Archive for March, 2013

It’s a Fact Jack!

Sunday, March 31st, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Easter Sunday C, March 31, 2013

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“If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.  But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” [1  Corinthians 15:19, 20]

He is risen.  He is risen indeed?  Are you sure of that?  Can you be sure?  And so begins the incessant drip, drip, drip, of doubt and the voice of skeptics and atheists.  If you don’t believe  me, turn on the Discovery or History channels on your televisions and see how they pick apart our hope in the empty tomb.  See how they love to cast doubt on the completed work of  our crucified and resurrected Savior and King, Jesus Christ, the Son of God!  I say, through the power of God, let them babble on, because I know by faith my Savior lives.  He IS risen!    He HAS risen indeed!

And yet, even good Christians like yourself, when you hear the Easter story, the report about a man who is also God, whose tomb was empty when his friends came to visit, and who  was claimed by two angels — in dazzling white to be risen from the dead, you may be tempted to dismiss it — or if not that, to doubt it, and attempt to come up with a rational  explanation; attempting to make the miraculous scientifically palatable. Why do people do this?  One reason may be that, they feel it’s just too good to be true and therefore it can’t be t  true.  It must just be a preposterous hoax. But wait just a minute there.  Isn’t the promise that all of our tears will be dried, that all our sorrows will be turned to joy, that all our  tragedies will be transformed to triumphs, that beyond our death there is life, isn’t that really the universal hope of all people?  Then why should we dismiss that hope it if it might just be true?

Another reason for dismissing the resurrection may be because nothing like it has ever been reported before or since.  Most thinking people will gladly tell you that precedents are always indications that thinking people must proceed with caution and really dig into the facts. “Don’t be so gullible” the unbelievers tell us. “It’s an event without comparison. No one else has ever been raised from the dead never to die again; this story about Jesus’ resurrection is just to unique.”  But why should that surprise or confound any of us? History is, after all, a collection of unique events. No two wars are the same. No two works of art or musical compositions are the same. No two sunrises are the same. No two earthquakes are the same. Think of your friends; are any two of them the same? Only machines — like the copier in the church office, are able to duplicate documents and pictures precisely, and that has nothing to do with human interactions that make up events that, in turn, make up history. Yes, Jesus’ resurrection is a unique event — perhaps a little more, but certainly no less than any other. We must get over the truth that it can’t be repeated for scrutiny by scientists, but does its uniqueness disqualify it from having happened in history?

Now another reason, some of your doubting friends will encourage you to reject the miracles recorded in scripture, especially the resurrection of our Lord is the fact that the gospel accounts don’t seem to be reporting the exact same pieces of information.  They will tell you that obviously either the witnesses or the recorders of the witnesses statements didn’t get all of the facts straight. They want the testimonies to mesh like fine gears in an expensive watch, and if they don’t, “Well” they’ll tell you, “you’ll just have to agree that the story is mostly fable.” But these differences in witness statement shouldn’t surprise us. I was a law enforcement officer for 30 years, and I can tell you with certainty that eyewitnesses at the scene of a major accident or crime seldom agree precisely as they relate their impressions of what happened. And if they did, the investigating officers are always suspicious, and then they begin to look for another crime, collusion or witness tampering.  You see, perception is always colored by emotional involvement. And yet all witnesses of a crime can agree that the crime really happened and what’s more, they saw it! And so it is with the Easter stories — the women, the disciples, whoever else were involved — they didn’t see Jesus actually rise, but they saw that He had risen, because they saw and spoke to Him!

Others may shy away from taking Easter too seriously because if they did take God at His word, they’d react just like the women at the tomb — with their eyes cast down. That is to say, if it is real, that Christ really did rise from the dead, well then He must really be the Son of God, and if He really is the Son of God, then all of those who doubt or attack His death on the cross and the resurrection are really attacking God Himself; in other words, they’re in big trouble!

You see, if the resurrection is for real, then it brings sinners face-to-face with a perfect and righteous God. Like the women at the tomb, they too may think that no one can see God and live, so they stare at the ground so as not to see God and die.

For all of our talk about Easter joy, there is a certain amount of terror that Easter strikes.  The first ones who knew the resurrection was a fact, were “terrified,” says St. Luke. They ran away “afraid”, says St. Mark. Indeed, the resurrection means that God really has forced His way into our reality, and His mighty arm has struck a deadly blow—to death. The fact that God has used divine power, can and should make weak and sinful men shudder.  It should make sinners fall over in terror.  Because you see, if Jesus really did die on a cross and rise from the dead, then that means that death is not the end, and if death isn’t the end, then there really is a place that we will live eternally.  And because there is an eternity, then there must really be only two places that we will spend that eternity… in Heaven, or… in HELL!  If that is true then that means that we really are accountable for how we live; we are accountable for every sin we have ever committed.  And if all of this is true, then that means we really do need God’s intervening help; we really do need a Savior who dies on a cross for our sins, on our behalf.

And this is really what Easter is finally about.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ is God’s final physical miracle to prove the ultimate spiritual truth… we need God and His intervention; we need His Son our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Yes it’s true that if the resurrection were not true, we Christians of all people are to be pitied above all others, because while we were living a life of sacrifice under the cross, we could have been living a life with no rules which daily sought to pursue all manner of pleasures, just like the rest of the unbelieving world.

It is as if we have been living our lives like a mountain climber making a long and painful approach to the summit, clinging to the face of a giant mountain, following a very small ledge for most of the climb, while all others have been walking on a spacious road, complete with safety rails.  Below us is death, and above us are only clouds and more rock.  We know that we can’t go back, because the path has crumbled behind us.  So we push on ahead, and because we will not give up, the others on that broad and spacious path laugh at us.  But we know what lies ahead of us; where some might see uncertainty, we see and push on towards the promise of God; the promise of rest and reward.  Yes, we push on following our resurrected Lord, until one day, maybe sooner than we think, the ledge of suffering will lead to a wide path, which will connect to solid ground; to a meadow of lush and inviting vegetation.  And there in front of us at the end of a short path, will be the beautiful city of Zion.

And as we enter our new eternal home, we will hear our Savior King, Jesus Christ declare, “Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But (here in your eternal home), be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create (a new) Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness.  I will rejoice in (this new) Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress.”  [Isaiah 65:17-19]

Oh what a day that will be; a day when we will finally see our God and Savior face to face.  It will be a time where we rejoice in His presence and He rejoices in gladness that we are finally home.  But for now, we must live our lives by faith; faith in the promise of what is to come.  We must hear the Words which proclaim, “He is risen” and know that “as in Adam all in sin die, so also in Christ all (people of faith) shall be made alive.  But each in his own order: Christ (as) the firstfruits, then at His coming (again) those who belong to Christ.” [1 Corinthians 15:22, 23]  Oh what a glorious day that will be.

Of course no one can really describe precisely what it means to say that Jesus rose from the dead. Language itself breaks down when the barriers of space and time are broken down. And I suppose that it really wouldn’t do anyone any good if we were to try to describe what happened as He rose or what he was like once He was risen.  But what does do a person good is to grab ahold of this risen Son of God — to cling to Him alone, and to use him as the Lord of life, your Lord over death, even your own death!

And that is precisely what Easter is all about. It is in using Jesus Christ — grabbing onto and clinging to His promises of mercy, His grace, His forgiveness, and His love for you who are baptized in His name.  This is how doubts are overcome, this is how questions are answered, and this is how death itself is finally defeated. For He is risen.   He is living and reigning to all eternity.  He is inviting all of us who may sometimes think the Easter story is nonsense to make sense of it. And how? By using him as our point of access to God. If we know by faith that He is alive and in our midst, behold, we can not only look at God and live, we can in fact live a life of abundance, right here and now. And as we go on living our lives of faith in this sinful world, our fear of sin, death, and the devil, especially our fear of finding and truly knowing God will melt away once we sense God’s own joy at our future return to Him. And that return will be complete when we, too, are raised from the dead — like Him who really did go before us on that first Easter Sunday to prepare our new heavenly home.  Yes, it really is a fact Jack; He has risen.  He has risen indeed!

Meditations of Grace!

Saturday, March 30th, 2013

Good Friday (Year C), March 29, 2013
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our  iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed.   All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the  Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:4-6)

When have you turned away from God?  The answer unfortunately is, every time you sin!  Now are you aware that when you turn away from God, when you sin, you are really turning away from life  itself? But how can you turn back to God after you’ve turned away? How can you return to the very God you have so terribly disobeyed?  You seem to be in a bit of a conundrum; between a rock and a  hard place.  I mean if you’ve sinned against him you need his forgiveness, right?  But isn’t it your sin’ which perhaps is your pride, that keeps you from asking for His forgiveness. So how can God  forgive such blatant sin? How can God forgive sinners like us? How can we truly know that when we have done such great wrongs against Him, that we can just run back to the very God we sinned  against.   How can you be sure that when you call out to Him, you will find a loving Father who forgives?

Here is one important truth: You can’t know this or believe it by your own reason or strength. God Himself must reveal it to you and teach you about it. And so He does that very thing. Tonight,  through the prophet Isaiah, God teaches us his gospel, the good news about His forgiving love with absolute certainty, as He shows us the life and struggle of His suffering Servant whose very real  suffering alone brings us forgiveness, peace, and health.

Every spiritual blessing God has to give to sinners like us, He gives because of the suffering of His Servant. The suffering of the Servant of the Lord, which has accomplished something great and  wonderful. It has opened for us the door to Paradise. It has taken away our sin, reconciled us to God, and given us eternal life. We call what he did the vicarious atonement.

It is vicarious because the  Servant suffered for us, on our behalf as our substitute. He took our place. He did what he did for us, as our representative. He acted vicariously.  It is atonement because His suffering brought us back into a right relationship, into fellowship with God.  Through the Servants vicarious suffering, He brought us true peace with God, and He fulfilled all of our obligations of holiness, by paying everything we owed with His own suffering.  This vicarious atonement is at the center of our faith as Christians.  If you take it away, we are no better off than any of the false religions and cults.  You see, the vicarious atonement  reveals God’s love for us.

Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. They were our griefs and our sorrows. Some are caused by others through no fault of our own, but surely many have been caused by our own sinful living.  Regardless of how or why they come to us, He carried every one of them. He not only sympathized with us because we suffer, He in fact took up every one of those sufferings! He bore them in his own body. When he healed the sick, He took on every painful malady and experienced it in His own suffering. The disease he cured he bore. The griefs he removed he suffered. So, we can say that all of the benefits that He gives to His church, He paid for with His own suffering.

Yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. Pay close attention to these words, “Stricken, smitten by God and afflicted.”  Do you understand that it was God the Father who placed these things upon His Servant Son? It wasn’t a miscarriage of justice plotted against Jesus by corrupt religious leaders and sneaky politicians. No, God did it Himself. While it’s true that God used those sinful, evil men to carry out his will ultimately, it was God who did the deed! When we see Jesus alone, suffering the abuse of men we must always remember that he was stricken, smitten, and afflicted by God himself because of us. God punished all sins of all sinners of all times and placed them squarely upon His Son Jesus Christ as punishment for our sins!

God punished his Servant. This is the most amazing kind of love. All other forms of love pale in comparison. Who would imagine that the Father would ever strike, smite, and afflict His own dear Son whom he loved from eternity to save sinners like us! What a mystery this is, and so beyond our sinful minds’ ability to grasp!  It is a kind of love that no human at any time could ever have thought of or demonstrated.  St. John described this agape love like this: “This is love, not that we have loved God but that he (first) loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation (or payment) for our sins.

But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. So, does God punish or forgive?  Well, He does both at the same time. The Servant was wounded, pierced, punished, and  He was crucified. For what?  For your sins. God forgives you by punishing Jesus. “The chastisement for our peace was upon him.” He was punished instead of us. God makes peace with us by punishing His Son Jesus instead of us. That is love. “And by His stripes (by His sufferings) we are healed ( we are forgiven).” Jesus was whipped. That’s what brought us forgiveness; our healing from the disease of sin. He takes our place and by taking our place he gives us what is His and takes what is ours. Isaiah goes on:

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. Grace might be free, but it’s certainly not cheap. How dare we imagine that forgiveness of sins comes from nowhere!  Someone has to pay; don’t you see that?  Where does it come from?  I will tell you from where… it comes from love and it comes from suffering. That kind of forgiveness must be earned.

It’s not that God isn’t a gracious God, because He is. It’s not that God can’t forgive, because He does.  But we must always remember that God in His Word has clearly declared that sin must be punished.  So, you can now see that if we have any hope of forgiveness and life, it must come from a God who can never lie or deceive or make false threats or false promises. It must come from a God who both forgives and punishes. We can never have one without the other, as if we could choose between the God who forgives and the God who stands in judgment against sin. They come from the same God; they are the same God.

So how can God be both gracious and just at the same time? How can God forgive sins and punish sins at the same time? Well the prophet Isaiah explains: “And the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” God doesn’t forgive without paying the price for forgiveness. The reason we can know for sure that God forgives our sins is because He laid every one of them upon His Son Jesus.

Tonight, I hope you understand now that through Jesus vicarious atonement, He is both teaching about Himself and showing us how He deals with our sin.  Isn’t it comforting and reassuring to know that we can always run to God and find him as a loving, forgiving, and gracious Father who will never turn us away?  I pray that you will always remember this teaching tonight about Christ’s vicarious atonement, and let it help you remember two important truths about your faith: First, for Christ’s sake all of your sins are forgiven.  Second, apart from faith in Christ you will never have true forgiveness of sins.

For Christ’s sake all our sins are forgiven. How do we know? He was wounded for our transgressions. That’s how we know. He was bruised for our iniquities. That’s how we know. The LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. That’s how we know. We know our sins are forgiven because we know Jesus. Our sins aren’t forgiven because we believe they are forgiven. Our sins are forgiven because Jesus Christ, true God and true man, suffered and died for them. Our faith didn’t put him on the cross to suffer and die. Our faith doesn’t take away our sins.  Jesus and Jesus alone take away our sins, and he does it by suffering for them. For Christ’s sake all our sins have been forgiven.

What we must understand, is that apart from faith in Christ we don’t have the forgiveness of sins. The fact that God forgives all sins for Christ’s sake doesn’t mean that everyone has the forgiveness of sins. God forgives. He forgives all those for whom Jesus suffered and died. That means he forgives the whole world. There is no one for whom Jesus did not die. Therefore, there is no one God did not forgive when Jesus suffered and died on the cross.  But God forgiving someone does not always mean that that someone receives the forgiveness of sins. We can’t put Jesus on the cross to take our sins away. Forgiveness is God’s gift. But forgiveness is never received outside of faith in Jesus Christ. Only those who trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins receive from God the forgiveness of their sins. Apart from Christ our sins are not forgiven. Only through faith in him do we know that we have received the forgiveness of sins.

This is why we believe, teach, and confess Jesus as the suffering Servant.  It is why no other message must ever be preached from this pulpit, and this is why we should never tire of hearing this gospel message. It is the source of our faith, and it alone is what brings us joy. It is our strength when we face doubts and temptations, and it is why we confess our sins to God and claim his suffering Servant as our very own. When we know Christ and him crucified we know that God sees us at our very worst and forgives us all our sins, sets us at peace with himself, and rescues us from death and hell. Like foolish sheep we wandered away, but by God’s grace we poor sheep have been returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls. Amen

[1] Based upon a devotion by Pastor Rolf David Preus (Rolf) on Monday, March 25, 2013

It IS the Lord’s Supper Don’t Ya Know!

Friday, March 29th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Maundy Thursday (C), March 28, 2013

If you were invited to have dinner at a friend’s home, would you tell that person that you didn’t want to eat what they served you, and that you’d rather have them  order pizza instead? What if your friend served prime rib, would it be appropriate to tell everyone the next day that you were served hot dogs?  Yet in churches t  throughout this nation we find many different explanations about what Jesus instituted and served on that first “Christian” Passover meal long ago.  So, how are we  to suppose to approach this Holy meal this evening?  Well, let’s allow our Lord to answer this question for us; After all, it is HIS Supper you know!

On the night before He died, Jesus shared with His disciples the Passover, or the Seder. But in the midst of this Seder meal, Jesus served and instituted another meal, a whole new  meal, a meal that was meant to be repeated; it was “The Lord’s Supper.”  Tonight, through eight explanations, we will explore just what kind of meal it was and continues to be today  and always will be until He returns!

I.  First, it is a historical meal. In Exodus 12, we learn that the Seder meal was instituted as a way to help the Jews remember how God led them out of captivity in  Egypt towards their promised land.  God did it. Not one Hebrew warrior stood against the mighty Egyptians; not one Jew contributed anything in accomplishing  their deliverance!  Freedom came in the blackest night while Hebrew slave families huddled around the Passover table, their bags packed, waiting for deliverance.  Why was it called the Passover meal?  Well, it’s because the angel of death visited only the homes of the Egyptians but it passed over the homes of the Hebrew families because they had marked their homes as God directed them—with the blood of a lamb.  The Jews celebrate that event each year with humility and praise through the Seder meal.  In that meal they remember how God alone saved them; in this meal, there is no room for pride. For the children of Israel, independence from Egypt meant dependence on God. In fact, God comes back to this event throughout the Bible as a way of describing himself: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt.”

Much later, in the upper room, Jesus would give Passover night an even broader significance. In a time when Jews throughout the world were bringing out their choice lambs to slaughter, eat, and remember the blood and deliverance, Jesus would now show the world that He had been selected as the TRUE Passover Lamb, not just for the Jews, but for all of humanity (1 Corinthians 5:7). The words “When I see the blood, I will pass over you” (Exodus 12:13) came to convey a whole new meaning. The Lord’s Supper is now superior to the Passover meal in that it promises salvation not from physical slavery, but deliverance from the power of sin, death, and the devil.

II. Second, it is a Memorial Meal That Remembers Christ’s Death on Behalf of Us All. St. Paul speaks of Holy Communion as a memorial meal in this way: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me (1 Corinthians 11:23-25).

Did you notice that each time Jesus delivered the elements of His Holy Supper that he punctuated it with the need to Remember Him?  Since the bread eaten is Christ’s body “for us” and the wine drank “is the new covenant in (His) blood” then clearly this meal is a memorial or a way of remembering Christ’s atoning death. In churches all across the world, we can find other Christians partaking in the Lord’s Supper and recognizing it as a meal that remembers Christ’s death. But sadly, sometime after the zeal of the Reformation wore off, some churches began to look at HIS Holy Supper as nothing more than a memorial meal.  Now it’s here that we need to turn our hearts towards God and receive everything that He’s lovingly giving to us in this meal, because it is so much more than a memorial meal!

III. It is a Holy Meal, because God’s very Word makes it holy. When someone asks you “Why do you believe that the bread and wine are holy in the Lord’s Supper?” simply answer that “It is God’s Word that makes it holy!”  You see, the words of consecration that Christ spoke at the Last Supper and which the Pastor repeats each time this meal is served are the very power of God. Now, we do not say that a pastor or priest by virtue of their ordination has the power to transform simple bread and wine into a holy meal, but rather it is the very Words of Christ spoken over the bread and wine that makes it holy, presenting both bread and wine and Body and Blood. But why does God do this?  The answer to this question brings us to our Fourth explanation of what kind of meal this is.

IV. It is a meal in which God feeds us with the forgiveness for all of our sins and serves us an overflowing cup of peace with God. In our Gospel reading you heard Christ Himself say, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Friends, if you can only remember one thing about this meal then remember this, IT IS A MEAL OF FORGIVENESS!  Take your sins to this meal and exchange them for God’s mercy and peace!

Just as the preached Gospel announces and gives forgiveness through the cross of Christ to everyone who believes, so does this meal. In the Holy Supper, the Gospel of forgiveness is not only heard but it is also seen, smelled, touched and tasted. But why?  Because we have been wonderfully created to experience God in ways even the angels stand in awe of!  You see God created us as flesh and blood.  We experience God through our senses.  Through all of our senses then, God is allowing us within His Holy Meal to experience the complete forgiveness that Christ has won for us upon the cross. In the Lord’s Supper, that once-and-for- all forgiveness is freely given to each one of us who have been baptized and by faith, believe in His promise.  Friends, God wants you to experience the assurance that all of your sins, including the ones that are heavy on your heart right now, are completely forgiven.

That’s why we teach that the Lord’s Supper is for true sinners.  If you are sorrowing and struggling over your sinfulness, then Jesus says “Come unto me ye weary and I will give you rest!”  Friends, this is not a meal for people who feel worthy, but it was instituted for those peculiar children of God who cry out “Have mercy on me Lord Jesus, a pitiful and unworthy sinner!”

V. Fifth, it is a Meal that is God’s Work for Us, Not Our Work for Him. Just as the Jews played no part in their deliverance from the oppression of the Egyptians, we also play no part in our Salvation and the complete forgiveness of our sins.  This is all entirely the work of Jesus.  It was His blood that was poured out for the forgiveness of your sins. In this holy meal, Jesus invites us to eat and drink His forgiveness. Can you see that it is Jesus, not us, who is the one who offers, prepares, and serves this Divine Supper?  He serves us His body “which is given for you” (Luke 22:19). He serves us His blood “which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:20). All the emphasis is on what He does for us. Our “job” is only to receive.

VI. In our sixth explanation we are taught that this is a Meal in Which We Eat and Drink Christ’s Body and Blood. Now most Christian traditions affirm that Christ is present somehow in the Lord’s Supper. But it’s not enough to just say that Jesus is present in this meal. Some Christians today speak of Christ’s “real” presence in the bread and wine as being spiritual.  Some will say that when Christians eat and drink they spiritually ascend to Christ who is at the right hand of God. While these words may seem harmless, we must not be deceived; remember, IT IS HIS SUPPER, NOT OURS!  Jesus clearly says “This IS my body” and “This IS my blood.”  He did not say that this represents my body and blood; nor did he say ‘I am spiritually present in the bread and wine.”  No, our Savior clearly states that the bread IS His body and the fruit of the vine “IS (His) blood of the new covenant!”

We Lutherans firmly believe that this is a meal in which we consume Christ’s body and blood along in, with and under the bread and wine. We base this on the words of institution, in which Christ offers bread and says of that bread, “This is my body.” and offers the wine and says of that wine, “This is my blood.” Do we try to explain how this can be? No! We simply accept the plain sense of the words that the bread, somehow, is also Christ’s body, and the wine, somehow, is also Christ’s blood and we let it remain within those words.

VII. In our seventh explanation, we learn that this meal is also a Family Meal that gives and Celebrates Unity among those who eat it. The Lord’s Supper has often been called the Sacrament of unity. Why? In part, because of the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:17 where he writes: “Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.”

These words hint towards two things. First, they tell us that the one bread broken and distributed signifies the oneness of the body of Christ, the Church. On most Sundays this may be difficult to understand when we receive individual bite-size wafers. But tonight I will distribute the body of Christ from one large loaf of bread.  As the bread is broken and distributed think about this concept of unity. Realize that while you may be receiving only one small piece of the loaf, every one here is being fed from the same source.

Second, the words of Paul infer that those who partake of the one bread become one body; that is, the eating of this meal creates as well as celebrates unity within God’s people. St. Paul’s point is that it is wrong to enter into communion with those with which you have no true unity – and true unity includes recognizing all of the mysteries that are given in His Holy Supper.  For us here tonight, when we respond to His invitation to eat and drink, we are professing that we come together truly as a family that is one body in Christ, one in faith, and one in doctrine. When we eat this meal together, we will as one heart celebrate our Lord’s life, death and resurrection until He returns!

VIII. Lastly, in our eighth explanation, we discover that this is a Meal that is “a Foretaste of the Feast to Come.” This phrase, taken from a Communion liturgy of Lutheran Worship, beautifully expresses another aspect of the Lord’s Supper. It is a foretaste of that eternal, heavenly meal that we will enjoy with our God. For this meal points not only backwards but also forward in time. It looks to the past and remembers, looks to the present and receives and gives thanks, and looks to the future and anticipates!

In this look towards the future, we are strengthened in the present.  In His Supper tonight, we are allowed to look ahead to a time when there will be no more tears or pain, only joy and peace with the God who created us to be in a relationship of love with Him and each other.  Through this Holy Communion, we are assured that no matter how difficult our current circumstances may be, through our crucified and risen Savior, we shall overcome, and feast with Him in glory forevermore!  How can this Holy Supper do all of this?  Because He says so, and after all “IT IS THE LORD’S SUPPER!”  I pray that God will richly bless each of us this evening as we approach His table to hear, see, touch, smell and taste forgiveness.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN and AMEN!

Those Fickle Crowds!

Sunday, March 24th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Palm Sunday C, March 24, 2013

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The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem.  So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel! [John 12:12-19]

This Sunday morning is a special Sunday; some call it Palm Sunday and others prefer Passion Sunday, because it is the first Sunday in Holy Week.  I say, why do we have to choose?  Lets remember both, and so we have by preserving all of the Gospel readings assigned (John 12:12-43).  This morning, God wants us to answer this: Who is Jesus to me? I believe that is the question many who gathered on that first Palm Sunday also were struggling with.  Lets be honest, there were many who were there just for the show, for the hope of witnessing another miracle, another demonstration of unexplainable power.  Our reading this morning makes that clear: The crowd that had been with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness.  The reason why the crowd went to meet Him was that they heard He had done this sign. So I guess a second question I could ask you this morning is, Why are you here? But I think that question will answer itself once we answer the first question.  Who is Jesus to you?

Prophet yes, but also so much more!  In His flesh a man, but not just a man; no, because you see He is also God the living Word of God to be exact!  This is Jesus, our Prophet, our Priest and our King!  This is the One who has come and is coming again; He is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!  He is the one who comes with all of Gods power and authority.  Why?  Because He is God!  He is the one who comes to us humbly, mounted upon a donkey.  He comes with compassion and mercy, but He also comes to judge and punish.  He is a God of contrasts, a God who comes to kill and make alive; to wound and to heal.  And when He acts, none can deliver out of His hand! [Deuteronomy 32:39b]

In our Old Testament reading (Deuteronomy 32:36-39), God, speaking through Moses reminded the Israelites about His anger for their past sins and He warned them about His coming anger for their future sins.  But why was God angry?  What was this sin that angered Him so strongly that He would judge, punish, wound, and kill?  It was the sin of worshiping false Gods!  They did it in the past when they longed to return to Egypt as slaves, just so they could get their fill of the food they were accustomed to eating.  They did it when they tried to replace Moses as their leader, because they didnt like the message.  And of course they did it when they created the golden calf to worship.  And now, God is telling His people that He will judge them.  He challenges them to turn to their false gods, their false means of hope for protection from His anger.  Listen to how God mocks their false gods: Then I will say, Where are their gods, the rock in which they took refuge. [vs. 37]

Through Moses, God reminded the Israelites then and He reminds us today of our sinful tendency to be fickle and run after what ever new thing peaks our curiosity, and thus forgetting about the God who has never changed and never stopped saving us and providing for us in our time of trouble.  When we try to seek God in any way outside of His Word and Sacraments, we are setting up false gods to worship and follow.  Through Moses, this morning God is warning us to  Return to the Lord your God, for He is faithful and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love! What false gods have you set up in your life?

For some, the false god maybe in the man made government or political party that they are affiliated with.  For others, another false god in their lives can be found in their own self-sufficiency.  Maybe youve experienced this sin as I have.  It happens when we trust our own resourcefulness instead of having complete trust and confidence in God.  Another false god that we must consider is our family.  While its true that love for family is important, sometimes we can love them more than the God who gives us our family.  Sometimes our love for our children or other family members can lead us to do things that we know are wrong.

Finally, perhaps the most insidious false god may be the very comfort that Gods blessings bring to those of us who are part of Christs church.  We who make up Christs body have been blessed with eternal life, washed clean in the waters of our baptism.  We enjoy a certain peace of mind and soul that no other person outside of grace can ever experience.  Every day we are protected from the attacks of the devil and we have prospered.  We love our comfort and long for more of Gods blessings yet we ignore the leading of the very God who provides all of this for us.  How do we ignore Him?  By neglecting worship or the study of His Word; by forgetting that we too need to cry out to Him like the crowds on the first Palm Sunday, Hosanna!  We need to live a life that demonstrates praise to our Savior God and to Him alone; a life that gives back to Him just as generously as He gives to us!

How do we do this?  By knowing God as He really is.  How do we know God?  We know God by knowing Jesus!  By knowing who Jesus is for us and who He is for our neighbor our lives will be transformed! God wants us to know that Jesus is more than just His Son; He wants us to know that He is also our brother.  He wants us to know that Jesus is at all times both God and man.  He is eternal; He is the Son of God, who together with the Father and the Holy Spirit are eternally worshiped and glorified, yet Jesus was also born of the Virgin Mary.  What a mystery God was born!  But even more mysterious, Jesus died the God who is eternal and cannot die did in fact diebut not just any death He died upon the cross.  He died the death of a slave, the death of a condemned criminal.

And to all of this truth, our sinful minds cry out, But how can any of this be? But asking how is the wrong question friends.  It is wrong because Gods ways are not our ways; His ways are far above ours.  The right question to ask is why? If we understand the why, then the how becomes unimportant.  Hosanna!  Hosanna to the Savior God!

When the Son of God took on our flesh to save us, He chose to make Himself nothing by becoming our servant, so that as our servant, He could suffer and die in our place.  The God-man Jesus Christ humbled Himself for us, by dying for us!  From the moment He was conceived by the Holy Spirit He chose to be born in order to die.  Now here is where Gods ways become very mysterious to us; at no time did Jesus cease being God.  Not in the womb and not upon the cross.  Out of love for you, Christ put aside His deity and chose to live out your humanity.  At any time He could have walked away from our flesh, but if He would have done that, then He could not have paid the penalty for your sins.  If He would have allowed His angels to save Him from your death, the death that you should die, then He could not have won salvation for you!

Dear friends, by taking on your flesh and dying your death for your sins, Jesus became your Warrior King.  When He rode into Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday, He indeed rode in as a warrior king.  But not the type of warrior king the people expected.  Warrior kings ride in on strong stallions, suited with armor and with sword and shield in hand.  But Jesus rode in on a donkey armed with only our flesh, our mind, and our sin.

He who is Spirit and truth, and without sin took on our flesh and our sins so that He could fight and win for us!  But these strange weapons were exactly what He needed to defeat sin, death, and the devil.  They were in keeping with the work that He came to do.  He didnt come to conquer nations or empires; He came to conquer your sin; YOUR SIN.  This was Gods means of waging war against our enemies.  Jesus had to be our substitute, and He could only do this by being obedient to the Fathers will; by suffering and dying to pay for our sins.  And make no mistake friends; He could not have done this without His full deity.  He had to attach the full weight of His deity to His human flesh in order to be obedient unto death, even death upon the cross.  And as we will proudly proclaim and celebrate next week on Easter morning, He must have all of His deity in order to rise from the dead.  So, even in death, Jesus was mighty God so that by His death and resurrection we could be assured of the very same thing happening for us.  Hosanna!  Hosanna to our Savior King!

Dear friends, by knowing and believing in this truth our hearts cant help but cry out Hosanna!  We will naturally cry out Hosanna when we know whom our true Savior King is and how and for whom He came to save.  He came to save you dear friends, but not just you He came to save your neighbor.  You have a message to declare you have a story to tell.  Its a story that God wants you to share with as many people as possible.  But what shall you tell them?  Tell them that they have a God who comes to them as a Savior; a Savior who put Himself to death so that they could live.  Tell them that by putting Himself to death for them God was able to heal the sins of the entire world even their sins.  He is our true God and all that He asks from us in return is that we would worship Him and Him alone.  He asks us to trust only in His love for us and then rest in His presence and protection.

Friends, its no wonder that the crowds came out on that first Palm Sunday shouting Hosanna in the highest! But in five short days, another crowd would gather at the Roman headquarters shouting, “Crucify Him!” This morning let’s be on our guard to assure we don’t become one of those who make up the fickle crowd.  Let’s resolve to continue gathering around God’s Word and Sacrament as we are moved to continually turn by faith to  Jesus as our Messiah, the Savior God.  I pray that each of us will be moved to praise Him with our time, talent, and treasure, as we share His message of forgiveness with whoever God puts in our path.  Lets try to remember each day that it is the Lord alone who delivers us from all of our enemies, even sin, death, and the devil.  Lets try to thank Him each day that He has not only given us grace, but the faith to believe that Jesus died for each of us.

Dear friends, we say hosanna to our Savior God because it is He alone who saves us; He saves us from all harm.  He has defeated all of our enemies.  His name is great, and His name is . Jesus.  Theres something about the name Jesus.  Some thing about the name Jesus; it is the sweetest name I know.  And at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  AMEN

Jesus is Our Foundation Stone

Sunday, March 17th, 2013

Lent 5C, March 17, 2013
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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The song you just heard, “I Can Feel It Coming in the Air Tonight” will act as our mental hook to hang the message on this morning.  It seems to play right into our text this morning: “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” [Isaiah 43:16-21]

Are these Words encouraging us to know God by feeling or experiencing Him; are our emotions the means that God has chosen to use in order to give us hope.  Is that what God is saying; is He inviting us to “feel” Him?  No, not at all; you see, just before those Words of God were spoken by the prophet Isaiah, God invited the people of Israel and us to know Him by remembering the mighty works of salvation He had performed in the past, as a way of knowing what kind of God He is today, and will be in the future.  He was and still is that LORD who parted the Red Sea; a work which allowed His children of faith to safely cross over to the other side.  But when Pharaoh and His mighty army of chariot and horse, army and warrior followed, they were all made to lie down and die within the waters that God allowed to collapse around them.  They were extinguished, quenched like a wick. [Isaiah 43:16, 17]  So do you recall that story from the book of Exodus?  Good.  And remember, you recall it because God ensured that it was written so that you could know Him.  Well listen, today that same Word of God says to forget it; that is don’t live in the past, but expect more of Him in the future, that is your future.  Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old, because you “ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”

Behold, God is now doing something even greater in our midst today.  It’s happening all around you even within you right now.  So how will you perceive it then, if not by feeling it?  Through His old way, which is new again; through the Living Word of God, which is the way of faith; the way of the promise of a Savior, a champion, who intervenes in a powerful way to save His people.

In our gospel lesson this morning (Luke 20:920), Jesus, knowing that he was just two days away from dying on the cross, tried one last time before His death to get the people and the leaders of Israel to see that He was and is that new thing that God is doing.  He is the new thing, in that for the first time in man’s history God the Son, the Living Word of God was dwelling with His people, as one of them, in the flesh of Jesus Christ.  The very Son of God was sent to the people of God so that they would receive Him as their Savior from their greatest enemies, sin, death, and the devil, but they would not!

So Jesus, their Savior and God tries one more time to show these religious leaders the truth about their sin; He is still speaking to them and us, as He tells us His parable of the vineyard.

The heavenly Father of course, is the owner of the vineyard and the vineyard is the people of God; people who through God’s means of grace, live lives centered around His prophetic Word, and are given eyes of faith to believe in Him and trust His ways.  Now, just as God has always used His Word to teach and care for His people, He has also always used leaders from within the people to deliver that Word and teaching.  If these leaders delivered the Word correctly, and the people followed it wisely, well then the Word of the Lord would grow among His people.  But if these ambassadors of His did not use His means of grace correctly, then the people would begin to languish and perish.

As Jesus spoke, the religious leaders who were listening knew that He was talking about them.  The Sanhedrin were those leaders; they were the tenants who rejected all of the Father’s other servants who faithfully spoke the Word of God to create faith in the hearts of the people.  They were leaders who refused to look into the prophecies of God and see that they all predicted and announced the coming of God’s own Son to be the real leader of His Father’s people.

As Jesus tells His story; the purpose of the story begins to unfold.  The leaders were to see their own wickedness; a wickedness which is personified in their unbelief.  It is the same unbelief that caused the leaders to mistreat and even kill the prophets of old.  And as Jesus was speaking to them, they were planning His death.  Why?  Because they wanted God’s vineyard, the church all to themselves; they wanted to be gods!

Isn’t it amazing that even though Jesus knew how He would be treated by sinful men, He still came to the vineyard; He still came to sinful man to save us?  Isn’t it a glorious thing for us that our Lord hasn’t abandoned His vineyard, the church, and His people of faith, despite all of their rejections?  Even in the middle of this last rejection, Jesus demonstrated unbelievable patience and love.  Even though the scribes and the high priest wanted to lay hands on Him and kill Him, Jesus still loved them!  Even though Jesus knew that these same leaders and the faithless people would soon demand His death, and then watch Him be beaten and die on a cross, He still loved them.  Why?  Because Jesus Christ came to die and save sinners, even those sinners.

At the cross of Jesus, God gives us the place where our perceptions, our intellect, and feelings are suppose to rest.  At the cross, God the Father sends His Son into this sinful world, even into our hearts and says, “If you confess and believe that Jesus is the Son of God and your LORD, you shall be saved!”  At the cross, Jesus shows you all of your past sins, your past years of unbelief and says they have been obliterated; taken away for ever, if you will not reject the Son and understand that you are now part of His vineyard.

At the cross of Jesus, in His suffering passion and death you are told what to perceive.  You are told that you cannot create a false Savior or a false faith that is based on what you think is fair and right.  All of these false means of grace are to be discarded, and you are to trust in what God’s own Word says.  Along with Paul in our epistle lesson (Philippians 3:8-14), you are invited to count all of your accomplishments as complete loss and pure rubbish in comparison with what you gain in knowing Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.  At the cross you are shown a suffering savior, and you are invited to follow Him even in suffering, even unto death.  You will do this because God is creating within you the only fruit that is pleasing to Him: sorrow for your sins, repentance, and faith!

At the cross of Jesus alone, you are promised not only the love of God but complete forgiveness and an eternal life of peace with your God who created you and restores you.  So if you are resting there at the cross of Jesus then you have by faith perceived that God is indeed doing a new thing.

But perhaps for some of you today, like some who listened to Jesus tell this story then, are finding this talk about repentance and forgiveness, surrender and suffering a bit too much.  Maybe in your hearts as well, you are thinking “Surely not!  No way!”

Maybe some of you still prefer to perceive a different god other than the God of our message this morning.  This morning, as I speak, there are millions of Christians that still prefer to have a God of their own making.  This morning God’s Word warns them that how they respond to the Son will determine how the Father responds to them!  Jesus does this with one last parable about a stone; a stone that the builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.

It is quite clear that when Jesus talks about this cornerstone or capstone, He is talking about Himself.  The builders who are rejecting Him are still with us today.  They are the leaders of the church who preach, teach, and confess anything extra added to Christ Jesus, crucified and resurrected, as necessary for salvation.  They are the Jesus plus crowd.  Here is a mathematical certainty, Jesus plus anything else equals punishment and eternal death.

Sadly, the real Jesus of the Bible is still seen as a threat to much of the established church.  That Jesus, is considered only half a god that must be interpreted, explained, and augmented by the leadership itself.   In other words, they want you to believe that without them, you cannot understand God’s Word and know Jesus unto salvation.

And yet this morning Jesus teaches us the very opposite.  It is Jesus the Son of God alone who the Father honors.  It is this Jesus who was rejected by the leaders then and is still rejected by the false leaders of today.  The truth is, only the Jesus of the Bible is the capstone of our faith. A capstone is interesting because it is the load bearing support stone that holds up the entire gigantic arch.  Once the capstone is in place, all one is called to do is look upon it and marvel at its beauty and ingenuity.  You are even invited to come close to it; touch it if you like, but then you must be taught that it is this stone alone that is preventing all of the other stones from crashing down upon you and pulverizing you.  God wants you to see that if you try to dislodge it or replace it; well then, the full weight of all of the other stones that make up the arch will come crashing down on you.

Through God’s Word and the power of the Holy Spirit, we receive Jesus Christ as our capstone.  He alone becomes our sure foundation.  Sadly, there are Christian leaders today who are trying to replace Jesus with a false capstone.

Habemas Papa!  We have a pope!  Big deal, we have had one for over 1,500 years! The Pope is not your capstone or your foundation.  He is simply as I am, a pastor;  a sinful man who needs a Savior like everyone else; a sinful stone that rests upon the perfect capstone.  If you are trusting in the Pope, mother Mary, any of the saints, or any of the other plus Jesus things sinful men dream up, then I am afraid that one day all of your hopes and dreams will come crashing down around you.  So turn your eyes of faith off of the imperfect, and turn them instead to the cross of Jesus Christ, who alone is the author and perfecter of your faith.

In our spiritual lives, we need the solid foundation of Jesus Christ alone.  Our faith isn’t some slum lord’s shanty, but a glorious building of God’s design, which needs a firm foundation throughout our lives.  Tragedy, sickness, sadness, and loss during difficult times will shake us to the very core of who we are, just as it has for all people throughout the history of the world.  But Christ, our foundation and capstone is never shaken or removed.  He helps us and is with us through out all life events.  The good news for you this morning is that Jesus will never leave you nor forsake you.  In your baptism, He was with you to cleanse you and recreate you into a person of faith.  In His holy Supper He feeds you faith and forgiveness of sins.  In the messages, even from this pulpit He speaks Words of hope in uncertain and often tragic times.  In His Word proclaimed, He provides a solid foundation that you can place your faith in.  Jesus alone provides all of this, through His Word.

“Behold, He is doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?  WE HAVE A SAVIOR!”  I pray that you would trust your savior, Jesus Christ alone… AMEN!

A Celebration During Lent… Really?!

Sunday, March 10th, 2013

Lent 4C, March 10, 2013
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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Did you recognize the words that we just sang in the Old Testament Canticle?  They were taken right out of our Old Testament reading (Isaiah 12:1-6).  They are words of celebration; words that  claim the promise of God, a promise which proclaims that the bondage of His people Israel will have an end.  The words are meant to turn peoples hearts’ outside of their misery and towards a God  who is mighty in strength, faithful, abounding in stead-fast love; a God who brings and gives salvation.

Like the people of old, we too are invited to celebrate and sing praises to the Lord for the glorious things He has done and is still doing for us.  We are still asked to tell anyone in the world what He  has done for us, and what He will continue to do for them, if they will just return to HIM.

What has he done for us?  What has He done for you?  Well, once again we have a wonderful illustration of what He has done and what He is doing.  This morning, in the baptism of Shukri Sahiti  and Elsa Swan, you saw young adults in their early thirties, snatched out of the bondage of sin and given their freedom in Christ.  You saw darkness completely swallowed up by light.  Like all  sinners, even us, Shukri and Elsa were lost in a world that is controlled by the devil.  But God… but God made a way out of no way for them to rest in the Kingdom of Grace, through Jesus Christ, with  the promise that one day they will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  Through the washing of simple water and the Holy Word of God, Shukri and Elsa, in the only way God has ordained, have been  clothed with Christ’s own robe of righteousness.  Did they deserve this rebirth of Christ?  No and neither do we.  And to illustrate this truth, Jesus, in our gospel lesson (Luke 15:1–3, 11–32), tells us  a story; a parable about the prodigal son.

Jesus told this story because judgmental, self-righteous hypocrites were grumbling these words about Him under their breath: “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”  If I was there, I think  I would have told those self-righteous Pharisees, “Thank God He receives sinners, or you and I would have no hope of ever entering into the Kingdom of Heaven.”

In your baptism, like Shukri’s and Elsa’s baptism this morning, God looked upon you and not only saw your horrible sin, but He also saw something that you lacked; something that could only exist if He willed it and created it; and that was the goodness that you must have in order to be in a relationship with Him.  It is a goodness that you have always been invited to embrace and live out, but it is also a goodness that you have always had the freedom to reject.

Like the prodigal son, you too have at times struck out on your own; doing things your way, the way of the world.  And you can also testify to the truthfulness of this proverb, which condemns that way: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” [Proverbs 16:25]  At some point in our lives, each of us must see just how lost we are without God’s forgiving love, and then that reality causes us to simply call out to Him in despair.  What else can we do?

Despair of what?  The despair of being lost; despair of being dead in our trespasses, our sins.  In Jesus’ story, the younger son saw that all of the wealth that came from His relationship with his father had slipped through his fingers like water; all he had left to look forward to, was his own death.  His sense of self worth and value had vanished.  He lost all sense of what it meant to be home with the father he loved.  And it is only this feeling of despair, which led him to return to his father’s home, not as a son mind you, but simply as an unworthy servant who might find a little relief from his despair.

This kind of hopelessness is still played out today with the addict who will intentionally get arrested so that he can at least have the creature comforts of room and board, and a chance to be free of the demons that make up his addiction. Or the plea of a cheating spouse who is served divorce papers and ordered to move out of the family home: “Please, I’ll change.  You don’t even have to forgive or love me, just let me keep living in this home so I can be with the children.”  But despair can also be found in the plea of an employee who has been fired for bad work performance:  “Please… I’ll shuffle papers, make coffee, sweep the floors and empty the garbage; I’ll even work for half my pay if you will just keep me on the payroll.”  Yes, in this prodigal world, false realities crumble around the self-righteous sinner and then, a hopeless despair of reality and death barges in.  And when confronted with this dark reality, the prodigals call out, “Please someone save me; buy my soul if you must.  I’m not asking for a kingdom, but a crumb!  Dear God if you are there and you are listening, please save me!”

And now, the heart of a sinner begins to see the truth; the way that seemed right really does only lead to despair and death.  Nothing works.  Even when you cry out to God (if your honest, you’ll admit that many times before you did this), but even your cry for help doesn’t seem to work.  But wait; didn’t we all learn that to turn away from our sin is the first step towards salvation?  Well, let’s look at that for a moment.   In Jesus story, the prodigal did see the error of his way; he did turn away from his sin and resolved to return to his father’s home, but not as a son, but as servant.  So let’s not put too much importance on the prodigal’s wisdom in seeing his hopelessness; according to his terms, the only thing that would have changed in his idea of repentance was exchanging pig food for servant’s meals.  No, I don’t think looking at the mindset of the prodigal will help us learn too much from God’s Word that we don’t already know.  So instead, let’s look at the One he turned to; he turned to his father and his father’s home, which Jesus wants to make sure we understand, represents Almighty God and His Kingdom of Heaven.

Let me ask you a question.  When the lost son was making his way back home, and when his father spotted him way down the road, what do you think was going through the father’s mind?  I know what might be our thoughts: “Why is my son returning?  Has he learned his lesson?  Maybe he wants more money?  Has he come to hurt me even more with his disrespectful attitude?  I better go out and meet him and find out what’s up!”  Is that really what you think the Father was thinking?

No, instead we behold something that a world, which believes in law and punishment calls foolishness.  We see a Father who sees his son with through eyes of mercy and a heart full of the forgiving love running out to meet His son.  So, in both the Father and the prodigal son, we see a desire to be reconciled to each other. [2 Corinthians 5:16-21]  The son seeks reconciliation with terms and conditions; a downgrade of his status if you will, but the Father has something completely different in mind.    So now they meet.  The son begins to recite his practiced apology to the father, expecting nothing but hoping for just a little.  And what happens next in the story?

I’ll tell you what happens next, amazing grace!  The lost prodigal son is very simply, openly, and compassionately welcomed home.  No lecture, no punishment, and no downgrade in his status as a son.  Don’t you think the son was shocked?  Wouldn’t you be?  And so you should be!  You see that is what is so amazing about God’s amazing grace!  Just as the lost son is received before he can even open his mouth, so were many of you who were baptized as babies.  And even as adults like Shukri and Elsa, when we try to talk, to explain and describe our unworthiness to receive God’s forgiving grace, we like the prodigal lost son and his well thought out “I’m sorry” speech are simply ignored!  So, do we confess our sins to God for nothing?  Well no, not for nothing, but the confession is not what moves our Heavenly Father to love and forgive us.  But our confession of sins to the Father is important, because it reminds us that while we are in that state of sin and despair, right there with us is a God who has never quit waiting for and loving us; a God full of mercy and abounding in steadfast love.  In our repentance, we discover a God who loves and is longing for us to come home.  When we turn our hearts to our heavenly Father, we see a God who is eagerly ready to receive us, welcome us, restore us, and rejoice because we have come back home!

So hear this all of you who are in the Christian faith; you elder brothers and sisters of Shukri Sahiti and Elsa Swan:  Your brother and sister were lost, but now they’ve come home.  All who would judge them in the sense of fairness and say that they have a long way to go before you can “really” receive them as a brother and sister, our Savior Jesus Christ says in the clearest of terms this morning, “Not so!”

This morning, Jesus’ Words turn each of us, baby Christians and mature ones to the very same source of foolish grace.  A love of God that knows no calculations or limitations; a love that can only be presented in His passion; a passion that shouts out loud and clear from the cross of His Son Jesus Christ… “IT IS FINISHED.  YOUR DEBT, EVEN THE SIN OF THE WORLD HAS BEEN PAID IN FULL!”

Upon the cross of Jesus Christ, “He who knew no sin, became sin for us, in order that we on our part may become God’s righteousness in connection with Jesus.” [2 Corinthians 5:21]  On the tree of death, a Lamb without blemish or spot was put to death in our place. [1 Peter 1:19]

This morning, we each discover that Jesus still gathers sinners around Him.  We gathered around the font with Shukri and Elsa, and witnessed God call more sinners into our midst and into the Kingdom of Heaven.  And we along with Shukri and Elsa will gather again next Sunday and every Sunday thereafter here at this church to celebrate our entrance into the kingdom and receive God’s other gifts of grace that will keep us safely in that kingdom until He calls us into our new home, the Kingdom of Heaven.

And so here we are together, a bunch of sinners being and becoming saints, waiting and receiving just as little children, the loving care of our Heavenly Father.  But we don’t wait idly as those with no purpose.  Because you see, we have been called to do two things, celebrate and welcome.  We are celebrating the fact that the church, even little Trinity Lutheran has been given the ministry of reconciliation.  We celebrate the truth that in our midst God has chosen to do the greatest work we could ever witness, calling lost sinners out of darkness into His marvelous light.  So we welcome you home today Shukri and Elsa but we also invite you to be part of this group of older sons and daughters who will not rest until this church is filled with other lost children who need to come home to their loving Father through the forgiving love of their brother, friend, Savior, and God,  Jesus Christ.

So I hope by now you see, there is a need to celebrate, even in the middle of lent.  We must celebrate with God, each and every time these brothers and sisters of ours who once were lost in the death of sin are found and come home.   “So give thanks to the LORD, call upon His name, make known His deeds among the peoples”, proclaim as His ambassadors His greatness and exalt His name by calling all people to be reconciled to their heavenly Father.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Living a Life of Repentance

Sunday, March 3rd, 2013

Lent 3C, March 3, 2013
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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This morning, I have an announcement to make.  Our church has a leaking problem.  That’s right, we’ve had a string of problems that all revolve around things leaking.  First, it was the roof; boy that was a mess. The next leaking problem was the water main that blew up behind the sanctuary, just next to the smoking area.  It started out with just a spongy feel to the ground and a water bill that was a couple thousand dollars.  After Dwain’s poking and digging, we finally found the leak and we fixed it; at least that’s what we thought.  Six months later, we had a giant gusher coming out of the ground.  Once again, poor Dwain was out there trying to minimize the damage, after we occurred another $1000 water bill, and another $1000 in repair costs.

Next, was the hot water heater, followed by the irrigation system, and now it looks like the underground sewage pipe is leaching out into our parking lot.  All of these things and many other things, are just normal repairs that every church, every business, and every home deals with on a regular basis, so it shouldn’t be a big deal, right?  Wrong!  You see we have another leaking problem that needs to be addressed so that we can continue to address the physical leaking problem.  The other leaking problem is spiritual, made up of saints who are falling away from the church; saints who used to contribute in their offerings so that expenses such as salaries and maintenance could be met; saints whose departure have left holes in the pews.  Look around and see how empty our church has become.  What has happened to those people and their families over the last 20 years?

Perhaps we can say that life happened.  Life that is sometimes full of tragedies, sickness, confrontation, and disaster.  Life events that happen and leave someone hurting in ways others can never understand, and when those hurts are unaddressed, people can get angry with God and His people, and just leave.  Did God want them to leave the church; leave the practice of their faith?  No!

This morning in our gospel reading (Luke 13:1–9), Jesus begins his parable by saying, “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard” (v 6). As he tells us the story, Jesus expects us to understand that God is the one with the vineyard and you—the believer in Jesus—are the fig tree in the vineyard of God’s grace. God planted you in his vineyard on the day of your Baptism, which St. Paul describes as being “planted together in the likeness of [Jesus’] death,” so that we may be raised one day “in the likeness of his resurrection” (Romans 6:5).

Like farmers and gardeners everywhere, God plants His seed with the expectation of a harvest, and in v. 6 Jesus tells us that “he came seeking fruit on it and found none.”  More valuable than figs, the fruit God is looking for in the life of a Christian is the fruit of repentance (Matthew 3:7–8)—a fruit that humbly acknowledges our own sinfulness and then asks God for forgiveness for no other reason than the Father’s love for us through his Son, Jesus Christ.  Once this fruit is present, God knows that it will grow and spread as we share His forgiving Word.

But not every plant bears fruit. Like the leaky roof and plumbing problems that have plagued us lately, we are experiencing a spiritual leaking problem. When did the empty seats in the pews first appear?  Did we notice the problem and just ignore it?  Did we even care? Did we fail those living trees, whom God planted in His vineyard, the church? Did we ever offer them the extra life-saving attention that they needed to produce fruit? Did we dig around their roots and stay involved in their lives? Did any of us bring them an extra watering of the Gospel in the hope of bringing new life to dry, tired branches? Did we as a congregation give them everything they needed for a full, thriving, fruit-bearing life? Were they taught to continually turn to the cross of Jesus for forgiveness and hope and then share that same gift with others?  Are we any better off?  Are we in danger of leaking away because we aren’t learning what it means to live a life of repentance; a life that bears the fruit of God’s forgiving love?

Oh yes, this leaking problem is terrible!  Why isn’t God doing something about it?  Does He even care?  And to this Jesus answers our question with a statement of truth: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”  Unless we repent, we too will leak away!

To understand what Jesus means by this, we must remember that we too have been planted in the soil of God’s vineyard, the Church.  Last Sunday, we had a beautiful illustration of how God plants us in His vineyard when we witnessed baby Nathan Otten’s baptism.  You see, it was in baptism that we were all saved from the judgment of our sins and planted in God’s vineyard (Romans 6:5).

And this morning in the rite of confirmation of faith and acceptance into membership, Louise Dunbar becomes another wonderful example of how God continues to care for each of us and ensure that we too will mature and grow, and bear fruit in his kingdom (v 6; 3:7–8).  These two rites, baptism and confirmation have taken place for well over 118 years here at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church.  Unfortunately, some of those whom God planted didn’t bear fruit and they were allowed to leak away and leave empty holes in the pews around you.

So again I ask, did we fail them by not digging around their roots and bringing them all they needed for life?  Did we as a congregation fail them by not keeping our promise to pray for them, to remind them of their Baptism and, continually encourage them to faithfully come to Divine Services at God’s house, where they might be taught the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer, so that they could confidently rest in God’s ability to keep them safely in His vineyard; in their baptismal grace, unto eternal life?

As baptized believers planted in the vineyard of God’s kingdom, it is our joyful duty and privilege to share God’s promise of forgiveness with one another.  But we are also encouraged to accept Gospel help from one another because the day is coming, Jesus reminds us, when God will arrive looking for the fruit of repentance in our lives (v 7).

So what will God find a few years from today, when he comes looking for some fruit in your life?  You do know that looking and talking like a Christian isn’t enough, right?  Likewise, faithful attendance and a vigorous offering of your income aren’t enough to please your God!

In our Epistle reading (1 Corinthians 10:1-13), St. Paul reminds us that the nation of Israel thought that being one of the chosen people was good enough, but in verse 5, we read, “with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.”   And in our Old Testament reading (Ezekiel 33:7-20), the captives of Judah thought living a righteous life was good enough, but verse 12 says that, “the righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him when he transgresses.”  Jesus’ own disciples thought that simply gathering around Him, giving up everything and following Him was good enough, but Jesus says they, too, “will perish unless they repent” (vv 2, 4; Mark 10:28).

So by now, the question that most of us are asking silently along with the people in Ezekiel’s audience is, “How then can we live?” [Ezekiel 33:10b]

The truth is, if you are trying to find security in your own ability, I am afraid that God’s standard of perfection is just too high!  But there is hope; there is a way that God provides, and this is the gospel.  God is on your side and wants you to flourish!   Thus says the Lord, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ezek 33:11).  And this is exactly where Jesus intervenes and intercedes on your behalf, doing everything possible to save you (Luke 13:8)!

Through the Law of God, Jesus digs down to your roots and He exposes your sin; the very thing that will rot away your connection with God’s love.  If this sin is left unchecked, slowly but very surely your faith in God’s faithfulness will leak away, until there is nothing left.  But through the Gospel of forgiveness, Jesus not only stops the leak, but He provides spiritual growth and maintenance that enables you to bear the fruit of repentance!

Long ago and far away, on a hill named Golgotha, stood an old dead tree that to this very day bears the only life-giving fruit that is able to save you from being cut down.  Today, in your Baptism, the fruit from Golgotha’s dead tree, forgiveness of sins through Jesus atoning death upon the cross still saves you!  Today, both the nation of Israel, and the empty seats in this sanctuary are given to us for an example: Even Baptism will not save you if you refuse the precious means by which God intends to keep you alive—his Word and Sacraments (1 Corinthians 10:5).

Today and every day, God is still providing everything we need to escape the burn pile, which is just outside the vineyard (1 Corinthians 10:13).  Through our active participation in all of the gifts that we receive here in Christ’s church, within the communion of saints, God sustains our faith through the regular and faithful reception of His Word and Sacraments.  It is through these means alone that He provides you with a real escape from eternal judgment.  And only through these means does He give you real eternal joy through the forgiveness of sins and a new life of righteousness.

Jesus Himself, does everything possible so that baptized believers like you and me may bear the fruit of repentance and live. Jesus gets his hands dirty; he digs down beneath your topsoil and exposes the root of your sin. Proclaiming the Law through the Scriptures and from the pulpit, Jesus lays bare your innermost soul so that he may apply the divine potting soil of the Gospel: his Word of life alone is able to produce fruit acceptable to God.

Sadly, like our empty pews, some of you too may eventually leave an empty space in the pew where you sit today. But for you who remain in Jesus’ vineyard, receiving His care through His Word and Sacrament, you are still bearing the fruit of humble repentance that trusts in Jesus alone for salvation; you will never leak away!  Praise God, you are still trusting in these means of God’s grace, which Jesus uses to make a way for you to escape the penalty of sin and the evil of this life. For you know for certain by faith, that by his glorious resurrection [he has] opened to us the way of everlasting life.  May we by His grace continue to gather here in His name and give Him glory for the great things He has done and is still doing within us and among us… in Jesus name, Amen.

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[i] Based on a sermon outline (Lent 3, March 11, 2007), by Rev. Robert Harmon, pastor, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, Pueblo West, Colorado