Archive for October, 2013

Are You Wrestling With Man or God?

Sunday, October 20th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 22-C, October 20th, 2013

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“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.” [Revelation 2:17]

You may be looking at the published title of our message this morning and wondering, “Now what is pastor up to today?” And frankly as I sat down to put God’s message to paper, I was wondering the same thing, “What is God up to in these three readings? What is He trying to tell us?” And in an answer to that question we have our chosen text that explains what He is up to! “To the one who conquers, (God) will give some of the hidden manna, and (He) will give a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except (God and) the one who receives it.”

You need the hidden manna, because it is the very sustenance that sustains you in life’s struggles. When you think of life struggles, what comes to mind? Aren’t they those dark moments in life when you feel all alone? Aren’t they those times in life when it seems that even God is against you? So what are you to do when it seems that the deck has been stacked against you? What are you to do when you feel trapped with no way out? And why is it that these feelings always seem so intensified after the sun-sets and night has fallen?

If you think you are alone with these feelings and experiences, think again! It is common to all God’s children of faith; even Jacob! In our Old Testament reading (Genesis 32:22–30) Jacob has just sent his entire family, every thing he owns and loves ahead of him into a land that was once his home; a land that he was promised would one day be his. The only problem was, his brother Esau was living there as if it was his. Do you know the story? Do you know how Jacob and his mother tricked his father Isaac on his deathbed; they tricked him into giving the blessing of the first born to Jacob even though that blessing should go to Esau? Do you know that Esau in a moment of hunger and frustration actually gave his birthright over to Jacob for a bowl of soup?

So in our reading we are thrown smack dab in the middle of Jacob’s terror. A moment of his life that he was trying to ignore and run away from was finally catching up to him. In a few hours he must meet his brother Esau for the first time in years and come to terms with both of their sins. Esau’s sin was thinking that words and covenants did not matter in the eyes of God. But to God, covenants or promises were everything. Think about that for a moment. God first made a covenant with Adam and Eve long ago, after their first sin. While God was angry with their sin and pronounced punishments that would follow because of that sin, He also made a promise, a covenant with them that if the waited and trusted in this promised Savior, then through their descendants would come a Savior who would defeat those things, those enemies and make a way for them and their children to return to paradise. Through out the Bible, we find many other covenants or promises of God that were given to His children of faith, but each one was given so that they would remember that they were not alone and that God Himself was with them; He would be their champion. So yeah, promises are important to God, and Esau needed to come to terms with that truth.

And then there was Jacob. Do you know what that name means? It literally means the heal grabber, or another way you could put it is “the deceiver,” one who gets his way by deception! Jacob knew that he received the blessing from his father Isaac through deception, but he also knew that what his father Isaac spoke into his ears was really the Word of God; a Word that must come to pass. But the question that must have haunted Jacob was, “How could God bless a deceiver, a sinner like me?”

So now, in our reading we find Jacob alone in the dark of night in prayer, wrestling with His sin and knowing full well that He was speaking to an almighty and all knowing God. All alone and afraid of being in the hands of an angry God, Jacob waited and He prayed. While Jacob did not know what God’s response would be, He did know that ultimately God would fulfill His promise. And fulfill it he did!

Have you ever wondered what Jacob was thinking as he struggled all night wrestling with God? If you could have some how been there and allowed to ask him, he probably would have answered in between heavy breathing as he switched from one hold and lock to another, “How should I know. I am a little busy here wrestling with this stranger who attacked me for no good reason. Can we talk about this some other time?”

You see, at the time Jacob had no idea that his opponent was God almighty. How could he have known that? He’s almighty right? But this fellow that Jacob was wrestling with wasn’t almighty, in fact Jacob was getting the better of Him! And then after hours of wrestling and a popped hip socket to boot, the stranger says, “Alright, that’s enough; let me go, because the sun is coming up and I have things to do.” And then suddenly, for no other reason other than a miracle, Jacob’s eyes of faith are opened and he begins to understand just whom it was that he had been wrestling with. The same person he was pouring His heart out to in prayer, actually somehow appeared in physical form to Jacob. Jacob must have thought, “So this is how I will finally hear from Him who has terrified me all these years.” And immediately after the wrestler, the God-man, asked to be released from the hold that Jacob used to cling to Him, Jacob responded, “(Uh ah! I’m not letting) you go unless you bless me.”

By now you may be thinking as I was how stupid and bold his attitude was for a blatant sinner, especially when it is the very Son of God you have there in an arm lock. What was Jacob doing? Doesn’t he know that God could crush him like an insect any time he wanted? Doesn’t he know that God was just toying with him? Sure he knows, but he also knows that this is the covenant God who always keeps His promise; a promise to forgive and to restore. So when Jacob asks for a blessing, he is only asking for something that God has already promised that he will give. And God’s answer proves his integrity. “And (God) said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob (the heal grabber), but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”

What is it that you are struggling with this morning? What have you been calling out to God for help about? Are you beginning to grow tired of asking for His help? Does it seem like He is ignoring you? Do you find yourself identifying with the persistent widow in Jesus’ story in our gospel reading (Luke 18:1–8)? Well this morning God is telling you not to give up; don’t grow weary! Your Father in Heaven is with you; in fact everything and anything that you go through in life, including what you are experiencing right now has gone through His loving will for you.

Isn’t it true that all of our problems in life; all of the challenges that we face are no different than the ones that Jacob was facing? Either they are rooted in someone else’s sin, or if we are honest with God and ourselves, they are a result of our own sin. Even though in the middle of the night when it seems that He is not listening, we know that He really is hearing us? And perhaps, that is what we are afraid of? We are afraid that not only is God listening to us, He may actually be the one who allowed this trial to come our way. In other words, the Son of God is in the middle of our suffering.

Now I know that this does not necessarily make you feel better, but it should strengthen you. How so? Well because of how God is with you! He is with you as the God man… the very Son of God Jesus Christ. He is the One who was promised to Adam and Eve long ago, who would come to make all things right with God; He is the true manna. He is the one who renewed that promise to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, all the prophets of God, and to all of God’s children of faith, who have waited and waited in faith, wrestling with God and trusting in the promise of God. And now He has come!

He has come for you. He has come as your champion. He suffered and died for you; for your sin! He rose from the dead for you, so that you would have no fear of death, knowing that where He is you shall follow! He has defeated your true enemies. Listen… people are not your enemies, they are only tools used by your true enemy, the devil. And those other things you are worried about, things like sin, your sin and other peoples sin, and the result of sin, which is death, those things are also tools of the devil. But Jesus death and resurrection has defeated those things; they have no power over you.

So what is it that you are afraid of? What is it that you are wrestling with? Aren’t they things that have already been defeated in eternity but must be confronted here in time? Aren’t you really wrestling with faith; the ability to trust God and His Son who is your only weapon against your enemies? So what is the solution?

Grab a hold of Christ! Turn to His cross and see the Father’s great love for you; see that His promise to Adam and Eve has been fulfilled. See that His promise to Jacob is your promise. Grab onto the day when the promise of the cross of Jesus became your promise of eternal life. Remember your baptism; find some water if you must and touch it, remember the words of your baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, make the sign of the cross and then remember that you are saved; you are blessed! You are not alone in the darkness of despair. Come to His table of forgiveness and feast on the very body and blood of Christ; that is the hidden manna, which feeds you and sustains you until like Jacob, you will see Christ face to face and your life will be delivered for eternity in a land of eternal joy!

On that great day when you return to the Father who created you, the Son who redeemed you, and the Holy Spirit who sanctified you, you will hear your Savior call to you, but He will call you with a new name; a name that was always yours but never revealed until that moment. It will be a perfect name that you will know, and it will describe your true baptized and holy identity. And when he calls, you will run to Him and all your questions will be answered.

May God bless our waiting and our wrestling until that great day… in Jesus name AMEN!

FAITH ON THE BORDER

Sunday, October 13th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 21-C, October 13th, 2013

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The song you just heard, “On the Border” by the Eagles will serve as our mental hook to hang this message on.  Because, you see our message will be speaking to those of us who live here, on the Border.  Those of us who may forget that there is a whole other existence just waiting for us, outside of this border.

In our gospel reading this morning (Luke 17:11–19), Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem; on His way to die upon a cross.  He will be punished severely and die the death of a criminal even though He had committed no crime.  Jesus knew that this death was waiting for Him; He knew that it was time for His appointed ministry to be completed; to make all things new and right with God the Father.  But before He proceeded to Jerusalem, it was also His appointed time to do something else; something wonderful.  He must confirm to a bunch of sick outcasts that God really did see there suffering and sickness and He really did care!

Jesus had been traveling for the last few days along the border with Samaria.  He zigzagged back and forth across the border, from one side to another and now He is entering a small village somewhere in Galilee, of Judea.  Those of us who have lived any length of time at the border here in San Diego know what the border is like, and we can identify with what comes next in our gospel reading.  Jesus is met by 10 lepers, and one of them is a Samaritan.

Many of you know that prior to my entering ministry as a pastor, I spent 30 years in law enforcement.  My last 23 years were spent right here in San Diego, as a U.S. Border Patrol Agent.  So, I think you will concede that I know a little something about life on the border.  One thing that always amazed me during my time on the border, was how easily and freely the homeless, mentally ill, and addicted mixed and looked out for one another, regardless of what side of the border they were from.  Even language was not enough to separate them.  But I also discovered that this phenomenon was not just limited to just the immediate geographical border area, but it also played out in the surrounding cities.

There is an area many of you may be unfamiliar with here in this beautiful city of San Diego; you see, it is not so beautiful.  It is an area that surrounds 12th Street and Imperial Avenue, and its know by those who exist in it as “the Bottoms.”  I say exist, because that is about all we “normal” folks, you know, we who are truly blessed with so much stuff, would call the lives of those who live in the bottoms; they simply exist.  There you will find those folks that the government calls disenfranchised; that is they have been cut off from many privileges of our enlightened society.  Hence the name “the Bottoms!”

Even there, in the bottoms, those poor little ones look out for and take care of one another.  And that is the situation we encounter in our gospel reading.  The Samaritan is accepted by the Judeans like part of the family.  And do you know why?  All 10 of them are considered already dead by the rest of society.  They have each contracted what was then an incurable disease that would shortly claim their lives.  They are lepers; the disease they had, we now know as Hanson’s disease.  They are unclean and may not mix with the “normal” enlightened folks or they will be punished with an even quicker death.

And now, along comes Jesus, the master and Rabbi that everyone is talking about.  He is the healer that the disenfranchised have heard comes to them; why they heard that He even touches and heals lepers!  Imagine that, and now there He was just in front of them.  Wow, talk about luck, they must have thought that this was indeed their lucky day.  So they “lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”

Now this is the amazing part of the encounter; Jesus simply looks at them and says, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” (So that the priest could declare them clean and healed.)

Now can you imagine the looks on their faces?!  They must have stood and looked at each other and then argued over just what Jesus meant by that.  Imagine what response you would get if you went down to “the Bottoms” and said those words to the hungry, the homeless, the mentally ill and addicted!

But they did eventually go; they did what Jesus told them to do.  And when they turned to find a priest, just like that, each was healed.  They must have looked at each other saying something like, “Dude, your healed!”  And the others saying, “So are you bro!”

“And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan.  Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine?  Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” [Vs. 14b-19]

Dear friends, you who live on the border are also those who were once disenfranchised.  You live on the border, not because you are in San Diego, but because you have one foot in the kingdom of man, and one in the kingdom of God.   You are simultaneously saint and sinner.  You, who were once blind, now see.  You who were once sick with sin, which ate up your entire existence, are now clean.  You who were once a foreigner to God are now adopted as His very son and daughter.  You are just like the 10 lepers who was healed, the only question is, which one are you?  Are you in the group of the nine who left rejoicing at their good fortune, or are you represented by the Samaritan who returns and falls at Jesus feet in worship and praise?

Here is the good news; which one you are and will be is entirely in the hands of Jesus Himself!  You cannot will yourself to have faith in the One who has healed you; faith is simply a gift that your empty beggar’s hand receives and clings to every day.  What is it that you cling to?  It is the Word of God, the message of Jesus Christ, the very Son of God!

In our epistle reading (2 Timothy 2:1–13), Paul declares this same message, that strong doctrine to Timothy and He commands and entreats him to trust in it as well.  But more than that, he instructs Timothy in the way that God has determined to ensure that His Word is never bound, lost, or deteriorated.  That is, Timothy is to pass this strong doctrine along to other men, who will pass it on to others, until the end of this sinful age, thus ensuring that you and I today would hear it and be healed by it, just as the leper was healed that day when he encountered Jesus.

What is that message?  It is Jesus Christ true God and true man, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in Paul’s gospel; the very gospel that Paul was about to be executed for!  Paul may be in chains, but the message about Christ’s atoning death could not be shackled.  It will never be bound, because God has determined that it is the only message that can set us free from our prison of sin and the sentence of death.  It is a message that declares, “Christ died to save the world from sin!”  It is a message that is completely objective, that is it is not bound to any ethnicity or social status; it is not restricted to the religious or to genders.  It is for all people, even those who are trapped on the border; those disenfranchised who live in the bottoms!

But while it is objective, as a free gift for all, it is also very subjective, that is, it’s a personal gift that must be received and lived out.  In your baptism, you were not only washed clean of your leprosy of sin, you were also recreated.  That is you were crucified with Christ Jesus.  His death was an atoning one and yours is a repentant death.  Every day you are to put to death your sinful nature so that your new perfected nature may live free and become stronger.  Or as Paul says it in our Epistle reading, “If we have died with Him, we will also live with Him; if we endure (that is if we cling to Christ), we will also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He will also deny us; if we are faithless, He remains faithful—for He cannot deny Himself.”

Dear friends, Jesus is with you here on the border.  Even though at times you embrace the part of the border that rejects God’s love and Christ’s passion upon the cross, Jesus will not forget you.  The offer of grace is always yours if you will have it.  His Spirit still calls you to repent; to turn to Him and His cross; to remember the mighty work of your baptism.  And when you do, you will always find Him faithful to complete the work that He began in you long ago in your baptism.  For you see, you are part of His body, the church, and He cannot deny Himself.  He ensures that the church will always exists along with His Word that can never be bound on this side of the border.  It is that Word alone, which gives you the peace of forgiveness, and the love and strength of God.

Jesus is here with you on this side of the border.  He knows what it is like to be lost in the bottoms; to be part of the disenfranchised.  And to prove it, He chose to have His death upon the cross occur outside of the walls of the holy city Jerusalem.  He died on the border; as a foreigner he died the death of a leprous sinner.  It was a suffering of agonies that we will never have to endure, because He died it for us.

Jesus is calling to you now.  He is telling you that one day soon enough you too will cross the border and enter the Holy City of Heaven, where  you will be called to show yourself to Him, your High Priest and in the presence of His Heavenly Father, He will declare you CLEAN!  May you cling to this message of faith through the work of Christ alone, always… AMEN!

Thank God for Good Doctrine!

Sunday, October 6th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 20C, October 6th, 2013

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What is good doctrine?  Well simply put it is the teaching of God as revealed in His holy scriptures; in other words it’s the teaching of the Bible.  Ok, then what is the teaching of the Bible?  Well, the entire Bible has been written, gathered, and preserved so that you might know Christ unto salvation.  We sing this truth most every Sunday just before the Holy Gospel is read in these Words.  “These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.”

Good doctrine is so easy to receive and understand that even comic book characters understand it.  Listen to the dialogue between Lucy and Linus in a Peanuts comic strip:  Lucy and Linus are looking out the window at a steady downpour of rain. “Boy,” said Lucy, “look at it rain. What if it floods the whole world?”  “It will never do that,” Linus replied confidently. “In the ninth chapter of Genesis, God promised Noah that would never happen again, and the sign of the promise is the rainbow.”  “You’ve taken a great load off my mind,” said Lucy with a relieved smile.  “Sound theology,” said Linus, “has a way of doing that!”

In our Old Testament lesson (Habakkuk 1:14, 2:14), good doctrine would play an important part in bringing peace and hope to the people of Judah a people who were about to be taken away into captivity.  Through the prophet Habakkuk God’s Word would bring hope for a better future and comfort for the present uncertain times.

While Habakkuk is a prophet of God, he was also simply a man; a man who must be led by faith just like us.  So when he finds himself surrounded by uncertainty and unanswered questions, he turns to God with a question repeated over and over… “How long?!”  Lord your people are afraid, how long will we be surrounded by evil?  Lord your people are being taken advantage of and abused by crooked politicians.  How long will you let this continue?  Lord there’s destruction and violence everywhere and the threat of war looms.  How long will we have to put up with this?  Lord, even the laws that are in place to protect us are being ignored.  How long will you keep silent?  When are you going to fix this?

Yes Habakkuk is frustrated and worried; he might even be afraid, but he knows where to take these things; he takes them to the LORD his God.  He says “I will take my stand at my watch-post and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what (God) will say to me, and what I will answer concerning my complaint.” [Habakkuk 2:1]

This dear friends is good doctrine; it is sound theology because it directs the eyes of faith to the only One who is faithful to save and able to deliver His people of faith from the hands of the enemy.  God alone, the author and perfecter of our faith is able to as Lucy says, “take a great load off of our minds.”  When He speaks, we are to listen and trust in His Word; we are to search for that Word and wait for His promises to be fulfilled.

God did speak; He did answer Habakkuk and that same answer is given to us.  Listen: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.”   [Habakkuk 2:2, 3]

What is the vision that should be written down?  What is it that should be made plain so that people may run who read it?  It is the Word of God… good doctrine.  It is the promise of God that declares that God see’s all and He is not ignorant of your suffering nor is He unfeeling.  God sees and He has acted and He will act.  It is good doctrine that reminds you not to judge God’s will and work by what you see, but on what He has promised.  Wait for it, even if God seems slow in responding.

The faithless refuse to wait for God, they want change and they want it right now, so they are willing to do anything to bring the kind of change THEY WANT, even if it is the kind of change that will hurt others and offend God.  They are puffed up in pride and no longer seek God nor care about what He says.  “But (you) the righteous shall live by (your) faith.” [Vs. 4b]  And your faith tells you to hold on, change is coming!  Even in the middle of turmoil, God’s people hold onto faith, because they know that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” [Romans 8:28]

It was good doctrine, the pure Word of God that sustained St. Paul in hope as he wrote our Epistle lesson (2 Timothy 1:1-14) to Timothy while in prison, waiting to be put to death as a criminal, simply because he believed, preached, taught, and confessed Jesus Christ as the Son of God, as the only provision that God had made to save a dying world from their sins.

It was good doctrine that moved Paul to write to Timothy and provide courage in the middle of persecution with these Words which are directed and filled with the very Spirit of God: “I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of the sound words (the good doctrine) that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.  By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.”

You see, Paul knew that what he believed was God’s truth, because Jesus Himself revealed it to him.  And Paul wanted Timothy to continue fighting for this hope so that we would have it as well.  What is that hope?  It is faith in the message that declares that even if evil seems to surround you every day and others loose hope, God is still the one who stands guard as the watchman; He is waiting for just the right time to fulfill the final prophecy of all things, when all things will become new and right.  It is a message that declares that God is still the one ensuring that others will receive the simple message of faith, the doctrine of hope and like you, will be empowered to share it with others who need hope as well.

What is that message, that doctrine of hope?  It is the very power of God that saves, frees, and heals those who are trapped in their sins.  It is Christ Jesus, crucified and resurrected.  By His death He abolished death and by His resurrection he brings and gives an eternal new life.  This is the ultimate message of the gospel; this is good doctrine.  And this doctrine is to be given as a gift to each and every child of God who repents, that is turns to the Son of God Jesus Christ, and receive forgiveness of sins.

It is good doctrine, which proclaims, “Baptism now saves you.” [1 Peter 3:21] It is good doctrine, which teaches that those who take and eat, take and drink, are receiving the very body and blood of Christ in, with, and under the bread and wine for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of their faith.  It is good doctrine, which teaches us to trust and believe that when the pastor or a brother or sister speaks words of forgiveness, that is the absolution, it is not them who speak but the very mouth of God proclaiming these things to you.

In our gospel lesson (Luke 17:110), Jesus warned people then and us today, that God’s simple message of grace, His good doctrine, was being muscled out of peoples lives by false teachers, phony baloney preachers, and the philosophers of our day.  They bring a false message of prosperity or a message of self-help and a “do it yourself” life of independence from God’s care.  It’s a message that has lost the aroma of Christ and instead smells of something else.

There’s an old saying that illustrates what I mean: “Old Fisherman never die—they only smell that way.”  And that is a good way to describe false teachers and their false doctrine.  They never die, they only smell that way.”

Another way to look at false doctrine and the effect it has on the church and our lives is to examine the resourceful way that scientist control, or bring death to pests such as ants.  In order to destroy the ants, scientists have developed pellets that resemble the ants favorite foods.  The pellets are laced with a tasteless, odorless poison and sprinkled around the mound.  The worker ants immediately begin gathering up the tainted food and take it down into the heart of the colony.  Then they unwittingly feed the poisoned pellets to their queen, slowly killing her.  When the queen dies, no more workers are produced, and so in a couple of weeks the entire colony starves to death.  Isn’t it ironic that food that looked so good was the very thing that brought starvation and then death?  Yes, that is a good way to illustrate the damage that false doctrine can do.

What is good doctrine?  It is the very Word of God that produces faith to hold onto and trust in Christ alone.  It is Biblical teaching that is taught by the Word of God and caught by the mentoring of other Christians in our lives who not only taught us the faith but were living examples of it.  When they were attacked because of their faith they did not fight back with weapons of this world, but instead turned to the promises of God’s Word and waited.  When someone close to them sinned against them, they did not get even, but when asked, they freely and fully forgave that brother and sister.

What is good doctrine?  It is the truth revealed in the teaching of Jesus that declares that simple faith, the size of a mustard seed can declare to a mulberry tree, which is a metaphor for the human heart, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.”  We see this play out every time we hear the absolution, “You are forgiven.” You are forgiven, now go and live for the God who has saved you from sin, death, and the devil.  Go, and by the power of God live a life of faith, trusting in a God who alone has saved you and will save you!  Go and proclaim the good doctrine you have received here and share it with others; live it out so that they will see the hope of the nations, Jesus Christ! And when you see others turn to Jesus and His church for forgiveness through your testimony, simply declare with St. Paul, Timothy and all of the church, “We are unworthy servants (saved by grace, through the message of good doctrine); we have only done what is our duty.”

May Christ continue to protect His church and the simple message of grace, which we proclaim… AMEN!