Archive for February, 2013

Are You a Stranger Here?

Sunday, February 24th, 2013

Lent 2C, February 24, 2013
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

I guess, before we begin digging into our message this morning, I should explain the title of the sermon, “Are you a stranger here?” You could define the word “here” in two different ways, thus making it two different questions. Let me show you what I mean. 1. Are you stranger here, to the ways of this world? That is, do you feel out of place in a society that is centered on self-gratification and sinful living? Or, 2. Are you a stranger to the church? Is church just a place you go because it is the right thing to do; is it a place you go instead of being something you are a part of and something that is a part of you?

This morning, St. Paul tells us that as Christians, we are foreigners in this world, and as foreigners, we should never feel as though we are completely at home on this earth. We live here for now, but we do not belong here. Our true home is with our Father in His Heavenly Kingdom. So, as foreigners in this world, we should view the ways of this world as also foreign to us.  As citizens of God’s Kingdom by His Grace, we resist the temptations of this world and anxiously await our Savior and our entrance into our eternal Heavenly Homeland.

This morning, St. Paul writes, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” [Philippians 3:17]  Do you find it a little presumptuous, maybe even a little arrogant that Paul invites us to imitate him and other Christians as an example of how to live out our heavenly citizenship?

You might if you were thinking about Paul the Pharisee; Paul who before he met Christ was one that thought he was “holier than thou!”  But this is not the Paul who writes this epistle; no, this morning, the Paul who speaks to us is the one who declares, “I (Paul) see in my body another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells within me.”  [Rom 7:23] This is the great apostle of the gentiles, who admits that he is being held captive to the law; locked away and hopelessly held bondage within a sinful body of death, and if left without help, he would be forever separated from God.

But Paul did receive help; God did finally get through to Paul the sinner, by showing him Jesus suffering and death for the world, even for Paul, so that Paul could be become born again in baptism; a new man whom God would love and Whom he would be able to love in return.  All of this happened for Paul when Christ freed him from his body of death; all of this happened when Paul received God’s forgiving love through the cross of Jesus Christ!

This “born again” Paul had abandoned everything that was in his past; all of his worldly accomplishments, he counted as nothing but filthy rags.  This new and reborn Paul, is the one who was straining forward to the upward call of God, and living each day as a chance to live within and build God’s kingdom of grace by investing in his and others’ eternity (3:14).  So in essence, Paul is asking each of us to follow him each day, in a celebration of God’s forgiving love, and to encourage others to do the same.

Unfortunately, even we Christians can lose sight of the upward call of our true citizenship.  We can be tempted to see our citizenship as being first in the world and second in the kingdom of God.  This is what Paul declares in verses 18–19, when he writes, “For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.  Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.”

When our identity as being Christian takes second place to anything else, well then, our minds and our hearts will start to reset themselves; a kind of reprograming will begin to take place, and we will find ourselves living to obtain earthly things, instead of living to please God.  It is a slow process to be sure; almost undetectable to others, but we know when we have put God in second place.  We know because God’s law begins to convict us and remind us that apart from Him, we can do nothing meaningful; we are sinners.

If we ignore the Word of God and the convicting work of the Holy Spirit, we have as Paul says, made our god our bellies; that is we have traded God’s glory for our shame!  When this happens to citizens of heaven, it is not the fault of God or the church; it is our own grievous fault.

So when some ask us whether it is possible for a Christian to loose their salvation, the answer is yes.  They can slowly become so secure and comfortable in their sins, that they no longer wish to hear the Word of God, which is the only means of remaining a citizen of heaven.  And if they reject God’s means of grace, well then, they will simply fall away and never even care.

They won’t care that they have become enemies of the cross of Jesus Christ.  They won’t care that their end will be their eternal destruction of body and soul, in hell; a place of eternal suffering and separation of all that is good and God pleasing.

So is there any hope for these poor souls who have become so lost?  Yes; they must cease being strangers to God and His church, and instead become strangers once again to this world!  In essence, they must go back to the beginning; back to where they first met God; back to the place where God first saved them.  They must go back to their baptism!

This morning, we have had a wonderful illustration of the beginning of eternal life.  We have witnessed baby Nathan Otten being transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light.  We have seen God recreate a child born into the kingdom of this world, into a saint who is a citizen of the Kingdom of God.  Just as Nathan can now say that He is God’s own child through the washing of the water and the world, so can you!  Even if you have been walking apart from God for so many years, it is never to late to return to the Lord your God, for He alone is faithful and merciful; slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love!

In Holy Baptism, God, just as He has done for baby Nathan has made each of us members of His church, the body of Jesus Christ.  In the waters of our baptism, we are reminded, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” [Philippians 3:20, 21]

Do we really understand what it means to be declared citizens of heaven?!  I pray that before we leave this place of worship; before we say grace over our fellowship meal together, each of us by the power of the Holy Spirit would see the mighty work our God has done for us through our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.  I pray that we would understand that Jesus has in fact opened heaven to us by his life, death, resurrection, and ascension.  I pray that we would see baby Nathan’s baptism and our own as God’s means of grace, which He has declared to be the instrument that makes us citizens of His heaven.

But I also pray that this wonderful work of God would make a difference to us; a difference in how we live our lives here in this other kingdom; this kingdom of man.  As heaven’s citizens, as we anxiously await our Savior’s return, I pray that we would occupy our minds with heavenly thoughts (worship, devotion, Bible study, and prayer).  I pray that we would continue to hunger to hear His Word proclaimed and hunger to eat heavenly food at our Lord’s Table.  I pray that we would continue to imitate not just St. Paul, but all the saints who have lived a life of faith trusting in the promises of God.  I pray that we would join in with them always being prepared to give a witness to anyone who asks, declaring: “We’ve come this far by faith leaning on the Lord.  Trusting in His Holy Word, He’s never failed us yet!  And as Christians by God’s grace, we will continue to walk in His forgiving love and be examples of faith-filled Christians for those other citizens of Christ’s kingdom who will come after us.”

Together as heavenly citizens, we endure our time on earth together, and we stand firm to the end, anxiously awaiting the transformation of our bodies to be like his glorious body. Together, we are not ashamed to sing, “I’m just a stranger here; heaven is my home.”  And together, we each long for the day when our heavenly Father will call us home. As foreigners who live for news and a Word from the country we love, we count down the days until we set foot in the land that will always be home and say, “Free at last; free at last.  Thank God almighty, we’re free at last!”

When It’s OK to Remember

Sunday, February 17th, 2013

Lent 1C, February 17, 2013
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

Here are two words that don’t seem to go together: “Happy Lent!”  Sounds a little strange don’t you think?  The reason it  sounds strange is because when most people think of the Lenten season, they think of repentance, and so we should.    And when we think of repentance, we might think of sack cloth and ashes, contrition and angst, struggle and sacrifice.    Now, while all of that is there in the season of Lent, there is also a very big element of Lent that should make us happy,  or at least give us a feeling of security and peace.  And do you know what that portion of Lent is?  It is Jesus Christ, and  all that He has done for us.

During the season of Lent, we remember; we remember our sins yes, but we also remember what Christ did to take those  sins away.  During this Lenten season we started off with Ash Wednesday and we heard those familiar words, “From  dust you came and to dust you shall return.”  We need to hear those words and we need to receive that ashen cross to  remind us that our salvation is not about what we have or haven’t done, but instead it rests solely on what Christ has  done for us!

The season of Lent is 40 days long, because Jesus journey of temptation in the wilderness was also 40 days.  So during  this Lenten season, we are walking with Jesus; suffering with Jesus, and at the end of that season during holy week, we  will dine with Jesus and die with Jesus.  But throughout it all, we will remember that IN THE FACE OF TEMPTATION,  CHRIST KEPT GOD’S LAW PERFECTLY FOR OUR SALVATION.

“Jesus . . . was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil” (vv 1–2).  In our Gospel reading this morning (Luke 4:1–13), we are only allowed to see the last three temptations of Jesus, but scripture tells us that He was attacked by the devil the entire 40 days.  And throughout it all, He remained strong and resolute; resolved to complete the mission that His Father had set before Him.

In the first temptation that we are shown, Jesus was invited to use his divine power for his own comfort.  It was the end of a 40 day fast, and He was tired and very hungry.  Now, isn’t it true that if we miss even one meal, we can become not just hungry, but irritable and weak?  Now, imagine missing food for a whole day, and then keep on imagining going without food for a week.  Now, multiply that by 6 and you will begin to understand why Jesus was more vulnerable to temptation on that last day than any other day, and He did not falter.

Now if you have ever tried to fast, you know that even without the devils attacks, your own flesh fights against you.  But not just during fasts, how about just going on a diet or giving up a habit or addiction?  I think that if you are honest with yourself, you have a lot more defeats to your credit than victories.  So many times, instead of fighting the good fight to gain a victory over sin, we just give in!

But not Jesus; Jesus trampled the devil’s temptation, and how did He do it?  With Scripture!  He spoke a Word of truth to the devil and the devil relented.  “Man should not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God!”  But Jesus was the mouth of God, so what harm would there have been if He would have turned just one of those stones into a loaf of bread and ended His fast there?  I will tell you what harm it would have caused; it would have disqualified Him from dying as a true man; a man that knew heartache and pain; hunger and fatigue.  If He could not face the agony of hunger, how would He have been qualified to face the agony of His passion and death upon the cross?  So Jesus did not give in because He could not; you see, your salvation hung in the balance!

Jesus was also tempted by the lure of worldly power and accepting a lie out of convenience so that good might come.  When the devil showed Jesus all of the kingdoms of the earth that ever were and ever would be in a moment, he then made a statement and a promise: “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”  Now, while it was true that Satan was the ruler of all of these earthly kingdoms, it was a lie that they were given to him.  All things belong to our Creator God, even you and your own enemies and tempters.  Satan was not given a thing, but rather he usurped this world through the very first sin of Adam and Eve, when we are told all of creation fell in bondage to that sin!

And yet, Jesus came as our Savior; to take away from Satan that which belongs to God and then give them back to His stewards, man and woman, you and me.  So if Jesus would simply accept the small lie of the devil that they are His, the devil would have given them to Him, with no fuss or muss.  No suffering and death upon the cross.  Then in the devils estimate, all would have been well; mission accomplished right?!  Wrong!  Jesus silenced the devil’s lie one more time with the living Word of God: “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’ ”

Oh that we could be more like Jesus.  How many times has the lying serpent tempted us to sin by asking us to go along with a small diversion from God’s Word?  Peer pressure, worldly wisdom, and personal comfort have led so many to go along to get along.  “It isn’t really a person until it is born, so abortion isn’t all that bad.  And I know that God’s Word says that marriage is between a man and a woman, but if they’re happy, what’s the problem?  And yes, I know that scripture says that Jesus is the only way to heaven, but what gives us the right to believe and state that all other religions are wrong, and we alone are right?”  Oh how often we give in!

And finally, Jesus was tempted to impose his will against his Father’s will by a distortion of Scripture.  He could have immediately sent the devil away, and proved to the world that He really was the Son of God, if He would have jumped off of that pinnacle and simply hovered there a while.  What a sight that would have been.  Again, the devil wanted Jesus to see that this would have been an easier way to draw all men unto Himself, without the cross; without His passion.

But Jesus knew the devil; He knew the nature of His lies.  They were based on deception and not truth.  Sure He looks like a roaring lion, especially in the way He tempts us to sin, but Jesus knew that the devils’ time was very limited.  He knew that the Father’s mission through the cross would rip not just the teeth out of that evil lion’s mouth but every single claw!  In essence, the devil’s roar was much worse than His bite.  And how did Jesus trample the lion?  By revealing his distortion of scripture, with the truth of scripture.

The devil quoted this Word of scripture to Jesus, “He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you, in all your ways.” [Matthew 4:6] Well, what is wrong with that; isn’t that scripture?  Yes, but it is scripture out of context.  Perhaps the best way to see the devil’s lie is to put ourselves in Jesus position and think through the devils temptation.  We might reply like this: “If the angels will guard Me in all My ways, why don’t you show Me one of these ways, like the times men will try to stone me or bear false witness against me; then we can see how they will guard Me? But you show Me a place of your choosing that my Father hasn’t chosen; a place where there is no way out for Me. So, since it is written that they will guard Me in all My ways, you are quoting this passage in an evil way in order to make God agree with your sin. So, from this passage you have no grounds to claim God’s angels will guard me, because your way is sin and evil, the very things God can not look upon.  So the promise of God stands in regards to following His will and ways, but never in order to follow your ways.  Since you like to quote the Word of God so much, hear this Word: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.””

During this season of Lent there is one lesson we must always remember and never forget: Even though we may fail in our own temptations, Jesus, by keeping God’s Law, has overcome every temptation on our behalf.  When we are weak He and His work upon the cross are forever strong and effective.

When we become frustrated because we seem to fall into temptation over and over again; when we begin to become lost in a feeling of defeat because of our sin, we must not give into the lie of the devil and think that God has abandoned us.  When we find ourselves not doing the good we want but the evil we do not want instead, we must not think that we have sinned beyond God’s ability to save.  We must remember who it is that saves us from this body of death… it is Jesus alone, who defeated not just Satan and all of the devils, but even our own sin and the penalty of that sin… death!

Jesus alone has gone in our place under God’s Law and fought real temptation for us; on our behalf.  He is our substitute, not just in his suffering and dying, but also in his perfect obedience to the will of His and our Heavenly Father.  We are saved in no other way but by the blood of Jesus, who is and always shall be innocent of all sin.  Because of Jesus obedience to His Father’s will, and because of His victory over sin upon the cross, God forgives us of all of our sins and He gladly credits Christ’s righteousness towards us.

So, when we are attacked and accused by the devil, the world, and our own conscience, we are called to simply turn to the Father’s forgiving heart, which is ours through Christ alone, who saved us by His perfect obedience, suffering, and death.  And when the devil tempts us to sin, we simply call out to God, trust in Christ and his Word of truth and fight the good fight of faith.  When the Law accuses us of sin, we trust in Christ and his perfect obedience, which alone perfectly fulfills the demands of that Law.  And finally, when death demands our life, we simply trust in Christ and proceed into our Father’s Kingdom with peace and assurance that “He who began the good work in us will complete it in the day of Jesus Christ,” the day when Christ shall restore our fallen creation and make all things new and good.

There is a time to remember.  It is ok to remember your sins if it leads you to sorrow and the desire to fight the next set of temptations the devil and your own sinful flesh will throw at you.  But it is even more important to remember that our Savior also knows what it is to be tempted. We must always remember that He willingly faced temptation by our enemy, the prowling lion, and he did it for our salvation. He won the battle, and his victory belongs to all who trust in him, even to you.  I pray that you will remember this truth, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Return to Me!

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

Ash Wednesday (Year C), February 13, 2013
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message on Joel 2:12-19

What is Lent?  Well simply put, it is a time of repentance; a season of 40 days when we remember Jesus’ 40 days of temptation in the wilderness.  This Lenten season, we will follow Jesus.  We will make some interesting stops along the way.  Towards the end of our 40 day journey, we will come together, in the upper room on Maundy Thursday, and share the Eucharist meal with each other.  Together we will be nourished by our Lord’s Supper.  Then on the next day, we will discover why the darkest day of our Lord’s life on earth is called Good Friday.  And finally, our Lenten journey will end with loud alleluias on Easter Sunday morning with a sunrise service that looks into and celebrates the empty tomb.  After our worship, we will gather in fellowship over a hearty breakfast.  And all of this journey starts tonight.

Tonight, through the prophet Joel, the Lord invites us with these Words: “Return to me.” This is the same invitation that He made when Adam and Eve fell into the original sin long ago.  He invited them to return to Him through the promise of a Savior, their Savior who would come to undo the evil that they set in motion.  It was an evil that would forever lay claim to their descendants.  He made the same promise to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all of their descendants. To prove to them that He would keep His promise to bring a Savior, He delivered the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt and made his law-covenant with them at Sinai.  Through the Law, He separated them from all the other nations as a people for himself; by faith in the coming Savior, they were to be his holy people. But they broke their covenant with him, disobeyed his commandments, and worshiped other gods. Joel’s message, “Return to me”—that is, come all the way back to me—“with all your heart,” is a great way to sum up all of the preaching and teaching found in the Bible. It also answers this question: “How can we be delivered from judgment on the day of the Lord?”

Did you ever wonder why Joel called for “fasting and weeping and mourning” (verse 12)?  Well, these were considered proof of real heartfelt sorrow for sin. Did you know that throughout the Bible there is only one fast-day set aside by the law of Moses?  It was called the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29, 31).  On that day, the Israelites were to deny themselves, and confess to God their deep sorrow over their sins. So in our Old Testament lesson, Joel is calling his people to mourn because they have abandoned the Lord their God.

Don’t you find it true that sinners like to build defenses against the Lord and his call to repentance. Worldly people laugh at God’s invitation to return to Him, and they like to surround themselves with “life’s worries, riches and pleasures” (Luke 8:14). But I think that we religious people too  have a line of defense all our own. We can take something good like religious ceremonies and use them as a defense against God’s call to repent. People in Joel’s time might lament loudly and tear their garments as a sign of sorrow and then think that God is fooled, without ever letting his Word penetrate their hard hearts.

That is why Joel continues, “Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God” ’ (verse 13). He does not want his “religious” people just going through the motions of repentance. In speaking to the people of God, their pastor, Joel, expected that they would let the Word sink into their hearts and consciences. He expected that the visible signs, fasting and weeping and mourning, would be outward marks of an inward sorrow about past sin. Such “godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation” (2 Corinthians 7:10).  Do you have this kind of sorrow over your sins?  If so, then return to the Lord your God.

Worldly people who laugh at God’s call to repentance will probably not gather tonight to receive the sign of an ashen cross, and hear a sermon like we are hearing. These kinds of gatherings are usually for people who are “religious.” Unfortunately, we Christians are often not all that different from the “religious” people in Joel’s time: we recite our confession of sins, sing our hymns, sit through a sermon, put our offering in the basket, and think that God must be satisfied with us. Our worship can become a mere “going-through-the-religious-motions,” a defense against the Lord’s call to repent, without faith in our hearts or the fruits of faith in our lives.

Tonight, God’s Word wants to tear down our “religious” defenses. Tonight, our Lord continues to call his wandering people home: “Return to me with all your heart.… Rend your heart and not your garments.” Let the law of your holy God humble your pride. Let him lead you to contrition, even though your broken heart may hurt. True repentance is appalled at sin, because sin separates us from the Lord, the source of life and love. And true repentance includes faith in the promised forgiveness of sins. The repentant sinner turns back to the Lord, confident of his grace and says along with David: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. (Psalm 51:1)

When Joel invites the Israelites to repent, he fittingly describes Israel’s God: “He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and he relents from sending calamity” (verse 13). These are the same terms the covenant Lord used to describe Himself when he passed before Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:6, 7). Then also the Lord was dealing with a disobedient people. The Israelites had forgotten him and his deliverance from Egypt in favor of the pleasures of worshiping a golden calf. Yet Israel’s Lord remained ready to welcome sinners home again.

He showed Moses what kind of God he is. He loves us when we do not deserve it (He is gracious). His heart is warm with mercy for sinners (He is compassionate). Even though often provoked, he does not let his wrath flame up and destroy us (He is slow to anger). He is totally faithful in keeping his covenant promise of abundant blessing (He is abounding in love). Even though his law threatens punishment, he gladly turns his judgment aside when he sees that his Word has had its intended effect (He relents from sending calamity).

And what is the intended effect?  That you would see Jesus!  See Jesus who willingly and gladly took upon Himself all of God’s anger and wrath over your sins.  See His cross, where God demonstrated that wrath and the punishment for your sins.  But then you must look even more deeply into God’s Word and see the empty tomb, where your promised Savior has defeated your deadly enemies, sin, death, and the devil.  All of this He gives to you in your baptism; a onetime washing away of sins and His eternal call for you to repent—to return to the God who saves you.

Like Joel, I cannot promise you that your life will be problem free once you repent and follow Jesus.  Sometimes we can make a real mess of our lives because of our sins.  Unfortunately, the sin may be taken away, but the repercussions of our sins can haunt us as long as we live.  But, perhaps the Lord “may turn and have pity” (verse 14). Like Joel, we must leave it to the Lord and let Him decide how he will answer our repentant prayers. But I can promise you this, anything that is good, which comes our way, will be undeserved. And in the end, any blessing outside of salvation is just icing on the cake.  You already have the greater gift… the Lord has saved you from your sins, simply because he is a gracious God.

While it’s true that the Lord may use tragedies, accidents, or illness to turn sinners back in his direction, there is always a better reason for turning away from sin and back to the Lord: “He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (verse 13). The motive for sincere repentance, like every other good effect in our hearts and lives, is the grace and mercy of a loving God, displayed in the sacrifice of his Son for the sins of the world. It is true that our sins deserve damnation, and in fact they did bring the pains of hellfire on Jesus. But once we have recognized that, God’s Word immediately draws our whole attention away from our sins to our Savior’s grace, compassion, patience, and love.

So, let’s travel down this Lenten road together friends as God’s people walking by faith together here at Trinity Lutheran Church.  Let’s return to the Lord our God, for He is patient and merciful; slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love!

Listen To Him!

Sunday, February 10th, 2013

Transfiguration of Our Lord (Year C), February 10, 2013
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

Our mesage begins with listening to this Christian song about God’s pure light.

“In The Light” by DC Talk

I keep trying to find a life on my own; apart from you I am the king of excuses.  I’ve got one for every selfish thing I do; what’s going on inside of me?
I despise my own behavior.  This only serves to confirm my suspicions that I’m still a man in need of a savior.

(chorus)

I wanna be in the light

As you are in the light.  I wanna shine like the stars in the heavens.  Oh, lord be my light and be my salvation, cause all I want is to be in the light.  All I want is to be in the light.

The disease of self runs through my blood.  It’s a cancer fatal to my soul; every attempt on my behalf has failed to bring this sickness under control.  Tell me, what’s going on inside of me?  I despise my own behavior; this only serves to confirm my suspicions, that I’m still a man in need of a savior.

(repeat chorus)

Honesty becomes me [there’s nothing left to lose] The secrets that did run me [in your presence are defused] Pride has no position [and riches have no worth]The fame that once did cover me [has been sentenced to this earth] Has been sentenced to this earth.  Tell me, what’s going on inside of me?  I despise my own behavior this only serves to confirm my suspicions, that I’m still a man in need of a savior.

And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!”” [Luke 9:35]

The song we just heard is called “In the Light” by a Christian group named DC Talk.  Maybe you’ve found yourself relating to the words?  Maybe you too keep trying to find a life on your own; a life that you feel will bring you joy, but no matter how hard you try to do it your way, happiness is always just out of reach.  Maybe like the song you are ready to admit that what is really going on inside of you, is your own selfish desire; a self-pleasing desire.

Maybe, you can see that your disease of self-worship is imbedded into your very DNA; it runs through your blood like a cancer, and it is fatal to your soul, which is your eternal life?  If so, you are in good company.  You are in the company of the likes of Moses, St. Peter and St. Paul.

St. Paul lamented, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” [Romans 7:15-20 ESV]

And then in our Old Testament lesson, we see Moses; poor Moses.  So close, and yet so far.  He was the one God had chosen to lead His people out of slavery in Egypt, and into a land flowing with milk and honey.  It was Moses that God gave great wisdom; perhaps short of Jesus, the greatest prophet who had ever spoken the Word of God, and the reason was that God spoke with Moses not in dreams, but face to face.  Moses was the only man who had seen God and did not die!  And now, after 40 years of wandering in the desert because of the sin of the very people he was leading, Moses himself in anger with those people, sinned against God.  There they were, just out side of the Promised Land, ready to enter, and God told Moses, “Not so fast.  You will not be going with them.  I will let you go up on the Mountain and look at the place, but you will not be leaving with them; you have a date with me.  You will die on this mountain and they will go on without you.”

Why?  Why would God do this to poor Moses?  Because, as I said, Moses sinned against God, and God can not tolerate sin.  Moses knew that His anger was displeasing to God, and yet he allowed it to get the better of him.  When God told Moses to draw water from the rock by striking it with his staff in order to silence the sinful and grumbling Hebrews, Moses did more than strike it; he beat that old rock with his staff out of anger.  It was anger that Moses would not confess and give to God that caused Him to sin!

What is it that is interfering with your relationship with God?  What are the secrets that you are hiding that are running and ruining your life?  Do you want to know what is going on inside of you and why you see very little change?  It is because you are not allowing the light of God to enter your heart and deal with what you think is a secret sin.  Here is a newsflash for you… it’s not a secret to God.  He already sees it; He’s known about it forever… He just wants you to acknowledge it and let Him remove it!

In our gospel reading (Luke 9:28–36) we see God demonstrating this spiritual truth to Peter, in a miraculous and mysterious way.  We see the hope of the Hebrews, of Moses, the hope of the Church, and even your hope displayed in a way that should give comfort, strength, and encouragement, so that we can keep on trusting in God’s forgiving presence and work in our lives.

What is it that we see on that mountaintop?  Yes, we see Jesus; we see Him praying.  And with Him are John, James, and Peter.  Now before we move onto the miraculous, let’s not lose sight of the ordinary; let’s look at Peter for just a moment, so that we might also see ourselves.  Who is Peter?  Is he someone extraordinary that God chose to be an even greater man for Jesus?  No; this is Peter the impetuous; Peter the hothead; Peter the self-centered sinner, who dared to tell Jesus that He must not go to Jerusalem if the people there were planing on killing Him on a cross.  And what did Jesus say to this worldly wisdom?  “He said get behind me Satan!”  Do you see, Jesus equivocated Peter’s self-centered sin as equal to the sin of Satan, who was forever cast out of heaven and eternally separated from the love of God!  Yes, this is Peter, the same man who would soon enough not only abandon Jesus but swear three times that He never even met Him!

And why was Peter there on that mountaintop?  For the same reason you are… to witness and to hear God’s redeeming work in a miraculous and mysterious way.  “And as (Jesus) was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white.  And behold, two men were talking with (Jesus), Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” [Luke 9:29-31]  What departure?  Why His death upon the cross!  That was necessary, because it was the will of God that the Son of God must complete all of the work that was placed upon Him in His baptism, there in the waters of the Jordan river.  What work?  To fulfill all righteousness!

And before we can ask what it means to fulfill all righteousness, good old Peter opens His mouth again: “And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said.””  There He goes again; speaking when He should be worshiping; thinking of himself when He should be hearing what God is speaking.  Listen to what happens and is said next, and see if you understand what I mean: “As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.” [Luke 9:34-36]

If you can see Peter’s problem, perhaps you can also see your own.  Peter was speaking and thinking when He should have been watching and listening.  He was wanting to work when God wanted Him to worship.  Instead of having the spirit of a servant He had the spirit of an organizer.  Instead of saying “Speak oh Lord, for your servant is listening” he was saying, “Listen, Oh Lord, for I am speaking.”

There in front of Peter was the Son of God, in all of His heavenly glory.  Somehow, for just those few moments, Peter, James, and John were no longer on the mountaintop, but in a place where heaven and earth meet, and Peter missed it.  He missed the bright light of God’s glory, and He missed the truth that Moses and Elijah were there to hear Jesus speak to them.

Moses and Elijah; two ordinary men that did extraordinary things for God were not dead but there speaking with their Master.  Peter should have been willing to allow God to teach him; he should have called out for wisdom and asked Jesus to teach him what God was doing, but instead He wanted to tell God what He would do.

So what is the solution to Moses sin; to Peter’s sin, and to our own sin?  We must listen to Jesus.  We must hear the very Word of God and let it change us.  We must allow God’s glory to blind us in the perfection of His law; allow it to bring great fear into our hearts and then allow it to be replaced with only Jesus.

“This is my Son, my Chosen One; your Savior.  He is the one who was baptized into your sins; into the death that you should die.  He is the one who took your place upon the cross and died in your stead.  Listen to Him!  Hear Him and allow Him to bring forgiveness into your life and then allow Him to change you from the inside out.  Know that just as Moses did not see his reward in an earthly Zion, he did enter his eternal Zion, and so shall you. Know that just as Peter continually displayed a sinful self-centered way of looking at the world, eventually he understood the meaning of the mountaintop experience, and so shall you when you come into my glory forever!”

Dear friends, there is a time to speak and a time to listen.  In the church, during Divine Service we start with this very pattern.  In the beginning, at the very start of our worship, we begin by speaking to God; being honest with Him in our confession of sins.  But after this is done, it is time to listen; time to hear and receive wisdom from above.  That wisdom is the truth that through Christ, God has taken away not just your sin but the result of those sins.  This is the light of God’s glory; it is the light of His Son Jesus Christ.  It is why you are here; it is the very message that you must hear, so that it can change you.  You must not leave this mountaintop we call church until you see this light; until you see Jesus for who He really is.

But soon, you must leave this mountaintop we call Divine Service; you must allow the light and the glory to fade so that you will continue to hear the voice of God in His Word echo in your heart, “This is my Son.  Listen to Him.”  You must open your eyes and lift your head that is bowed in worship and see only Jesus.  See Him as He leads you out into a world of darkness; a world of sin.  And as He leads you, He alone will be your source of truth and your source of light.  He alone calls you to follow Him under the cross of disappointment and agony, and then speak His message of hope to others who are also lost within themselves.

It is a message that can only be received in the light of God’s Word.  You are forgiven and there is hope there at the mountaintop; there in Christ’s church, where His Word and Sacraments become your source of strength and your promise of entering the Promised Land, your heavenly Zion.

It is a message that walks down from the mountain top with Jesus, and then watches as He climbs another hill alone; the hill of Calvary… Golgotha, where he alone makes us right by taking away our sins through His mighty passion upon the cross.  This is how Jesus fulfills all righteousness; this is how He makes you right with God!

May God continue to help us to listen to, worship, and experience our Transfigured Lord this coming season of Lent and forever.  In Jesus name… AMEN!

All You Need is Love!

Sunday, February 3rd, 2013

Epiphany 4C, February 3, 2013
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been known.” [1 Corinthians 13:12]

The song you just heard, “All You Need is Love” by the Beatles will serve as our mental hook this morning.  While our baptized nature would give a hearty AMEN to the title of that song, our old nature, that is our sinful, physical nature, would rather agree with Tina Turner and say, “What’s love got to do with it.   What’s love but a second hand emotion?  Who needs a heart, when a heart can be broken?!”

Yes, it is true, there is a battle of perspectives going on within each of us; each of us sees things dimly right now, as if we are looking through a dirty window.  But the time will come one day soon, when Jesus will greet us face to face.  Now we know things only partially, but soon we will know fully, even as we have been known.

Only two people really know you; God and yourself.  You know yourself just as thoroughly as I know myself, and we can agree and thank God that no one else really knows us.  They would be repulsed by our inward secret thoughts and maybe even some of our actions that we think we do in secret.  But as I said, there is another who knows; another who sees all things clearly.  God knows you because He created you.  Listen to Him speak to you this morning in our Old Testament lesson (Jeremiah 1:4–19).  He says, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you”. [Jeremiah 4:5]  Do you hear that?  In your mother’s womb you were not just a lump of unformed flesh or even just a zygote, you were you, and God knew you intimately!

God knew that if He left you alone, that is without His loving care you would be nothing more than a clanging cymbal.  If the natural talents that He programed within you were not sanctified, that is set apart as holy and effective according to His will, you would be nothing.  God knew that on your own, even those gifts that the world calls good and pleasing, would in truth be self-serving.  What things?  Well how about giving away your time, talent, and treasure, to help others.  Remember now, God sees and knows you in a way that no one else but you knows, so you must agree with Him.  Agree with what?  That even if you gave away everything you owned, or even if you sacrificed your life for another person, say by dying in a fire for them, in the end, that is apart from the hand that formed you in the womb, it would be entirely self-serving; it would be about you leaving behind a legacy; your legacy!

This morning, God is asking you to look deeply into the mirror of His Word and find your sinful nature in that Word.  Now I know that it is hard to look at, but that is one of the reasons that this mirror is dim and foggy; God is simply giving you a glimpse at the real you so that He can give you another vision.  And that other vision is someone who is patient and kind; someone who never has an envious or boastful spirit; someone who has never been arrogant or rude.  God wants you to see someone who has never insisted on their own way and would never speak to another person in an irritable or resentful manner.  God wants you to see someone who would consider it unthinkable to celebrate sin or to profit from wrongdoing, and someone who only celebrates with truth.  God wants you to understand that the truth that you must celebrate is love!  Love bears all things, do you?  Love believes all things are possible, even in the darkest moments, do you?  Love always has hope in something perfect and endures all trials and temptations without anger or a grumbling spirit, do you?

Now wait, as I told you do not let this terrifying image of who you are in the flesh leave you hopeless, because there is hope, and our hope comes by looking even more intently into this mirror that is dim and fogged.  Look with me now even deeper into this mirror, this Word of God and let your hope, faith, and yes your love be strengthened.  “This is love, not that we love God, but that He first loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” [1 John 4:10]  And, this is love, the truth that declares that “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” [Romans 5:8]

Do you see a little more clearly now?  Do you see the truth that declares that from outside of you comes your champion; from God Himself comes His Son, who is your Savior.  He who knew no sin became your sin; that is He took on your sins.  Do you see Jesus?  This is love; it is the kind of love that completely fulfills all of God’s description of true love.  It is the kind of love that the world could never attain, because it is completely lost in its self; that is in its sin.  It is a heavenly quality of love that can only come from a God who is love.

Our sinful world would have us believe that love, that is their idea of love is god, but the very Word of God says that “He (alone) is love.” [1 John 4:16] If we want true love, we can only receive it from the source, and that source has come to us.

God loves the world.  It is a vile world that reeks of sin, yet He loves it.  If He left the world as it was, he could never embrace it because of all of its foulness, which permeates it’s very nature.  But God wanted to love the world because that is His nature, so He sacrificed Himself so that He could love the loveless and self-centered sinners; so that He could love you.  How did He sacrifice Himself?  He sent His Son along with a message, the gospel!  It is that message which proclaims that our God of love has made a way for you and all sinful mankind to return to Him.

This message of love proclaims God’s intent for you and all of mankind.  God made a decision that you would be saved.  God chose life and forgiveness at the expense of pain and suffering for His Son.  When I say that God chose and God decided I am saying that all of God who exists in three persons, Father, Son, and Spirit, agreed that this must be done.  The Son of God was obedient to His Father’s will, because it was His will, the will of God.  But it was Jesus, the Son of God, who alone stepped away from the treasures of Heaven and took on human flesh, and delivered up His body to be crucified.  He did this because He is God, and God is love.  He gained nothing by His death and lost so much; He did it for you.

Jesus alone was patient and kind, even when they ridiculed Him, spat upon Him and beat Him.  Even as He was on the cross suffering and dying He was patient and kind, praying that His father would forgive them, because they did not know what they were doing; because they did not yet understand the gospel.  God’s love bears all things and endures all things and it does it for a purpose, for a reason.

That purpose and the reason Christ suffered and died was not to leave a legacy, and it wasn’t to prove a point; that is Jesus did not die upon the cross to make God look great and powerful and leave you feeling guilty, although this maybe what you are feeling right now.   No, Jesus died upon the cross to show you how much God loves you.  He died upon the cross so that you would not have to forfeit your life as payment for your sins.  He died upon the cross so that your true enemies, sin, death, and the devil would once and for all be destroyed.  But He also died upon the cross so that He could take His life back up again and return to His Heavenly Home at the right hand of the Father, so that you would see Him and hear Him call to you, and be assured that where He is, you shall one day join Him.

Where does Jesus call out to us from?  How do we see Him as He truly is?  Well, in the mirror dimly lit of course!  It’s in His Holy Word, the gospel message of love, where we see and hear Him.  In the washing of this Word along with simple water, the Spirit of God gives us eyes of faith; spiritual eyes that hope in nothing else but Jesus and His righteousness.  In His Word, we cling to Jesus as our new baptized nature comes alive and is daily strengthened with something that only God can give us… love.

This love of God is strong and indwelling.  It grows and every day recreates us more and more into the image of Jesus Christ.  Every day, it reminds us of the truth of our gospel lesson (Luke 4:31-44),  that just as Jesus once walked among us in the flesh, driving out demons, curing the sick and raising the dead, He is still with us through the power of the Holy Spirit, casting out demons, healing divisions and bringing peace within His body, the church.  In simple things like human words, water, bread, and wine, His real presence is among us forgiving, imparting life, sanctifying our time, talents, and treasures, and advancing His kingdom of grace.

Can you love with God’s love?  On your own, never, but with Jesus presence always with you, not only can you love, but you will love stronger and better each day as you trust in His real presence.  Each day, God invites you to follow Him, to stay in His Word and allow Him to strengthen your faith, your hope, and your love.  You do this as you trust Him to love the unlovable through you, to teach you to forgive even the unrepentant sinners, and to help you learn to sacrifice yourself as He asks, setting aside all manner of resentment and anger.  It’s this spirit of love that He has given you that teaches you to keep believing in the hope of change for people who seem to be unchangeable.

In this world of imperfection, God’s perfection has come to you and saved you, but more than that it has done the unthinkable; it has declared you… sinful you, holy perfect, and righteous.  You don’t see it now, because you are looking through that dim fogged up mirror, but soon and very soon you will see all things clearly; you will see Jesus face to face as He embraces you and welcomes you home with the words, “Well done good and faithful servant.”  And then only one thing will remain; it will not be hope or faith because the object of your hope and faith will be right in front of you.  No, the one thing that will remain forever is love; God’s love for you and your love for Him and all that He has created.  Then you will be able to answer Tina Turner’s question, “What’s love got to do with it?” with this answer: “Love has everything to do with who we are.  All we truly ever needed was God’s love, and now we have it forever.”

Now may the peace of God and the love of Christ keep our hearts and minds forever… AMEN!