Archive for November, 2012

Thy Kingdom Come!

Sunday, November 25th, 2012

Last Sunday of the Church Year (B), November 25th, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

“”Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world.  If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews.  But my kingdom is not from the world. [John 18:36]

On December 7, 1941, a quite naval harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii was attacked by the Japanese military.  After several years of sitting  out the war, that was enough to propel our great nation into action.  We were at war, and we would defeat the enemy at all costs!

On September 11, 2011 our nation was attacked on three different fronts, by a loose but large confederation of Islamic terrorist known  as Al Qaeda. That was enough to begin a war on all terrorist who pose a threat against our country, and indeed democracy throughout  the world.  Our nation, once again has vowed to win that war at all costs, and even now, that war rages on throughout the world.

And yet, in our gospel reading, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who alone is our true and eternal King, was about to be brutally beaten  and crucified at the hands of an occupying terrorist force in Palestine, known as the Roman Empire.  Where was the outrage?  Where  was the beating of war drums?  Why would God the Father allow this to happen?  Jesus gives the answer: “My kingdom is not of this  world.”

What does that mean?  Well simply put, our King Jesus and His true followers are not of this world; we do not find our identity here.  We  know that in this world of sin, we will find suffering just as our King found suffering. We have learned to accept this truth as our reality  while we wait patiently for our King to return.  And while we wait, we are not a threat to this physical world.  We live in this world, but  we are not of this world.  We obey the law, we pay taxes, we do many works of charity, and we give large sums of money to work towards peace in this world, and yet, we suffer for the good we do.  Why do we accept this as our reality?  Because we know that the time is coming when our true King will come in power for us to make all things new and right, but we also know that He is coming to judge the unfaithful and punish sin.

Until the day of our Lord arrives, we are simply to wait; we are to do nothing disruptive, but simply wait and behave as good citizens under whatever government we find ourselves in.  Are we doing anything to prepare for our King Jesus’ return?  Are we preparing by committing acts of sedition?  No!  Are we working to undermine the authority of our rulers?  NO!  So what are we doing?  We are praying, “Thy Kingdom come and Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

So, is prayer all that we do to prepare for Christ kingdom?  Certainly not; you see we also speak God’s Word, which is God’s power, or God’s means in both opening the gates to Christ Kingdom and closing them to those who rebel against His Kingdom into an eternal internment camp, built by the will of God to forever separate unrepentant rebels from God’s children of faith.

The Kingdom of God is here with us right now; we call it His Kingdom of Grace, and yet, His Kingdom is not yet complete.  On the great and terrible day that it comes in full, it will come with power, great power that will not only topple all earthly kingdoms, but it will also destroy both the earth and heaven together.  And when it comes, it will usher in a new heaven and earth that will be one under the rule of the Son of God, King Jesus Christ.

Now, as Isaiah reported in our Old Testament reading, our King has set His Word as a true source of justice and divine light for all of the people of the world.  It’s righteousness draws nearer every day as His Holy Gospel is proclaimed throughout the world.  He has prepared those who will hear His Word to respond to that Word of forgiveness; that is why Isaiah was compelled to write that “the coast-lands hope for (their King). [Isaiah 51:4-5]  And what we hope for is what we wait for; so we can say that the Kingdom of Jesus, that is His Kingdom of Power is not yet.  And this is where people who are not God’s children of faith have a problem.  They have a problem because they will not look up to heaven for answers.

The Kingdom of Power is coming whether you believe in it or not; whether you hope for it or not.  The day is coming when the heavens will vanish like smoke and the earth will wear out like a garment, and all will die and all will come back to life.  The question really is, after you die and you are returned to life, where will you spend eternity.  And what will answer that question will be the kingdom you are trusting and resting in.

You dear saints, who are resting in the Kingdom of Grace, Christ’s Kingdom are also pursuing righteousness.  You are seeking God’s Kingdom and waiting for it to come in power.  But waiting in the Kingdom of grace and pursuing that Kingdom of power is not easy; in fact it is impossible without faith.  As we live here in this world of sin, we soon discover that there is very little grace shown to us, and the power we experience seems to be evil and working against the good we try to do.  At best here in this world, we seem to have fleeting moments of happiness, but they elude us so quickly and then we fall to sin ourselves and collapse again in guilt, fear, and doubt.  We can become frustrated when we discover, that we can’t simply take off our sinful nature and hang it up in the closet or throw it out for the weekly trash collection.

So what are we to do?  Well listen of course.  We are to hear the word of God and pay attention to it.  Listen: “Give attention to me, my people, and give ear to me, my nation (of faith); for a law will go out from me (to you).  What law?  The law of grace that can come only through your King of Grace, Jesus Christ.

You see, God knows that you are but flesh; He knows that you cannot come into His Kingdom of Grace, so in His Word, He brings that Kingdom to you.  What word is that?  The Word about Jesus your King; His suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension.  It is that Word that has been sent out and found you.  It is a Word of forgiveness.

Grace to you… grace for you… grace, which is yours right now, if you see a need for it; if you want to be in God’s Kingdom.  God’s unmerited love is yours right now through Jesus who loves you and has set you free from your sins by His blood shed upon the cross.  He has done all of the work and simply calls you to come and rest in His kingdom of grace and pursue every day His Kingdom of Power.  You pursue His Kingdom of Power as His priests proclaiming the message about His Kingdom of Grace; the message of your God and Father.  And the life we live here in the kingdom of man we live while waiting for the Kingdom of Christ.  And the life that we live is how we give glory to God the Father of our King Jesus, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. [Revelations 1:4-8]

At least every Sunday we pray, “Thy Kingdom come” in the Lord’s prayer.  What does it mean then to pray those words?

God’s kingdom comes all by itself without our prayer, right?  So why must we pray those words?  So that His kingdom would be so great within us and among us that others would know that there is a God in Heaven.  We pray those words so that we will be the type of child that not only lives in His kingdom but also helps to make that kingdom grow among us!  How does that Kingdom grow among us?  Through the message from and about our King Jesus, and that message, is the good news that God sent his Son, Christ our Lord, into this sinful world to redeem and deliver us from the power of the devil, to bring us to himself, and to rule us as our King of righteousness.  In this kingdom we are given life, and salvation against sin, death, and an the devil. It is this message alone that keeps us in His kingdom and delivers His Holy Spirit to us in power, so that we may have faith to continually be saved by his holy Word and Sacraments.  These are the only means God has provided to save us and deliver us safely into His Kingdom.

When we talk about God’s Kingdom, when we pray that God would help us rest in His kingdom, we are really asking God to help us praise His name and live a Christian life. We ask this so that those of us who have already entered into the kingdom of grace may remain faithful and grow daily in it and also so that God may use us to help others enter it, and together we may all remain eternally in His kingdom that He has now begun in us and among us!

“The coming of God’s kingdom to us” then takes place in two ways: first, it comes here, in time, through the Word and faith, and second, it comes in eternity, with the end of days.  It comes in great power and might, and it is the only way that you can enter the kingdom of God.  Christ has done all of the work.  He has given to you His Holy gospel so that you may hear and believe through His gift of faith.  He has washed you clean in the waters of your baptism.  Not only has he stripped you of your sinful and soiled nature, but he has given you a new nature; a robe of righteousness, which is the very nature of your King Jesus.  And what’s more is He invites you to come to His holy table to have communion with Him and all of the saints that have gone before you.  He asks you to dine on His very body and blood for the continued forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of your faith.  All that He asks of you is that you continue to use these things every day and trust in them alone.

Oh yes, there is one more thing He asks of you.  He asks that you pray to Him in Heaven that He would continue to keep His name and you holy, and He asks that you pray that His Kingdom would come soon in power and might.

Will you remember to pray that Christ’s Kingdom would come soon?  Will you look forward to that Kingdom and let all that is within you work towards ushering in that Kingdom first in you then around you?

I pray that God would continually move our hearts to always ask for His kingdom to come among us.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Give Thanks

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Thanksgiving Eve’ November 21, 2012
Luke 17:11-19

Click here for audio of this message

Luke 17: “One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him–and he was a Samaritan.” [Luke 17:15-16]

Tonight, God’s Word wants to realign your heart and your faith so that you will leave here not only more thankful, but more importantly  more faithful!

Aside from our Savior, the main character in our Gospel lesson this evening is a Samaritan.  He is one of 10 lepers that cried out to Jesus for  mercy.  Now, we need to understand that during the time of our Gospel reading, lepers were a common sight, and they usually wandered in  groups.  They were required to wear a bell or clang a symbol or beat a drum and call out “Unclean, I am unclean.”  In this condition, they  rarely could find work and relied on the charity of others.  The assumption then is that they were expecting food or money from Jesus and  His disciples; all but one that is!  You see, the Samaritan saw past his immediate need and he set his heart on something more than just  temporary help; he was centered on spiritual things; he needed a clean heart and a right relationship with God.

While this encounter was a historical occurrence, it also can be used to teach us something about ourselves.  The Samaritan leper  represents you and me, and indeed all of mankind, who are according to Jesus’ appraisal of the Samaritan in verse 18, foreigners.  We really  are foreign to God’s perfect righteousness, and considered unclean or unholy because of our common disease, “sin.”

Just as the 10 lepers together cried out to Jesus for mercy, we too cry out to God for help, but the cry of a true Christian, like that of the  Samaritan is one that seeks something more than just help with physical needs.  In our worship on Sunday morning, we all call out to God this way when we sing the Kyrie, which means “Lord have mercy.”  But again, like the 10 lepers, maybe not all of us are asking for the same things.  Let me show you what I mean.

If you notice in verses 16 and 17, there were 10 lepers who cried to God for mercy, but only one returned to Jesus to thank Him and glorify His name.  We read: “One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him–and he was a Samaritan.”  I submit to you that this Samaritan leper was asking God for much more than money or food.

Now, while it’s true, that all 10 were healed of their leprosy, only one found the gift of faith and only one returned to worship Jesus.  Only one heard Jesus say, “Your faith has made you well.”  So what about the other nine? What healed them? Obviously, the answer is Jesus, but it would seem that faith was not a requirement to receive healing from Jesus! It would seem that the nine received a miracle without faith.

Now this truth is in contrast to a common false teaching of the “word of faith movement” or the “name it and claim it” crowd, who say that “If you just have enough faith, God will heal you.”  Here we have an occurrence where faith isn’t even mentioned before the healings, but instead, it comes afterwards. So did the other nine, who are not told, “Your faith has made you well” suddenly have their leprosy return?  I doubt that!  No, what we have here is a story of ten being healed and only one being saved.

The Samaritan was not only cleansed, but on account of faith he gained something much more precious than health or wealth, he received salvation through Christ Jesus.  Somehow, Jesus removed the veil of the world from the eyes of the Samaritan; the veil that hides the truth that Jesus is true God.  He allowed the Samaritan to see Him as Lord and Savior, and as God and Redeemer.  This seeing comes only after God grants us the eyes of faith.

Christianity is a walk of faith, and faith is the gift of seeing Jesus Christ as He truly is; as He has revealed Himself to Christians in the past and as He still reveals Himself to us, the living yet crucified and resurrected Son of God.

This seeing things as God says they are and not as they appear, is not something that people outside of Jesus can understand.  It is completely foreign to them.  Try explaining to your unsaved family and friends that in communion, while we receive bread and wine we also receive the body and blood of Christ.  This eating and drinking of our God is a difficult thing to grasp without the eyes of faith.  We Christians see differently because God sees things differently, and that is why our prayer, our worship, our actions, our whole way of being in the world, has its own distinctive accent and flavor.

Why did the Samaritan leper return and worship God at the feet of Jesus?  Because when the Samaritan cried out “Have mercy,” his heart was crying out to God for much more than a healing from a skin disease, he was searching for a right relationship with his God.  Do you see a need for the love and forgiveness of Jesus in your life?  Do you have faith to believe that God hears your cry of mercy and accepts that as praise?  How is crying out to God “Have mercy” a cry of praise?  Because you are confessing to God that you are broken in sin and that you need His help.  You are praising Him for being your only hope.    Do you have faith in the completed work of Jesus upon the cross for the sins of the world?  Are you resting in that completed work as it was given to you in your baptism, or are you still counting on something else?  Friends, faith IS that something else!

All people have been created by God. Many people (and most Americans) have food and clothing, home and family, daily work, and all that they need from day to day. I believe that God protects many people — believers and non-believers alike in times of danger and He for the most part, guards them from a lot of evil. No one deserves this, yet God’s “fatherly and divine goodness and mercy” touches many, many people. How are believers different from the rest of humanity?  Well, we are like that one leper; when we recognize God’s hand in the good that we have, we respond with thanks and praise to Him through Jesus Christ. We respond by loving God and serving Him.

This IS the meaning of Thanks Giving.  May God continue to do this great work of faith within each of you and may you continue to always give Him thanks and praise.  In Jesus name… AMEN!

It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)!

Sunday, November 18th, 2012

25th Sunday in Pentecost B, November 18th, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

“”And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time.  But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. [Daniel 13:1b]

The song we just heard by R.E.M., is also the title of our message.  It’s the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine)!  Well if the end  of the world were too come say next month, on December 21st as many say the Mayan calendar predicts, would you be fine with that,  or does it cause you to worry?

Or if the end of the world would have happened on May 21st as Harold Camping said in one of his many false predictions, would that  have been alright with you.  Were you ready for it?  Are you still ready?  Can you ever be ready?

The truth is friends, God has been telling us in his Word that there will be an end of all things created and we need to be ready.  You can  sense it can’t you?  You can tell that there are many things that just aren’t right; things that seem to be so unfair in this life that this can’t be all that there is.  If you need proof that something here is broken, just look at all of the wars and threats of wars, the earthquakes and hurricanes, and the deaths.  Nations and alliances are formed and peace is always destroyed, no matter how hard we try to keep it.  Children disrespect their parents and parents abuse and abandon their children.  False messiahs and cults seem to pop up everywhere.  Isn’t that proof enough that something big, something terrible is getting ready to happen?

I like to go into Wal-Mart with some spare change in my pocket, so I can drop it into that charity bin they have.  You know the one I’m talking about don’t you?  It looks like a big concave bowl sitting on top of a giant funnel that drops into a glass box.  I like to drop my change from the top of the bowl and watch it go around and around and around.  And the closer it gets to the hole in the bottom, the faster and faster it goes, until it plops into the box and disappears.

That’s how I feel this world is moving.  In the beginning God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. [Genesis 2:7]  But in just the next chapter of Genesis we read how God’s first children, our parents rebelled against their Creator, and one of the terrible consequences of that sin was death.  And just like that, our existence has been dropped into the bowl of death and it is going faster, and faster, and before you know it, plop it is all going to drop into the bin of destruction.

The truth is, like Adam and Eve, all of us must return to the ground from which we came.  In every generation since Adam and Eve’s fall from paradise, our greatest fear and our greatest enemy has always been death.  You could say that since the fall the death rate has remained the same—one per person.

So how should we feel about our death and the end of all things; should we be afraid or should we feel fine?  Well, that all depends on the kind of death you have to look forward to.

In our reading from Daniel (Daniel 12:1-3) we are told of two different kinds of deaths; there are those who die with their names written in God’s book of life, and those who aren’t recorded in that book.  Each of us, after we die will rise again; we will all be called out of our graves, no matter where they are or how we have been laid to rest, and each of us will have to face our Creator.  And many of us who are raised from death will be given everlasting life in paradise, but many will also be given everlasting life in shame and contempt.

Those who spent their lives avoiding God and running after false gods and false messiahs will experience a dreadful day, even if they don’t believe it now.  They will hear God say, “Very well, you wanted to be without me; now be without me—forever!”  And they will be sentenced to and eternal divorce from God—a never ending existence of shame and emptiness.  It will be a loneliness that that will consume them like fire, yet they will never know and end to that suffering.  They will suffer in complete awareness and hopelessness.

That idea of hell and suffering doesn’t go well with people today who like to turn God into some lovable, soft-hearted, incompetent old fool.  But God’s Word says different, doesn’t it.  God’s anger and His punishment are evident throughout scripture.  We start with the expulsion from paradise of Adam and Eve, and then we go to the flood and countless people screaming out of the agony of death by drowning.  And then God’s Word takes us to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in a hurricane of fire.  Yes He is is the same God who fed evil Queen Jezebel to the dogs and allowed countless people, including children, to die in wars that He sent Israel to wage against unrepentant sinners.  That same God still reigns in heaven today!  And what’s more, He has told us that He does not change; what He has done before, He will do again; He is doing again.

And Those who’s names are not written in His book will stand before Him on judgment day and be sentenced to shame and everlasting contempt.  They wont simply cease to exist, as if they were cast away into some celestial junk yard to simply rust away into nothing.  No, God would never dishonor His creation like that.  For all eternity those who fall into judgment will retain their personality and the ability to experience God’s eternal rejection and His displeasure.

But for you dear saints, for you who are resting in the promises of God’s forgiving love, things shall be much different.  You are those who God told Daniel are wise.  From God’s Word you have learned to recognize your sin and the need for a Savior from that sin.  You have learned to trust God in hard times; times of war, natural and man-made disasters, and economic despair.  You have learned through God’s Word to remain hopeful and to show restraint and sound judgment, even when your savings are dwindling and there is no food in the cupboard.  You have simply learned to wait on the Lord to provide both comfort in times of trouble and a way out of that trouble.  This then, is one of the ways that you shine like a bright star in heaven.  As others are suffering and crying out in fear and desperation you are waiting for your God.  You become one who shows others what the peace of God that surpasses all understanding is.  You are a light in your community that helps others find the way into God’s family and ultimately into a place at God’s side.

You and the many other saints who wait in peace on the Lord will live forever in glory, as you shine like the brightness of heaven.  You know that on judgment day, the end of the world as we know it, you will stand before God and be inspected, and you will actually survive that inspection because you have the promise of the gospel!  In the Word of God you have learned and you believe by faith in God’s forgiving love you will not only survive God’s inspection of your life, but you will thrive forever after that inspection.  But how?

Because of Christ alone.  It was Jesus, God’s own Son who has forever sat down at the right hand of the Father as all of His enemies and your enemies are put at His feet like a foot-stool. [Hebrews 10:11-25] What enemies are those?  Sin of course; your sin and even the sin of our first parents that was committed long ago in the Garden of Eden.  But another enemy, the great serpent, the father of all lies Satan Himself will have to submit to the rule of the Son of God on that great day.  And finally, the enemy that we all fear the most, death itself will be defeated.  All because the Son of God was obedient to the will of His Father; a will that led Him to the cross to suffer and die for the sins of the World, even your sins.

It is the promise of God that tells you to hold on; change is indeed coming.  It is a change that the world may fear, but you need not fear.  Even when the great monuments and governments of this world are falling, you need not fear.  Even if your own family is against you because of your strong faith in the promises of God and the real presence of His Son Jesus Christ in your life, you need not fear.  Even if you should be persecuted because of your faith in Jesus by the government itself, you need not fear, because through the gift of faith in Jesus alone you are able grab onto His perfect life, the life He lived for you.  By faith, you are able to claim His innocent death as your own, and find not only pity from God, but His delight; just as a father delights in his own child. [Mark 13:1-13]

To be sure there is trouble ahead, and it will only get worse until the end of the world as we know it arrives, but there is also the promise of God that He will never leave you nor forsake you.  And it is this promise of God that brings peace and joy in knowing for certain that through all the things that will happen around you and even within you, because you are resting in Christ Jesus, you really are fine.

Now, may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus until we enter into God’s new world that He has prepared for us since the beginning of time… AMEN!

Claim it and Claim it!

Sunday, November 11th, 2012

24th Sunday in Pentecost B, November 11th, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

“”And she went and did as Elijah said.  And she and her household ate for many days.” [1 Kings 17:15]  “For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” [Mark 12:34]

This morning, our message is one of stewardship; not the way some pastor or a self-appointed “evangelist” might define it, with the  words “Name it and claim” it behind their message; no our message comes directly from the heart of God.  It’s He alone who speaks to  our hearts, not sinful men, and He alone gives us faith and courage to follow and believe what He says in His Word.

In our Old Testament reading (1 Kings 17:8-16), Elijah the prophet is given yet another test from God in trusting His Word and taking  action that is born out of faith.  The test from God isn’t meant to trap Elijah, but to prove to Him that God will always provide.  God will  do what He says He will do.  But God’s testing of faith, or His creating of faith, didn’t stop there.  God also spoke to a poor widow woman  who had a home and family, and no more resources to provide for it.  The world was in the middle of a famine and this poor woman  only had enough flour to make one last meal for herself and her child.  She must have been wondering, “Is there a god, and if there is  does that god really care?”

And this is exactly the place where the living God proves that He is real and He does provide for those who receive faith and trust Him.  Through Elijah, God would also test her faith.  God’s promise to her was simple: the bowl of flour and the jar of oil will not be exhausted until the famine is over.

When Elijah spoke the promise of God to the widow, she heard and believed.  She passed God’s test of new found faith by preparing the bread for Elijah.  The widow acted as though the flour and oil would last forever.  And that is the very essence of faith; the widow trusted God’s Word.  “Faith is being certain of what we do not see”. [Hebrews 11:1]

Does God still look for examples of that faith today?  Yes!  But how, how is that kind of faith even possible?  Only by the Word, the promises of God; only when the one being blessed by the promise of God is trusting in the promise.  What promise?  Well there are many great promises that God makes in His Word, but the greatest of them all for sinners like us, is the promise of complete and total forgiveness of sins.  Have you claimed that promise?  Are you truly trusting that God has done that for you?  If you have then it should completely redefine your life.  It should change you in the very core of who you are and why you are living in this sinful world.  Has it; has it really changed you?  Well, let’s put it to the test.

We just sang the hymn “We Give The But Thine Own” right?  Do you really believe the Words we sang? “We give Thee but Thine own, whate’er the gift may be; all that we have is Thine alone, a trust, O Lord, from Thee.”   If God were to ask you right now if the amount that is in your giving envelope is a good example of how much you trust Him and love Him, would you be embarrassed?  If you’re honest with yourself, I think you already know the answer.

If you are a member here at Trinity, you are provided giving envelopes every year.  Do you ever read the different messages on each envelope?  Each message is designed to focus our hearts and minds on God’s forgiving love and then speak to our hearts as God helps us determine what to give.  This morning’s message on my envelope gets to the very heart of the question, “Why should I give more than a little to the church?”  Listen: The Lamb of God takes away the sins of the world—what a miraculous gift!  We praise Him through our gifts, which He uses to extend His kingdom.”  So how much is in your envelope this morning?  How much will you praise Him with?

Ok, I know the message is getting a little uncomfortable for us this morning; that always happens when the Law of God begins poking and probing into those secret and protected places.  And what does God want us to see in all of this poking and probing?  The quality of our faith.  He is always looking to test our faith, so that He can strengthen it.  And how does He do that?  Well, let me first tell you how He doesn’t do it; He surely doesn’t do it through worldly teachings and opinions.

When Elijah was sent to the widow to be cared for, God was already preparing the widows heart to be used by Him.  When the man of God came and spoke the words, “Do not fear” God was already giving faith and courage to the woman so she could hear what came next: “make for me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son.”  Now, those are challenging words, in fact they are impossible words for anyone on the brink of starvation.  It is an all or nothing proposition.  You would have to be a fool to believe those words, unless they were God’s Words.  You see God’s Word always provides faith to believe the promise within the Word.  What was the promise?  That she would never lack!  It was not Elijah saying that but God speaking through a true prophet.  She knew who Elijah was; she knew he was the real deal.  So the question that God was asking her was not if she trusted Elijah, but if she trusted Him.  God’s Word provides faith and it provides courage; God’s Word and not the word of men.

Earlier I referred to the phony evangelists and preachers who are known as the word of faith preachers.  Some of them use the slogan, “Name it and claim it!”  Or as I like to say, “Blab it and grab it!”  When they speak about seed money and sowing for blessings of wealth and prosperity, they really mean it; the only problem is that they’re talking about their own wealth and prosperity and not yours!  They aren’t preaching the gospel of forgiveness but the gospel of redistribution of wealth, from your hand to theirs.  These are the type of phonies that Jesus was talking about in our gospel reading this morning (Mark 12:38-44), listen: “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows houses and for a pretense make long prayers.”

Today, we might say beware of the prosperity preachers, who like to walk around in Armani suits wearing Rolex watches, expensive jewelry, living in lush million dollar homes, and driving around in a new Mercedes Benz.  You know who they are don’t you?  Where ever they go they want everyone in the community to notice them.  They are the ones who will use wonderful sounding prayers intended to manipulate you and take your last penny, with the promise that God will bless you.  Baloney!  Jesus says that those kind of phony preachers will receive great condemnation!  He tells you that for a reason; He wants you to take your heart and eyes off of the promises of men and instead focus on the promises of God.

After Jesus condemned the scribes He called His disciples to His side, and He asked them to look at a poor widow who was putting a penny in the offering.  After the widow deposited her offering, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.  For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Like the widow in our Old Testament reading, God worked within the heart of the widow with the penny to give everything and then trust in His care and blessing.  It was God who did that and not sinful man.  Why did God ask them to give everything?  So that He could be praised, not so the preacher or even the giver could be admired.  What was the reward for widows in their giving?  Stronger faith; faith to know and experience God’s care and love even in hard times.

Now, we’ve arrived at the conclusion of our message and many of us are asking ourselves this question, “Could I do that; could I give everything if God asked me to?”  The answer is simple; yes you could if God willed it!  But the truth is friends; the kingdom of God does not rest upon your obedience or lack of it.  God doesn’t need your time, talent, or treasure to build His kingdom, but He does invite you to use those things and be a partner in seeing that kingdom grow.  Why?  “Because all that you have is from God; it’s a trust from Him, a tool that God wants to use to test and strengthen your faith.  But faith in what?  Faith in God’s faithfulness; faith in His forgiving heart, which speaks to you forgiveness of sins… the gospel of Jesus Christ!

It was Jesus, the Son of God who “appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin (your sin), by the sacrifice of Himself.  And just as it is appointed for (each of us) to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sin of many (yes, even your sins dear baptized, He) will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those (you and I), who are eagerly waiting for Him.” [Hebrews 9:26b-28]

How much does God ask us to give to Him?  All of it, everything we have, but when we realize this truth He also takes the fear of giving away.  You see, He gives it back to us and asks us to hold onto it as a trust from Him.  He asks us to hold onto it with an open hand so that He can take of our time, talent, and treasure as He sees fit.

How much should you give?  I do not know; that is between you and God, but I do know this, you don’t decide to become a steward of God’s gifts after your saved and you don’t decide to become a steward after you have a good job.  No Christian stewardship demands that we take good care of our time talent and treasure because we have been commissioned by Jesus to manage those things for God’s glory and the spreading of His kingdom of grace one forgiven sinner at a time.  You see, we are all stewards, the only question is whether we are good stewards or bad ones.  I know that God is always testing our faith so that we will get better and better at trusting Him and believing that all we have is His alone, a trust from God to us.  May He continue to give us faith to believe this… in Jesus name… AMEN!

More Than a Feeling!

Sunday, November 4th, 2012

25th Sunday in Pentecost B, November 4th, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

“”And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, You are not far from the kingdom of God. [Mark 12:34]

The song I chose as a mental hook, “More Than a Feeling” is meant to communicate an important message.  God’s Word, specifically  His Holy Law, is not supposed to make us feel good about ourselves.  It isn’t meant to congratulate us on how much we love our  Creator and our neighbor; in fact it should produce the opposite effect in us.  God’s Law should first terrify us, because it shows us how  little we love Him and how poorly we love our neighbor, and then it should move us to call out to God for a solution to our lack of love.

And yet, like the Scribe in our gospel reading (Mark 12:28-37), how easy it is for us too, to become comfortable with how we think we  are doing.  Oh how easy it can become for us to turn off our ears and blind our eyes to the truth; we fall far short.

So is this a message about feelings?  Yes and know.  You see, we all have feelings; God created us to have emotion, but our emotions are  defective; they lie.  No, our message this morning is first one of truth; God’s truth, and then God centered emotions, or feelings will  follow.

The young scribe in our gospel lesson, is someone we might call a seeker in today’s lingo.  He is genuine in his desire to live a God pleasing life.  He comes from a confusing culture, where the Law of God exists within the frame work of not just 10 commandments but 613 commandments.  Can you imagine that?!  There were 248 positive commandments, or commandments that told you what you should do, and then there were 365 negative commandments, or commandments that told you what you should not do.  With all of these commandments a person could get lost prioritizing them.  So the young scribe presents a valid question to Jesus, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”

We need to remember that the young scribe, like many young people today, felt that he really did love God; to him, the proof of this was the truth that He wanted to please the Heavenly Father.  And second He had been listening to Jesus for some time now, and He really did respect Jesus and His teaching.  He probably found a great degree of wisdom in the Words of Jesus; he seemed to be comfortable around Him, listening to Him.  So when he asked Jesus, which commandment was the most important, he was really asking for Jesus’ guidance.

And Jesus seeing a desire for truth in the young man looked directly into His eyes and says, “Hear, O Israel”.  (Don’t just listen to the Word of God, but really hear it; let it enter your heart and mind, and let it change you; let it give you wisdom.)  “The Lord your God, the Lord is One.”  (He isn’t like the false god’s of your neighbors; He doesn’t inhabit certain regions or nations.  He is the ONLY real God, the Creator of everything.  He is all powerful, all present, and all knowing.  He can come to you in any way He desires, and His Word and His teaching are the only source of real truth.  So now hear that truth and let it enter you; let it penetrate you.)  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.  The second (most important commandment) is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no commandment greater than these.” [Mark 12:28-31]

The operative Word there in those two great commandments is Love.  Let’s look at that word.  This kind of love that God demands for Himself isn’t mere affection and it doesn’t mean passion either.  God isn’t telling you to have a warm fuzzy feeling about Him and your neighbor.  He isn’t saying that you should just be passionate about Him and your community either.  He is telling you that the kind of love that you are to have is based on something foreign to you; something that is completely outside the realm of possibility for you.  He is telling you that the kind of love you are to have is more than a feeling; it is more than a decision to be nice.  It is an intellectual assent to something higher and beyond your natural ability.  It is a God given love that will sacrifice everything in order to see this kind of love rule and reign over you and within you; when this God given love is present, it loves all things that God loves and it loves others just as it loves it self.

So we see now, these are tough words, meant to give wisdom.  Is that what the young scribe received?  Well almost; He almost understood.  Listen to His response: “You are right, Teacher.  You have truly said that (God) is one, and there is no other besides Him.  And to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

Well, that sounds pretty good.  He did a fine job of paraphrasing Jesus Words.  He even seemed to be paraphrasing another bit of wisdom that Jesus taught earlier concerning worship, “Go and learn what this means” He said, “‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’  For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”  [Matthew 9:13]  And so Jesus looks Him in the eye once again and says, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” [Mark 12:34]  You are almost there; you almost are wise unto eternal life.”  If only that young man would have asked Jesus to give him that heavenly love!

This morning Jesus is teaching an important lesson.  Knowing God and pleasing God are similar but separate.  Oh they’re close, but they aren’t so close as being the same.  There are two things that separate those who know God from those who please God.  And both of those things come only from God.

The first is the Word of God.  Hear O sinners.  Listen to the Word of God and let it penetrate you.  When you listen to the Word, when you really hear what it is saying you will know God’s truth and you will know His heart.  The truth of God is that you are trapped in your sins.  On your own you can never really love Him or your neighbor.  That kind of love can come only from your Creator.  And how does He give that love?  By allowing us to hear His Word.  And when we let God’s Word do what God intends for it to do, He gives us faith.  “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” [Romans 10:17]

If our gospel lesson ended right there, we along with the young scribe could go home with a lot to think about; a lot to pray about.  But Jesus does not send us home just yet.  He continues teaching.  I would like to think that as He continued teaching, He winked at the young scribe, slapped him on the back and said “Listen to what I say next, young man.”

And this is what He said next: “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the Son of David?  (I mean,) David himself, in the Holy Spirit declared, “The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.”’  (You see there,) David himself calls Him Lord.  So how is He his Son?’

I can also imagine Jesus returning to the young scribe privately and saying, “Did you wonder why I winked at you?  Or did you see and understand what I just taught?  You know all about your traditions that teach about God’s final and righteous rule right?  You know the time is promised by scripture to come when the Messiah will take power and reign don’t you?  So, you also know that when the kingdom of God comes it will be visible and apparent, and everyone will have to acknowledge who it is that really runs all of creation, right?  Well listen now… it is happening right now.  I am the Messiah.  I am God’s Anointed One, who has come to make it all visible to all who have faith; to all who believe.”

This morning, Jesus has given to each of you the wink so to speak; a wink that unlocks the wisdom of God; the truth of His Word.  This morning you are being shown Jesus in the Word; Jesus in your baptism, and Jesus at the table in the meal.  And in these means of grace, you are being given faith to believe you are forgiven and faith to speak forgiveness.

Through the writings of the apostles and the testimony of all of scripture, you can read all of God’s Word with Jesus as the central figure.  You can go from the commandments of the law to the fulfillment of the Law, which is the gospel, in the person of Jesus, the One true God; God in human flesh.  Because of the love of the Father and the gift of faith through the Holy Spirit, you can hear the Words of the Son of God, Jesus Christ and know that through Him, God alone made all things new and right, including you.  You know that the same love that led Jesus the Messiah to the cross to die for the sins of the world also leads you to love God with your whole being, and to love your neighbor as you love yourself.

What is impossible for you to do, becomes possible when God is the one working in you and through you.  By faith, you know that much more than all of the burnt offerings and whole sacrifices are necessary to please your creator.  True obedience is demanded.  But you also know that this obedience had to come from outside of you; it had to come from God.  In Jesus, you see God Himself coming to you to offer both sacrifice and obedience, and as a result, by faith you receive His forgiving mercy.  And now as our epistle lesson (Hebrews 9:11-22) states, you have “such a high priest, holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens.”  This one final act and the faith that comes from the very Word that teaches you about this work of God, is enough to draw you closer to the kingdom; so close that in fact you are now in that kingdom.  And now only two things remain.  You must rest in the kingdom of grace, forever enjoying the forgiving love of the Father, and you are asked invite others into it with you.

The pronouncement of God through Jesus Christ is, “You are forgiven!”  In the message of the gospel you have been given great power, the power of God unto salvation.  That message is for you but it is also for your neighbor.  Your neighbor may not feel obligated to love you, but God sure does, and He loves your mean spirited neighbor too.  The same God who in the beginning looked at His creation and called it good, wants to do the very same thing again with your neighbor who doesn’t know Jesus by faith.

That is the very reason you are still here living in this dark and dying world.  You are to bring light and life to it.  You are to bring the message of forgiveness through Jesus Christ to all who will hear.  When you see your neighbor and see how unlovable they are, God wants you to remember how much He loves you and how much you are to love Him.  He wants you to remember what real love is, not so you can feel guilt and shame, but so He can use you to speak words of faith and love to those who are faithless and unlovable, just as you once were.

In this holy house of worship, Jesus looks upon our neighbors just as He did the young scribe and says to their hard hearts, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”  Come unto me and find rest!