to ever understand; after all He is the Creator and we are just the creatures.  But what we’ve also learned are four truths.  First, we know that God does love us.  He loves us just as we are, but He loves us to much to leave us that way.  Second, we’ve learned that our One God exists in three persons, and He has broken into our sinful reality and saved us by the Father’s sending of His Son to die for us.  And He continues to save us and keep us holy through the power of His Holy Spirit.  Third, the Holy Lord invites us all into a relationship of stewardship with Him; He wants to send us, whom He has saved to speak for Him.  Isaiah writes: “Then I heard the voice of the LORD saying, “Whom shall I send?  And who will go for us?”  The fourth truth we discover is that once God intervenes by taking our sins away, by recreating us through the power of the gospel, we are able to respond to any request of God with the words, “Here am I send me!”  Like Isaiah, we once were no good sinners separated from God by sin and living in fear, but in our baptism, God has spoken new life and new obedience into us, so that we can exhibit courage and embrace His call to go out into a sinful world for the Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord!

What causes this transformation in us is the very thing that changed Isaiah and eventually Nicodemus too; It is the realization that we have been saved and forgiven by the Holy and One true God who exists in three persons.  How that can be we may never understand completely, but it is enough to know that He is our God.  And once we have surrendered to the mysterious presence and work of our God, He wants to use us to bring this same message of forgiveness to no good sinners.  Yes, most of this message depends on the mystery that is God, get over it and simply live for Him who has saved you!  May God the Father who created you, may God the Son who has redeemed you, and may God the Holy Spirit who sanctifies you, empower you to live a life of wonder and worship until He calls you home!  In Jesus name… AMEN!