Archive for July, 2012

A Promise is a Promise!

Sunday, July 29th, 2012

Ninth Sunday in Pentecost B, July 29, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida [Mark 6:45a].

Another way to say that is, Jesus compelled them; no He insisted that they get into the boat.  He had them get into a boat that He knew  would soon be in all kinds of trouble.  He had them get into a boat that He knew would soon face trouble as they headed into a storm that  He knew was about to kick up on the lake.  He had them get into a boat that He knew would soon face trouble as they headed into a storm,  and then He planned to walk out to them on the water, knowing it would cause grown men to cry out in fear like children.  Why?

When all three of my boys were younger I had the distinct joy that I sometimes think only a Dad can truly appreciate; I took the training  wheels off of their bicycles and made them learn to ride their bikes.  I did it knowing that they would fall, scrape their knees, and maybe  even bloody their lips; I did it because I wanted them to experience freedom from fear.  I wanted them to learn that they could trust me  and their bike.  I promised each of them that they could learn to ride a bike without the training wheels.  And after a few falls and  encouragement from me, they learned that I was right, they could ride a bike!

So why did Jesus compel the disciples to get into that boat.   So that they would learn that God keeps His promises!  They needed to learn  that Jesus would never leave nor forsake them; even when it seemed that He wasn’t with them He really was.  He was watching them from  a secret location that they were not aware of.  They needed to learn that Jesus is the God-man who even controls the wind and sea; why  He even controls sickness and disease.

So what things does God compel us to do today?  Well certainly as we pray every day in the Lord’s Prayer, we discover that He compels us to pray for His Kingdom and His will to be done every day here on earth as it is done in heaven.  But when we pray those petitions, He is also inviting us to experience God’s kingdom and invite His will to lead and guide us every day as we live our lives.  As Luther taught long ago, God’s kingdom and His will come and are done whether we pray for them or not, but in the Lord’s Prayer we are invited to ask God that they would first come in us and then be done through us.

Now I believe there is a question that begs to be asked; I really must ask it, even if it causes fear.  Do you really want God’s Kingdom to take over your life?  Do you really want His will to be done in your life?

What if having His kingdom come in your life means that you must admit that He is right and you are wrong?  What if it means that you must agree with God and admit that a certain style of living that our society says is ok, is really a sin? And what if agreeing with God about that sin will upset a whole bunch of people who are close to you?

What if having God’s will being done in your life means that you must leave a place of employment, a good job, because it builds and celebrates a kingdom of darkness instead of God’s kingdom of grace?  What if God’s will being done in and through you means that He may allow you to become sick with an illness or disease?  Do you still have the courage to pray for that will?

You will, if you remember who it is that is with you.  It is Jesus, He who sees all things, even things we cannot see or understand.  It is Jesus who not only walks on water but controls everything that makes you afraid.  And just as Jesus spoke Words of comfort to the apostles in the boat, He speaks Words of comfort to you this morning: “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” [Mark 6:50]  This morning, Jesus would like you to remember that He has always been with you and He always will be.  He promises that He will never leave nor forsake you and no one can snatch you out of His hand.

Dear friends, God’s promises are always powerful and they are always reliable.  In our Old Testament lesson, He promised Noah and His family that He would never again destroy the earth by way of a flood.  And to be sure that they would remember that promise and count on it, He placed a sign in the sky, the rainbow!

Listen don’t worry about silly things like how the rainbow is naturally made when raindrops act like a prism and reflect sunlight, breaking white sunlight into colors.  That is simply an explanation of how we see a rainbow; we need to concentrate on the why we see it!  We see the rainbow because God knew that we needed to have a sign of life, not death.  We needed to learn that we could count on His blessing and good will.  We need that sign to bring us comfort not fear.  We need to remember that God keeps His promises!

That rainbow like all of the other signs that God gives to us, should remind us to thank God and give Him praise for His goodness and forgiving love.  Every time we see the rainbow we should remember that God’s anger over our sin has been replace by His forgiving love that is ours through the cross.  Through Jesus’s life blood that was spilled for our sins, we no longer have an angry God, but instead we have a loving and forgiving God!  And in your baptism, God gave you another great sign; He gave you the sign of that very cross that set you free.

In your baptism the sign of the cross was made upon your heart and your brow to mark you as God’s own child.  You have been sealed with the promise that God through Jesus Christ has won you; He has redeemed you as His very own.  And because you are His own, He promises that He will never leave you nor forsake you!  But the promise is not just for you it is for the entire world; for anyone who will not reject that Holy washing; for anyone who will simply trust and rest in God’s divine power to do exactly as God says He will do… save you from sin, death, and the devil himself!

An elderly Christian was in much distress as he lay dying. “Oh, Pastor,” he said, “for years I have relied upon the promises of God, but now in my time of death I can’t remember a single one to comfort me.” Knowing that Satan was disturbing him, the preacher said, “My brother, do you think that GOD will forget any of His promises?” A smile came over the old man’s face as he exclaimed joyfully. “No, no! He won’t! Praise the Lord, now I can fall asleep in Jesus and trust Him to remember them all and bring me safely to Heaven.” Peace flooded his soul, and a short time later he was ushered by the angels into the light of God’s eternal day.

Dear friends, in your baptism God has given you not only His promise that He is with you and that all things will work for your good and your eternal salvation, but He has also given you a sign.  Whenever you are afraid, whenever you are lonely and unsure of your life, remember God’s promises by remembering your baptism, and then make the sign of the cross and thank and praise God for His goodness!  Remember as St. Paul said in our Epistle reading (Ephesians 3:14-21), He has given you everything you need to be strengthened with His power through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.  And then remember that wherever the Holy Spirit is, there Jesus is as well.  Do you hear that good news?  Jesus is always with you living in your hearts by faith.  And through that wonderful gift of faith, God gives you peace by assuring you that Jesus is always with you, strengthening and protecting you, just as His Word promised long ago in your baptism, when He first washed you clean.  It is that same Word you hear preached to you now, and it is the same Word you will soon receive in our Lord’s meal of forgiveness.  God is good!

Just as God was with Noah and His family before, during, and after the flood He is with you now.  Just as the Son of God was with the apostles before, during, and after the storm on the lake, He is with you now and always will be.  He lives in His Word, in the promises it makes about forgiveness of sin and eternal life, and He lives, He dwells within you in power.

Within each of you is the fullness of God; it fills you and if you will trust it, it will well up within you and come out of you like living water.  No matter the cost to living out God’s will, He provides everything you need to know that He is with you.  As you rest in His kingdom, He is not only protecting you, he is living in you, attracting and inviting others to experience that very same presence of God.  It goes before you as you trust His promises of presence and forgiveness and as you speak those promises to others.

Dear Lord may your kingdom come and your will be done in us and through us in Jesus name… AMEN!

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” [Ephesians 3:20-21]

Gathering the Scattered!

Sunday, July 22nd, 2012

Eighth Sunday in Pentecost B, July 22, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were
like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.
[Mark 6:34]

Do you know what happens to sheep when they don’t have a true shepherd?  That’s right, they scatter!   And once they scatter they can get into all kinds of  trouble; trouble that usually ends in their death.  Why even sheep who have a shepherd can get themselves into a whole lot of trouble; that’s why the  shepherd will leave the 99 to search for the one who has wandered off.

An American, traveling in Syria, saw three native shepherds bring their flocks to the same brook, and the flocks drank there together. After a few minutes, one  of the shepherds got up and called out, “Men-ah! men-ah! ,” the Arabic word for “follow me.” His sheep came out of the mixed herd and followed him up the  hillside. The next shepherd did the same, and his sheep went away with him, and neither shepherd even stopped to count them.

The traveler said to the remaining shepherd, “Give me your turban and staff, and let’s see if they’ll follow me like they follow you.” So he put on the shepherd’s  dress and called out, “Men-ah! men-ah!” Not a single sheep moved.  “Will your flock never follow anybody but you?” inquired the gentleman. The Syrian  shepherd replied, “Only if their sick, then they will follow any one.”

This morning I want to talk about two distinct kinds of sheep; those with a shepherd and those without.  You could also call them Christians and non-  Christians, or the righteous and the unrighteous.  St. Paul, in our Epistle lesson called them Jew and gentile.  But he also pointed out that that old classification  no longer existed, because the True Shepherd had come and taken down the wall or fence that separated them.  That separation of course was the Law of God  that shepherded the Jews, and condemned sinners like you and me.  In Paul’s time, many well-meaning Jewish Christians were insisting that gentiles had to  first become Jews before they could become Christians, or in other words, they had to be Jewish sheep before they could be Jesus’ sheep.  Paul’s goal was to show them that this was not only incorrect thinking, but dangerous thinking; it would serve to scatter and divide God’s people of faith, rather than gathering them into one family, one body, one sanctuary, which is the body of Christ, His church.

So let’s look at the two groups of people that live all around us today, Christians and non-Christians.  But before we do, let me share another story with you.

A newspaper in Camden, Maine, ran two photos on the front page; one showed the city council of Camden gathered together at a meeting, and the other picture was of a flock of sheep. The editor mistakenly reversed the captions of the two photos. Under the picture of the sheep, the caption identified them, left to right, as town officials; under the other photo of the city council, the caption read, “The Sheep Fold—naive and vulnerable, they huddle for security against the uncertainties of the outside world.”

Now as funny as that story is, I think that it describes both Christian and non-Christian alike; we are naïve and vulnerable.  And like the sick sheep in my other story, we Christians when we are tired, lonely, sick, or afraid might follow any old voice that seems sympathetic and able to help.  That is why we all need to learn, know, and follow our true Shepherd’s voice.  We all need the gift of faith to hear Jesus’ voice and to grow in that faith so that we will never follow another.

In our gospel reading, the contrast between the two groups of people is evident; the over-worked, under-appreciated, and tired disciples, who were ready for a break, and those who were lost, “like sheep without a shepherd.”  We might also call them people with a mission and vision and the people without a vision who were wandering in life aimlessly.  This morning, in our gospel lesson, Jesus spoke to them both.  This morning Jesus speaks to both of those classes of people who are gathered here at Trinity.

A. This morning there are some of you who are just plain tired. You have been active in your Lord’s church for most of your life, and some have in the last four years given the best of your time, talent, and treasure, to help make Trinity a city on a hill, a bright light here in Southeast San Diego, Southwest Spring Valley, and Southeast Lemmon Grove.  You have done so much and gone so far, that now you are just plain tired.  Many of you along with me have the feeling of always being “on-call,” with more demands on your time than you could ever hope to meet.  I know your heart, because it is centered in God’s love for the wandering sheep; you are afraid of letting people down, and so you push yourselves past the limits.  You dream of getting away from it all and you pray that there would be more people to help shoulder the burden.

Well this morning Jesus, who is your Sabbath rest, knows your fatigue; He sees it and He speaks to you as He spoke to His disciples in our gospel reading. [Mark 6:30-44]  “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” [v. 31]

Many of you know the need for rest and you have been intentional on setting aside vacation time; you have had your rest already, and some of you have scheduled your vacation for a future date.  But the truth is, even when we are on vacation, we are never really away from it all.  It seems that the troubles of this world follow us every-where we go.  Even the best planned vacations don’t work out as planned.  There are always more demands for our time, and more needs to meet.  Sometimes we don’t even have time to eat!

So where do we go for true rest; for real peace?  It isn’t found in our vacations; it doesn’t happen when we try to get away from it all; no it only is found when we get back to Jesus; back to the true Shepherd of our souls.  Our refreshment and new energy will not be found simply by going to a desolate place, but instead it is found in Him who takes us to that place.  The disciples weren’t able to get away from it all because the crowds found them; but they were able to be close to Jesus and His miraculous presence, which stands ready in all situations to help them and us.

For the non-Christians, those who are counted among the sheep without a shepherd, their days are spent in endless hours of useless activity meant to fill each day with meaning.  Whether its sports, politics, careers, partying, or just staring out a window they find little fulfillment and joy in the gift of life.  They feel like “aliens and strangers” [Ephesians 2:12] separated from the joy of really knowing God and His will for them.

Like sheep without a shepherd, their wandering sinful nature looks for meaning through self-pleasing activities, but eventually all of their attempts to find happiness end in failure.  So they set out on an endless search looking for meaning.  Some end up in cults and false religions.  Others find themselves in a church, which speaks the Word of the true Shepherd, but clouds that Word in philosophy, legalism, or liberalism.  Undoubtedly, these were some of the things that Jesus also saw as He looked out on that great crowd of people who were like “sheep without a shepherd.”

And Jesus had compassion on them.  He looked at them not as “no good” sinners, but as part of His scattered flock.  He claimed them as His own, and He taught them.  They were always His own, His purpose for coming; He came to bring them into His flock.  He came so that the scattered and the gathered together might know peace; peace with God, and peace with each other.  He came to give us all rest!

This morning, Jesus speaks to both groups and calls us together as one.  He shows us that each of us have a common reconciliation… Himself!  Through His work alone upon the cross He makes all men and women right; He makes us righteous with His Father.  You who were at one time separated from God because of your sins are now gathered into His forgiving heart through Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  By His blood He has purchased you, redeemed you from a commonwealth of judgment and eternal punishment, and transferred you into His Kingdom of grace and forgiving love.

You who were once separated from God are now part of His body, the church.  You are one of many countless living stones set upon the Rock of Ages, the Cornerstone of God’s Eternal Sanctuary.  You are set upon Jesus Christ along with many other saints and together you are a living and ever-growing sanctuary.  How does the sanctuary, the body of Christ grow?  By the very same means that you were converted into a living stone; through the Word of Jesus Christ, the message of His gospel.

And this is the message that God would have you hear today.  You are forgiven through Jesus Christ.  In that message alone, God really gives you rest, fulfillment and joy.  But in that message, God also wants your life to have meaning and purpose.  You are here to live under and work out the will of God in your life.  And what is His will?  That you would rest in His Kingdom of grace and see it grow, one forgiven sinner at a time.

Jesus’ disciples and the scattered hungry were all fed by the very same Word.  Christ’s own personal preaching was full of peace for both Gentiles and Jews.  But what about now; do we still have that same care and concern?  Yes!  What we must always remember is that when Christ sent his message out into the world, he told His messengers: “I am with you always, even to the end of the world,” (Matt. 28:20). He assured them and He assures us that “He who hears you also hears me,” Luke 10:16; “Truly, truly, I say to you,” He said, “whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me” John 13:20.

So congratulations to all of you here today; you who are tired may find rest in the same Jesus who invigorated the apostles.  He is here with you now!  You who were once scattered and lost, are now gathered and found, by Jesus Himself.  He has gathered you into the kingdom of God through the message of His cross; He has washed you clean in the waters of baptism and recreated you to live a life of peace. He himself is your peace and rest, now go and share that same peace, share that same rest with those who are still counted as scattered!

Now, may the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Victory in Rejection

Sunday, July 15th, 2012

Seventh Sunday in Pentecost B, July 15, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly  places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. [Ephesians  1:3, 4]

Did you hear that good news!  You dear saints who have gathered here at Trinity Lutheran Church around God’s Word and Sacraments  are blessed!  In Christ, or because of Christ you have every spiritual blessing; you have everything that you could ever need to keep  you in God’s forgiving and blessing love.  But there is a condition.  You must remain in Him!  In whom?  In the Father’s beloved Son,  Jesus Christ.  How?  By staying in His Word and agreeing with Him in His Word.  What Word is that?  All of it of course, but especially  this one simple word… REPENT!

What does repent mean?  It means turning to God and agreeing with Him.  It means admitting that God is right and you and this whole  sinful world are wrong.  It means turning in agreement to God and facing your only hope… Jesus Christ.  Jesus is either your Savior or  your judge, and which one He is for you hinges on your repentance or your lack of repentance.

So the good news, the spreading of the gospel is always flowing from the church’s message of repentance.  That doesn’t sound like a very effective evangelism or outreach program does it?  And because that message is so simple and so abrasive to many, an untold array of books have been written to help the “church” develop an improved outreach program.  Now don’t get me wrong, social programs and strategies that will help make the church active in improving our community are important; they’re important if a congregation wants to be relevant in the eyes of a dying world, but they are not evangelism.  What is?  The preaching and sharing of that simple message… repent!  Turn to Jesus and be saved.  Agree with God that you are a sinner and receive His forgiveness.

As a congregation, we can’t ignore the message of  repentance simply because many feel it’s offensive or divisive.  We can’t water down that Word and replace it with something else that’s more inclusive and attractive.  When we begin to turn away from the message of repentance and water down God’s Word, we will also be separating ourselves from God’s grace; from His forgiving love.  When we cease speaking God’s message, we are no longer counting on God’s power and presence to preserve us a church, but instead we are trusting in our own resourcefulness.  And if we do that, we will very soon discover how limited our ability really is.

If we choose to agree with the world and not God, we have failed.  But if we fail we can be saved by hearing the same message we refused to speak… Repent! And when we repent, we always discover that God’s grace is sufficient for us.  We discover that it’s ok to fail, as long as we keep turning to God in agreement that He is right and we are wrong; that He alone is righteous and we are sinful.  We need Him always and He is with us always.

If you recall, last week in our gospel lesson, Jesus sent out His disciples in His own authority.  It was an authority that backed a message that was full of power; power that would never run out, but authority and power that could be rejected.  One simple Word brought the kingdom of God to sinful men and women… repent, and one simple word could refuse God’s forgiveness… NO!

If this Word of repentance was received, those who did not reject it would know God’s forgiving love, but if it was rejected, well then they would be condemned in their sins.  This was a message that was entirely between the  person listening and God.  If it was rejected, they weren’t rejecting the messenger, they were rejecting their God.

And this was exactly the predicament that Amos found himself in, in our Old Testament lesson.  God sent Amos to preach repentance; and God’s message alone is what was rejected, not Amos the messenger.  The fact that the king and Amaziah rejected Amos’ proclamation of repentance is ultimately not Amos’ problem.  Amos was free to live his life as he saw fit.  He could return to tending his sycamore figs and the care of his sheep.  Just as the disciples of Jesus when they went out and were rejected were free to shake the dust from their feet.

But Amos didn’t go back to his old way of living and the disciple of Jesus didn’t quit going out proclaiming the good news after shaking the dust off of their feet in one village.  They continued to agree with God and speak God’s plan of salvation!  God’s call to repentance remained as valid to them as it ever was.

God’s plan, the only way to eternal life will always be contemporary and relevant because we will always be sinners without Him.   God will always be the One with the authority and power who authorizes His disciples to preach, teach, and confess His message of repentance and forgiveness of sins through His Son Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith.

It is Jesus alone who chose us… destined us in love… bestowed on us, lavished upon us, and made known to us the forgiving love of God.  In other words, Jesus alone does all of this for us.  He gives us the gift to fail and then hear God’s Word, His only means of correction and assurance of forgiveness.  This gift of freedom of both failure and forgiveness depends entirely on Him who first chose us.  His authority is always a resource that never fails.

This morning, God is asking us to trust in Him alone.  Amos did, and some sinners heard and were saved.  John the Baptist did, even when he knew that it would cost him his life, and the result was the preparation for ministry of some of Jesus first and greatest disciples .  And we can do it too if we remember that the entire evangelism process is something that is completely in the hands of the One and only One with Authority.  Jesus alone does the choosing, the empowering, the granting of authority, and the uniting of all things in Him, at the fullness of time!

So now, you may be feeling ready to go out and share your witness and tell your neighbor about God’s forgiving love through His Son Jesus Christ.  You may be ready to see our little congregation grow and grow with other forgiven sinners just like you, and you may be thinking, “So how will we plan for this outreach program, and how can we motivate others to get involved.  And to that God is responding to all of us: ‘Don’t you see how quickly you fell back on yourselves as a resource?  Do you really think that it is your job to motivate others to get involved in building My Kingdom?  Repent!’

The truth is that the One with Authority who was able to motivate a country shepherd to confront a corrupt and powerful religious government and the One who was able to collect and send out a sorry bunch of disciples who were mostly fishermen and day laborers is able to give us every spiritual blessing that we will need to leave this place of worship and go out into our community, our jobs, our neighborhoods, and even our families and use us to accomplish His perfect will in accordance to His own way and at His own time; He alone will use us “for the praise of His glory.”

Now that may not be the message that you wanted to hear.  No one wants to hear that our mission may seem like a failure and that many will reject the message that we are sent out with.  But remember, there are untold spiritual blessings ahead for those simply trust and follow Jesus.  And it is my prayer, that as you are being obedient to God’s authority and direction you will share the message with whoever will listen, and as a result of your obedience we will begin to see many more gather here around His Word and Sacraments at Trinity Lutheran Church.  I ask this in Jesus name…  AMEN!

Are You Someone Else’s Thorn?

Sunday, July 8th, 2012

Sixth Sunday in Pentecost B, July 8, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

Self-Pride can be a dangerous thing.  It’s an unhealthy focus on the self instead of on God’s gift of grace through Jesus Christ.  It’s like a  man’s beard.  It just keeps growing and growing.  The solution of course is to shave it every day!

When we don’t keep our pride in check, we can become a thorn, a stumbling block to others.  Now, if it was just about you, I might be  tempted to leave you alone with the caution I just gave, but it is not just about you; you see you are a Christian, and others, especially  non-Christians are watching you and evaluating your faith and Christianity by your conduct.  So, to be a thorn to others because of  your pride can be a serious thing.  It can actually drive people away from Jesus instead of attracting them to Him.

But there is also a way, the way God works, that you can be a positive thorn in people’s lives.  What do I mean by that?  Glad you asked!    When people see you resting in conflict, disease, hurt, and disappointment; when they see you trusting in God no matter what’s going  on around you, they can get uncomfortable, because they know if they were in your place, they would be falling apart.  They’re  uncomfortable, because you trust in what appears to them to be an unseen, unknowable, and untrue God.  In essence your faith is a threat to their lack of faith.  So they are continually confronted with two choices: Investigate God’s way, a way that changes and empowers, or reject God’s way and follow their own prideful way!

A Christian grandfather, a Boy Scout, and a college professor were the only passengers on a small plane. The pilot came back to the cabin and said that the plane was going down but there were only three parachutes and four people. The pilot added, “I should have one of the parachutes because I have a wife and three small children.” So he took one and jumped.  The college professor said, “I should have one of the parachutes because I am the smartest man in the world and everyone needs me.” So he took one and jumped.  The Christian grandfather turned to the Boy Scout and with a sad smile and said, “Young man, I have lived a rich life, so you take the remaining parachute, and I’ll go down with the plane.”  The Boy Scout said, “Relax, old man, we both get a parachute.  You see, the smartest man in the world just picked up my knapsack and jumped out!”

So ends the life of all who trust in their own “smarts” to survive.  One thing they never think about is the truth that no matter how they struggle and strive, they will never get out of this world alive!  They will have to stand before a righteous and holy God who will judge them guilty of pride and a host of other sins!

In our Epistle reading this morning (2 Corinthians 12:110), Paul knew this was true, but most importantly Jesus knew it was true.  That is why He allowed Paul to struggle with his thorn in the flesh.  He knew that Paul would need that challenge, whatever it was to keep him dependent on God’s grace; to keep him always turning to Jesus, crucified and risen above as his only hope of “getting out of this world alive!”

Did Paul have reason to be prideful?  Yes!  He was given knowledge that not many have ever been given this side of heaven.  He was able to actually go to heaven without dying and come back!  Oh the things he must have seen.  He surely did not want to return to this world of sin; but Jesus had plans for Paul.  He has plans for each of you here this morning; if He didn’t you wouldn’t still be here; you would be in heaven right now!

Paul knew that God’s will must be done, so He was resolved to wait on God’s call to come home.  He was resolved to serve God with all of his strength by teaching and living out the hope of the gospel.  But Paul had one huge challenge to this mission from God; he was living with a heavenly heart in a sinful body.  You see, Jesus knew that if Paul was not daily humbled with the reminder that on his own he was a wretched and sinful man bound for judgment, he would forget that it is only by God’s grace that he would one day return to paradise to be with His Jesus!  Jesus knew this and eventually so did Paul.

Three times Paul pleaded with the Lord to take away his thorn.  And on the third petition, Jesus’ answer was all that Paul needed to hear.  “Paul, my grace is enough for you.  By my love and only my love will you return to paradise, so simply rest in it; trust in it!

Many people have argued throughout the years as to just what Paul’s thorn was.  The truth is, no one knows.  And I think that’s good, because it allows us to concentrate on our own thorns.  We all have at least one; some have many.  Some are thorns of our own making; some are caused by others’ sinfulness, and still others have a thorn with the same source as Paul’s… it comes from the evil mind of the devil.  Here are some examples of mental thorns: Constant thoughts of lust, anger, blasphemy, and all kinds of mental illness.  Thorns that may exist outside of us, are things like unfair personal attacks, gossip, lack of employment or underemployment, unstable marriages, or disrespectful children.  And then there are the physical thorns that exist within us.  Assign to this class all kinds of illness, disease, and physical defects.

All of these things are a result of sin; our sin or the world’s sin.  They may or may not be sent directly from the devils, but they all have come to us because God has allowed them.  But why?  Why does God allow them?  So that we will discover the truth that there is strength in weakness.  So that we will experience the truth that Paul discovered: When we are weak Jesus’ grace, His power and love are strong within us!  They are sufficient to carry us through any challenge!

So what does this mean for us this morning?  What is God asking us to learn?  Simply this, He is asking us to trust His Son, Jesus Christ.  He is asking you to see things the way He says they are and not the way the world sees them.

In our gospel lesson this morning (Mark 6:113) we see Jesus rejected by His own people; His own relatives refused to see the Kingdom of God as Jesus taught it and presented it.  In Jesus, they saw simply human flesh and weakness; the illegitimate son of Mary who was the step-son of a carpenter… a common laborer!  No matter how many miracles Jesus had performed, not matter how true and clear His teaching about the Kingdom of God were, they could not get past His weakness.  He was not the model leader that the world always expects and demands.  He was not wealthy or highly educated.  He was not political or even connected to influential people.

They refused to believe that Jesus was both the son of Mary and the Son of God!  But Jesus is God, and pride-filled sinful opinions of men don’t change who Jesus IS in the very least; it did not affect Jesus’ mission then or now; Jesus has come to heal the broken hearted and set those imprisoned by sinful pride free!

People today, like people in Nazareth then, find Jesus, His miracles, and His teaching offensive.  He is a thorn to them, so they want to be a thorn to His people of faith.  But what they can never understand without eyes of faith is that Jesus truly is the Son of God.  To kick at Him and His church is like kicking a cactus; they are the only ones who will get hurt. If they continue to judge Him by the world’s standards they will be lost in judgment because of their many sins, but if they will simply allow the Word of Jesus to open their eyes of faith and see the reality that God sees in each of us they will be saved!

In our Old Testament lesson (Ezekiel 2:1–5), Ezekiel is called to stand on his feet before a righteous and holy God.  But on his own, He could do nothing but lay flat on his face.  But Ezekiel was not on His own, because the living Word of God, Jesus Christ was speaking, and in His Word is the very love of the Father and the power of the Holy Spirit!  And as God spoke to Ezekiel, the Spirit entered him and put him on his feet!

This morning friends, the voice of God is speaking to us.  He is assuring us that just as Ezekiel and Paul were protected and strengthened by the Spirit of God, so are we.  You have been saved by a Savior who the world considers weak and pathetic.  You are saved by a God who is a joke to unbelievers.  In Jesus they see weakness and poverty; in the cross they see scandal and shame.  But by Jesus weakness and shame, by His suffering and death you have been saved!  Jesus died for you!  If the world wants to turn our faith into a scandal, then this is the scandal:  A holy and righteous God came to suffer and die for them… for you!  That is the message that changes us every day; it’s a message that would change them too, if they would just let God’s grace be sufficient for them in all things.  But they cannot surrender to God’s way because of their pride.  But you have submitted to God’s will and in that will you trust and rest.  Come what may, you have discovered that God’s grace is sufficient to help you in all things.  So you have rested and by God’s grace you will continue to rest in Jesus Christ.

And now, God has spoken and we have listened.  Like Paul, we don’t always like what we hear, but eventually we learn to simply rest in the promises of God.  But also like Paul we are reminded that we cannot enter paradise just yet.  We must remain in a dying world to speak and live the gospel.  Like Ezekiel, we are sent out into a sinful society that is stubborn, prideful, and unyielding, just as we are without Jesus.  We are to speak about God’s judgment of sin, even their sin, but we are also to speak about God’s forgiving love!  And as we speak in our weakness, some will see Jesus as only a thorn, a threat to their own happiness.  But others will see beyond the thorn and see the beauty in a Rose that is hidden and blooming within you; and they will come to know Jesus too!   I pray that through your witness to others God will do this very thing.  In Jesus name… AMEN!

Celebrate His Faithfulness!

Sunday, July 1st, 2012

Fifth Sunday in Pentecost B, July 1, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

“The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him.” [Lamentations 3:25]

Waiting is always difficult.  We always want to find a way to eliminate it, or at least speed it up.  This is especially true when we’re waiting on  God to act, speak, or intervene.  May I be so bold as to say that “we” all can become impatient with God?  Could it be true, that in the middle  of our waiting we may even feel like God has abandoned us, and forced us to fend for ourselves?

The Apostle Paul knew that temptation to grumble about God’s perceived tardiness, which is why he wrote these Words to encourage the  church in Corinth: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck  down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8,9).

This was also God’s Word in our Old Testament Lesson (Lamentations 3:22-33) to His people of faith that were conquered and uprooted from their homeland.  They were stripped of every  material possession they had.  They lost their homes, possessions, and for some even their families.  To these poor souls, it seemed that they  could fall no lower.  They had no visible resources, either from within or without.  The whole world had declared them a lost nation.  But the unbelieving world did not know that they had one hidden and best resource left, and in truth it was their first and only true resource… they had the LORD!

Because of God’s great love for His children of faith, because of His great faithfulness, God’s people would survive; God would protect them and restore them.  His love for His children of faith always wins out.  Even when His children lose faith while they’re waiting, God is faithful and His love never fails!

God can’t help Himself; He always helps His children who He has loved with an everlasting love.  It was His love that fired His compassion to help his children back then, and it is His love that fires His compassion to help us and His church today.  And when we remember God’s love for us, our faith and resolve as a congregation and as His individual children are strengthened.  It is this remembering of His love and faithfulness that moves us to seek out Jesus and rest in His Word and promises.  It is this remembering that moves us to celebrate God’s faithfulness even when we are hard pressed, crushed, and perplexed!

In or gospel reading (Mark 5:21-43)  both Jairus and the woman with the issue of blood would have quickly testified that they too were hard pressed, crushed, and perplexed!  They must have both been wondering, “Why is this happening to me?”  Why is God allowing my little daughter to die so young?  Why has good allowed me to have this bleeding disease for so long and even blinded the eyes of the doctors so that they can’t cure me?

Jairus must have felt that all of his waiting for his daughter to be healed was for nothing.  Maybe he even felt betrayed by God.  After all he was the faithful leader of God’s people who gathered at the synagogue to hear God’s Word.  Jairus loved God’s children of faith with the love that the Father gave him to love with, so why wasn’t God responding with help?

The woman with the issue of blood also must have felt abandoned in her long wait for God’s cure.  Can you imagine, she waited twelve long years and went to physician after physician and no comfort or help was found?  She was now at the point of poverty, maybe even homelessness in her waiting, and still no cure or even a Word of promise and hope from God!

Maybe you know exactly how they were feeling.  Maybe you are going through that waiting period right now?  I know that we are as a congregation; we are waiting for God to send help to his children of faith who gather at Trinity Lutheran Church in San Diego.  Like the leader Jairus, we to have been faithful in our ministry of God’s Word and Sacrament.  We have been around since 1894, faithfully dispensing God’s law and gospel, baptizing and feeding His saints.  Why we can look back in the history of our congregation and see that at one time we were even directly responsible for planting several church’s here in San Diego.  We’ve been intentional in making our congregation multi-cultural and inclusive.  And here we sit; finances exhausted and our patience about at its end.  Why some of us are even talking about giving up and closing the doors!  I’ve heard it said several times, “Eventually we will just have to give everything to the Synod.  What else can we do?”

Well I’ll tell you what else we can do, both for our own lives and for the life of this congregation; we can find Jesus and go directly to Him!

That’s what both Jairus and the woman did in our gospel lesson.  Jairus, a man of prestige, a leader of God’s people threw himself down in the dirt at Jesus feet, and simply worshiped Him and called out for help.  “Kyrie!  Lord have mercy!”  The woman with the issue of blood did not even consider herself worthy of speaking to Jesus.  She felt that her bleeding made her an unclean sinner who shouldn’t even be out in public, yet she went out didn’t she?  She went out and found Jesus, and using the crowd of people to hide in, she got down on her hands and knees and simply reached out with her hand of faith to just touch the corner of Jesus garment.

And what was Jesus response to both of them.  “Do not fear, only believe. Your faith has made you well, made you whole.”  So what can we learn from all of this?  First, Jesus sees and knows all that is happening to you and to our congregation.  He hasn’t turned a blind eye to you or our problems.  Just as he knew how Jairus felt when they told him that his daughter was dead, He knows how we are feeling.  He knows our fears and our feelings of abandonment.  And so Jesus speaks the gospel, words of faith to Jairus and to us.  “Don’t be afraid.  Keep on believing.”

And to the woman with the issue of blood, Jesus called her out of hiding and insisted that she reveal herself in public.  When He did this, He was also revealing Himself to her; Jesus said,  “Your faith has made you well.  You are no longer a despised unclean sinner.  You are forgiven.  Your faith in me is what has saved you.  You reached out that empty hand of faith and I filled it with even more gifts.  Keep on believing and reaching out and I will keep on filling you!

This was Paul’s message to the church in Corinth (2 Corinthians 8:1-15).  They too, like Trinity were struggling within their poverty.  Their offerings had all but dried up so that to some it may appear that the work of God through the proclaimed Word of God might be dying along with their unpaid bills and salaries.  But Paul wanted to remind them that their true debt was a spiritual one.  And it had been paid in full by their Savior, the Son of God Jesus Christ.

Paul then directed their minds to a sister congregation in Macedonia.  They too had been stripped of most of their material wealth.  They too saw the tithes and offerings fall to almost useless proportions.  But still they gave.  They gave and gave to the point that Paul thought that it may be unhealthy for them to give anymore, so he asked them to stop.  But they begged Paul to let them continue giving.  Why?  Because they saw the truth in their giving; they were giving out of grace.  They were giving because it was the love of the Father, the gift of grace through faith in the Son Jesus Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit that was working in them to give.  They knew by faith that they could not out give God, so in essence they were afraid that if they quit giving God would no longer shower them with blessings.  What blessings?  Well I’m sure they were reaping all kinds of physical blessings; how else could they keep on giving?  But the true blessing to them was first the blessing of being forgiven and then the blessing of being part of the believing body of Jesus Christ; the blessings of being Christ’s church, with Jesus as both their head and heart.  And so they gave out of their poverty so that others could be helped and the preaching of the gospel maintained.

And that dear friends was Paul’s solution to the Corinthians lack of charity.  It wasn’t a command to give more or to even give at all; Paul didn’t say give until it hurts so that God will love you more and bless you.  No, Paul simply showed the Corinthians what happens when one heart and many hearts remember and celebrate the faithfulness of God as demonstrated by the coming and giving of His Son.

Turn your eyes to Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith.  Remember His suffering and death for you.  For you, for you, for you… let those words echo in your ears.  He became poor so that you could become rich.  He became weak so that you could become strong; strong in faith and strong in service.

How do we celebrate God’s faithfulness?  By turning our eyes of faith to Jesus.  We celebrate by opening our hands and hearts like Jairus and the woman with the issue of blood.  We wait on the LORD quietly to give and take as He sees fit.  We remember that God cannot fill a closed fist, but He can fill hands that are open and lifted high in prayer, giving freely and waiting to receive the abundant blessings from above.

May the Spirit of Christ move us to do this very thing… I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!