Archive for June, 2013

You Are Free To…

Sunday, June 30th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 6C, June 30th, 2013

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For freedom Christ has set us free For you were called to freedom, brothers.  But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love.  For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. [Galatians 5:1a, 13-14]

In just a few days, we will be celebrating our American day of independence. Oh it’s true, we Americans, out of all of the other nations in this world truly love our freedom, and this love of freedom is personified in our great Declaration of Independence. But we Christians also love freedom; the freedom that we have in Christ Jesus! But I think, that of all the Christians, we Lutherans love our freedom the most. Why we even have a catch phrase that helps us remember just how free from, sin, death, and the devil we are. It goes like this: faith alone, scripture alone, and grace alone, all under the banner of Christ alone!

So as American Christians, we Lutherans boldly declare to our government and to the accusations of the devil and our own conscience, “Don’t tread on me; don’t mess with us, because we are free men and women.” But freedom, true freedom always comes with responsibilities, isn’t that true?

Well this morning let’s take some time to allow God’s Word to show us some of those responsibilities that come with freedom, by showing us some of the dangers of being free.

We all know that as Christians, we have been freed by the sacrificial life and death of our gracious God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Through His gift of grace, the tyranny of the devils, the cost of sin, and the certainty of death, have been defeated. We are told in the gospel, that we are not required to pile up good deeds in order to please and angry God. We have been freed from this false gospel with the true gospel: Jesus paid it all. He alone gives us salvation! Instead of working to please God, the gospel tells us that we already have God’s love, and now we are free to share that love with our neighbor. Is this the freedom that we are experiencing?

Let’s consider the different conflicts and problems that are in our lives. First, let’s look at our money. You are a free person; you may spend your money any way you like. You don’t need to buy your way into heaven; you don’t need to give all of your “treasure” so to speak to the church in order to appease an angry God. So with this truth being stated, how are you spending your money? If we were to do a pie chart on how you spend your money, what would the biggest slice in that graph show? Would it show that most of your money is going towards selfish, self-serving areas? If you truly are living as a man or woman who has been freed by Christ, shouldn’t we expect to see that freedom played out in how you spend your money? Shouldn’t we expect to see that the bulk of your money is being spent on others; on your family, your church home and to those less fortunate?

Ok, enough talk about money; let’s look at how we use our time and talent. Since we truly are freed from the terrors of the devil and our own conscience, where or on what do we spend most of our time and offer the most of our talent? Where are you dedicating your sense of peace and security; who or what organization is benefiting most from your passion, your talent, and your precious time? Is it spent on others or on yourself? Do you live to please God and your family, or do you find yourself dedicating yourself and your freedom in an endeavor to satisfy your own desires?

This is really the point that Jesus is stressing to the three hopeful disciples and to us in our gospel lesson (Luke 9:51-62). The underlying questions behind all three conversations are: Have you really understood what it means to be my disciple? Do you understand that with great freedom come not just great joy, but hardship as well? Are you really willing to turn your back on what this world says is good and pleasing and instead receive as truth, the things that I say are God pleasing.

Another way to say this is, that the love of God is a proven possession of a Christian, when that love becomes evident in how he or she lives their life.

Christ truly has freed us from the burden of sin, and from our perceived need to earn God’s love and forgiveness. The gospel truly has taught us that the American way of pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps is not God’s way! Instead God’s Word says that if the Son has set you free, well then you are truly free! [John 8:36]

But sadly, many times this is not the image that we portray to those outside of the church. Sometimes our freedom leads us to be so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good in spreading God’s message of forgiveness. What I mean is, our freedom in living out God’s gift of complete forgiveness has the danger of tempting us to disengage from our community and surround ourselves only with other like-minded Christians. Instead of being Christ’s Ambassadors of forgiveness, we might be tempted to avoid our neighbors who are not Christians as if they have the plague. And if we do encounter them in a public forum, we may be tempted to quickly pronounce God’s curse upon them. This is precisely what James and John wanted to do to the people of the Samaritan village, who rejected Jesus. [Luke 9:54-56]

And how did Jesus respond to their zeal? Did He congratulate them on their righteous indignation? No instead, He rebuked them for having a judgmental heart. While it’s true that the villagers rejected Jesus offer to come into their midst, Jesus wanted them to see past this one time rejection, and to see the state of the Samaritans through the eyes of eternity. I believe that Jesus wanted James and John to honestly ask themselves whether they had done anything to win those Samaritans for Christ. Had they presented the gospel? Did they dedicate any of their time, talent, or treasure, towards opening relationships with the people of that Samaritan Village, so that they might open their hearts to hear the words of their Savior? Were they really willing to close God’s offer of repentance, faith, and salvation to them?

What James and John forgot was that Jesus’ great mission, which comes from the heart of the Father, was not to judge men, but to save them; to rescue them from sin and damnation and to then place them into a condition of permanent safety.

This week, many of us are saddened by our Supreme Court’s decision to strike down both the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8, which also sought to define marriage here in California as between a man and a woman. If you are experiencing anger, I ask that you turn your fears and concerns over to the God, who has freed you and asked you to continue the mission of Jesus to save the world with the message of the gospel. I ask you not to pronounce curses upon those who support same sex marriages, but instead work to create relationships of trust with them. You will be able to do this if you avoid name-calling and instead embrace Christ’s call of repentance, and then live out your vocation as a free man or woman. Free to do as you like, but bound as a servant of Christ to speak and live out His truth in love.

For the sake of the church, and for the sake of our neighbors, even those who are militantly living a sinful life, we must learn and live out this simple truth: The whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” [Galatians 5:14]

You and I are free; that is the truth. We are free as Americans to speak our mind and we are free as Christians to check out of the public discussion about marriage; to wipe our hands of the whole mess and let God rain down his fire of judgment upon our entire nation. If that is what you want to do, then as our culture says, “Go for it! Just do it! Don’t let anyone tell you what to do! You are the master of your own ship. Why you might even have the mindset to tell those no good sinners that this country was founded on Judea/Christian principles, and if the sinners don’t like it they can move out and leave! Or…

We could be led by Christ; go after the fruit of the Spirit, which “is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” [Galatians 5:22-25] Why not go for that? We are free! Just do it! Love and serve God and your neighbor by remembering how Christ loved and served you. Look to the cross and remember what the penalty of sin is… death! But then look to the empty tomb and remember what turning to Jesus in repentance means. Look to the font, to your own baptism and remember that you to were once caught up in the bondage of sin, but because Christ has washed you with water and His powerful Word you have been freed; saved from the tyranny of the devil!

True love is always directed at another. We see it expressed in how God operates. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. [John 3:16-17]

You are a Christian. You are truly free, but you are also bound by love to the one who freed you… Jesus Christ! I pray that as this public discussion continues about what marriage is, about what sin is, that you would not shy away. I pray that you would continue the mission of Jesus by speaking God’s Word, both Law and Gospel. And that is exactly how we will close our message this morning. Please listen to these Words and let them transform you:

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself, as He is pure.

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that Jesus appeared in order to take away sins, and in Him there is no sin. No one who abides in Jesus keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen Jesus or known Him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as Jesus is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed (His Spirit) abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.

For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

By this we know love, that He laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” [1 John 3:1-18] AMEN!

Jesus Comes to Us!

Sunday, June 23rd, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 5C, June 23rd, 2013

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I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me.  I said, “Here I am, here I am,” to a nation that was not called by my name. [Isaiah 65:1]

This, my friends is good news; it is good news because God is telling us that even when we weren’t looking for Him, He came to look for us!
While you were in a state of confusion, not even knowing that you  were lost in your sins, God knew and He came to you… to save you!

God comes to those who are helpless and alone. In our Gospel reading (8:26–39), Jesus shows us the extremes He is ready to go to in order to seek us out and bring us into His loving care. Think of this for  a moment… Jesus goes by boat across a lake, into unclean gentile territory, a place that Jews avoided at all times, immediately heads into a cluster of tombs, a territory that was unclean to the Jews because of the  dead, in the middle of a herd of pigs, an animal that was also unclean and to be avoided by God fearing Jews, just to finds a gentile sinner possessed by a legion of devils. How many are in a legion? At least a  thousand!

As Jesus approached this man the demons screeched out at Jesus in fear; they knew who He was. The devils spoke, but the man was silent. But while this man was silent he was aware. Do you think that he was  happy to see Jesus and to experience the truth that all of these demons that were possessing him were now terrified of this God-man who had come to him? I can’t help but wonder how long this man was silently  calling out to God for help and rescue. And now, there in front of him was his champion; not just a man, but the demons called Him the Son of the most High God!

Did you notice that Jesus did not speak a Word to the possessed man? He did not confront Him with his many sins, sins that probably opened the door for the demons to move in. No, I am sure that man had  been confessing those sins silently to God for some time, as he called out for help in prayer. Instead of lecturing the man, Jesus brought him immediate relief; he cast out the demons and freed the man from the  bondage of not just the devils, but even his own sin.

And this is precisely how Jesus comes to us. He comes to us just as we are! Jesus came to you just as you were and He saved you from your bondage; He saved you from your sins. In your baptism Jesus cast out  the devil and put a hedge of protection around you. And what is that barrier, that great wall that protects you from the devils? It is the indwelling of God’s own Spirit. Instead of being possessed by devils, the Spirit of Christ dwells richly within you. By faith, you are now a child of God.

Now if I stopped here, this would be a wonderful message of hope. And there are some here that may be “hoping” that I stop here, as they look at their watches and run through their minds the many things they have to do today. Or maybe, some of you were just beginning to nod off in your weekly ritual of catnapping during the sermon, only to be seemingly robbed of that opportunity by what appears to be a short sermon.

As I said, if I ended the message now, the gospel would have been declared, but some of you, perhaps all of us would be harmed if we did not hear about the dangers of living a life trusting in Jesus; waiting for Him to come to us again, and again!

The danger of living this life as one found by Jesus is this: We find it so easy to forget that being lost and separated from God, was not a one time thing, but in fact, it is our natural condition! And, we will easily find ourselves lost again if we waiver from God’s means of grace in even the smallest fashion.

Let me take you back to our Old Testament lesson and ask you to consider the rest of the verses (Isaiah 65:1-9). In the first verse, God is talking to the gentiles, people like you and me who are not Jews; people who did not have the law of God to direct their everyday lives. But in verses 2 through 9, God is talking to His own people, the Jews. He is talking to His peculiar people who were suppose to be relating to Him by faith; trusting that everything that He asks them to do is for their own good, but also for the good of the gentiles, who were to learn of Him through His special set apart people.

They were to be separated from the gentiles in how they lived and how they behaved. Their worship practices, their diets, and their clothing were different for God’s purpose. Their life styles were different so that through their lives God would draw the gentiles, people who did not know Him, to Himself so they would know Him. But that didn’t happen. Instead, these peculiar people of faith had become no different than the gentile people around them. They were abandoning the life style God had called and equipped them to live, and by abandoning their calling they were also abandoning the God who had called them. Their calling was to be salt and light in a gentile nation that was dark in sin and separated from the God who created them. They abandoned that calling and therefor could no longer be used as God’s special people; His tool to reach those lost in sin with His Word of mercy, so that they to could be saved from their sin.

And what was God’s solution? Well let’s turn to our Epistle reading (Galatians 3:23–4:7) and find out! “God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we (gentiles) might receive adoption as sons.” [Galatians 4:4b]

Once again, Jesus our Savior comes to us! There was no reason that He should seek us out, other than because He Who made us also loves us. Through the life and death of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, we too have become sons of the most High God!

And now, released from the bondage of sin, cleansed of the devils that control this very world, we are called to be God’s light in darkness. And how will you do this? Will you trust in your own resourcefulness; live a life of discipline and rules that promises meaning and success? If so, what benchmarks have you set up to measure your success? Is it what kind of employment you have or the amount of money you make and save? Is it the kind of people your children become and how successful they are? If those are the things that motivate you and guide you, I am afraid you have become no better off than the foolish people that God was chastising in our Old Testament lesson. You are trusting in everything that God has called you out of. And to you, God speaks this word of warning: “I will not keep silent, but I will repay; I will indeed repay into (your) lap both your iniquities and your fathers’ iniquities together, says the

Now, I trust God’s Word has your attention; I trust that He has shaken you out of your slumber of complacency? So what shall we do to please our God? What shall we do in order to be reassured once again that God is pleased with us?

You must go back to the beginning. You must return to that day when God intervened to save you; the day that Jesus came to you just as you were and freed you from the grip of sin, death, and the many devils that surrounded and even possessed you. You must go back to your baptism; the place where the fruit of the cross was wrapped around you as Christ’s own robe of righteousness. In your baptism, God released you from the elementary principles of this world and in its place, He has surrounded you with grace and mercy; He gave you His forgiving love simply because Jesus died for you! What shall you do to stay there? Grab onto Jesus Christ; in Jesus, turn to God’s mercy that comes through the cross and remember that through your baptism, all of God’s love is yours!

Like the demon-possessed man in our gospel reading, we must stay at the feet of Jesus; which is the church. We must stay at the foot of the cross, which is always where God’s Word takes us. We must stay centered in our baptism, the font of God’s grace, where we are daily given complete forgiveness for all of our sins. But then we must also hear and understand what Jesus means when He says we can not stay here in this place; we must return to our homes and back into our communities and “declare how much God has done for us.”

How do we declare this good news? We declare it by living it out. We do the very thing that God has always asked His people to do; live a life that reflects His presence within us and among us. God’s presence is with you by grace; in the forgiveness of sins. So go out and live that life. Let people see that as a Christian you are by nature, no different than them. You too sin; you sin daily. You too struggle with disappointments and fears. The only thing different; the only thing new, is now you know where to take these things; you know who it is that not only came to you long ago in your baptism, but Who comes to you every day, every hour, every minute, and every second. Jesus, we are yours, save us! AMEN

God’s True Curse and Blessing

Sunday, June 16th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 4C, June 16th, 2013

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Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for usfor it is written, Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. [Galatians 3:13-14]

What is a curse, really? Is it something real, that we should take serious, or is it something that only superstitious people believe in? Well it depends on what you consider a curse. For instance, if you are talking about  Hollywood type curses; curses that are based in folklore and superstition, say like a Voodoo or Hoodoo curse, well, I wouldn’t worry to much about that. But if you are talking about the things, the curses that God has spoken  of, well then, in the words of Hollywood, you should be afraid… very afraid.

We should always take anything that God says very seriously, for it is true, and it will come to pass; every word of if. This is what St. Paul is telling us in verse 10 thru 12 of our Epistle lesson. Listen: “For all who rely on  works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for  “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” [Gal 3:10-12]

Make no mistake; Paul is not talking about a trivial curse, as if there were such a thing. He’s not saying there’s a curse only upon you and your entire family; and he’s not even saying that this is a generational curse that  pertains to this fallen and sinful generation; no this curse that Paul is talking about is much larger in scope than that. It is a curse that covers all of creation; everyone and everything that has ever been, or ever shall be. It is  God’s great curse that is over all.

Listen to how this great curse came to be and just how inclusive it really is: But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was  afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she   gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (v. 15) To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” [Genesis 3:9-19]

And so entered sin, death and the devil; this is precisely where our first parents exchanged God’s blessing for God’s curse.  But within in the curse of God, there are also Words of hope; the promise of a blessing to come when God says to the devil: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”  In those Words alone there is the hope of a coming Savior who shall snatch all of mankind out of the grasp of our true enemies, which are sin, death, and the devil.

But many will not hear this promise; they will think that they can earn God’s love, by doing their best, by being a good person. So, like the serpent, they are forever separated from God’s goodness.  For those who will not hear the good news, they are cursed to repeat the very sin that has always separated creation from its Creator.  Oh, what wretched sinners we are! Who will deliver us from this curse of death?  Thanks be to God for faithfully completing His promise of a coming Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord! [Romans 7:24-25]

In God’s mercy, the only curse that matters has been placed upon someone besides you; it’s been placed upon God’s own Son, Jesus Christ. Listen to how St. Paul explains this: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” (Gal 3:13). Please hear those words clearly. Christ has purchased your freedom; He alone has redeemed you from the curse of sin, death, and the devil, by becoming a curse and taking on your sin; by taking your place upon the cross. This isn’t a limited atonement for only select few; it is for the world; for all who will believe in this completed promise of God and receive it as a gift.

In essence, you were being held hostage by your sin and death, through the management of the devil, and God the Father paid your ransom Himself, through the lifeblood of His Son, Jesus Christ.  You are free!  The curse is removed!  But how can this be?  Jesus did it and none other.  He became the curse, or He took on your curse by dying on the cross.  But why?  Because, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; (so to save us) the Lord has laid on (His Son) the (sin) of us all.” [Isaiah 53:6]

You are forgiven; in the work of Christ upon the cross, the world has been freed from the curse. In Christ alone the curse has been removed and a great blessing is being offered to you instead. But, how can we obtain this great blessing and live within it? By looking to Abraham; we must believe in God’s fulfillment of His promise long ago, and live out that blessing by faith—

So that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we (too) might receive the promised Spirit through faith. [Galatians 3:14]

The promise God gave to Abraham and his descendants was not centered around Abraham’s righteousness, but around his faith in God’s faithfulness to fulfill his promise of redemption and restoration of fallen mankind. And like Abraham, we too, through faith in Jesus Christ, receive this promised blessing; or as Paul calls it, the blessed indwelling of God’s own Holy Spirit.

The church has always only known of only one way to receive this personal blessing… through Holy Baptism. In Baptism, you have been called God’s own child. In baptism you have been infused, covered up, or re-identified with the Son of God’s own righteousness. It is a righteousness that is provided solely by Jesus Christ, and given to you as a gift, as a blessing of baptism.

In this world, people use the word blessing in such a cheap way. “I sure am blessed.” “I was blessed to be chosen for that new job.” “I was blessed with healthy children.” Or, (Ha-chew) God bless you!” We say the word blessing so easily, but seldom is the God who alone gives the blessing behind the word.

But God has blessed us first with the promise of a Savior, and then from the very mouth of the Savior as He died upon the cross. “It is finished!” Their debt has been paid in full and the curse as it has fallen upon me is paid in full!

God has blessed us within the waters of our own baptism, where everyone of the merits of Christ have been poured out upon us. And what is that great blessing? It is complete forgiveness of all of our sins! It is having a new heart that is led by the law of God, like King David’s in our Old Testament reading (2 Samuel 11:26-12:14). Like David, we too, are shown our sin in God’s law, and by the Holy Spirit, we are led to confess it so that the Holy One can remove the curse of sin, which is death, and exchange it for a blessing, which is forgiveness and eternal life!

What does this blessing of forgiveness look like? For the answer to that question, we need look no further than the sinful woman who was forgiven by Jesus in our Gospel reading (Luke 7:36-8:3). Once she heard the proclamation of the gospel, the forgiveness of sins, she was changed and compelled to serve Jesus and His church through acts of love and kindness. Through faith, she was saved and because of faith she was compelled to be with Jesus and serve Him always.

Today, we celebrate Father’s Day, and we look to our Great Father who has undone the curse given upon our first earthly father, Adam.  He was absent from the struggle, which Eve, his wife blindly entered into.  Sadly, today, there still are many men who are absent as well.  They have either abandoned their baptismal call to embrace the great blessing Jesus has provided, or they have never received that call.  Today, God calls out to each of us to live under that great blessing, and to look forward to that great eternal day to come when all of sinful creation will be restored to it’s original splendor.  A day when there will be no more sorrow or pain; when every tear shall be dried and the sounds of joyful celebration will fill the new heaven and earth and surround God’s own banquet table.  “And (on that day) there shall be no more curse.” [Revelations 22:3]  AMEN!

Where Did You Hear That From?

Sunday, June 9th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 3C, June 9th, 2013

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For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. [Galatians 1:11]

And neither is what I am about to preach; so you know what that means, don’t you?  We all better pay attention; we all need to hear God’s voice.  But hearing God’s voice, hearing the clear call of the  gospel can be hard sometimes, especially in our society today when there are so many other voices, messages vying for our attention.

Ask a young person a question today, and you’re likely to hear this as a response: “I don’t know.  Let me “Google” it!”  Some of you might be asking, “What’s a Google?”  Well it is a search engine, one of  many available on the Internet, which promises to find an answer to almost any question.  In this information age, that can be a good thing, but it can also be a bad thing.  You see there is no quality  control on the Internet.  Not in Google, or anywhere else for that matter.  Anyone, and I mean anyone can put anything out there and claim it as the gospel truth.  Did you know that on the Internet, you  will learn that former Pres. George W. Bush was responsible for the 9-11 tragedy?  Yep, according to the Internet it was our own president who ordered the attacks and not Al Qaida.  Oh, and did you  also know that President Obama is secretly a Muslim and that he is preparing to replace our constitution with Sharia Law.  Yep, it’s all right there on the Internet.

So, again, in this day and age when someone says something and swears that it is the truth, we need to look into it a little deeper and ask, “Where did you hear that from?”

In our Epistle lesson (Galatians 1:11-24) St. Paul answers that question from the very beginning; before he shares the Good News about salvation, grace, and the forgiveness of sins.  He says, “For I  would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel.  For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus  Christ.” [Vs. 11-12]

Then, in an attempt to keep you from looking to him as the source of the “good news” and keep your eyes on Christ, he completely disqualifies himself as being worthy of the title “Apostle” by giving you  a look into his background.  Listen: “For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it.  And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many  of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.” [Vs. 13-14]

In those words, Paul is telling us that as a Pharisee, that as a teacher of Judaism, he was also a defender of it; his call was to hunt down any voices that taught against the traditions of Judaism.  Mind you, he wasn’t defending the Word of God, but the accepted rules of practicing the worship and interpretation of God’s Word.  And the chief target of were those who called themselves Christians.  Why?  Because of what they preached, taught, and confessed as the truth.  And the dangerous message that they proclaimed as good news was this: God was not impressed or moved to show mercy by what we do, which is called active, or civil righteousness, but instead, God’s mercy is given to us by a righteousness completely foreign to us; a righteousness that comes to sinners solely by believing in Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, who suffered and died upon the cross, to forgive the sins of the world!

But then after a successful career of hunting down the Christian troublemakers, Paul, who was then called Saul, met Jesus!  By the way, did you know that Paul was not only present when the first Christian martyr Stephen was stoned and killed, but that he actually supervised it? (Acts 7:58)

So why did Jesus choose Paul?  Was it because of his great training in the traditions of Judaism?  Was it because of his intimate knowledge with the languages of the day?  Was it because he was zealous for the things he thought came from God?  No, it was none of those things.  It was because everything that Paul was not, Jesus was.  It was because in weakness and sin, God could come to Paul in power and grace.  Listen to how Paul puts it: “But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone”. [Vs. 15, 16]  Did you hear those wonderful words of grace.  God set Paul apart, before he was born; He called Paul by grace, not by anything Paul did or did not do, but by the undeserved love and mercy of God.  By grace, Paul was introduced to the Son of God Jesus Christ.  Why?  So that he could preach Jesus crucified and resurrected to the world!  Paul was given the complete gospel of Christ, by Jesus Himself.  The message that he was to preach was identical to the message of the other apostles; it was given by the same Holy Spirit, but it was given independently.  Why?  So that we today, would hear this gospel Word and believe that it comes directly from the mouth of God!  So that we will hear about the forgiveness of sins and hold onto that message above all other messages.

Today, as I said earlier there are a lot of messages out there, and unfortunately there are also a lot of false gospels as well.

Some teach a universal gospel, or in other words they say that there are many paths to heaven, not just the Christian way.

Others think that they must defend God, or explain every mystery in life.  The widow in our Old Testament lesson (1 Kings 17:17-24) tried to do that.  She spoke for God by making the assumption that her son was taken from her at such a young age, because of her sins.  Many false preachers of God do the same thing today.  We ask, “Why did God let this happen to me?” And they are quick with an answer.  Sometimes they blame our lack of faith, sometimes they blame our nation, and sometimes, like the widow speaking to Elijah, they blame our sins.   The truth is, like Paul’s call to faith and like our own call, we do not know why God does what He does, but we do know what motivates His action; it is His great love for us.  In love God speaks His Word and then leads us to the waters of baptism, and then every day thereafter, that same Word shows us again and again, the cross of Jesus Christ and continually encourages us to receive the undeserved gift of forgiveness of sins, and then simply trust that God loves us and is ultimately in control of all things.

But it is in our sinful human nature not to trust; not to rest in anything so easy and free, so sinful preachers and teachers attempt to tweak the Word of God so that it gives us credit for earning some of God’s free gift of grace.  This kind of false gospel is probably the most dangerous for us who call ourselves Christian, because it takes our eyes off of what Christ has done, and instead encourages us to look at what we are doing.

Usually, this false gospel is based in a human-tradition and it has been handed down throughout many generations.  In time, after the false message has been repeated so many times, it becomes the truth and replaces the pure Word of God, and those who continue to teach this false gospel, along with those who blindly follow it, eventually break away from Christ’s true church, and condemn everyone else who won’t follow them.

Scripture teaches that by their fruit you will know them, and their fruit usually calls for the true Christian to “do the right thing” rather than trusting in Jesus’s righteousness.  It presumes that doing a good thing makes us better (more righteous) than those who fail to do the good thing.  Thus God’s law, written in the human heart, is at work but it becomes twisted into a game of pilling up of good deeds, in order to impress not a God of love, but an angry God who is chomping at the bit to punish all sinners.  In the process, real sins, which sometimes only God sees and knows about are ignored as though they never happened, and the sinner feels safe and secure, while in reality, they are going straight to hell.  Where did this version of religious life come from?  People made it up!  Why?  Because it feels and tastes good.

Mixing and confusing Law and Gospel always makes for a very poisonous and deadly mixture.  It’s kind of like ethylene glycol, or anti-freeze to a dog.  It tastes sweet but it will kill him.

But the gospel is the true sweetness of God.  It is given to you through no merit of your own; you did not earn it nor did you deserve it.  But instead, while you were still a sinner, a dog who will stupidly lap up anything that tastes sweet but in truth is deadly, Christ died for you! [Acts 5:8]  He died for you so that you need never wonder if you are forgiven.  He led you to the waters of baptism, so that you need never wonder whether you are truly saved.  He surrounds you with His Word and His Holy Supper so that as often as you have the opportunity, you can take and eat and take and drink of His body and blood, and know for certain that you are loved and never abandoned!  That is the gospel of Jesus Christ, and none other should ever take its place in your heart.

In the call of St. Paul and in your own call, Jesus gives us the Way of God’s mercy, He shows us His cross and His empty tomb; He gives us forgiveness for all of our sins; He gives us a new beginning.  Each morning this beginning is fresh and vibrant.  In this new beginning, we are constantly shown a new way to live; a way that agrees with the Word of God, which declares that doing something right is not enough because, “all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.  (Instead, we have learned that) God judges the secrets of men by Jesus Christ.” (Romans 2:12, 16)  But this is the true gospel, the good news, “The righteousness of God comes “through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”

This is the message that brings new life.  It is the message that touched the dead sons of the widows in both our old testament and gospel readings, and it is the message that touches ourselves and our children and brings life where before only death ruled.  I pray that you will forever cling to this message and no other, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Our Balm in Gilead

Sunday, June 2nd, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 2C, June 2nd, 2013

Click here for audio of this message

Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of the daughter of my people not been restored? [Jeremiah 8:22]

So speaks God through the prophet Jeremiah. Why don’t my people come to me when they are in need; why do they trust in other things, things of man but not the God who creates and sustains all things  created? Why can they not see that I, the God who creates them am the same God who sustains them?

Instead of trust in God, as our money says, we as Americans seem to trust in our own resourcefulness. We want to pick ourselves up by our own bootstraps, so to speak. We hear people say things like good  people practice religion, but they don’t take it too seriously. Welcome to Hypocrite Township, where science and positive thoughts sustain life and happiness!

But there isn’t a chance that we good Christians will go down that road, is there? I mean, Hypocrite Township is the home of those who look to all other forms of health and happiness but Jesus and His  means of grace. They don’t need, nor do they want handouts and giveaways. They work for what they need and want. They are proud that they earn their way in life; why they deserve what they have!

We Christians know that as a false gospel of prosperity; it’s a perversion of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We all know that the gospel is a free gift of Christ sacrificially giving Himself to rescue and deliver  sinners like us from sin, death, and the devil, even this sinful age we live in. No sir, we’re going to steer clear of Hypocrite Township, because we know that the devil runs that territory.

Yes sir, we Christians follow Christ, because we love Him. We worship Him and we read and hear His Word. We don’t look for people’s approval but instead we are servants of Christ. You see, we Christians are a praying people. And we pray, “Lord, I thank you that I’m not like those other people who keep on moving to and living in Hypocrite Township. I thank you that you bless me, because I’ve got a strong faith; faith that you said can move mountains.”

Well, neighbor… welcome to Hypocrite Township. You’ll fit right in! Isn’t it amazing how easily we get there with all of the other hypocrites? Even when that is precisely where we don’t want to go. Who is responsible for our continued detour to Hypocrite Township? Is it the devil? Well sure, but that is just a tad to easy to blame it all on him; after all, you have a Savior who has promised you that He has defeated that ancient foe. So is it society, with its promises of health and happiness outside of what they say is an antiquated religion, that only divides people? Or maybe it is the phony word of faith and name it and claim it preachers that mix religion with the occult? Well sure they can preach a powerful message of false hope, but in the end, you’re the one who stopped to listen and then buy into what they were peddling. No, I’m afraid that you’re at fault; you’re the one who forgot about your true Balm in Gilead!

In the end, we Christians are the ones who convince ourselves that it is logical and obvious, that we don’t get something for nothing. Since we received something from God, namely forgiveness of sins and a relationship of love with Him through Christ, we think that it must be because we deserve it. Good is for the good and bad is for bad. That’s the white wash that we paint over our dark dirty grey casket, which contains the dead bones of our own righteousness. But what happens when God’s own righteousness rains down? What happens when our clean white illusion is washed away by God’s Word, and our own evil is revealed? We and the message of false prosperity and health we’ve been following are shown for what it is… and evil illusion! Our entire hypocritical motto is uncovered… “Look out for number one, and do unto others before they do unto you.”

Once God moves you to see this truth about who you really are without Him, you will then and only then turn to Him alone as not only your source of salvation, but also as your only source of happiness and health, peace and prosperity. Then and only then will you learn to be happy with what ever He gives to you, or allows to come your way.

It’s a matter of having spiritual eyes to recognize Christ’s authority and a trust or faith in His tender care.

The Centurion in our gospel lesson (Luke 7:1–10) was given both of these things from God. Somehow, we are told that He heard of Jesus; he heard the Word of God about the Son of God and He recognized Jesus for who He was; He was Lord! And that Centurion, a foreigner to God’s presence and providence desired to reach out to Jesus as God’s authority, as God’s means of salvation and health. So He sent a delegation of Jewish elders to plead with Jesus to heal His servant. And what happened next? Did the elders dismiss that request? No! God in His special providence moved the heart of these men to approach Jesus with the request of healing. And what of Jesus? Did Jesus tell them to let the Centurion know that He did not come to save gentiles but only the good “God fearing” Jews of the Land? No! In fact Jesus had them take Him directly to the home of the gentile, the unclean gentile’s home.

Amazing isn’t it? God’s love really is for all! But the most amazing part is what comes next. We learned that Jesus never made it to the home of the Centurion, instead the Centurion had another delegation meet Jesus before he arrived to his home, and they related this message: “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

Now that dear friends is faith. A kind of trust in Jesus authority that is real and alive. It cannot be bought and it cannot be obtained outside of the Word of God. It is solely a work of grace and it comes alive as God determines through the work of His Spirit. It is a kind of faith that simply lays down its request at the feet of Jesus and believes that the God of Creation and Salvation is also the God that determines ones fate. It is the kind of faith that accepts what ever Word Jesus gives. I am convinced that even if Jesus had not healed the servant’s body but healed the servant’s soul as He had obviously done for the Centurion, both would have rested peacefully in God’s gracious love and presence.

A poor middle-aged woman with poor health, a broken spirit, and a criminal record responds to an invitation to attend church with the comment, “Church is for good people, not people like me.” A young man, who many would call a hoodlum asks, “I’ve done some bad things. Can I still join your church?” A couple living together, but not married ask the pastor, “Can we get our child baptized even if we are not married?” All of these questions and many more are simply opportunities for us to step outside of the city limits of Hypocrite Township and begin a relationship of sharing God’s Word, Law and Gospel with strangers, people who are foreigners to God’s grace. Questions like these present opportunities for us to present Christ’s church not as a white washed mausoleum of saints, but as a hospital for sinners; a place where the very worst of us have found the balm of Gilead, and where they too can find forgiveness and healing.

Forgiveness is an unbelievable gift. “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the Word, and let my servant be healed.” But the Lord did, and does put Himself to trouble, a whole lot of trouble. And He comes to live a long side of us, He says the Word and we are forgiven… we are healed of a sin sick soul. He initiates the new relationship of love and forgiveness by coming to us in His Word of Law which shows us our terrible sin of pride and self sufficiency, and when we have been destroyed by His displeasure, by His righteous anger, He speaks the Gospel Word of forgiveness and, by His stripes, we are healed; we are created into the very image of Christ!

The gospel of Christ is the message of His cross. It is a message about His sacrificial giving of Himself to rescue and deliver us from the power of this sinful and evil age. The gospel is the gift of a new relationship of love and forgiveness with God and each other. It is the entire message that is spoken to us in our worship: Jesus accepts foreigners. Jesus hears the prayers of sinners that seek His forgiving love. And Jesus desires to hear our prayers about others who need His intervening presence in their lives as well.

Jesus offers grace, powerful and wonderworking grace to all who see a need. For whom shall we pray for this week? For whom shall you intercede for and say, “He or she is worthy to have you come to them. They need your forgiving touch and then your touch of healing strength.” Who has God put in your life so that you can tell them about a Balm in Gilead? If you can not preach like Peter, if you cannot pray like Paul, you can tell the love of Jesus and say He died for all” even a hypocrite like them and like you! AMEN!