Archive for December, 2012

A Peaceful Departure

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

First Sunday after Christmas Year (C), December 30, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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““Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lords Christ. [Luke 2:25, 26]

Merry Christmas dear Christians!  In our gospel reading we remember the presentation of our Savior Jesus Christ; a time when He was  only eight days old.  But even then as a small baby, He was true God and true man; He was already the Word of God in human flesh.  The  same living Word of God who spoke these Words of comfort: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you  the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). In other words, stop fearing that thing which you fear; do not fear it any longer. Your Father has been  pleased to give you the kingdom.

Many Christians today, still fear earthly death; their own death and the death of loved ones. But how can this be, when we who are  baptized confess the certainty of life after death each and every Sunday when we speak about “the resurrection of the body” in the  Apostles’ Creed and “the resurrection of the dead” in the Nicene creed? And still, some of us fear death, and “grieve as [do] the rest of  men, who have no hope”? (1 Thessalonians 4:13)

Did you ever stop to think that the fear of death, is like a sermon that we’re preaching to the world; it’s a message that says that we  aren’t any better off than those without Christ; by our fear, we are teaching that God can’t be trusted. Instead of displaying confidence in the certainty of Christ’s death and resurrection for our sake, we are demonstrating instead a life of doubt, uncertainty, and a lack of faith or hope in the peaceful departure our God has promised us. When you live a life of fear and uncertainty because of death, you are proclaiming a false gospel about a false god who can’t be trusted, and not the story of the living God who has already acted to give you eternal life.

And so this morning, let’s consider Simeon, a man that God declared righteous and devout.  Why was he righteous and devout?  Was there something great about him?  Was he a great leader or a man who stood out in the crowd?  No, not at all, in fact we can assume that because scripture mentions nothing about him before he met the baby Jesus, he was simply ordinary; ordinary except for one thing… he was waiting for God to fulfill His promise that a Savior would come to take away his sin and make Him right with God.  And because he had faith to trust God’s promise, God declared him righteous.  You could say that He had faith in God’s faithfulness; he knew that God would do what He said He would do.  But how did Simeon become so faithful?  Friends, the very same way you become and stay faithful… through the word of God that promised him that he would not see death until the Lord’s Christ had come.

You have the very same promise, and you also have had the promise fulfilled.  In your baptism, God’s Word not only promised you a peaceful departure from this dark world of sin, but it provided the fulfillment of the promise.  Christ has come, and in your baptism you have been clothed with not only the righteousness of Christ but also the promise that He will come again for you!

But we have a problem; we are told by this world that being assured of a peaceful departure is not that simple.  Not only do we have other religions who resent and ridicule our blessed assurance, but in fact we have people who call themselves Christians who want us to believe that there must be a little something added to the promise besides our belief.  They tell us that we must do more than just trust in God’s promises.

They will point out that we are still very much trapped in our sins, and the proof of that they say lies within our own hearts, which testify against us and about our sinfulness.  They will insist that we follow certain rules and regulations in order to know that God loves us.  Or they will tell us that our own love and service of love must be great in order to finish what God started in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  They will even insist that we acquire certain gifts or demonstrate certain acts of faith in order to know the real blessings of God.

But, when others talk like this to us, it is only evidence that it is they who do not understand God’s plan of salvation; they don’t understand what true forgiveness of sin is because they are so caught up in their own idea of what righteousness is.  They don’t understand that it is God’s Word, which calls each of us who are trusting in Christ alone His saints, or people of God.  It’s a shame that they have forgotten who we are, that we are saints already, because to forget this is the same thing as forgetting our baptism and the faithfulness of God to do what He says He will do.

These folks who claim to be our brothers and sisters, really only want to punish us with heavy consciences and guilt because of the sins they commit and think are to many or to big for God to forgive; they love to remind us that our sins are an offense to God because it helps them forget about their own sinfulness.  And instead of turning to God’s faithfulness and love they want to turn us to the same thing that they hope in… our own resourcefulness and strength.

And to this thinking, let me quote Luther’s response to the same faithless logic.  He said that just as “Motherly love is stronger than the filth and scabbiness on (her) child, so the love of God toward us is stronger than the (sinful) dirt that clings to us.  (So, even though) we are sinners, we do not lose our relationship to the Father on account of our filthiness, nor do we fall from grace on account of our sins.”

And that dear friends moves us to the solution of the problem; the very thing that Simeon declared in a song that the church calls the NUNC DIMITTIS.  “O Lord now let Your servant depart in heavenly peace, for I have seen the glory of Your redeeming grace.”

In God’s Holy Word and in the Blessed Sacraments He shows us Jesus; He shows us His glory.  In the infant Son of God holy and lowly, born in a manger in Bethlehem, God shows us His love for us by showing us the solution to our sin; He shows us the God-man crucified, high and lifted up upon a cross in Jerusalem.  You dear saints are more blessed than Simeon; he had only the promise of what this child in His arms would do, but you know the story completely.  He had the promise but you have the fulfillment of the promise.  And even more than that you have yet another promise from the God who does what He says He will do; He has promised you that He will come again to take you to be with Him in paradise.

Whether He comes for you on the last day of all creation or comes to you in your final moments at death is immaterial; He has promised you that He will take you home to be with Him!  And it is to the promise fulfilled and the promise still unrealized that we grab onto to by faith.  You are asked to live a life and tell the story about God’s faithfulness so that others may believe and be saved as well.

What is it that we are supposed to speak and model?  Well what did Simeon say?  Didn’t He say that He had seen God’s saving grace that He had prepared for all the people?  Didn’t he say that this message, this good news was to be a light of revelation to the Gentiles and for the glory of God’s people Israel?

So the message we are to live and speak to the world isn’t one of fear and trembling but faith and rejoicing.  We are to hold on to both the promise and the One who promises in heaven at the right hand of the Father, Jesus Christ our Savior.  If we fall into sin, He will be there to pick us up again; by His Word, He encourages us to keep on fighting our sin until we are finally given victory over not just our sin but even the devil and our own death.  When we fall into sin we will remember our Savior who though He fell under the burden of the sin of the world that was place upon Him through the cross, He got back up and made His way to Golgotha, where He suffered and died to take away even our sin.  When we feel filthy and unloved because of those same sins, we will remember the life giving and life changing waters of our baptism that washed us clean and made us forever holy.

So you see dear friends, our Christian faith truly is different from all other religions; it is different because it isn’t based on what we will do, but on what Christ has done.  It is different because our faith in God’s faithfulness grows stronger, even in the middle of evil and sin; even in the face of death.  But we also remember that without God’s Holy Spirit ever providing and strengthening His gift of faith through His Holy Word and sacraments, we would be just as lost as any other sinner.

So when others belittle you for your child like faith, and when they try to rob you of the joy of your salvation, turn away from anger and fear, and feel godly sorrow for those who can only trust in their own resourcefulness for hope.  And by faith, turn to and trust in a Faithful God and say, “Through Jesus Christ, I am a child of God.  And as His child all of my works that are done in faith are good.  And even when my good works are lacking, God’s Word promises me that He will not condemn and leave me, but continue to change me until I lack nothing according to His good and perfect will.”

This is the message that many find so hard to accept and receive this Christmas season, but it is the only message that will give to both sinners and the dying, a peaceful departure.  It is a message that you dear saints live out and trust in by faith, and it is marvelous in the sight of God and His church…AMEN!

No Room In The Inn

Monday, December 24th, 2012

Christmas Eve, December 24, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
(Luke 2:1-7 ESV)

Emmanuel: A Gift That Keeps on Giving!

Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

4th Sunday in Advent of the Church Year (C), December 23, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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““Behold I have come to do your will, O God. [Hebrews 10:7a]

Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist knew that the Lord was with her; and her unborn baby John knew that the Lord was with him, which is  why he leaped in the womb of his mother.  Do you know that He is with you?  In spite of your fears that the end of the world could have come  just two short days ago, in spite of the fact that the end of the world did come for 26 Sandy Hook elementary school children and their  teachers, do you understand that God is with you, even when you have your doubts?

““Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means God with us).” [Matthew 1:23]  This  morning, the Words of the pre-incarnate Son of God ring out for us this morning and declare, “A body have you prepared for me; Behold I  come to do your will, O God”!

And what is the will of God the Father?  That you would see His love for you in the gift that He has given to the world; a gift that He gives to you  personally: His Son, Immanuel… a gift that keeps of giving.

But something terrible has happened; something that just won’t allow you to see how wonderful His gift is.  It is something that moves our hearts to look at God’s gift as insignificant and inadequate for facing this hard life we are living.  In this life we know the fear of senseless violence; we know the fear of lack of wealth and even homelessness.  We know the fear of lost love and appreciation.  We also know that in order to deal with these things we need something big; we need a windfall and a miracle that will turn things around for us.  So we look past the baby in the womb of Mary; oh we appreciate the coming of the baby in the manger with no crib for a bed, but this is the real world where people are dying for no good reason.  This is a world where the greedy and the violent seem to always have the upper hand…  so how does a little baby born in Bethlehem help anything… at all?

Well, simply put, this little baby in the womb of mother Mary is your only real source of help because He is in fact God in human flesh.  You see, Mary is not just Mary the mother of Jesus; she is also mysteriously the Mother of God.  The fruit of her womb is not just a baby who will soon be resting Away in a Manger; He is the God and Creator of all things; a God who never slumbers nor sleeps.  He is the one who keeps His entire church safe, even a sinner like you!

Maybe we tend to look down or even away from this little baby in the womb of Mary, because we know that He will also grow up to become the God-man who suffered and died upon the cross for our sins.  And there really I think is the problem; we must admit that He was born to die for our sins.  We are alright saying that God must punish the sins of the killer who struck at the school in Connecticut, we are alright with saying that God must punish the Bernie Madoffs of this world, and even the social leeches who produce and sell drugs in our neighborhoods, but is God really concerned with our sins?  Yes!  It is your sins as small as you may say that they are which separate you from the love of God.  But truth be told, you and I know that if others really knew the evil and vile things that go on in our hearts and minds, no one would want to be around us.

Why don’t we appreciate the gift of Immanuel?  Because we don’t like to be shown our need for it; we don’t want to admit that in God’s eyes we are just as bad as a mad-man or a serial killer.

So hear Immanuel speak to you again; hear Him give to you a gift that keeps on giving: “Behold I have come to do your will, O God!”

Now dear friends let’s allow the Spirit of God to remind us just how important and exciting this gift really is.  God has come to our world in power; He has come in the flesh of Jesus Christ.  God is Spirit and truth, and in the flesh of Jesus, the very Son of God comes to you to give you true peace!  Peace in the middle of your fears; peace in the middle of your worries; peace in the middle of your ungodly sins, He says I shall be your champion and your deliverer.  I was born to die for you.  I spent my whole life walking to a cross on Golgotha, outside of the Temple.  I suffered and died alone abandoned by my Father, because I carried your sins with me; I died the death of a criminal, of a murder so that you could go free!

Behold I have come to do the will of the Heavenly Father; I have come to bring life where there is death; I have come to make all things new… even you!  This news is so good that a fetus jumped for joy; John the Baptist, who was as of yet unborn jumped for joy in the womb of his mother Elizabeth.  A life unborn responded to the presence of his Savior with unbound joy!  You who have been baptized, perhaps also as a small baby have been baptized into this same joy.

Your reason for being joyful then and now is the same reason that moved John to leap for joy: Your God has come to you in our own flesh.  He has come to live a hard life; the same life you have lived and are living, but He also came to die an agonizing death, and in death be separated from His Heavenly Father.  This is the death that you deserve to die, but never will, because you are resting in the truth that Immanuel came to do the Father’s will.

And what is that will?  That when you leave this veil of tears you would never again know suffering, pain, fear, or sin, but instead that you would dwell forever in the house and love of the Lord!

Even now dear saints you have something interesting happening within your hearts; you are experiencing God’s work of removing your shame and guilt; guilt perhaps centered around your tendency to look down upon this baby as insignificant in times of trouble, but even stronger than that truth is the reality that you truly are forgiven. Even now, you are beginning to experience the joy of remembering just what He came to do.  You remember that He has set you free from the things that can separate you from the love of God.  You remember that God alone in His mercy has given His Son to die for you and for His sake forgives you all of your sins.

So let your heart leap for joy; call out if you wish; praise Him with cries of thanksgiving and praise; shout glory even in the darkness of this sinful world; even in the darkness of your own sin.

Today, if this good news has softened your hard heart once again, then I pray that you will let the joy of the Lord fill you and lead you from this place of worship out into a community that is dark and cold, and dying in sin.  I pray that in the joy of the Holy Spirit you will go out and live a joyous life, even though you know that you will experience both rejection and acceptance; failure and success; death and life.  Live with joy in the midst of every tension, because you  know that your Savior did the same thing.  And through His birth, life, death, and resurrection, He has brought to you the assurance of everlasting peace.

This morning God calls each of us by faith to follow His Son from the cradle to the grave, and from the grave unto our eternal home with confidence knowing that we are not alone.  Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the son of Mary came to do God’s will; He came to prove to you that it is God’s will that you should not die alone in your sins but have eternal life.

This morning, God’s Word shows you that He uses little things to make a big difference in this world of sin.  He comes as a simple fetus in the womb of a young woman.  He rests as a simple and helpless baby in a manger in Bethlehem.  He comes to you in simple language in the Word, but He also comes in simple elements like water, bread, and wine.  But because He comes in accordance with His will and not the sinful will of men, He takes these simple things and He does marvelous things with them.

This little baby grows to be the God man who dies for the world, but then takes His life back up again and ascends to heaven, forever defeating sin, death, and the devil.  And this God-man assures us that every Word that God has ever willed to be recorded can be found within the pages of your Bible so that you will know His Son Jesus Christ as your Savior and King.  And He takes those Words and He attaches them to water so that the gift of salvation for the world becomes your own personal gift within the waters of your baptism.  He takes that simple bread and wine and He tells you that it is also His body and blood consumed for your continued forgiveness and the strengthening of your faith!

So you see, the incarnation of the Son of God who is also the son of Mary is really what makes all of the difference.  It takes a bunch of sinners like us who have nothing and recreates us in to saints who have the greatest gift of all… Immanuel: the gift that keeps on giving.

Now may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus… AMEN!

Rejoice, Always; Really?

Sunday, December 16th, 2012

3rd Sunday in Advent of the Church Year (C), December 16, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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““Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. [Philippians 4:4]

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

What kind of response do you think I would receive from someone who just found out they were in stage 4 cancer, and I greeted them  with the word, “Rejoice!”?  What about the homeless or the hungry?  Do you think a Christian parent worried about their young adult  child and the life choices they are making would appreciate me telling them to rejoice?  Probably not, but that is because they are  living in the right now, a bad right now, and in their minds the time of rejoicing is something that perhaps will come in the future, a  very distant future, if at all.  For now, all they can see; all they can think about is that dark right now.  And yet God’s Word does that  very thing; in all three of our readings, God’s people are encouraged to rejoice in the middle of a dark right now.

In our society, we let our joy, or our rejoicing be dependent on external things like our health, wealth, and relationships.  Or another  way to say that is, that our peace seems to be dependent on how we feel.  Whenever our health, wealth, or relationships are threatened,  we will immediately shift from being happy Christians to fearful and unhappy children of this world.

But the prophet Zephaniah in our Old Testament reading (Zephaniah 3:14-20) never lost sight of God’s promises to His people of faith as they waited for deliverance out of their bondage in Babylon.  So God spoke another Word of promise, of deliverance to Zephaniah; it was a Word of hope that he was to speak to God’s children of faith who were losing hope: “Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel!  Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!  The Lord has taken away the judgments against you; He has cleared away your enemies.”  In other words, even when you think all is lost, look to the Lord and the promises of His Word and shout, “Glory!”

As St. Paul sat in a dark and dank Roman prison with a death sentence looming, wrote to the brothers and sisters in Philippi (Philippians 4:4-7), Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. But wait a minute there Paul, you are experiencing seclusion, hunger, physical pain, and the knowledge that soon you will be put to death.  How can you be rejoicing?  Are you really rejoicing?  Why?

Yes, it is clear that people of great faith seem to be able to find joy even in the middle of suffering; even when their health, wealth, and relationships are falling apart.  But what about us normal people?  When we become afraid or worry, does that mean we lost our faith?  Does that mean God has given up on us?  Well, let’s look at someone who fits that description, and let Jesus speak to that concern.

In our Gospel lesson (Luke 7:18-28) we find John the Baptist in the middle of Herod’s prison.  He also was experiencing fear and worry.  What was he afraid of?  He was afraid that Jesus, the Son of God no longer cared that he was wasting away in his cell.  Day and night after lonely night, John was alone in Herod’s prison.  He seemed to be living in a time of perpetual waiting and uncertainty.  John knew that Jesus was the Christ, the Savior of the World; in fact He had been preaching that very thing before Herod had him arrested, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

But John also knew that there were certain prophecies that must be fulfilled by the Savior.  He knew that the blind would see, the lame would walk, the deaf would hear, the lepers would be cleansed, the dead would be raised, and those in prison would be set free.  And to John’s knowledge, it seemed that all of them had been fulfilled accept one; John was still in prison.  So, yeah, John is a little impatient, maybe even a little peeved.  He’s watching, waiting, and enduring.  He knows the time is right and He knows that the Word of God will always be fulfilled so, so… WHY IS HE STILL IN PRISON?   With that question looming in his heart, he sends a delegation to Jesus to ask a stupid question that he already knows the answer to; he asks it because it expresses his fear and worry; he asks it so that words of faith can be spoken by Jesus to take away his fear and worry.  “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

Can you hear it in John’s words?  It is really a prayer: “How long Lord will you wait?  Come to me quickly and comfort me.  I need you; the one you love is afraid and alone; I might even be dying!”

And to John’s prayer, Jesus speaks Words of life; words that create both faith and joy.  Jesus speaks to John and all others in prison; He speaks to the elderly person dying all alone in a nursing home, seemingly forgotten by his family and church; He speaks to the addict who just wants to be free of the addiction; he speaks to the homeless and hungry; he speaks to the cancer patient and all those who are sick; and he speaks to the Christian parent who worries about their adult child and their lack of faith.  “I am He who gives sight to the blind, causes the lame to walk, cleanses lepers, gives hearing to the deaf, and raises the dead.  You have the good news preached to you; you know that I have taken away your sins.  You are blessed if you will concentrate on this truth and not lose faith in me; you will be blessed with eternal life.  So hold onto my Word and do not stop coming to my church where I will continue to strengthen your faith.

St. Paul, this morning gives us the same Word of encouragement.  He says that “the Lord is at hand”.  Your time of waiting, your time to be comforted and assured that all is well here.  He comes to you in His Word.  It is the same Word that told the waters, “Peace, be still!” and they were.  It is the same Word that called Lazarus out of the grave and brought Him back to life.  It is the same Word that promised Zephaniah and his countrymen that their bondage was soon to end, and one day they would celebrate in front of, and with God Himself.  It is the same Word of peace that spoke new life into us at our baptism.  It is a Word that says continuously, “The Lord is near.”

He comes to you in His Word and He fills you with faith.  He reminds you that you are forgiven and all is well with your soul.  He comes to you in the Word at His table, and He says, “Take eat; this is my body.  Take and drink; this is my blood.  I come to you in these things; these means… the Word, the water, the bread and the wine.  I come to you, as your brothers and sisters speak forgiveness to you and you speak the same forgiving Words back to them.  But soon and very soon, I am coming in the flesh again, to set you free from the prisons that this sinful world has built to hold you captive.”

What is it that holds us in bondage?  Isn’t it our fear and worry?  Isn’t it our sinful flesh?  Isn’t it our flesh that is in the bondage  of sin?  But our spirit is free; it was created to be free!  It is your spirit that hears the Word of God and rejoices.  It is your spirit that looks at temporary things like health, wealth, and relationships and knows that these are not what define your future.  It is your spirit that remembers the promises of God and waits for them to be fulfilled.  It is your spirit that knows that it is “He who began the good work in you who will complete it, on the day of Christ’s return.” [Philippians 1:6]

The Lord did not forget His promise to Zephaniah and the children of faith who were in bondage in Babylon.  He did not forget His promise to John the Baptist or St. Paul as they waited in their prisons.  He spoke to them and reminded them that He was there with them.  They were not alone, and neither are you.  He knows you are waiting.  He knows that you are patiently enduring attack after attack upon your health, wealth, and relationships.  He does see how dark and lonely you can be.  He sees your sadness and knows your pain.  He understands your worry and even your doubts.  He hears your prayers and supplications and he remembers your prayers of thanksgiving.  He is not silent; He has not forgotten about you.  He is answering the cry of your heart even now!  But to hear Him speak, you must be still and silent.  You need to look only to the means that He has given to us to hear Him and experience Him.  You must receive Him by faith in His Word and in His sacraments.

This morning, God wants you to know that the heavens and earth will pass away but His Word will never pass away.  The grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of the Lord will always be with you.   Turn your eyes to the Word of God in human flesh.  Look to Him and no other for hope and peace.  Listen to Jesus speak to you and hear His promises of eternal blessing.  Watch and wait for the one who has come and is coming again.  Receive His coming now in His Word and in His body and blood, in with and under the bread and wine.  He comes to comfort you in the middle of your sadness and depression.  He takes away your sins, gives you peace and a clean conscience as He removes all fear and worry from your heart.  In the middle of uncertainty, he gives you assurance; a blessed assurance.

In this season of Advent we wait together in joy.  The joy of being certain; we wait for He who has come and is coming again.  We wait for a God who always fulfills His promises.  Let this season of waiting be a time of peace, and faith-filled confidence that comes always and only through the mighty Word of God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  AMEN!

He Has Done Great Things For Me, So…

Sunday, December 9th, 2012

Second Sunday in Advent of the Church Year (B), December 9, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with  shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, The LORD has done great things for them. The LORD has done great things for us; we are  glad. [Psalm 126:1-3]

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  These are the very Words of God that come to you from the pen of St. Paul  in our Epistle (Philippians 1:2-11), from the mouth of the prophet Malachi, and the proclamation of John the Baptist (Luke 3:1-14), this second  Sunday in Advent.

Grace, the greatest gift you could ever receive.  Peace, the greatest thing that God can give to you.  You have a Savior and King who is closer than  a friend, in fact He is your brother who will never leave your side.  He promises that in all things, even the darkest of times He is with you!  He has  done great things for you, so… does that make a difference in how you are living your life?

ILLUS: One of my favorite movies during the Christmas season is “It’s a Wonderful Life” staring Jimmy Stewart.  The story is set during the time of  the Great Depression.  Jimmy Stewart’s character, George Bailey has found out that the Savings and Loan that he is the president of has pretty  much gone broke.  He is overcome by grief and wanders out of town in a snow storm to a bridge just outside of town; the reason he is there is to do  what many poor souls did during that dark time of our nation’s history… he intends to kill himself.  As he climbs onto the bridge’s railing and looks  down into the dark cold waters below, the camera shifts to two angels in heaven who are also looking down at George.  One of the angels, named Clarence who is George’s guardian angel in training asks the other more senior angel, “Is George sick?”  And the other angel replies, “No worse… he’s discouraged.”

Some of you this morning may be discouraged.  This morning, God’s Word is calling out to you and asking you to let Him take away that spirit of discouragement and replace it with a spirit of joy and thankfulness.

I. In our Old Testament reading this morning (Malachi 3:1-7b), Malachi the last of the Old Testament prophets is writing to the people of Israel; a people who are discouraged.  Some have waited and waited for times to improve only to see them get worse, so they have abandoned the God of their fathers and chased after other God’s.  The faithful people of God haven’t followed, but sometimes they too were tempted to leave their religion is search of greener pastures.  So, they have loyally stayed behind to worship in the old way, but their faith is almost gone; they gather every Sabbath day to hear the Word of God, but they aren’t really listening.  Others, the faithful ones, the ones that are always in God’s house doing all of the work that must be done, well they’re still there, but they are just plain tired.  No worse than tired, they like George Bailey are discouraged.  They can be heard saying things like, “What’s the use of all of this church life?  No matter how much we serve the Lord, the ones that have left Him or refuse Him seem to always have it better than us.”

And to this spirit of discouragement, God replies to them and us, “Behold, your salvation is now at the door and the kingdom of God is upon you.  Very soon, your grumbling spirit will be silenced and the complaints of the priests and prophets will stop.  Those who preach a false message or preach the true message but do not believe in it will be silenced and God’s Word will be fulfilled.  The righteous people who still believe will be separated from the unbelieving wicked people, and those faithless people will no longer enjoy power and security, but you O little lambs of faith will dwell in the house of the Lord forever!

II. This morning, God brings two messages to us.  One is a message of Law and the other is the pure sweet gospel.  God wants both of these messages to play out in our lives so that our neighbors, family, and friends will see the difference that God’s Son, our Savior Jesus makes in the lives of believers and the world we live in.

A. The first message is simply one of repentance.  “Behold I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.  And the Lord you seek (the God that your soul has always thirsted and hungered for) will come to His temple (that is the gathering of His saints); and the messenger of the (new covenant) that is (Jesus the Judge will come to judge the living and the dead).  But who can endure the day of His coming and who can stand when He appears?”

In other words if you are not living out a life that trusts in a God who will make all things right and new, if you aren’t resting and trusting in His Son Jesus Christ who has come and will come again, you should be afraid, very afraid, because you will be judged and punished for your lack of faith and your lack of righteousness.

For some, resting and trusting in a Savior who came as a baby in swaddling clothes and then died a miserable death upon the cross is just too hard to believe in.  So they are the ones who have completely rejected the call of Malachi and John the Baptist to prepare for His coming.  Not only do they refuse to make His paths straight and the rough places smooth, they are doing all they can to fight the church’s work in doing those very things.  These are the scoffers and the atheists who belittle Christ and His church and work to undermine God’s means of grace that He has instituted to create faith and hope in people who are discouraged.

Then there are those who were once part of the church, part of the group of people who served God in His Kingdom of grace.  They were the ones proclaiming the gospel, living out the gospel of peace, but now because they are discouraged they have checked out.  They may gather with God’s people occasionally, but secretly they have given up hope in the truth of the message.  They have become discouraged.

B. And this is precisely where the second message comes in.  It starts with the first message of repentance, but then it removes all of the fear and hopelessness and replaces those feelings with faith and joy.  Repent!  Who can endure and not lose hope?  Who can endure the day of His coming?  Who can stand in hope when He appears again?  Those who gather around the treasure of our God; those who continually hear the Word of the gospel and place their hope in God’s gifts to His people.  The treasure of the church is Jesus Christ Himself and the gifts are His Word and Sacraments!

These are the very things that refine us and sustain us in difficult times.  They are the difference between faith and faithlessness.  God’s Word when it speaks the law to our sinful flesh burns away anything and everything that we might be tempted to trust in.  In the law of God we discover that there is nothing we can do to make God love us; nothing that we can hold up to Him and say, “See, this is good.”  In the law we discover that all of our righteousness or good works are like filthy rags before our creator.  But in His Word that we call the gospel, God makes some awesome promises to us.  He promises that we as members of His Church, the body of Christ are the new priesthood.  We are the true sons of Levi who God Himself has purified and is still purifying to this day.

In the gospel of Jesus Christ we are told that it is God’s will that no one should die in their sins but that all of us should repent, turn to Jesus and away from our sins and be saved.  We are to trust in the truth that God’s Son did come to us as an infant, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.  We are to trust that He did live a perfect life on our behalf and then suffered and died by the hand of Pontius Pilate for the forgiveness of our sins.  But we are also to obediently believe that He in fact rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and He will come again to judge the living and the dead.  And finally, we are to believe in the resurrection of our own bodies where we shall live with God forever in the new heaven and earth, where His Kingdom shall have no end.

How do we trust this message?  By receiving the gifts of God and by gathering around His means of grace that preserve us in this faith.  We do not neglect the meeting of the saints; that is we do not quit going to church, because it is here in church where God sustains us and protects us.  In holy baptism he took a brood of vipers, filthy in their sins and washed them clean like fullers’ soap.  Through the washing of the water and the word,  He created and sustains the gift of faith within us, the very thing that turns vipers into saints.  In the preaching of the Word, here in this very church, God continues to purify you by declaring His message of truth and hope.  And at His table, He sustains that hope in a meal of forgiveness and peace.

III. These are the gifts that sustain us and help us live a life of purpose; a Christian life of goodness.  We do not become discouraged when others fall away or ridicule us for our faith, because we are living a life that was bought with the very suffering and death, the life blood of our King Jesus; we are not our own, but we were bought with a great price.

So then, how we live our lives, in fact our very lives, becomes an offering acceptable and pleasing to God.  We may become discouraged, but we do not lose hope, because the very Word of God is what produces and sustains hope within us and encourages us to continue waiting for the Advent, the second coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  And as God does this mighty work of producing faith, we can say with all of the church, “He has done great things for me, so I will praise the Lord.  I will praise Him with my time, talent, and treasure; I will praise Him with my very life, and I will teach my family to do the very same thing, over and over again, no matter what happens around me; I will praise Him until Christ returns again.”

CONCLUSION: Please rise and join with me in singing, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” [LSB 657]

End of Year Report

Sunday, December 2nd, 2012

Dear friends in Christ,

This month, I am using/borrowing a Pastor friend’s  Newsletter (Rev. Dr. Scott Rische, founder and  director of the City Transformation Ministry) as a  template to help me communicate what I feel is an  important message to all friends of Trinity Lutheran Church.  If you are a member, then certainly you are a friend.  If you have ever attended any of our worship services on Sunday or Friday evenings, then you are our friend.  If you have enjoyed listening to our sermons that are posted on our various websites, you are a friend of Trinity.  So as friends, I have three important words for you: Everyone, Everyday, Everywhere.  These words are foundational for the work we are doing here at Trinity Lutheran Church.

Everyone – it has to be about more than just the pastor and the staff that faithfully serves here Monday through Saturday. Yes, the pastor and his  staff are critically important, but the work of the Kingdom is not going to be accomplished if it is only or primarily the pastor and his staff who are  doing the work of the Kingdom. It needs to be all of God’s people together doing the work under the leadership and guidance of pastors and other  leaders.

Everyday – it has to be more than just Sunday mornings. The congregation gathered as a community for worship is crucial to the health and  vitality of a congregation. But God’s design is for His people to be engaged in the work of His Kingdom every day of the week, not just for a couple  hours on Sunday morning. It’s about God’s people living out the Kingdom every day and every hour of the week in every aspect of their lives.  Often Sunday worship services are relied upon to accomplish most if not all of the worship, evangelism, and discipleship of a congregation. God does show up with His people when they are gathered on Sundays around the Word and Sacraments. But He is also with His people ALL of the time, and wants His people to be about the Kingdom twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, not just for a few hours one day a week.

Everywhere – it has to be more than just at our church and school grounds. When the disciples didn’t catch any fish in Luke 5, Jesus  had to remind them to throw their nets WHERE THE FISH WERE! They had been fishing, but not where the fish were. Most churches  and church campuses around the world do not fill up with unbelievers just because the doors are opened on Sundays or because a  program is offered during the week. Jesus didn’t wait for unbelievers to find Him. Jesus went out and found the unbelievers, where  they were. Church facilities are a great gift from God. But if disciples are to be made, and all are to come to know Jesus as Savior, then  all God’s people, everyday, are going to need to get out from their church buildings and into the world where the unbelievers actually  are. People come to faith by hearing the Gospel, but they are never going to hear the Gospel if believers are not connected to them or  building relationships with them.

So it’s Everyone, Everyday, Everywhere.

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny.

43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

What can God do with such a small church membership, and only a few (under paid) staff members?  The answer is: He can do much, because it is His Spirit that empowers the labor.

It is in that spirit that we now operate our ministry here at Trinity Lutheran Church, as we reach out to people of all walks of life; the wealthy, the poor, the  foreigner, the young, and the old. On the whole, our ministry still has that insignificant feel that the widow knew well; by church standards we are small,  often worshiping under 60 at our Sunday morning service, and under 30 at our Friday night service. We constantly preach that although we are few in  number and resources, we should be bold to give all that we have to see the church do her work of bringing many into a relationship with Jesus.

Over the past four years, our small group of forgiven sinners has done significant work in bringing the Gospel into our community of Encanto, Lemon  Grove and parts of Spring Valley. Here are some of the things that we have accomplished over our time here:

  • Some 1,325 families were fed through our pantry this year, which means about 4,655 people were given food and the Word of God, along with the opportunity to be prayed for and over by Deacon Mark.
  • Some 282 unique seniors were given a nutritious breakfast, Monday thru Friday.
  • The average attendance for our weekly Bible study on Wednesday was approximately 25 people, with more than 3/4th being non-members.
  • Our Friday night gospel/jazz service averaged approximately 25 people a week, with more than half of the attendees being non-members.
  • Our Christian Martial Arts ministry’s average biweekly attendance was about 20 people, with the greater majority being nonmembers.
  • Our Tuesday and Friday evenings the average attendance for the Line Dancing ministry was approximately 25.
  • One adult baptism was performed and one adult was welcomed into new membership.
  • In 2012, Trinity has acquired 10 individuals who faithfully attend worship service, but as of yet have not begun work towards membership.
  • Entered into a new relationship with Christian brothers and sisters from American Samoa, who worship here at Trinity on Sunday afternoons at 1:30 p.m.  They are led by Pastor Fale Esera, who has a strong foundation within our Lutheran Confessions (Book of Concord).  Though they are small in number (about 45) they are mighty in spirit, and they are beginning to look at Trinity as their new home.  Pastor Fale and I are in bi-monthly talks towards establishing union and concord.  Please pray for this relationship to grow as God leads.

NOTE: The martial arts ministry, line dancers, neighbors using our pantry, and the neighbors joining us for breakfast all receive the word of God and opportunity for prayer.

As you can see, God is doing some amazing things through our people and our ministry. We may not be seeing these new friends of ours writing the biggest checks or showing up with large groups of friends, but then again neither are we the established membership doing that.  So, together as the body of Christ here at Trinity, we will continue to receive what God brings to us and offer that and so much more as He provides, back to Him, knowing full well that when we give all that we can, He will be pleased, bless our offering and work, and continue to give to us more than we could ever dream of.

We at Trinity pray that we, along with you make an impact in our communities, realizing that we each have our own gifts to significantly contribute to the Kingdom.

“Let none hear you idly saying, “There is nothing I can do,” while a multitude are dying and the master calls for you. Take the task He gives you gladly, let His work your pleasure be; answer quickly when he calls you, “Here am I, send me, send me!”

Pastor Brian

P.S. As God leads you, your financial support helps Trinity make its entire ministry possible and also creates the ability to expand and extend the work even further. Remember, your financial gifts are tax deductible. If you would are unable to attend on Sunday, but would like to give to our ongoing ministry here in our community, please send your checks to:

Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

What Does This Mean?

Sunday, December 2nd, 2012

First Sunday in Advent of the Church Year (B), December 2, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

“”“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: The Lord is our righteousness.’” [Jeremiah 33:14-16]

Behold the days have come, Jesus Christ fully God and fully man was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered  under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.  He descended into hell.  The third day He rose again from the dead.  He  ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  From thence He will come to judge the living and the  dead.  Christ has come and He will come again.  Let the church say AMEN!

That is the whole point of Advent.  We remember how Christ came; we remember the anticipation of the people of faith as they awaited  the coming of the Messiah.  And today, the church celebrates that He has come, and we look forward to His return.  Should any of this  make a difference?  What does advent mean to our community, to our nation, and to this world?  What does this mean to you?  Does it  make a difference in your life?  Can others see that difference in the way you live?

In last week’s news paper, my wife pointed out three stories that represented three related realities about this world we live in.  The first story was national in scope.  It was about that mega shopping day, Black Friday; so mega in fact that it could not be constrained to just Friday.  It seems that shoppers have been duped into using the holiday of Thanksgiving as just another day to acquire more stuff, instead of giving thanks and praise to God, on the one day we as a nation have set aside to acknowledge and thank Him for His many blessings.  How sad!

On another section of the paper, a story was run about the ever increasing pandemic known as hunger and homelessness here in America’s finest city, San Diego, California.  What jumped out at me especially was not the fact that the food bank is running out of food, and that the shelters are quickly filling; no what jumped out at me was the fact that the church no longer plays a lead role in caring for the hungry and homeless.  Now, you see organizations like Jewish Family Services and the Jacobs foundation are leading the way and teaching us as a community to be loving and kind to others.

Then on the international page I read another story about the newly elected president of Egypt seizing complete power, suspending the democratic rights of the people, but promising that if they just trust him, everything will be alright.  And while he is making everything alright, people who are in the streets crying out for help and justice are being terrorized and killed by that same man.

So why am I sharing these three stories with you?  Because as Jesus taught us in our gospel lesson (Luke 21:25-36), His pending return, or His advent will remind us that we are in a season of turmoil and distress, so much so that it will cause people to faint with fear and trembling because of what is coming on the world.  It is a time when the powers of the heavens will be shaken and those living will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  And Jesus said that when these things happen, the things that cause turmoil and distress, we should straighten up and raise our heads, because our redemption is drawing near.  The righteous branch of David is coming and he will execute justice and righteousness in the land.

Christ has come.  Born as a baby to a virgin girl in Bethlehem, He came to us in our flesh to make all things right; all things new.  This is the truth that the ancients waited for and it is the truth we celebrate today, this first Sunday in Advent.  Christ has come, what does this mean?  It means we must live out His coming; it means we must be His righteousness in this world, until He comes again to make all things new and right.

It means that on a day of Thanksgiving, we as the body of Christ, as His church here in our sin-soaked community must be His light; His source of righteousness.  While others are busy acquiring things, we should be busy demonstrating a spirit of thankfulness; we should be acknowledging and thanking our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.  It means that when there is a Thanksgiving church service, we will go out of our way to attend; after all, this thanksgiving business isn’t about us, it is about God!

Christ has come, what does this mean?  It means that when people are going hungry in this world and have no place to live, we as the church, the body of Christ ought to be making a difference.  We ought to be leading the way in demonstrating acts of love, because Jesus our Master and King, our Redeemer and Savior is the Source of all true love.

Is that what we do?  On the screen, you see some pictures of our pantry. Look at how empty those shelves are.  If we waited for food donations from this community before we were able to help out the hungry and homeless, it would not happen, because those donations are almost nonexistent.  While our cupboards are full at home, we can’t even seem to bring in and drop off a few nonperishable food items, or throw a few extra dollars in the Agape fund.  Instead, where do we get the food for our pantry?  We have to buy it from the food bank, which is run by the Jewish community, who seem to be “out-loving” Christ’s own people.

Christ has come.  Does it seem like He’s coming in places like Egypt, Israel, even here in the United States?  No, and the reason is clear, people have placed their trust in men and the governments of men instead of God’s promise to deliver and provide.  But Jesus warns us not to let these things, these truths demoralize us.  He says, “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” [Luke 21:34-36]

How do we stay awake?  How do we make sure that the way we live here in this world is pleasing to God?  We do it by remembering that Christ has come, and is coming again.  We do it by hearing the prophet Jeremiah’s words this morning, not as a threat, but as words of comfort.  We remember that we have an eternal King whose eternal concern and rule has us as His central interest.  It is Jesus who even right now, is watching over us in all our ways to keep us safe for Himself.  We have a High Priest who has a permanent priesthood, sealed by His own blood.  He is God’s permanent presence in our lives; He alone is not only the source of all love and charity, He is OUR source of love and charity.  “He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them”. [Hebrews 7:25]  We have the confidence that “if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.  He is the atoning sacrifice for our sin, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” [1 John 2:1,2]

Christ is the one perfectly righteous King; He alone is able to rule and govern us perfectly.  He will never provide a reason for you to depose Him or impeach Him as earthly rulers deserve.  He reigns with perfect righteousness and delivers perfect justice.  He alone has laid down His life to earn your love and respect, and He alone took back up His life to gain your worship.  He alone can forgive sins, heal the broken hearted, and set the captives free.  It is He alone who can truly care for the poor.

Christ alone cares for you and He wants to care for your neighbors, even the world.   He does it first through His Word and Sacraments.  They are the means of the Father to bring new life and hope into the lives of sinners caught up in the darkness and hopelessness of sin.  He comes through these means with complete forgiveness, but these means come through people; they come through the church, a group of other sinners who were once also trapped in sin and hopelessness, but now have been freed and patiently wait for the return of their King.

How can we live lives of hope and trust when all around us seems to be overwhelming fear and faithlessness?  We do it because we are not alone.  We are together as the body of Christ.  You saints of Trinity are a light in this community we call Encanto, in a city named San Diego.  You are a city on a hill, where God works out his righteousness within you and through you.  You are those who have learned that true religion does not exist to deliver us from suffering and pain, but instead it leads us through those things as we draw others to follow us as we are following our King.  So the season of Advent reminds us that as Christ’s body here on earth, we have been appointed to follow our Savior and experience pain and suffering even as He did.

Before I close, I wanted to share my heart with you as your pastor.  Most of you know that since I arrived here, one of my primary tasks was to be your chief evangelist within our community.  I have done that tirelessly along with my staff, who are here every day of the week.  Together, we represent you and we do it well.  We pour out ourselves for those who come looking for rest, hope, and peace.  But I must confess that we do sometimes feel defeated and alone.

So many times we have reached out to our neighbors with the best of our time, talent, and treasure, and we have seen them flourish in God’s love, forgiveness and healing, only to see them leave without so much as a thank you.  We see them drawn to other churches or fellowships that have not ministered to them, but instead, upon their arrival, they give them more of the very world that destroyed them.  We see our neighbors take advantage of our love and in essence spit in our face.  So what are we to do?

“We are to continue walking the path before us (the same path our Lord walked), as (He alone) makes us increase and abound in love for one another and for all, even as we do for all of you.”  Why do we do these things, even though they bring us pain and suffering?  Because we know that the Holy Spirit will establish our hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” [1 Thessalonians 3:11-13]  Wont you join us in our journey following our King?  Will you support us and come along side of us with your time, talent and treasure, as together we proclaim the powerful Advent message: Christ has come, Christ is coming again… AMEN!