Archive for September, 2013


Sunday, September 29th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
St. Michael and All Angels-Pentecost 19C, September 29th, 2013

Click here for audio of this message

All three of our readings give us a glimpse into the spiritual realm of Heaven and the activity of God’s spiritual messengers, the angels.  Even though this Sunday is known by its festival name, Saint Michael and all Angels, this is not just a day to teach about angels, but to proclaim the message that the church has always been mandated to proclaim: Jesus Christ and the complete forgiveness of sins!

This morning we look at the role angels have always played in proclaiming this message, fulfilling this mission of forgiveness as mandated by God Himself.

Our readings this morning from the Book of Daniel and John’s Revelation from God, are perhaps the greatest accounts of angelic visions.  Through out these accounts, a certain reality seems to be that angels are real; even though we can’t see them, there are angels all around us, and not only can they see us, they are here to continually help us know Jesus.

An old pastor worked late into the night on a sermon for his small congregation. His unsympathetic wife kept asking him when he was coming to bed.  She reminded him that he was old and needed his sleep.  “Besides” she commented, “it just doesn’t make sense that you are spending so much of your energy on a message that only a few will hear and appreciate. To this the pastor replied: “You forget my dear, how large my angelic audience will be!  So you see, if angels are looking, nothing on earth done for Christ is trivial.”

Yes, angels are all around us, they are here to assist us as God directs, but they can never truly understand us as our Savior can.

There is a picture in Milan, which depicts a little angel trying to feel one of the points of the Crown of Thorns that rests on Jesus bloody brow. A look of wonder is on his angelic face; he has been told that it means agony, but he cannot feel it. It is all to him incomprehensible. There is a deep spiritual suggestion here. The angel cannot understand because he belongs to a different world; he was never born into that condition in which sin and suffering and sacrifice become terms of awful importance.  But God can; God has always been with His people, even in the middle of their suffering, and because God is with us through His Son who came to suffer and die in our place, there is always hope.  This was the divine message, the point of the vision that Daniel was given from the angel in our Old Testament lesson. [Daniel 10:1014, 12:13]

God’s people, those faithful saints who were the children of Abraham, were defeated in war by foreign nations, taken captive, and exiled into foreign places, just as the prophets of God had promised.  But through those same prophets, God also promised that their captivity would end and they would return to their own land.  And so it began to happen.  All was going as planned, when something went wrong.  All progress towards repatriation ceased and it appeared that the promise of God would not be fulfilled.  What was happening?

Daniel, a mighty man of faith fell to his knees and entered into the role of intercessor; he became a prayer warrior for his people.  Would God hear?  Would He listen and answer?  YES!  And that was the very message that the angel was sent to deliver to Daniel.  A message of hope and peace: “And behold, a hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. And he said to me, “O Daniel, man greatly loved, understand the Words that I speak to you, and stand upright, for now I have been sent to you.” And when he had spoken this Word to me, I stood up trembling. [Vs. 10, 11]

Dear friends, this is always how God’s Kingdom breaks into the hearts of sinful men and women… it comes with fear and trembling.  A specific Word of God must first break our hard, sinful hearts so that we can hear God’s entire message.  This is the part of God’s Word we know as His law.  We know that we must hear this message first, so that our hearts will also receive His message of comfort, hope, and peace.  And this is exactly what is given next: “Then he said to me, “Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia, and came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come.” [Vs. 12-14]

So here we are given a glimpse into a real battle that takes place both in heaven and on earth; it is spiritual and unseen by the eye, but that does not make it any less real.  Who is this Michael and who is it that He is fighting?  Michael is the only Ark-Angel named in Holy Scripture.  He is an angel that is always sent by and fighting for the very Son of God.  The forces that He fights are the fallen angels, or demons that are led by the prince of this world, Satan himself.  Because these demons were interfering with the will of God by interfering with the government of Persia, God sent Michael who rebuked and defeated the angels of darkness with the very Word of God.  God’s people of faith would soon taste freedom and breathe the air of their homeland once again just as God had promised.

But that isn’t the end of the message is it?  No, the holy messenger speaks of a time of trouble that is coming that will bring much tribulation to not just God’s children of faith, but indeed to the entire earth.  He says that this time of tribulation will end in a final deliverance of God’s little ones of faith, culminated with a great resurrection of the dead, where we will all be given new and eternal lives of joy and peace!  So when will all of this happen?  Well it has already begun.  The tribulation is upon us.  And in order to understand this, we must turn to our second reading from the book of John’s Revelation and receive the same wisdom that St. John received from God’s angelic messenger.

Once again, God’s spiritual messengers speaks of spiritual things that impact our world of flesh.  He says, “Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven.”  The war was real, but it was not the kind of war that we might imagine.  There were no heavenly weapons of mass destruction; no this was a war of words.  Satan, that great accuser, stood before the throne of God accusing God’s children day and night of sin and unbelief.  He insisted that they be punished as he and his legions of fallen and rebellious angels were.  But God spoke of sending a Savior to His children of faith.  One who would live a sinless life of perfection for them, and in their place suffer and die for their sins, so that the great Accuser and his legions of filthy devils would be powerless against them.

In the six verses of scripture prior to our reading from John’s Revelation this morning (Revelation 12:7-12) we see this heavenly battle in all of it’s glory break out before our very hearts.  Listen: “And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne”.  (Revelation 12:1-6)

That woman was none other than the Virgin Mary,  and the child she bore, was Jesus, the very Son of God, who took on human flesh by the will of the Father and by the power of the Holy Spirit.  The great dragon who along with a third of the stars of heaven that was cast down to earth was Satan himself and his legions of dark devils.  Try as he might to prevent the ministry of the Son of God, in the person of Jesus Christ to begin and finish the will of Heaven, he has been left impotent; powerless against our great and mighty God.  Jesus did come and reconcile us with the Father, His Father who now our Father, through the cross, His cross, which is now our cross that brings forgiveness of sins and a life of eternal peace with God and us sinners.  Jesus did rise from the dead to declare victory over death and the grave; He rose to assure us of an eternal life that waits for us, and He ascended into heaven to assure us that He has gone ahead of us to prepare a place for us.  But while the war is over, the battle continues.  The devil is still among us on earth.

While Michael was once again successful in defending God’s kingdom of heaven as directed by the very Son of God, his work is not over.  You see, heaven’s work is not complete until Christ comes again to judge the living and the dead.  And when that day comes, there will be a new heaven and a new earth that shall become one.  So until that day arrives St. Michael and all of the angels along with the entire church, that means you and me, are still speaking the Word of God; we are still telling the story of redemption; how our Savior Jesus has defeated and silenced the mouth of our accuser and his evil minions.  With the Word of God, the Kingdom of heaven is advanced and the kingdom of evil is defeated.

What Word is that?  It is the name Jesus and the word forgiveness; forgiveness of sins that Jesus brought for us sinful men and for our salvation.  It is the proclamation of victory over sin, death, and the devil, and the release of the captives, the prisoners of war.  But this work is not easy.  It isn’t easy releasing someone who doesn’t even know that they are being held as a prisoner of war.  What must we do to release them?  Again the mightiest weapon that we have is still the same weapon used by the angels… it is God’s Word, both the law and the gospel.

The law comes when we speak a word that shows the nature and work of the devil.  Through the word, we show those held captive who the devil is, that his very name means slanderer or false accuser.  We demonstrate to them that his proper name Satan means “one who lies in ambush.”  When we put the names together we can show those held in captive that the entire mission of the devils, is to deceive the entire earth into thinking that sinful desires are natural and that we are forever bound to our sinful nature.  If we can get them to see the mission of the devil, then we must show them how the devil has very cleverly used them to further this mission.  Again, remember that we are still using the Word of God alone, and for this action that will bring freedom to the prisoner, we will use the law of God in love.  Let me give you an example of what I mean.  In God’s Word, the 8th commandment states that we should not bear false witness against our neighbor.  That is, we should not like Satan and his devils falsely accuse our neighbors before God.  Not only should we not falsely accuse them, but we should also speak well of our neighbor and do all within our power to improve their reputation.  And if we do find that our neighbor has sinned, we should speak to them privately seeking to restore their good reputation before God and man.  In other words, we should approach them in love and encourage them to repent, that is turn to God’s forgiving love, which is theirs just as much as it is ours through Jesus Christ!

How many times have we too by intending to do good, fallen into the trap of the devil by approaching our neighbor from a position of superiority, not seeking to restore them but to teach them a lesson.  So now you see, even the rescue party constantly needs to be rescued.  Another way to say this is that if we do not stick close to Jesus and His Word, if we do not simply receive all that He has to give to us as a gift we too are subject to fall for the deception of the devils.  But if we will like the child in our gospel lesson (Matthew 18:1-11) simply run to Jesus when He calls, allow Him to scoop us up in His arms of love and protection, we rest safe, forgiven, and renewed to continue our search and rescue mission to seek and safe the lost.

How do we stay in this child like condition of simple faith?  By continually running to Jesus in the place that He calls us.  We come to this house of worship where we continually receive His Divine service and hear the message of redemption and forgiveness.

Dear friends, the message you received this morning is not one that ignores the pain and suffering of this world.  We are not to wear rose colored glasses and pretend that all is well here on earth.  All certainly is not well.  The raging maniacal Satan is still persecuting the church.  There is still much suffering and pain in this world, so much so that the very heavens cry out “woe”.  And yet we are still here; God’s children saved by grace through faith in the blood of the Lamb of God, the very Son of God Jesus Christ!  We are the church militant!  We live in this world of sin by faith, as we trust that the kingdom of God has come, and Christ’s rule and authority has been established.  The devils have been defeated, and we prove that each time as we enter into battle by trusting and resting in the promise of God’s Word that proclaims the forgiveness of sins.  All of the devil’s lies and accusations have been silenced through the victory of Christ, which becomes our victory by faith in the blood of the Lamb shed at Calvary.

When the devil accuses us of sin and attempts to recapture us in guilt, we who have been freed and sent to free others will simply reply to that serpent.  “I admit that I am a sinner, but there is one who is greater than my sin and He is Jesus Christ, and where He is I shall one day join Him.  It is Jesus who began the work of salvation in my baptism, and it is Jesus who will complete it on that great day when you and all devils will be silenced forever.”  So you see dear friends, the same Word of God that empowers your testimony to your neighbor is the very same Word that silences your enemies.  May God grant us faith and the strength to continue trusting in His work and the message of St. Michael and all angels… AMEN!

Are You In Business for God?

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 18C, September 22nd, 2013

Click here for audio of this message

The song you just heard, “For the Love of Money” by the OJ’s will give you a mental hook  to hang our message on.  It is a play on the old saying, “Money isn’t evil, only the love of  money is!”  Why is that?  Well, it is a First Commandment issue; “You shall have no other  god.  In other words, “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”

Maybe some of you have read the title of our message this morning, “Are you in business  for God,” and you’ve already decided to tune out, thinking that you’re about to hear  another stewardship message.  Or maybe because you don’t own a business or because you  aren’t in business, you have decided that this message isn’t for you.  I submit to you that if  you have money, earn money, or use money you are in business; you are either in the  business of living and working for yourself or for the Kingdom of God. In other words, no  matter what station of life we find ourselves in, each of us are in the gospel business.

In each of your callings, you are first and foremost God’s steward of grace, or another way to say this is, you work for God—you are His businessman or woman.  Now a person in business has no business being in business just to make money. And that brings us to the danger that everyone in business faces; we face the danger of making money, or the pursuit of making money our god. Whenever we make a decision in favor of our pursuit of making money at the expense of God’s will, we have made money our god for that moment.

This morning, in all of our readings God confronts us with two world views: One is rooted firmly in the kingdom of man, and the other in the Kingdom of God.  In all areas of our lives, God desires to be first, especially in areas that involve money and possessions.

One of the greatest lies of the devil is that we should not mix Christianity and business, when the truth is, our business, whatever it might be, should not only be inseparable from our Christian faith, it should be directed by it. Money and possessions either complement or oppose God’s Kingdom of Grace.

In our Old Testament reading (Amos 8:4–7), God declares first, that He sees those who are in great need.  He is aware of their suffering in poverty.  But He also wants us to know that He sees the secret actions of other people, people who have the power to alleviate the suffering of the poor, but do nothing!  He knows what they do and why they do it.

God is saying that He looks down upon men, and He see’s both groups attending worship; one group has come to call out to Him for relief from their suffering.  Mixed together with their petitions and prayers for help, they also offer up praises to Him not only for what He has already done, but for what He will do in the future, simply because they know that God hears and loves His children.  The other group of people who attend worship gather for another reason.  They are there as a pretense, with a secret desire to appear godly in front of others so that they may continue to make friends and influence the right people.  Why?  Well, because it’s good for business… the business of making money.  They sit in church and watch the clock, and they can’t wait for God’s Divine Service to end so that they can get back out into the real world to further their kingdom.  But beware, you who think that God does not see or know, because He has “sworn by the pride of Jacob: “Surely I will never forget any of their deeds (or their pretend worship).” [v.7]

Does that message sound sharp to you?  Jesus preached a similar message to the Pharisees who were listening to Him teach His disciples in our Gospel reading (Luke 16:1-15).  They, who were so often chasing after money and prestige, were confronted with a harsh truth, which declares “You can not serve God and money.”  One will be your God and the other your tormentor.

In our Gospel reading, (Luke 16:1–15), Jesus was speaking a message of reassurance and comfort.  “God knows your hearts”, He sees and knows your hardships.  He sees you struggling to put food on your table and care for your children.  God cares and He will provide, and you are blessed because you have put your trust in His love and mercy.  “But” says Jesus, “the people of the world are different!”

Now many of us have read and heard read the story about the unrighteous steward many times.  Unfortunately, this parable has been given so many different meanings that it’s very mention can cause grown men to cry like a baby, and bring fear and confusion to not just those in the pews who listen, but to the preacher who must teach and declare as well.  So I offer you a very simple way to receive these words, this parable of our Lord.

Jesus is speaking to two different groups; His disciples and His declared enemies, the Pharisees.  His disciples are led by faith and realize all that they are and all that they have to sustain them comes from the heart of a merciful God.  He is a God that not only has given them a new heart that loves the Kingdom of God, but He is also a God of grace that continues to protect their hearts and increase their faith as they daily learn to rest in His Kingdom.  The other group, who are the Pharisees, are there for other reasons.  They have no interest in becoming a disciple of Jesus or entering into His kingdom of grace.

So in my mind, I can see Jesus looking directly at the Pharisees and telling His story about the unrighteous steward.  The point that Jesus wants His disciples to receive is that even the worst of sinners, like those faithless Pharisees know how to be wise with their time, talent, and treasure, to further their own security and increase their personal happiness.  Now that being true, shouldn’t you who live primarily in God’s Kingdom of grace do the same?  Shouldn’t we as righteous stewards ask our selves the same question as the unrighteous steward: “What shall I do?”  What shall I do in order to rest in the security of God’s greater Kingdom of Grace?

Jesus makes a wonderful point and He turns it into a challenge for us; He says, “The sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.  (So) I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails (and it will when you die) they may receive you into eternal dwellings.”

Let’s be clear, Jesus is not scolding His disciples for being “less” shrewd than worldly people, He is simply pointing out how adept worldly people are at looking out for themselves and their own security in this world.  It is as if He silently asks, “What can we learn from this?”

What we can learn is that our money is not for our own use but for the use of working with God to help others, influence hearts, and prepare others to receive the Word of God unto eternal life just as we have.  When we use our unrighteous wealth, that is wealth of this world for a righteous cause, which is to further the gospel, we can rest assured that our Triune God is pleased and we will one day join Him in His eternal Kingdom of Heaven.

So how do we know that we are a righteous steward and not an unrighteous one?  And that dear friends is the very questions that allows the gospel, the good news about forgiveness of sins to take away all of our fears and bring in exchange eternal hope and comfort.  How can you know that you are secure in God’s kingdom?  Because He has given you His Son, Jesus Christ, and with Him He has also given you a new heart; a heart of faith that rests in His promises of mercy.  You have been given a strong and empty hand of faith that simply reaches out and clings to Jesus, the very Son of God, and by that strength of faith you shall never tire of holding onto Him alone.

In our epistle reading (1 Timothy 2:1-6), Paul makes sure that we know what our hope is based upon.  It is in a Heavenly Father who desires for all people to be saved (v.4).  A God who sees the misery of His people; He is the God who sent His Son to them on a mission of mercy.  Jesus Christ, took on that mission and gave Himself (upon the cross) as a ransom for all. (v.6) It is this same Jesus, who alone is our mediator, the one Who brings peace in place of punishment for our cursed sins, because it is He alone who can by His life-blood, by His suffering and death pay for those sins.  And at just the right moment in time, God came to you and took this completed work of Jesus Christ and applied it towards your debt of sin in the waters of your baptism.  Your debt has been paid in full!

Now through the work of the only true righteous steward, you have complete access to the unlimited resources and riches of the very Kingdom of Heaven… you have complete forgiveness of sins!  There are no barriers between you and God.  Complete forgiveness of all your sins is yours!

In His life giving Word, God continually and intentionally takes us back to the day of our baptism, so that we will know that “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” [Revelation 7:10]  It is not contingent on what you have done or failed to do, but it is simply a gift of God, so that no one can boast! [Ephesians 2:8-9]  It was there, in the waters of your baptism where you were recreated into the image of His Son; the image of the truly righteous steward.

In His Word, God continually moves our eyes and hearts from our baptism to the drama that unfolds on His cross.  There at the cross, we see the sinful people in the crowd shouting “Crucify Him,” so that someone besides themselves would suffer and pay for the anger of Rome.  Herod and others were hoping for a magic show of some kind.  Pilot wanted a way out and the priests in attendance just wanted Jesus dead and gone.  And the executioners, well they just wanted it over so that they could get back to their lives.  So after they beat Him within an inch of His life, they shoved that massive crossbeam onto His shoulders and led Him to the Place of the Skull and promptly nailed Him to the wood.  And there hung the Son of God who was also the champion and Son of men, all because He gave Himself as a ransom for your sins.

But that is not the end of the story is it?  No, on the third day He rose from the dead and later ascended and returned to where He has always been, in the Kingdom of Heaven at the right hand of the Father.  And now, because He has returned to the Father, through the presence of His Holy Spirit who is ever with you, you and I have constant access to all of God’s treasures of grace; we are assured of His forgiving love and mercy.  You are saved!  So why would you ever want to live as if you have no hope?  Why would you want to live as if it is up to you to provide for your own security?

There is money and possessions all around us, but our love is not centered in those things, but for the God who provides all that we need in this life and the life to come.  May each of us continue to serve Him who first served and continues to serve us… Jesus Christ, the very Son of God.  AMEN!

Have You Been Found or Found Out?

Sunday, September 15th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 17C, September 15th, 2013

Click here for audio of this message

“For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out.” [Ezekiel 34:11]

I would like to tell you a story about a little boy named Billy who became lost in a large department store.  His mother was frantically looking for him, because there had recently been several high profile child abductions that played over and over on the national media.  When the police arrived to help, the mother was livid, because she wanted the police to go out immediately and find her son right then, but of course, the police needed some critical information so that they and others could do just that.  About 10 minutes later, the store manager happened to see a little boy matching little Billy’s description playing with out a care in the world in the sporting goods department.  He asked him if his name was Billy and he said yes.  The manager told him that his mother and many others were looking for him and were worried for him.  Then he asked him if he would like to be taken to his mother and the boy’s answer surprised the store manager.  He said, “What for mister; I’m not lost.  I know right where I am!”

This brings up an interesting question.  “How do you find someone who doesn’t even know that they’re lost?”  Can you save someone who doesn’t know or won’t admit that they need saving?  This morning’s message asks us to consider this question about our selves:  Are we found or have we just been found out?

In our gospel reading this morning (Luke 15:1-10), Jesus uses two stories to drive this question home to a bunch of Pharisees and scribes who were the religious leaders of the day.  You see, they were a little upset that Jesus kept hanging around sinners; or what today some might qualify as losers and misfits.  Their type seemed to always gather around Jesus to hear Him speak, just as the Pharisees had.  The only thing different between the two groups was that the sinners and misfits knew they were lost and needed saving, but the religious leaders, like the little boy in my story either didn’t know they were lost in their sins or they didn’t care.  Both groups were drawn by God to hear the Words of eternal life; one group listened and the other refused to listen.

Today Jesus still speaks to us; He is speaking even now.  His Word declares the one thing needful to all human beings… forgiveness of sins.  But this message can get lost in today’s world where there are so many other competing messages.  Watch TV for just an hour and you will be bombarded with a host of products and causes that the talking heads want you to care about and be convinced that you just can’t live without.  Their only job is to get you to support that message with your hard earned cash.  But it isn’t just society that bombards us with a host of other supposed needful messages and causes.

Even in our churches we seem to be overpowered by messages of prosperity and well being.  Their are so many alternative messages being proclaimed from pulpits through out the church, and it’s one mandated message of forgiveness of sins seems to have been removed, or at least assigned an almost insignificant place amongst the many messages that are communicated.

On any given Sunday you will hear a message about healthy marriages, the secret to raising godly children, how to be God’s man or woman in the work place, and other assorted themes to the point where forgiveness of sins is mentioned as only an after thought: “Oh, and by the way, God loves you.  You are forgiven!  Now go out and make money build the kingdom through happy marriages and godly children.”

In our Epistle reading (1 Timothy 1:5–17), St. Paul instructs Timothy to warn these false preachers about preaching and teaching just these sorts of messages.  But before Timothy approaches these ill-prepared false preachers, Paul reminds Timothy the purpose of all preaching; he writes, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”  In other words, to those who will find out how badly they were lost in their sins, and how grave their situation was in their lost-ness, once they are found, or once they know that God has forgiven them through Jesus Christ, their response will most certainly be one of great love that comes from a heart and conscience that has been purified by the mercy of God and the work of Christ upon the cross.  But says Paul, (A) “Certain (group of) persons, by swerving from these (truths), have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.” [1 Timothy 1:5-7]  In other words, preachers and teachers who haven’t been prepared by God to proclaim and teach His Word are using the law of God for illegitimate purposes, and it will not make their listeners right with God.

Like today, some were using the law to teach people how to live a better life; how to get a blessing from God, when the first and foremost purpose of the law is to show us our sin; to show us that we are hopelessly lost if we will not let God find us!  So the primary use of the law is like a mirror; it shows us our sins in all of their hideous glory!

When my daughter was younger, occasionally she would go to school dances.  She would spend a considerable amount of time preparing her self, until she felt that she looked “presentable”.  One afternoon, her preparation time seemed to be considerably longer than usual, so I walked down the hallway to the bathroom to enquire about the delay.  As she looked at me through the mirror, she said in a voice that was almost a sob, “I hate this mirror.  It shows to much stuff!”  Now, being a man, I really didn’t get what she meant, so I asked her to explain.  She said, “Dad can’t you see that big zit on the side of my nose.  No matter how much make-up I put on it, I can still see it, and so will every one else!  Why can’t we have a regular mirror like everyone else?!”

And that dear friends is the primary purpose of God’s law; it is designed to show us all of our sins, even the little ones that no one else but God will notice!  Even if we don’t like what it shows it still shows it!

Once God has our attention; once He has forced us to see our sin, then and only then will we know how badly we need saving.  Then and only then will we see the fork in the road; the two ways we can go.  One road is the way of endless hope, the gospel of Jesus Christ which assures us that through His work upon the cross and the Spirit’s work within the waters of baptism, He is daily renewing us with His Word and promises of grace and forgiveness.  But the other road, the one without Jesus, is a way which leads only to a hopeless end, where our sins forever cling to us and dam us to hell.

This morning God has spoken.  You have been shown your sin and shown your Savior, Jesus Christ.  This morning you have been found and found out.  Perhaps when you heard Paul’s lists of sins in our epistle lesson you may have felt secure.  Maybe you were saying to yourself, “OK, I don’t go around hitting my mother and father, I haven’t killed anyone, I don’t sleep around, I don’t engage in homosexual acts, I don’t have any slaves, and I don’t lie… well I only tell little lies, and any how, I’ve never testified in court, so I should be alright.  And to that… to that I would like you to think about how very little children play hide and seek.

Watch how little children between two and four years old hide when they are playing hide and seek.  Not only will they find a secluded corner to hide in but they will also lower their heads and cover their eyes.  When they are found, when the seeker calls out, “I see you hiding on the side of Daddy’s chair” they will not look up or agree that they’ve been found.  Instead the seeker who has found them often must touch them on the shoulder to assure them that they really were found.  It is as if they are saying, “If I can’t see you then you can’t see me!”

This morning in His Word of Law and Gospel, Jesus has found you.  He has tapped you on the shoulder and said, “I see you hiding your sins from my Father in Heaven.  You can’t deny that truth; you’re found out!  But the good news is I found you!  I didn’t find you to punish you or hall you in front of my Father to be ridiculed; no, I found you so that I could save you.  I found you so that I could remind you that I have already paid for your sins upon the cross; I’ve already saved you in the waters of your baptism.  I am the one that draws you to me every Sunday so that you can hear the same message over and over.  You are found!  You are forgiven.  You have been recreated and every day I will watch over you!”

What a wonderful message of love… forgiving love we hear in this holy place.  It is a message that will most certainly result in a great love for God and each other along with a pure heart, a good conscience, and a true faith.

This morning let’s close our message with these Words of Jesus: “I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God (in heaven) over one sinner who repents.”  This morning we have all given the angels much to be joyful over as each of us turns to our Savior Jesus Christ and prays, “Save us Jesus we are Yours!”  AMEN!

It’s Already Forgiven!

Sunday, September 8th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 16-C, September 8th, 2013

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“Confident of your obedience, … I know that you will do even more than I say.” [Philemon 21]

Our Epistle lesson this morning (Philemon 1-21), is a little different from our usual epistles, and here’s how; all of the other Epistles in your Bible are general letters to all of the people in a local congregation, or they are intended for many congregations that make up the Church.  But this one, … this one is different.  It is a private letter from the Apostle Paul to a pastor and leader of a local church; a man named Philemon.

Philemon was not only a pastor he was also a wealthy one.  How do I know that?  Because he owned slaves!  Slaves?  Wait just a minute, why would a pastor own slaves?  Because that was an accepted practice within the Roman Empire, and specifically in the area that he lived, a town called Colossae.  The ranks of slaves were not only made up of those who were conquered in war, but also of persons who voluntarily sold themselves into slavery so that they would have a place to live, food to eat, clothes to wear, and a little money to spend.  Now within the roster of slaves working for Philemon, was one named Onesimus.  What he did for Philemon, and how he became a slave is unknown, we only know that he was a slave in the household of Philemon.

But what we also know is that Onesimus ran away and eventually found St. Paul in a Roman prison waiting for a trial that would eventually lead to his death.  Why did he run to find Paul?  Because St. Paul was the founder and Bishop of that church in Colossae and Onesimus knew it.   He must have known many things about Christianity while observing the worship services in Philemon’s home.  He also must have observed many qualities of the Christian faith that he admired but which also confused him, so it only made sense that when he ran he would seek out the only authority he knew of within the Christian church, the Apostle Paul.

So here are three truths we must realize so that this message will make sense.  1. This is not a message on the morality of slavery.  2. When Onesimus ran away, he committed theft; he was depriving his master Philemon of the income or service that he would have rendered had he stayed.  3. Onesimus was attracted by the Christian faith, from what he heard and witnessed, but he was not yet converted; that is, when he ran away, he was not a Christian.

Now let’s look at the letter.  In verse 4 Paul reminds Philemon of his true identity in Jesus Christ.  He is not just a wealthy business owner; he is not just a husband and father; he is not just an owner of slaves; and he is not just a leader of a local congregation… he is Christ’s own Ambassador in all of the vocations or positions of life that he lives.  Through faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ he has been set free, pardoned of all of his sins.  In his baptism this pardon engulfed him and recreated him into the image of His Lord Jesus Christ.  In other words he was made one with God through a relationship of love and faith with the Son of God.  Now this is the truth that empowers St. Paul’s entire message contained within this letter.  The underlying question throughout this whole letter is this: Shouldn’t this relationship with God through Jesus Christ direct every thing we do in life and guide the way we live and behave with all people?

In verse 6, Paul talks about the fellowship of believers and how we relate to each other in the body of Christ and how we treat those outside of the church who hopefully will be attracted to the faith because of how we treat them.  Sometimes I mourn over the damage done to the image of the church because of our public persona.  The church may no longer be seen as a group of ordinary people who love in an extraordinary fashion, by celebrating joyfully with others over their great fortune, and weeping and mourning intensely with still others because of their misfortune and tragedies.  Instead, I am afraid we sometimes may be seen as a group of individuals who just want to get our praise on and avoid letting others into our tight circle because either we are jealous that their blessing isn’t our blessing, or because their sorrow is bringing us down and threatening to take the joy out of our own lives. Paul’s letter is encouraging us to go back to our relationship with God through Christ, and he is commanding us to be reconciled with God and with our brothers and sisters in true Christian love!

In verse 7, Paul asks us to consider a couple things.  Are we being a blessing and useful to others in the church by how we spend our time talent and resources and are we allowing others to bless and be useful to us with their time, talent, and treasure?  Or are we so caught up in the moment and with those in our little cliques that we have no time for others who may be different than ourselves?

In verses 8-15, Paul acknowledges that Onesimus sinned against Philemon, and he admits that this sin has separated the two.  But Paul points out that Onesimus not only acknowledges this before Philemon and Paul, but before God Himself.  You see, Onesimus has turned and received God’s gift of forgiveness through Jesus Christ; he was baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and now being reconciled to God through Christ, He also wishes to be reconciled to Philemon.  In other words, Paul is once more turning Philemon’s eyes and heart to Christ and His cross.  He is showing Him that forgiveness has already been accomplished at Calvary, now all that is lacking is for Philemon to pronounce and live out that same forgiveness towards Onesimus, who once was only a slave, but now is so much more than that, he is Philemon’s brother!

In verse 18, we have perhaps the most beautiful part of the letter.  Here we see Paul, who points Philemon and us to the cross, and he takes up that same cross himself on behalf of Onesimus.  He says that what ever Onesismus owes you, what ever harm he has done that you feel demands restitution, charge it to me, Paul, personally!  “In other words,” says Paul, “as Christ paid my debt of sin and freed me from that burden, I too can not help but do the same for Onesimus.”  Now this is beautiful and it is important, because it sets up what comes next.

In verse 21, Paul says that he is confident that Philemon will take back Onesimus as his brother in Christ without penalty and with complete forgiveness, in fact he is confident that he will do something even better. Paul is certain that Philemon like himself, through the power of the Spirit of Christ, will also take up his cross, and absorb what every financial or social loss that Onesimus’ disobedience caused, just as Christ did for Philemon and Paul upon His cross, where His death brought life for all sinners, even sinners such as Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus.

Dear friend, may I speak to you personally through the grace and forgiving love of Jesus Christ?  Do you know that I thank God for your salvation; I can’t help but celebrate that like me, He has snatched you too out of the grasp of the devil by paying for your sin Himself.  What a joy it is to know that He has also washed you and recreated you into His own image in your baptism, so that like me, you too need never fear the punishments of death.  The fact that you are listening to these words this morning is proof of your love for Christ, even as weak as it may be, it is present by the work of God, and for that I truly am joyful.  I know that it is this same love of Christ that has moved you to give freely and abundantly in your time, talent, and treasure to the church and in other places and ways.  Through your giving, you have truly refreshed the lives of so many.

Now because of this wonderful gift of grace that is active in your life, I must be bold to speak a command of God.  “You must be reconciled with your brother or sister.”  You are required to do this thing, not asked.  Yet you are forgiven through grace, so this command will not cause you any fear or worry, because it will actually be Christ within you forgiving, becoming reconciled to the one that has hurt you and deserves, in the worlds eyes, only punishment and retribution.  You know as well as I that any good works that God commands, which are done out of fear or obligation, do not count for a thing in His eyes.  Instead, we know that God loves a cheerful giver, one who gives of their time, talent, treasure, and even forgiveness, voluntarily out of a heart filled with love and abundant thankfulness for what Jesus has done!

So I, a simple pastor who at times can also be a sinner, ask you to forgive that person who has sinned against you.  Let it go and allow the cross of Jesus Christ to absorb it.  When you see them living their life as if they had never sinned against you, why not do the same.  Let all anger and animosity go and be reconciled to that person.  Sit down, speak truthfully with them; talk about sin, their sin and your own, and talk about grace, Christ’s grace that forgives each of you completely.  Think of how you were baptized and know that the very same waters also cleansed them.  Allow them back into your life after God’s own Word has restored both of you.  This is my prayer for each of you and it is the very thing that I celebrate even now, because I know that by the Spirit of Christ, you will do even more than I ask.

As we close our message, I thought that I would share one more bit of information with you about the relationship between Philemon and Onesimus.  Not only did Philemon forgive Onesimus and take him back, he took him back just as Paul asked, as a dear brother, fellow redeemed sinner through Christ Jesus.  Now to strengthen our faith, allow me to show you what God can do when brothers and sisters are willing to be reconciled with each other through Jesus Christ.

Some time latter after Onesimus’ return, Philemon released Onesimus and had him go back to Paul and serve as a missionary as Paul directed him (Colossians 4:7-9).  Church tradition teaches that later Onesimus went on to become a bishop of the Church in the city of Ephesus at the age of 70, and latter he probably died as a martyr in the Christian faith, refusing to recant his faith in God and his love for his Savior Jesus Christ.

All of this, because Philemon obediently followed the Spirit of Christ and was willingly reconciled to Onesimus.  I wonder whose lives we can influence and change by also being obedient to the Spirit of Christ?  May God bless each of us Onesimuses, and may we also be reconciled to those we have hurt and to those who have hurt us.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

For The Glory of the Lord!

Sunday, September 1st, 2013

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

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“Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great.” [Proverbs 25:6]

One of my favorite sayings I speak to remind myself to choose the good over the indifferent or self-serving path is to say “I’m doing this for the glory of God.”  Now, this little statement has gotten me through a lot of tough times, but I’ve also found that it can also become a dangerous way of drawing glory away from God and to myself.  Let me show you what I mean.

You say to me, “Pastor, that was a good message.”  And I say with great joy in my voice, “Thanks be to God, all glory goes to Him!”  Or, your spouse may say, “I really appreciate the way you’ve been helping out around here.”  And you say, “Yes, if it had not been for the Lord, I certainly would not have been able to do the things that I did.”  Or how about this one; A pro athlete scores on the field, and drops to one knee and points up to the sky.

Now in and of themselves, all of those examples are really harmless.  But, if the reason each responded the way they did, was to create a false sense of humility in order to look better or be perceived in a way that earned favor and respect from others, well, to that, God’s Word says, “Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great.”

Humility is a slippery thing to display before others.  When it is generous, every one knows it, and they will at least silently confess that it is a trait that must be acknowledged and admired.  But it isn’t a trait that can be faked in a consistent fashion.  If it isn’t real, people will know!

I’d like to tell you a story about two brothers who grew up on a farm in Wisconsin. One went away to college, earned a law degree, and became a famous lawyer in a very successful law firm. The other brother stayed on the family farm. One day the brother who was a lawyer came and visited his brother, the farmer. He asked, “Hey bro, why don’t you leave this place and make a name for yourself like I did?  Then you can go anywhere and hold your head up high like me?” The farmer brother pointed out at the wheat fields and said, “Do you see all of that wheat out there? Look at it closely and you will notice that only the stalks that are empty of kernels stand up tall. But the ones that are full always bow low.”

Said differently, “The branch that bears the most fruit is bent the lowest to the ground.”  But for what are we bearing fruit?  Is it for God’s glory or for our own?  Why do we really do the things we do?  Is it for God’s glory, to draw others to His kingdom, or is it for our own reputation and comfort?

When we analyze all of our actions, we must be honest and admit that humility, true humility, is like a slippery watermelon seed. Once you get it under your finger and you think you have it, “plop,” it shoots out of your grasp!

So what is the answer?  How can we be humble in a way that is genuine and pleasing to God?  And the answer is, “You cannot!”  Martin Luther confessed this same thing in his catechism when he taught, “I cannot by my own understanding or effort believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him.  But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel…”  So you see, it is only when the Spirit of Christ has come into our hearts that we can begin to turn away from our self-serving, false humility and show true concern for others.

In our gospel lesson Jesus tells two stories, both of them based on what He is seeing at a dinner party.  Both stories are means to get at the motivation behind the actions of those present. Jesus knows the hearts of every one there in a way that no one else could ever know.  So armed with this knowledge He points out how each person is trying to elbow out the other for the best seat at the party.  He says, that instead of fighting over the best seats, simply take the lowest seat and wait to be called up by the host.  We can be certain that each of them knew that Jesus was talking about them.  Jesus sees and He calls a thing what it is… and their thing was pride and a haughty, self-serving spirit.

Now, we might not be able to relate to a scene like this in a way that the guests at the dinner party could, but what if Jesus said, “When you go to Costco and the vendor puts out free samples, don’t elbow your way to the front of the line to get your sample, instead let everyone else go first, so the vendor can say, friend come here; I have saved the best sample for you!”

Remember, Jesus is watching.  “Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great.”

But Jesus is not done teaching about humility.  He has one more story.  He says that “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not (keep) invit(ing) (only) your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid.  But when you give a feast, (also) invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”  [Luke 14:12-13]

Now once again, most of us may not be able to identify with this life style of the rich and famous.  So I want you to let go of the illustration that Jesus used for that specific person and apply the lesson to where you are right now.  Who are your friends and what activities are you involved in?  The point is that if you help or invite only those who will probably help and invite you in return at a latter date, then your gracious spirit is nothing more than a self-serving one.  You will have been paid in full; there is nothing there that God will admire.  So, do the opposite.  Help the poor and needy in a way that no one sees.  You can do things like giving liberally and often to our community pantry here at Trinity, so that your neighbor receives food anonymously.  Give generously with your time, talent, and treasure, in a way that makes a difference for others and not for yourself.  In other words, God knows why you do what you do.  If it is to be noticed and admired by others, to get something out of what may appear to be a selfless act; well then God says you are paid in full.

So how can we ever have true humility?  What is true humility?  Well St. Paul gives us a pretty good list of selfless acts in our Epistle reading (Hebrews 13:1-17).  Let’s look at those: Be kind to strangers, visit or care for those in prison, honor your marriage and the marriage of others, keep your life free of loving money and be happy with what you have.  But again, how can we do that in a way that is God pleasing?  And again, on our own we cannot, but through God’s work we can! “Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great.”  Instead, remember that it is the Lord who is your helper, so don’t be afraid.

This is true humility.  Admitting that on your own you are helpless to please God.   Admitting that without His help you deserve judgment and punishment.  But true humility always bows low and accepts whatever truth God has declared.  And this is the truth you must hear.  It is not about you, but it is about Jesus, God’s Son and your Savior.  Jesus is the one who came and took the lowest position.  Though He is our Creator and God, he became our servant and friend.  He chose to be born a man, he ate with sinners, he stooped down to wash feet, and He bore the scandal and humility of the cross for you!

He brings the proud low, He speaks a Word of judgment to humble those who think they are something for a reason.  So that they and we might see who we really are.  So that we might see ourselves as God sees us.  So that when we see the truth about our sin we might also see God’s only solution to that sin… Jesus Christ!

True humility looks to Jesus alone, but not as some kind of example.  We are not to approach life’s dilemmas by asking “What would Jesus do in this predicament?” but instead we are to ask, “What has Jesus done?”

You see the humble life and struggle of Jesus is not an example but a substitute.  His struggle becomes our struggle, His death our death, His resurrection our resurrection.  He is our Master, our Redeemer, and Savior.  In our baptism He not only called us His own but He in fact gave us His humility.  So we can say you will be humble because you are humble.  And you will know that you are humble when you experience the hardship, suffering, and pain of the many crosses that come in this life, without being overcome with worry, fear, or anger.

“Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great.”  That is a work and an assignment only God can perform, and He has done that very thing for you, through His Son, Jesus Christ.  This morning, before we leave this place, Jesus would have you remember that through your baptism He has called to you with these words, “Friend move up higher.”  When you leave this world of struggle, and you enter into the resurrection of the justified, you will have left the cross behind and entered into Jesus’ kingdom of glory.  And there, you will be welcomed with a holy kiss and asked to take your place of honor at Christ’s banquet table.  How good it is to be called forward in the King’s presence and stand in the place of the great, and it is all through Christ alone!  AMEN!