Archive for August, 2013

A Gospel That Causes Division

Sunday, August 18th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 13C, August 18th, 2013

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“Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” [Luke 12:51]

It appears that Jesus prophecy has been proven true.  Look around; all over there seems to be very little unity, but instead there is division.  Let me show you what I mean.

Who do you support in Egypt, the supposed democratically elected militant Muslim government in Egypt or the supposed temporary Military imposed government, which only wants to bring back economic stability?  Are you a democrat or a republican?  Are you for more social “welfare” programs or do you favor “work-fare”.   Should the Word of God determine what is or is not a legitimate marriage, or is it merely a social institution regulated by government?

In case I did not peak your interest yet, let me try hitting a little closer to home.  Are you for open communion at the Lord’s table for all who are baptized, or is it something that should only be shared by those who are walking together in doctrine?  Wait, one more example if I may.  Should women be allowed to preach and teach in the church?

Now for some people, these questions are open for discussion and even vigorous debate.  For others, these things are easily answered; in fact they would say that the Word of God has already answered them.  But what do you do when there are equally sincere people, each proclaiming to have answers centered on the counsel of God.  Who do you listen to?

This morning, through the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 23:1-29), God answers us.  Listen: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord.” [v. 16]

The Lord’s advice was then, and is today, direct and simple, “Do not listen [to them].” The prophets in Judah were not preaching messages from the Lord. That was plain to see, for what they were saying contradicted everything the Lord had said in the rest of his Word.  Where God demanded repentance, the false prophets had repeatedly called for tolerance of sin.  When God condemned the worship of false Gods, the false prophets instead counseled an acceptance of false worship so that peace and harmony could be sustained.  And now, here is Jeremiah prophesying the impending punishment of God; the captivity of the Jews. And how did the false prophets of glory and prosperity respond?  They accused Jeremiah, the true prophet of God as being a false prophet.  And to this conflict, to this division God proclaimed: “And when your people say, ‘Why has the Lord our God done all these things to us?’ you shall say to them, ‘As you have forsaken me and served foreign gods in your land, so you shall serve foreigners in a land that is not yours.'” [Jeremiah 5:19]

The false prophets gave false hope to those who despised and refused to believe the Lord’s Word. They encouraged the sinner to remain in his sin by making it seem less sinful. They dismissed God’s threatening judgment with the words “no harm will come to you”—hell and damnation are mere delusions of the false preacher. They were the false prophets, because they gave false hope; they left the impenitent with the impression that their sin was no big deal; God didn’t care. So, according to them, there was no need to worry about repentance.  Don’t worry, be happy!

But Jeremiah was a true prophet of God.  He had stood in the council of the Lord, and what He heard God say He was compelled to repeat.  If the people then and the people today listened to the Word of God, they would not have missed the heart of all of God’s Word, the center of all Scripture: Repent! The Lord means what he says!  Or as God spoke through the prophet Ezekiel, “The soul who sins is the one who will die.” [Ezekiel 18:4] Salvation and righteousness are found in the Lord alone and in the Word that brings his forgiveness.

So how can we take this message from our Old Testament lesson and apply it to our lives today?  What determines whether a prophet or teacher’s message can be trusted?  Well it all depends on where the message comes from.  Is it’s origin from within the desires of their own hearts or is it a message from the heart of God?

When I was a teenager, my friends and I use to be guilty of playing pranks on people.  Many of our ideas came from television programs like, “Candid Camera.”  One day, on a busy downtown sidewalk, we decided to play the prank, “Look Up!”  It went like this: One of us would stand in the middle of the sidewalk looking up into the distant sky.  Another would come and stand next to him and ask “What are you looking at?”  The first prankster would point up.  Then another of our team would join the ranks as the first two pointed up.  Then another and another.  What always happened was a gathered and growing crowd would each invite additional people into the group by pointing up.  Eventually, we pranksters would slip out of the crowd, back away and crack up with laughter as we watched those clueless people watching nothing.

So what are you looking at?  I could ask you the same question about what you think our Epistle text (Hebrews 11:17-40) wants us to look at.  Are we supposed to look at and admire those heroes of the faith, and see them as great role models?  If that’s what we are looking at then I’m afraid we are in for disappointment.  You see those great heroes of the faith weren’t any better than you and me; they too were sinners.  They too needed to repent of their sin and lack of trust in God’s care.  Moses, that mighty man of God who led God’s people out of Egypt also doubted God’s decision to use him.  David, the Lord’s mighty king who was declared to be a man after God’s own heart, was an adulterer and murderer.  The list of disappointments goes on and on through out the pages of scripture.  In too many instances to recount, the mighty people of God often had their eyes of things other than God’s call to repent and to trust in Him alone.  Instead of placing their eyes of faith on the promises of God, they had cast their gaze upon things that satisfied their own desires and wants.  Like us today, they just couldn’t find time to listen to God; they were too busy running away from things that frightened them, and running to things that promised security and peace.

So what is the point?  Well the point is to answer the question, “What were those heroes of faith looking at and trusting in?  What are you looking at?  What is it that you are trusting in?”  And the answer is of course, we must look to and trust in only Jesus!  The heroes of faith all knew and trusted the promise of God that a Savior would come to make all sinful things in this world right.  Each time their hearts were turned away from the promise of the coming Savior, God’s Word redirected their gaze back to Him and His promise of redemption.  And today, this morning, we do the very same thing.

We who are sinful agree with God that He is right and we are wrong.  We too allow the Word of God to show us our sin and we too repent.  But we do not turn to the promise of a coming Savior, we turn to a Savior who has already come and set us free. He is a Savior who promises that He will come again to take us home!  When the heroes of faith repented, they turned to God’s promise of mercy and forgiveness.  When we, who are God’s heroes of faith today, repent, we turn to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.

Do you want to know what Jesus was looking at when He was dying upon the cross?  He was looking at you!  Your life of faith; your struggle to hold on to Him and Him alone as your only true hope of pleasing God and knowing the promise of forgiveness of sins and eternal life.  For you, and the “joy set before Him, (He) endured the cross, despising its shame, and is (now) seated at the right hand of God.” [Hebrews 12:2]

How does this change things?  It gives you hope.  Hope to continue following Jesus; hope to agree with the Word of God, even when it means disagreeing with family, friends, and even the entire community.  It means even in the middle of divisions, which the painful consequences of sin cause, you are not alone.  Jesus is watching and helping.  He cares and He will prove it to you!  Hold on; cling to Jesus.  Look to His cross and trust that His Word and His will is ultimately and always what is best for you.  Lay aside your sin that clings so closely to you and look to where He took that sin… the cross!  Look to your baptism as the day He taught you to look up at His death, resurrection, and ascension.  You are clean and free.  Run your race of faith but know that you aren’t running alone, even when the devil and the sinful philosophies of this world tell you otherwise.  Yes, Jesus is right there beside you, but then so are those great heroes of faith; so are we, the rest of the saints who agree with God and repent daily by turning to Jesus.

Who do we listen to?  We listen to Jesus even if it means division!  Yes of course we listen to Jesus, but which prophet of God is the right one?  Well, it’s the one that consistently speaks the message of repentance… the message of the cross.  The one who agrees with God’s Word in all things, and calls a sinful thing sinful, and a God pleasing thing good.  I pray that this message brings you clarity and peace, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

It’s Time!

Sunday, August 11th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 12C, August 12th, 2013

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“Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks.  Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes.” [Luke 12:35-37a]

Are you ready for Christ’s return?  He could come at any time.  Are you comfortable praying come Lord Jesus, come?  Do you really want Him to come now?  Some time ago, a person approached me  after Divine Service with this statement: “You know, I really wish you would quit preaching about how Jesus is coming back right soon.  And I also wish you would quit praying for Him to come  back soon.”  When I asked that person why we shouldn’t pray for His return, this is the answer I received: “Because there are a lot of things I still want to do, and now that my kids are grown and I  have the time and money to do them, every thing I planned for will be ruined, if Jesus comes back now!”

In our gospel lesson this morning (Luke 12:22-40), we are continuing our lesson from last week, when Jesus told us about the rich fool.  He was a fool, because he was rich in the things of this earth, but not rich in the things of God.  His new barns were over flowing with more than enough stuff to ensure an easy life on earth, but he had made no investment in the eternal life to come.  In other words, he was not ready for Christ’s return.  The person who was offended by my prayer, “Come Lord Jesus, come!” was also another example of someone who was not ready.  Are you ready?  Would it be alright with you if He came back right now?

Jesus calls the rich man who was not ready and the person offended by my prayer for Christ’s return a fool.  They were fools because their god was their stuff, and their own desires.  They lacked  faith in the great reward or prize that God promises to give to those who have faith.  What is faith?  Well, in our Epistle reading (Hebrews 11:1-16) we are told that “faith is the assurance of things  hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” [v. 1]  So what is it that you are hoping for?

Are you afraid of Christ’s return, or are you by faith believing that it will be as wonderful as He says it will be?  If you’re afraid, remember the Word of encouragement that God spoke to Abram in  our Old Testament reading (Genesis 15:1-6), because it is a Word for you as well: “Fear not, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” [v.1]

Jesus also speaks words of comfort to you; Words that are meant to take away your fear about His return and about the time you spend waiting and preparing for His return.  Listen: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.  Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

In those wonderful Words, we are first given courage, and then we are given instructions on how to live out courageous lives as we wait for Jesus to come back again.

You should not be afraid because you are one of Jesus little lambs; you are part of His flock, a person of faith that He loves dearly.  And because Jesus loves you, His Father, our Father in Heaven has prepared a great reward for you… a home; a place in heaven!  Now with this knowledge about Jesus return, whether it is on the last day of all creation or the day of your death; you are not given any reason for worry, because God is preparing a place for you!

Now, this information should give you great joy; peace with God’s plans for both you and the rest of creation.  And this gift of joy should be what determines how you live the rest of your life.  In other words, you should be able to see your stuff, your money and all of your possession as unimportant outside of how God wants you to use them for. You should be able to agree with God that they are His to give and take as He sees fit.  You should be willing to use them to spread the gospel and advance God’s kingdom as He leads you.  This is what Jesus means when He says that we should have purses, or bank accounts based in heaven not on earth.

If your stuff isn’t hoarded here on earth, like the stuff that belonged to the rich fool, then neither the rust of old age, the moth of disease, nor the thievery of death will have no effect on your stuff, because it is really God’s stuff being used as He determines.

Now be honest, do these Words make you feel any better about Christ’s return?  For many, I am afraid they do not.  And the reason for that lingering feeling of fear, is because you haven’t stayed dressed for action!

This morning Jesus tells us how he provides both faith to trust Him and peace in the certainty of knowing that everything will work out for your own good when He comes again.  Listen: Jesus says, “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks.  Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them.” [v. 35-37]

Remember the person who didn’t want me praying for Jesus to come soon?  That person saw Jesus return as the threat of the Law; as a kind of warning… “Jesus is coming soon… so beware!”  But Jesus wants you to receive these Words as assurance that He loves you and hasn’t forgotten about you.  He wants you to know that it’s “His job” to prepare you for His coming again.  He’s already dressed you for action in your baptism.  It was there that He clothed you with His own righteousness.  In those holy waters he applied to you personally, the precious fruit of the cross: righteousness and forgiveness of all sin.  In His Word, He constantly redresses you in these holy things by strengthening your faith; faith in Him and faith in the work that He is daily doing within you to recreate you into His image and prepare you for His return.   So when He comes at an unexpected hour, you will be surprised yes, but not afraid, because He will find you waiting in the strength that He has provided for you through His means of grace.

When He comes again you will really be blessed, but blessed only because He has assured that you are dressed for action; the action that is provided by a strong faith.  And when He comes again, the absurdity of the gospel will be revealed to each of you in all of its glory.  There in front of you, at His own banquet table, with all of the company of heaven gathered around, the Master becomes the servant.  As He saved you through His atoning death upon the cross, so too will He serve you at His own table; He serves you a meal of blessing and celebration.

So stay dressed for action.  Come often to His Divine Service, for it is the very means that God uses to fulfill His promise that no evil, neither spirit nor flesh can separate you from God’s love and protection.  Come often to His table of mercy here in this place to receive His very body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine where you receive more than a meal of forgiveness, but also a fore taste of the great banquet to come; a place where all the company of heaven will celebrate along with you.

It’s time dear friends.  It’s time to let Jesus change the way we see our lives here on earth, and it is time to allow Him to change the way we see our lives in eternity.  We are waiting for this great moment of Christ’s return together, not in fear or worry, but in joy.

Together we are waiting! Yes, patiently waiting! Till next steps made plain shall be; to hear, with the inner hearing, the Voice that will call for me.

Waiting! Yes, quietly waiting! No need for an anxious dread; shall He not assuredly guide me, Who gives me daily bread? Waiting! Yes, hopefully waiting!  With hope that needn’t grow dim; the Master has pledged to guide me, and my eyes are fixed on Him.

Waiting! Yes, expectantly waiting! Perhaps it may be today, that the Master will quickly open the gate to my future way. Waiting! Yes, trustfully waiting! I know, though I’ve waited long, that while He withholds His purpose, His waiting cannot be wrong.

Waiting! Yes, waiting, still waiting! The Master will not be late; He knows that I am waiting for Him to unlatch the gate.  (J. D. Smith)

“Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks.  Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes.” [Luke 12:35-37a]

Are you ready for Christ’s return?  He could come at any time.  Are you comfortable praying come Lord Jesus, come?  Do you really want Him to come now?  Some time ago, a person approached me after Divine Service with this statement: “You know, I really wish you would quit preaching about how Jesus is coming back right soon.  And I also wish you would quit praying for Him to come back soon.”  When I asked that person why we shouldn’t pray for His return, this is the answer I received: “Because there are a lot of things I still want to do, and now that my kids are grown and I have the time and money to do them, every thing I planned for will be ruined, if Jesus comes back now!”

Maranatha!  Come Lord Jesus… Come!  Are you ready?  It’s time!  AMEN!

What Makes You Whole?

Sunday, August 4th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 11C, August 4th, 2013

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“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.  I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity.” [Ecclesiastes 1:2, 18-19]

All hope in material things is vanity.  And that was really the point that Jesus wanted the young man in our gospel lesson (Luke 12:13–21) to understand; it is the lesson that He would have each of  us learn this morning.  But it is a hard lesson for people like us to remember, because we love our stuff.  The lure to acquire more and more stuff can be intoxicating if we are following the wrong  standard of what it means to be blessed.  If we use the worlds standard of success, to be blessed means to have more stuff.  So what will it take to make you whole?  How much stuff do you require,  before you will consider yourself blessed?

Here is a pop quiz to determine whether you are rich in the things of this world or rich in God:  Which disturbs you more… People dying without Jesus or a scratch on your new car? When you miss  worship service or missing a day’s work? A sermon 10 minutes too long or lunch an hour late? A church not growing or your garden not growing? Your Bible unopened or your weekend plans ruined  by bad weather? Church work being neglected … or housework neglected? The multitude of hungry in this world or the closing of your favorite restaurant? Your Sunday offering decreasing … or your  income decreasing?  Be honest, which really disturbs you most?

This morning, Jesus would have us explore the very purpose and meaning of life itself.  He wants us to see that our worth as individuals is not determined by our ability to consume, but instead by a determination that God alone has made.  Our worth as individuals must be seen through God’s Word, that is by God’s Saving action for sinful men and women throughout history and specifically in the event at Calvary when His Son, Jesus Christ died for us sinful men and for our salvation.  This morning, God’s Word will force us to see the truth that we can’t separate our worth and value from this one great event.  He will box us in so that we will understand that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.” [James 1:17]

So again, what standard will we use to measure whether we are successful?  If we will follow the standard set down in our society, we will be following the same pathway that Jesus warned the young man not to follow.  “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” [v.15]

The way of covetousness is one that is sure that life, its values, its goals, its very possibilities are determined by the things that we have or the stuff that we acquire.  But take care when following this path, as it may become the very cause of your downfall and demise.

In North Africa the natives have a very easy way to capture monkeys. A gourd, with a hole cut just big enough so that a monkey can put his hand into it, is filled with nuts and fastened firmly to a branch of a tree at sunset. During the night a monkey will pick up the scent of the treats, find the source, and put his hand into the gourd and grasp a handful of nuts. But the hole is to small for the monkey’s clenched fist, and he doesn’t have sense enough to let go of his prize so he can escape. So he pulls and tugs all night without success, and then when morning comes he is quickly and easily captured.

But we are not monkeys; we have an intellect that protects us.  Or does it?  In Tolstoy’s Man and Dame, Fortune the hero of the story, is told he can have the right to all of the land around which he can plow a furrow in a single day. The man started off excited, full of the possibilities of owning his own land.  At first, he was only going to plow a square of land that he could easily care for. But as the day progressed he wanted more and more land. He plowed and plowed, until at the end of the day there was no possible way he could return to his original point of departure, but that did not stop him from struggling to do so.  In the end, he fell to the ground dead, the victim of a heart attack. The only property he secured was18 square feet of land; the grave he was buried in.

The incessant lure of acquiring the world’s riches and the misuse of the stuff we have can all be linked to a false idea of security; a twisted understanding of what we need to make us happy.  At the very heart of covetousness is the desire for security.

Jesus story about the rich man allows us to see the very heart of covetousness.  It is the picture of a man who has arrived; he is a text book example of success.  This rich man looks out at a new storage facility and all of his stuff and says, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”  You are a success!  But Jesus says that God has something else to say about the matter.

“Fool! This (very) night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”

So what went wrong?  Well, the man in Jesus story made a foolish investment.  He was rich in the things of this world, but poor in the things of God.  He was willing to receive all of the stuff that life brought him, but unwilling to acknowledge the very God who gave them to him.  Why he even thought that his soul belonged to him.

Jesus story is more than a warning to the rich or those who want to be rich in the things of this world.  Isn’t it true that there are plenty of unhappy rich people in our society?  No, this story is about death and it is about life!  In Jesus story, at the moment of death, the moment that the rich man’s soul was returned to God who gave the soul, he is greeted with the words “you fool!”  A fool says in his heart there is no God.  Or a fool decides what his god shall be.  In this case the god of this fool was stuff; things made by human hands that pass away as quickly as they are acquired.

The rich farmer in Jesus story would be considered a real success story in our society today.  No where do we hear that his wealth was acquired illegally or immorally, and yet according to God’s judgment they were immorally acquired.  Why?  Because he failed to see where these things came from.  He failed to see the giver behind the gifts.

When we look at people who seem to have it made, who seem to be blessed we are only seeing the tip of an iceberg so to speak.  But God sees the whole picture, and He would have us see it too.  What we need to see is the iceberg under the water—the emptiness of a life that ignores God as the giver, grasps all that is given, and calls it mine!  This is the heart of an investor that Jesus calls fool!  A fool is someone “who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” [v. 21]

So what must we do to make sure that we are making eternal investments?  Only one thing… repent!  Turn to Jesus Christ and His cross and away from your desire to set up false gods that promise security, but in the end provide only judgment.  Turn away from a desire for what the world calls the “good life” and instead turn to your baptism and see what Paul calls in our epistle reading (Colossians 3:1-11), the good things above in the hidden life.  Listen: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” [vs. 2-3]

In those very words, St. Paul offers wise counsel that is guaranteed to bring good returns.  He says that in our baptism we were not only crucified with Christ, but we were also raised with Christ; so, we should set our minds on things, good things that are already ours; gifts from above.  What kinds of things?  How about complete forgiveness of sins, peace with God, and salvation that assures us that we are united with God by faith in His Son, Jesus Christ!  Through faith in these gifts you are already rich in God; you have the saving gifts that God has given you.  Each time you repent; that is each time you turn away from the temptation to acquire more stuff you are turning instead to Jesus Christ, his atoning death upon the cross and His empty resurrection tomb.  You are turning away from false security that comes through wealth and instead you are turning towards eternal security that was given to you in your baptism.

What is the mark of a successful man or woman?  It is the baptismal life of repentance.  Such a person is truly rich, however little or much they may have acquired of earthly things.

Dear friends, we are Christians.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, we do not look at things of this life like the rich fool.  Instead, we see a God who created all things and created them good.  We see a God who loved so much that He made the greatest investment possible to save us from the disaster that we deserved.  In Jesus Christ, He set our feet back on solid ground; back on the road of life which is secured not in stuff but in His promises and His real presence with us.  You are already whole through Jesus Christ; you lack nothing that is good.  Now go out and live a life of wholeness.  In Jesus name… AMEN!