Archive for October, 2012

“Salted for Service”

Sunday, October 28th, 2012

A Sermon for LWML Sunday, October 28, 2012 – based on Mark 9:38-50
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Adapted from the sermon of Pastor Matthew C. Harrison.
President, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

Click here for audio of this message

Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another (Mark 9:50).

The president of our denomination, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod likes to tell this humorous story: “Not long ago, my wife and I returned to her hometown. We were stopped at a gas station. As I filled the tank, I noticed she spent a long time speaking to the attendant.  When she finally returned to the car, I asked her, ‘Who was that you were talking to?’ She replied that it was an old flame.  ‘Oh really?’ I exclaimed with a smirk. ‘He’s a gas station attendant? Ha! I bet I know what you’re thinking!’ My wife responded, ‘Yeah. If I’d married him, he’d be the president of the Missouri Synod!’“

This joke has a profound point. The women in our lives, especially our wives, mothers, and grandmothers, make us men a lot better than we would be without them. “Salted for Service,” the LWML has been a similar blessing for the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod.

The mission of the LWML gets at the very heart of who we are as Christians and what we are as the Church. Though not all of you are members of the LWML, every one of you needs to know and believe what I am going to preach to you today. Otherwise you’ll just be stumbling through life pointlessly. And worse yet, you might just miss God’s call to enter His Sabbath rest in heaven altogether.

You dear Christians are called to be salty; Jesus makes us Christians “salty.” And He’s salted us to season everything that’s around us. When Jesus says, “If salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again?” He’s simply saying that salt can’t help but be salty.  You see, there’s no such thing as “unsalty” salt!” Christians are “salty,” and we’re salted for service!

Jesus died to put your sins to death on a cross 8,000 miles away, and He did it more than 2,000 years ago. It’s a done deal. “It is finished.”  There is nothing you or anyone on earth can or need do to gain God’s favor. “…God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself…” (2 Cor. 5:19). What He won so long ago, He’s handing out now, free of charge. In a sense, He grabbed you by your neck in Holy Baptism and made His cross, death and resurrection completely yours! Your sins are washed away! And why did He do that for you? Luther’s Catechism says that He did all of this “so that (you) may be His own, live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness.”

And what does the Bible say about salt? Well, it adds flavor of course (Luke 14:34); it seasons our food (Col. 4:6; Job 6:6), but salt also heals (2 Kings 2:21), and it preserves. Salt purified the sacrifices of the Old Testament and indicated peace with God (Lev. 2:13). It indicated kinship and peace between parties (Ezra 4:14), and so Jesus adds in today’s text, “Be at peace with one another.”

Today we aren’t forgiven, not “salted,” to live in sin and long for it, although sometimes it seems that we do that very thing, and indeed we all deserve the fate of Lot’s wife. No, we’re salted to look forward. We’re salted to serve. At the time of Luther, it was thought that church was all about giving to God the best of our works, praise, and service in order to earn a place in heaven. That’s what the Law demands! In those days, it was believed that the greatest Christians were those who were separated from the rest of the world in monasteries, separated from people and devoted to God. Church was all about doing; performing the sacrifice of the Mass in order to gain points in heaven.

But Luther turned the whole thing on its head. Through scripture, Luther demonstrated that the Church is first and foremost the place where we find God serving us! We are the tax collector standing afar off, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” God is the One doing something for us! Jesus said, “I came not to be served but to serve and give My life as a ransom for many.” So the Church, you and I have learned by scripture to agree with Luther, “And put aside the work (we) do, So that God may work in you!” (LSB 581:4)

The truth is friends, “God doesn’t need your good works. Your neighbor does!” That is one of the reasons that we are all still here; so that we can allow God to work through us serving our neighbors.  So served by God in His blessed Word and Sacrament, we are salted to turn to our neighbor in love and serve him or her. We are salted for service! And this is precisely what we learn from women of the Bible and the LWML.

The LWML is “salted for the service” of bearing witness to Christ. The LWML is precisely Lutheran Women in Mission! The LWML exists to give their witness to Christ. Remember the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4? “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” “Give me this water,” she responded to Jesus (John 4:10, 17). But Christ then confronted her about her numerous husbands and her current live-in boyfriend. Jesus called her to repentance and faith. And she, in fact, believed. After Jesus “salted” her for life eternal, what did she do? John 4:28 says, “So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, ‘Come see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?’” And in verse 39, we read, “Many Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of the woman’s witness.”

The Church bears witness to Jesus! The real art of reading the Bible is seeing ourselves in all of its characters—sinners, saints, the good, the bad and the ugly. And many times, all of these terms apply to one and the same person, just like us. You are the woman at the well! You are the one whose life does not square up with the demands of the Law. You deserve hell! You are the one whom Jesus calls to repentance! You are the one forgiven! You are the one who now bears witness to Jesus!  You are salted to serve no matter who you are! You are a “spiritual priest,” says the Bible, “that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

But where is that service to take place? The work of the LWML shows us exactly where. Your witness takes place where God has put you—first and foremost in your family. You are to bloom where you are planted.  If you are a parent or a grandparent, you are the witness to your children. You are the witness to your grandchildren. You are the witness to your siblings. That’s why the LWML provides so many resources and Bible studies to strengthen women and families in their faith! And from there, your witness is your circle of friends, this congregation, this community—just like the woman at the well.

Through the mites—the offerings of the women of the LWML—hundreds and hundreds of projects in our districts, the Synod, in our partner churches and all around the globe have been funded so that the Gospel of free forgiveness in Jesus is shared everywhere. This has amounted to millions of dollars. In fact, the worldwide witness of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod would be severely hindered without the LWML. That’s a fact. Countless thousands know Jesus because of the work of the LWML. Now that’s salty service, indeed!

The women of the LWML are also “salted for the service“ of being missionaries of mercy! I’m reminded of the Canaanite women. She cried to Jesus, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon” (Matt. 15:22 ff.). Surprisingly, Jesus put her off. “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs … I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” She responded, “Yes, Lord. But even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Luther says, “She had Him by the neck here.” Jesus came to have mercy, and to have mercy on both body and soul. Jesus cared for people in need, over and over again. The New Testament teaches repeatedly that the Church is to care for the needy in its midst and also to reach out to others in physical need.  This is St. Paul’s teaching (1 Corinthians 8–9). This is St. John’s teaching (1 John 3:15 ff.) This is the teaching of the Book of Acts (Acts 6). This is Luther’s teaching! This is the teaching of Dr. Walther, founder of the Missouri Synod.  And this is the marvelous “salty” practice of the LWML!

President Harrison tells about seeing this all over the world. “Over the past decade” he said, “I’ve visited dozens and dozens of places in the world and had a recurring experience—like I did, for example, in Ambur, India. There I was touring a large and bustling Lutheran hospital compound. Hundreds of people are treated there daily—babies are born and people are cared for by pastors and deaconesses and doctors. As I rounded a corner on the walk, I came face-to-face with something profound. A plaque on the hospital building stated, ‘Built with assistance of funds from the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League.’ Every time this occurs I think of all the women I’ve met over the years. I think of all those faithfully-filled Mite Boxes. I think especially of the women now with the Lord. And I’m profoundly thankful.”

It would literally take all day to tell you about current LWML projects around the district, the United States, and the world that are caring for the poorest women and children, fighting malaria and other diseases, assisting the addicted, providing care for unwed mothers and their children, and supporting crisis pregnancy centers. The list could be multiplied on and on, and in all these instances, Jesus is being shared with those in need.

The LWML is “salted for service“ in our life together in the Church. Don’t you find it interesting that Jesus says in our text, “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another”? Being “salt” brings with it a “life together” in the church. St. John wrote: “… that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete” (1 John 1:3–4). John’s witness to Jesus created faith and fellowship and joy. As the LWML bears witness to Jesus, precisely the same thing happens. Our life together is deepened. The LWML helps us share each other’s burdens. It strengthens our fellowship, our life together in Jesus. That fellowship, where we share faith and hope and love, continues to grow. And finally, there is joy—and joy especially in service.

Finally, the LWML is an example for all of us. We are all “salted to serve.” And how do we serve? Forgiven by Jesus we bear witness to Him in our daily lives. We care for those in need, just like He did. And we live a life together of love and forgiveness. And in all this service, through every joy and sorrow shared, there is joy. It’s no wonder the LWML’s motto is Psalm 100:2, “Serve the Lord with gladness!”

May God bless all the women of the LWML and the entire Church on earth with such salty service!

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!

Believe and Become!

Sunday, October 21st, 2012

21st Sunday in Pentecost B, October 21, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

“”Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts. [Hebrews 4:7]

The song I chose as a mental hook, “We Fall Down” is by Pastor Donnie McClurkin.  I want  to take some liberty with the words, and  change them just a little bit.  Listen:  “We fall down, Christ picks us up.  For a saint is just a sinner who fell down, and Christ picked up.   He picks us up again; get back up again; He picks us up again; get back up again.”  Or as they say in the Philippines, in their Tagalog  language, “Na mon, Na mon.”  Again and again.

Today, listen don’t worry about tomorrow or yesterday, but today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts, but grab onto the  promises of His Word and get back up again and again!

Adam and Eve at first didn’t need the promise of forgiveness; they walked and talked with God in paradise.  But something happened;  sin happened and they lost access to both paradise and God.  But God wouldn’t let that separate Him from the people He created in His  image, so He did something to restore that image; He gave them mercy and grace, which in turn brought forgiveness and new life.  God  gave His promise that one day He would come to them and provide a Savior through the bloodline of the woman.  Adam and Eve fell in  sin, and God picked them up by giving them hope; He gave them the promise of a Savior, Jesus Christ, who would  pick them up!

Many years latter, the Hebrew people were in bondage and they cried out to God for help, and He heard them.  He reminded them of the promise He made concerning the coming Savior who would make all things new and right; He reminded them that they were a people of faith who should grab onto that promise.  So God sent them Moses, a type of savior, but not THE Savior.  Moses would lead them out of bondage and into a type of promise land, Canaan, but not THE Promised Land of Paradise.  But they began to grumble and complain.  They began to lose faith, and they sinned against God and their neighbors.  Their sin was serious; they would not repent of it and trust the promises of God.  So God punished them and they died in their sins.  But their children did  repent and believe, and God allowed them to enter Canaan.  They fell down, but the promises of God concerning their Savior lifted them back up.

Their faith in this promised Savior was the only way God would one day give them total rest… Sabbath rest!  And that one day came, and God kept His promise and came to them from their own bloodline.  Born of the Virgin Mary, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God came to them in human flesh.  He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.  And on the third day He rose from the dead and proclaimed Sabbath rest for all who believe.  Through His death and resurrection He gave complete forgiveness for all sins.  This good news was preached first to the Jews, and then to all who would listen and believe.  Many rejected and fell down, but some believed and Christ picked them up.

And now we read in our Epistle lesson (Hebrews 4:1-16), that some are again in danger of disbelief; of lack of faith in the promises of God.  Some of them then and some of us now were and are in danger, so Christ desires to pick us up; He wants us to grab onto the promise of forgiveness and get back up.

I know that some of you here may feel like it might be too late to get back up; you might think that God is growing tired of you.  Maybe you feel that you are no longer counted among the saints, and instead you’ve become an ain’t!  Well like the song said, a saint is just a sinner who fell down and Christ picked up.  So… get back up again.  Do you need help getting up?  Then let this message from God pick you up again.

What was bad news for the wandering wilderness generation turns out to be good news for us.  You see, we learn that all of those who died in the wilderness, an entire generation of Hebrews, didn’t have to die; they could have repented, and trusted in the promises of God.  God would have lifted them up again, but they would not let Him, so they died in their sins, and the next generation made it to the promise land of Canaan.  But Canaan wasn’t the place where God would give them true Sabbath.  Canaan was just a shadow of the spiritual place and goal that God set before them in the promise of His Word.

Dear friends, that promise is still ours to grab onto, just as it was theirs.  It remains in force as an offer of peace with God; all any have ever needed to do was rest in the offer and receive the Savior who is promised in the Word of God.

Since countless men and women that went before us refused to trust in the promise of the Savior and died in their sins, forever cut off from paradise, then let us approach God and His promises with fear and trembling.  Otherwise we too may fail to reach our goal of paradise and peace with God.

The promises of God are the good news; the gospel about Jesus Christ.  Just as the promise came to those before us, it comes to us now… today!  The message they heard didn’t help them in the least, because they lacked faith in it.  You see, faith is the glue that sticks you to God and the hope of His promises fulfilled for you.  Faith is what gives you Jesus when you fall; the same Jesus who gladly calls you not just friend but brother.  He is the same Jesus who picks you up again and again.

By faith, God promises and gives to you Jesus, your true Sabbath rest.  By faith, we who believe in Jesus enter that Sabbath rest immediately at baptism.  And by faith, we walk in that Sabbath rest until we enter forever into God’s peace in paradise.  Since we have that rest and will forever experience that rest, shouldn’t we do everything to stay in that rest?  Shouldn’t we put all of our attention on protecting our relationship with Jesus?

How?  How do we protect that relationship?  By staying in the Word of God.  A Word that is sharper than a double edged sword.  It is the Word of God and not our money, things, or prestige that offers peace and delivers it.  The Word of God alone looks intently into our souls and shows us the sin that we hide so well from others, and then it offers us forgiveness and new life.  All that God asks of us that we trust Him; He asks that we hear Him speak to our hearts in His Word and simply believe.

It is the Word of God alone that strips you naked and vulnerable before your creator, and then offers to take your shame and cover it with the glory of Jesus Christ; the same glory that our parents, Adam and Eve once had but lost; but then had again when they placed their faith and trust in the promise of a Savior who would make all things new again.

In our gospel lesson, you heard again about the difficulty of a rich man getting into heaven.  In fact it is about as possible for a rich man trusting in his riches to get into heaven as it is for a Camel to pass through the eye of a needle.  In the middle ages a story was told about a gate in Jerusalem called the eye of the needle.  It was so narrow that a man or woman had to enter on foot, without a camel, horse, or weapons.  This design was intentional so that the city would be protected from invading warriors.

Whether that story is true or not is immaterial, but the illustration is perfect.  God wants you to place everything you trust in at the foot of the cross.  He wants you to come empty and naked to the waters of your baptism, where He clothes you with the righteousness of His own Son, Jesus Christ.  He wants you to trust Him with your time, talent, and treasure, so that He can give you the wealth of His kingdom.  In essence, He wants you to enter heaven through the narrow way… Jesus Christ alone.  And to make sure we trust in Christ alone so that a sinner becomes a saint, He speaks these Words of assurance to you.

Today, not tomorrow but today, if you are hearing His voice do not harden your hearts but enter into rest.  Turn to Jesus, the Son of God, your Compassionate High Priest.  Grab onto Him and let Him pick you up again and again.  Hold fast to your confession of faith that in Jesus alone you have peace with God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and Earth.  Because, you don’t have a High Priest in Jesus Christ who is unable to sympathize with your weakness, but instead you have your Savior and God who was born of the Virgin Mary just as you were born.  He suffered, not just in His death but in this life.  He faced all of the same tragedies and heartaches that you face, but He faced them perfectly, without sin, for you!  For you, He suffered, died, and was buried, FOR YOU, FOR YOU.  Let those words ring in your ears; let them soak into your heart and mind.  Jesus fell down; He let them put Him down, but then by His own power, the power of God He got up!  He got up so that you would trust Him and allow Him to pick you up, again and again, until the final day when He takes you up to your promised rest in paradise.

So be bold and grab onto the promises of God that were first given to you within the waters of your baptism.  Be bold and approach His table of grace where you dine on His body and blood, in, with, and under the bread and wine for the forgiveness of all of your sins.

Be bold, believe, and become the saint that Christ picks up.  Boldly believe and become all that God proclaims for you, in Jesus name… AMEN!

Too Much, Too Little, Too Late

Sunday, October 14th, 2012

20th Sunday in Pentecost B, October 14, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to Him, Then who can be saved?”  [Mark 10:17-27]

That’s the million dollar question, pardon the pun.  If that rich dude who did a pretty fair job at keeping the law had the same chance of getting into heaven as a camel walking through the eye of a needle, then who can be saved.

Now, I chose the song “So Close and Yet So Far” as our mental hook to put the message on.  I could have also chose the Johnny Mathis song with the same title as our message, “Too much, too little too late,” but I like the idea that the rich young ruler was so close to heaven and yet so far.  The proof of that is in his question and how he received Jesus answer.  “How do I get to heaven?”  And to that Jesus says, “Sell everything you’ve got, give the money to the poor, and then come on and follow me.”

There’s your answer young man; and if Jesus says it’s the way for you, well then, you can take that to the bank.  Oops, pardon the pun again!

A Sunday school teacher was examining her pupils after a series of lessons on God’s omnipotence.  She asked, “Is there anything God can’t do?”  There was an appropriate silence in the room.  Finally, one young boy raised his hand.  The teacher, disappointed that the young boy still did not learn the lesson’s point, asked somewhat in a disappointed tone, “Well, just what is it that God can’t do?”  “Well,” replied the boy, “He can’t please everybody.”

Maybe a better way of saying that, is that Jesus knows a way that should please everyone, but most folks think they know more than Him, so they strike off to please themselves in a way that seems right to them, but in the end… well it just leads to judgment and death.

Throughout our lives God is consistently calling out to us; He’s asking us to take a truthful look into our hearts and admit that our transgressions are many, and our sins are great. But we don’t want to see those things.  He wants us to see that we live in an evil time, and that there is evil all around us.  He’s telling us to seek good, and not evil so we will live; He’s telling us to hate evil, love good, and then spend our lives not just loving God’s goodness, but also working to spread it throughout our community. [Amos 5:6-15]

Sounds like a plan, doesn’t it?  Yet, while we might agree with the plan, secretly, within our hearts, we can never accept that plan.  We can’t accept it, because it requires a complete surrender of everything that we have come to believe is important and necessary in this life.  The truth is, money, fame, prestige, and possessions are the things that society has taught us to seek and trust in.

Some years ago there appeared in the daily paper an account of two separate women.  One woman was a rich debutant who spent millions of dollars on clothes and possessions, including a bill for a $70,000 dress from Paris; the other woman, a modest Christian woman who once was rich, but now poor, admitted that she had given most of her millions to her church and various charities.  She was asked how she could so easily give away her estate and yet the other woman, could not do the same, and she replied, “Well, I guess it is a matter of taste—Paris gowns or heavenly crowns.”

Was giving her money away the key to pleasing God or was there something more that pleased her all powerful Creator.

Before the rich young ruler asked Jesus the million dollar question, he said something that caused Jesus to begin teaching with His own question.  The young man in complete sincerity ran up to Jesus, knelt down before Him and said, “Hello good teacher.”

Now I want you to understand what the young man means when he calls Jesus good.  It means that he respects Jesus; he admires Him, because He is wiser and better than him; or as my grandson Gabriel says, Jesus was “gooder” than him.  And because of this perception of his, He came to Jesus with a question that he’d been wrestling with for years: “What must I do to be saved?”

And what is Jesus response?  ‘Why are you calling me good?  You know that in our tradition, we never call anyone good but God, right?  So what is the reason you call me good?  You are struggling with a great concern; you want to go to heaven, but you don’t quiet know how to guarantee your place, right?  Now stop right there and remember, you called me good, on your own; that’s a description that you would usually only use for your Creator.  So, if I am truly good, then hear what I am about to say.’

‘You know the commandments that relate to your neighbor; those in your family and community, right?  Just do them.’  And the rich young ruler said to Him, “Teacher, all of those commandments I have kept from my youth.”  And what did Jesus do next?  Did He give Him a theological teaching on the inherit sinfulness of the human heart?  No, instead He looked at the young man and loved him.  He knew that this person was sincere in his belief that he was living a God pleasing life.  The problem wasn’t in His sincerity but in the reality.  While everyone looking at this young man on the outside would agree that he was living an exemplary life, Jesus who is God and looks into the heart, looked and saw judgment and pain.  Jesus knew that this young man had been duped by the world into thinking that doing your best is what pleases God instead of trusting your best with God.

So Jesus helps the young man see who his real God is; the one he really trusts in.  Jesus says, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me.”

What Jesus was trying to get the young man to see, was that the one thing needful that he lacked was a real relationship with His Creator.  He lacked an intimacy with God that can only come through trust; through God’s undeserved love and kindness, which is always a gift on God’s terms.  It’s always a free gift and never earned.

When I was a young man, my grandfather corrected me on a hymn I was singing.  The hymn was “Trust and obey.”  I was singing it like this, “Trust and OK”.  But now that I am older, I still like those words much better.  If I can just keep learning to trust God’s care for me and His plan for my life, then everything will be OK.  There is no other way.  But that kind of trust in the true God is impossible if you are already trusting in something else.

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”  The truth is friends, the real reason that the rich young ruler, and you and I have such a hard time receiving Jesus Words this morning is because when He speaks He is messing with our value system.  I mean, let’s be honest here; we all like to believe that what we have is ours, because we earned it; we worked hard for it.  We all like to look at our stuff, as proof of our success, and indicators of God’s approval and blessing in our lives.  And now Jesus is telling us that our “stuff” may not be a blessing at all.

What is it that really matters in life?  If it isn’t money and possessions; if it isn’t financial security, then what?  This morning, Jesus wants you to connect with the only One who is Good!  The rich young ruler was speaking to Him, and you do too!  Maybe like that rich young man, you also are asking God what the secret to eternal life is.  How can I know for sure that I am saved?  Well, like that young man, once you hear God speak and you listen, you have what God calls the beginning of wisdom unto salvation.

Then what about our doing good?  Doesn’t that count for something?  Well, the truth is that all of our own righteousness, our good deeds are simply like soiled rags before God, because we still have our sinful nature clinging to us.  And while we continue deceiving ourselves, thinking that we can please God by good behavior, Jesus looks at us and He loves us.  He loves us and dies for us upon the cross.  And from the cross He says follow me.  I have done all things good; all things good for you.  I am your treasure; your true wealth.

So who can be saved if there is nothing we can do to please God?  All can be saved.  All of us have been promised that salvation is ours for the taking, if we will just trust in God’s way; trust then ok.  All things are possible with God.  God alone is greater than our fears and our worries.  In His Word He gives us great treasures that make us rich.  In His Word He gives us Jesus and His righteousness.  By Jesus poverty we are made rich.

In God’s time, at just the right time Jesus died for the world.  He who emptied Himself and gave up His life on the cross, was also raised from the dead.  And in Jesus alone we have life, an abundant life and the promise of eternal peace and happiness.

This morning, Jesus is asking us to be vulnerable before God.  “Come and follow me,” He says.  Amos cries out to us this morning that we should “Seek the Lord and live,” but the truth is, we don’t have to seek Him this morning, because He’s already sought us and found us.  In the cross, God is revealed; more than that, the depth of God’s love is shown to us.  In the cross, God demonstrates the truth that He will never leave you or forsake you.

Jesus who loved the young man loves us as well.  He has declared us forgiven as He splashes water over us.  We are transformed as God’s Word of grace is spoken to us.  We eat the bread of life, we drink the cup of salvation and He tells us again that our sins are forgiven.  Through it all we experience God’s loving purpose for us revealed in the cross of Jesus.

I would like to think that eventually the rich young ruler understood that what he had to offer God on His own, was too much of too little.  I would like to think that he realized this before it was too late.  I trust that each of us has learned to place our own security on Christ, the solid rock.

So too, each of us who have been transformed, have come to discover that the giving of our time, talent, and treasure, isn’t something we must do to receive God’s forgiving love, instead it is something we will do because we already have his forgiving love.  We’ve discovered that “hating evil and loving the good”, as Amos says, is the result of our relationship with God.  Selling possessions and giving up all, even life itself, is possible only in the light of Jesus sacrifice for us upon the cross.

Through Jesus and His cross, through the waters of our own baptism, we discover that a camel really can go through the eye of a needle; we really can be saved, on Christ the solid rock we stand, all other ground is sinking sand!

Are You Going?

Sunday, October 7th, 2012

19th Sunday in Pentecost B, October 7, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it. [Mark 10:15

Each of you who are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are promised a seat at our Lord’s banquet table; you’ve been promised a mansion in heaven.  Or like I taught the children in their message this morning, by abiding or resting in Jesus, you’ve been given a ticket on the heavenly train to glory.  So, are you going?  Will you be there in glory?

God’s Word promises that you will be; it encourages you to trust in Christ alone; He wants you to rest in everything that He has done for you in this life and the life to come.  Is that enough for you, or do you need more?

In our epistle reading this morning (Hebrews 2:1-13), God warns His little ones, He warns you and me that if we don’t continually grab a hold of His promises about our blessed assurance, we might begin to drift away from our seat at the banquet table; we might begin to want to find another way to our heavenly home.  So is that a danger to us; drifting away from God’s precious promises?  It is if we are trusting in something other than the work and the promises of God!

Why do you have times when you feel like your life lacks meaning and purpose?  It’s because you’ve taken your eyes off of God’s promises!  Why is it that when trouble comes your way you become afraid and filled with doubt?  It’s because you lost sight of Jesus and His real presence in your life!  Why is it that when fear and doubt come, you begin to lose that joy in knowing that you really do have a place prepared just for you in heaven?  It’s because you have begun to judge success by what you do and not what God has done for you!

The truth is we all fall short of God’s will for us here; we all fall short of His perfection, but we still want so badly to please Him; to earn His love and respect.  But it’s also true that no matter how hard we try to be good, we will fail.  And yet we still try to earn our place in heaven by what we do.

This morning the theme in both our Old Testament and Gospel lessons seems to be marriage and family.  In both of these readings, God is showing us His perfect will and how far short we fall from that perfection.  So then why do we still think that on our own we can be a good husband or a good wife, a good parent or child?  Because we have a sin problem, and our sinful nature won’t let us see the impossibility of change; it won’t let us see that on our own, we are without hope.  And so, even though we know that we fall short of pleasing God, our sinful desire to be independent would have us believe that we can bridge this gap by our own efforts.  So we are deceived into thinking that if we just try a little harder our marriages will be repaired and our families will be God pleasing.

This kind of thinking is not only dangerous, it is darn right destructive.  It’s harmful to ourselves and to those we love.  You see, when we think that action and effort are enough to please God and restore joy in our lives and our relationships with others, we have abandoned God’s promises of help and hope.  We’ve exchanged the hope of the gospel for the demands of the Law; a Law that will settle for nothing short of perfection!

People who are trusting in the law are easy to spot.  They are the ones who struggle and strive but never really see any lasting improvement in their lives.  Life guards on our San Diego beaches say that the biggest danger to swimmers are the many rip-tides that are present off our shores.  They say that swimmers caught in a rip tide are easy to spot.  They are the ones who swim and swim, yet they aren’t moving.  They aren’t moving because they aren’t strong enough to defeat the current.

Sadly, each of us can get caught up in the riptides of life.  We tell ourselves that if we just try harder, everything will be alright.  And when we become exhausted at trying to fix our marriages or our other relationships, we become discouraged and maybe afraid that God is angry at us because we aren’t spiritual enough.  So what do we do?  We look for another way to maximize our effort; we read another book or take another course.  We try new techniques and try to be nicer and more attentive.

Maybe, we hear about a Christian who seems to have everything going for them, so we try to find out their secret or technique to happiness.  And if we hear that they get up every morning at 4:00 a.m. to spend more time with God in prayer and Bible study, we resolve to do that too, even though we aren’t a morning person.  And what do you think the result will be for us?  We will probably still be frustrated, but now we’ll also be dazed, confused, groggy and grumpy all day because we didn’t get enough sleep.  And now with inadequate sleep, our marriage is worse and the people we love are avoiding us!

Now at this point, you would think that we would admit failure and try things God’s way, right?  Nope!  Instead, we’ll tell ourselves that because we’re exhausted and miserable, this must be what God wants us to do.  It must be spiritual!  So we keep it up for a few weeks or maybe even a few months, but eventually our discipline will break down, and we’ll abandon this latest technique towards building a better  marriage, and a stronger family.  You know what comes next don’t you?  Guilt!  And after enough guilt we’ll simply move onto the next program or buy another book with 10 easy steps towards fulfillment.

Eventually, we will just give up; we simply won’t have the energy to try anymore.  And what comes next?  We learn to fake it.  We think that we can bridge the gap to heaven by acting like we’re alright, even though everything within us and around us is screaming in our ears that we aren’t OK.  But we keep up the image; we speak as if we had deeper spiritual experiences than we really have.  Our hearts become cold, and we speak as though our sin bothers us more than it really does.  We pray as though our voice is throbbing with deep emotion that isn’t really there.  Why we might even join in a game of spiritual musical chairs, always searching for a different church or ministry that will provide the magic key.  Some people go from one movement to another, continually rededicating their lives to the Lord, only to fall away again and again.  And if this continues, God is warning us that eventually we will secretly give up.  Oh, we’ll still hope that there’s a place for us in heaven, but between now and the day we die, we’ll spend the rest of our lives disappointed and not even trying to change.

So what’s the answer?  Where is the hope?  What is it that can break this awful cycle of disappointment and death?  It certainly isn’t greater resolve or another program; no I think that we need to follow the example of the mothers and babies in our gospel lesson to get our answer!

We need to get to Jesus!  Listen: “And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.”

The Pharisees wanted to sit around talking about the best technique, the most God pleasing program that would free people from the condemnation of the law; in this case they were arguing about divorce.  But Jesus wouldn’t let them; instead He told them that they didn’t have a problem in choosing the best strategy, they had a problem with their hearts.  They were sinful.  They needed a new heart, and that was something only Jesus could give them.

The apostles didn’t have that problem; they had constant access to God’s recreating presence; they were with Jesus all of the time.  No, there problem was their desire to control Jesus; they wanted to limit His audience, and the people who also got to be with Him.  They really wanted Jesus to themselves and they wanted Him to minister to others in a way they thought was best.  So they forbid the mothers from bringing their children to Jesus.  But Jesus wouldn’t have any of that.  He was angry and He let it show!  He told them that not only should they quit standing in the way of these little ones getting to Him, but that if they did not become like one of those babies, they would never get into heaven!  In other words, they too needed a new heart; they needed to turn to God confessing their helplessness and total dependence on His care!

The truth is, eventually all of us finally figure out that we can’t ever bridge the gap by our own efforts. We discover that we can never earn God’s love and forgiveness.  We discover that God will always work the way He desires and not the way we want Him to work; we discover that we must become like a child and realize that this kind of love can only come by grace.  A child knows that salvation is a gift; it’s simply something that is given to him; it’s something that he trusts in because it comes from Jesus.  That is why Jesus loves to use little children as his teaching aids.

What is God’s plan for you, your marriage, family, and life?  That you would not trust in your own abilities or your self-improvement plans, but instead learn to rest in what He has done for you through Jesus Christ.  In Jesus, concerning your forgiveness, there is no place for self-improvement because that would negate the need for the cross.  In the cross, God takes you away from your plan of salvation and He shows you His.  He shows you His Son who suffered and died for every sinner that ever lived.  But He also makes it very personal by taking you to the waters of your baptism.  In your baptism He promises that you have been recreated and restored; He promises that in His Word, in His promises you can grab onto them, trust them and then watch as He continually renews you and changes you.

The mothers in our gospel reading knew what you also know but often forget.  If you can just get to Jesus and stay with Him, there is new life and hope in abundance!  In the Word of God, Jesus speaks to you, to your marriages, to your families; He speaks Words of forgiveness and hope.  Even if you have been marked by divorce or a family tragedy, Jesus promises that this is not what defines you or condemns you; instead, He speaks forgiveness and new life as He continually invites you into His plan of salvation for you; and in this plan, He promises to give you a new and abundant life.

Listen friends, God doesn’t want you to just be saved by grace but to live by it as well!  God’s plan is for your daily life to be guided, guarded, and energized by Jesus suffering and death for you!  He wants you to live in grace and then watch as it flows out of you and into your families, your relationships and our community.  In essence, God wants you to be amazed at how His Spirit will transform your life, your family, and our community.

So will you be there, at the banquet in heaven?  Yes by grace alone!  But listen, God doesn’t want you to be satisfied with just your seat, your mansion in heaven, He also wants you to go out and invite others to join you.  You can do that as you let His forgiving love live in you and pass through you.  You can do that as you invite others to come with you to this place of worship so that they too can experience the very same thing.  I pray that you will do this very thing… in Jesus name… AMEN and AMEN!