Archive for March, 2014

Eyes Shut Tight

Sunday, March 30th, 2014

Lent 4 (A), March 23, 2014
Rev. Brian Henderson
Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“For a long time I have held my peace; I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor; I will gasp and pant.” [Isaiah 42:14]

The song you just heard, “Slipin’ Into Darkness” by WAR, is meant to act as our mental hook, to hang this very important message from God upon.

Our text this morning leads us to ask ourselves, “Why can God no longer restrain Himself?  Why does He cry out like a woman in labor?”  Well the answer is, because His children, you and me have a tendency to slip into darkness.  We are a lot like the Israelites of old, or if you prefer, like the frog who is slowly being boiled alive.  We see nothing wrong with our warm bath of sin; in fact, it feels very comfortable and soothing.  But as the water slowly becomes hotter, it begins to perform a work of decay called apathy upon our bodies.  Slowly but surely, like the frog in his bath, we are being boiled alive within the acceptance of sin in our lives and Christ’s church.  And God’s message is, if we will not listen to His Word now, today, and every day, before we know it, it will be to late; we will have already slipped into darkness.  So to prevent us from “slipin’ into darkness”…

“The Lord was pleased, for his righteousness’ sake, to magnify his law and make it glorious.” [Isaiah 42:21]

What law is that?  Well it is the law that is presented to us in all of God’s Word.  It is the law of holiness, which demands that we acknowledge our sins, and it is the law of promise, which declares that only God can prevent us from “slipin’ into darkness.”

Is God serious about this law?  Well, listen to Him speak and I will let you be the judge: “I will lay waste mountains and hills, and dry up all their vegetation; I will turn rivers into islands, and dry up the pools.”

These are words of judgment; they represent the finish of all things created in both heaven and earth.  They are words about the end of days.  God was telling the children of Israel that the final day was coming.  They of all people had to know that this was the truth.  They could trace their origins directly back to Father Abraham; the great patriarch of all of God’s children of faith, who heard God speak the impossible and by God’s gift of faith, He was enabled to believe God, and that belief was accredited to him as righteousness.

They knew first hand from their sacred writings, how God used Moses to intervene in their lives, in order to save them from slavery in Egypt.  They knew how their powerful God punished the Egyptians by causing great plagues to strike the land so that Pharaoh would let God’s people go.  And they knew that God had before dried up the water by parting the sea and making a straight path for them to escape and eventually arrive into the Promised Land.  They knew about God’s care for them in the wilderness, and they also knew that after all of this, many grumbled and sinned against the Lord and died, never reaching the promise land.

And now, as God speaks through Isaiah, He is warning them again about their sin, and it’s penalty; they would once again, because of their sinfulness be enslaved in the land of the Babylonians, but God would one moe time bring them back home to their own land.

All of this that God does, demonstrates who God is: He is a jealous God, who loves His children who relate to Him by faith, with an everlasting love.  He is the God who will not give His glory to another, and not allow His children to follow any other god, whether it is man or religion.  In order to be saved from God’s wrath, all they had to do was close their eyes to any other messages, and simply follow God’s promises of deliverance by faith, and they would be spared from His judgment.

But all of their history and their immediate physical reality was meant to act as a way to help them remember and believe in their God who saves; it was meant to prepare them to follow their God who would come among them and “lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known” before. [Isaiah 42:16]  They were to see their “Savior,” God’s “Suffering Servant” Jesus Christ, as God’s only solution to defeating their persistent sins and hard hearts.

Jesus is our only God given resource to ensure that you do not slip into darkness.  He has come to save those of us who know that we are indeed blind to God’s will and deaf to His warnings.  So He has come to guide us out of that sin in paths that we do not know; paths that we could never find on our own.  He has come to turn our darkness into light, the rough places into level ground.  These are the things that He does and He will never quit trying to call you who are baptized into His name, to follow Him.

We who make up the church, that is those of us who call ourselves Christian can hear these Words of promise and begin to think that there is nothing that could ever cause us to “slip into darkness.”  Why do I say that?  Because the same danger that enslaved the children of Israel also threatens all of Abraham’s children of faith; that is, it is still a very real threat to the church; to you and me.  What danger is that?  The danger of being a privileged child of faith but rejecting the very means that makes us privileged; the means that saves us.  What means is that?  It is all of God’s Word; both the promises and the threats of judgment and punishment.  The real danger that confronts us is that we would become so comfortable in our salvation that we are no longer uncomfortable in our sins!

Do you know what a besetting sin is?  Listen to how the book of Proverbs describes it: “A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself; the simple pass on and are punished.” [Proverbs 27:12]  So, a besetting sin is a sin that no longer bothers you; something you either no longer fight or are no longer bothered by.  It is something that God’s Word makes clear as sinful, but the society we live in does not have a problem with.

Besetting sins are those things that you know right a way are wrong, because God in His Word has made that truth clear to you, but over time, like the frog slowly boiling towards its demise, you no longer care; you are comfortable in a sin that will eventually if not repented of, cause you to slip into eternal death.

Besetting sins then may have this type of effect on you: You may no longer believe that marriage as God has described it in His Word is the truth for society today, in fact you may believe that marriage really isn’t necessary at all.  You may no longer care that God’s Word declares that life begins at conception.  You no longer care that gossip and slander are evil and contrary to everything that God declares good.  You may no longer hear God’s warning that you must not neglect the meeting of the saints, that is you must do everything you possibly can, to ensure that you do not miss coming to church, where you receive His Word and sacraments.  You may no longer seem to care that God’s Word challenges you to give the complete tithe, that is 10% of your income to His church, all so that He can prove to you how much He loves you as He blesses you.  You may no longer extend the invitation to your neighbors to come to church with you and hear God speak His truth and love.

By embracing your besetting sins, you have become like those who see many things but do not observe them; whose ears are opened, but do not hear. [Isaiah 42:20]  And this morning, God is warning you that you are “slipin’ into darkness.”

So what are we to do?  Nothing.  Instead, you are to trust in what God has done and what He is still doing within you and around you.  You are to simply continue dying to your old sinful nature and the lure of our sinful society, and follow Jesus and live.

Jesus alone has come to save you.  Jesus alone is the embodiment of all of God’s Word and will for you, both the threats and the promises.  Jesus is the “Suffering Servant” who took your sins upon Himself and allowed this World and the devil to strip Him of His dignity.  He allowed this for you; He chose to suffer and die in your place; on your behalf.   He was smitten, stricken, and cut down, so that by His stripes you would be healed.  Upon the cross, as the life of the Son of God slipped into the darkness of death, the Son of God cried out to His Father,  “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

Do you want to know why the Son was forsaken by the Father?  So that you would not be!  Do you want to know why Jesus allowed His life to slip into darkness?  So your’s would not!  As Jesus died upon the cross, He became the very embodiment of all of God’s Word, both the threats and the promises.  As you read God’s Word, this is the message that God so desperately wants you to receive… GOD LOVES YOU… He loves you enough to send His Son to die for you.  Isn’t this enough to take your eyes off of the false gods that promise you nothing lasting and eternal, and then fight to rest in the God who promises you everything, if you will but believe and follow His Son Jesus Christ?

Dear friends, for a long time, God seemed to be silent; that is He allowed men to go their own way.  And what was the result?  We began to think that God was not serious about sin.  But this morning, God has spoken; you’ve heard that He is deadly serious about sin, especially those who are so comfortable in their salvation that they are no longer uncomfortable in their sin.

And now you have heard God shout out: I WILL NOT LET YOU SLIP INTO DARKNESS!  I will not allow the one l love to simply turn his back on Me and be overtaken by Satan and his devils.  You are mine; I have purchased you with a great price and washed you clean in the waters of your baptism.  You are mine and I will be relentless in my pursuit for your eternal soul.  I will hound you with my Word of threats until your soul once again longs to hear My promises of forgiveness.  I will do this, until you are no longer comfortable in your sin; until you learn to close your eyes tight to the lure of this sinful world, and place your hand of faith upon my Son’s shoulder as He leads you with eyes of faith through these many dangers and snares, to the place I have prepared for you in paradise.  I will not let you go “slipin’ into darkness”…  AMEN!

A Bath for Sinners, and a Drink for the Thirsty

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

Lent 3 (A), March 23, 2014
On the occasion of Holy Baptism for many children of God from within San Diego’s American Samoan community.

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

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“Is the Lord among us or not?” is perhaps the most common question both sinners and saints ask the church.  Maybe you’ve asked that question before as well?  Is He with us or are we, as we just heard Paul Simon sing, just slip sliding away?  Is God truly with us or are we left on our own to work our jobs, collect our pay, raise our children and just slip slide away?

“Is the Lord among us or not?” is the very question the Israelites asked Moses as they grew thirsty in a land of rocks and sand.  Did the Lord really lead us out here or was it you, Moses?  Did you bring us out here to die of thirst?

Oh how quickly they have forgotten how miraculously powerful the Lord had freed them from slavery in Egypt land!  Oh how conveniently they have dismissed the Lord’s ever-present cloud by day and pillar by night.  Oh how easily they have dismissed the Lord’s continuous care, through the mysterious feeding of the manna and quail.

Who here this morning can blame Moses one bit for crying out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people?” as they had stones at the ready, just waiting to stone him to death!  But the Lord was listening; He was in control; He was not just letting them slip slide away.

Oh how quickly we seem to have forgotten our Lord and His presence with us all of these years.  Think back, for many not so long ago, where you can truly say that “If it had not been for the Lord, I would have…” well, you can fill in the blank.

The people back then forgot that they were following a God that not only makes the water, but He actually is in, with, and under the water. And so do we.  They actually grumbled against their God who provided for their needs through the mask of Moses, and so do we. When we forget our many blessings that we have received regularly here in this house of worship and outside of this place, we too are forgetting the God who is behind those wonderful gifts.

God was not absent then and He is not absent now; He would not allow His people under the leadership of Moses to slip slide away and He won’t allow us to slip away either.  God had a plan then and He still has a plan today.  God’s children of faith are to be a light in a world dark with sin.  Through the promised Savior God’s plan is to bless the entire world.  But nowhere did God ever promise that our trek out of bondage would be painless and easy.  Nowhere did God promise His children glory during the voyage out of sin, accept the privilege of experiencing His glory.

In our Old Testament lesson, we read that God had Moses and some of the elders pass before the vast company of the grumbling Israelites, displaying the staff that parted the water, and there in front of those stiff necked people, He directed Moses to strike a certain Rock.  Moses did as he was told, and out from the cleft rock came a gush of living and refreshing water!

What kind of rock was this, and just what kind of water was it?  If we will for but a moment, simply dismiss any scientific explanation about the origin of the water, and instead allow God’s Word to explain it’s source, we can then wonderfully see the God who is not only in, with, and under the water, but also the God who is the source of it.

But the source came from the rock, didn’t it?!  Yes, that’s right, but again, let’s not put to much effort into understanding the how of the water, but instead let Holy Scripture tell us the Who and the why of it.  What scripture is that?  How about this information from St. Paul: “I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. [1 Corinthians 10:1–4]

The Savior-God showered His grace on his people Israel by means of this rock in the desert, just as God has blessed us in Christ beyond all that we sinful creatures deserve. “Nevertheless,” Paul continues, “God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall (be careful that you are not by choice, slip sliding away)! No temptation has seized you except what is common to all people. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear (that is He will not allow you to slip slide away). But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (verses 5, 11–13).

That way out is the Son of God, Jesus Christ who has found you in your sins, while you were still an unredeemed condemned enemy of God, and He suffered and died for you!  Make no mistake, God found you and not the other way around.

In your baptism, He came to you through simple water.  But how?  Again, like the water from the rock, do not be concerned with the how, but the Who and why of it.  Jesus, all of Jesus was and is in the water of your baptism.  When I say all of Jesus, I truly mean all of Him.  Jesus who was fully man and fully God was there this morning in the waters that washed clean and recreated all of his children this morning, He was within their baptism.  All of “Jesus the man” had to be there, because only real blood can pay for real sins.  Only real suffering and finally death can free a sinner from the price of sin.  But then again, only all of God can have complete victory over sin, death, and the devil.  Only all of God can raise a dead sinner into a living saint.

Ok, to satisfy those of you who still want to know the how behind the water, here it is.  God does it through the rock of ages, Jesus Christ, who by the power of the Spirit of God is in, with, and under the water of your Holy Baptism by the power of His Holy Word; a Word that promises salvation; a Word that promises that you will not one day slip slide away!  And all of this He does through a living water that is a bath for sinners and a cool and refreshing drink for saints who are struggling to pass through this wilderness of sin.

The bath is needed if we want to be regarded as one of God’s children of faith.  It is the only means that He has provided that will truly wash us clean and remove our sins.  But it is also the very source of refreshment that will forever quench our thirst for God’s righteous presence and protection in our lives.  (Holy Water). It is the very resource that will turn us again and again to our Savior, who declared to the sinful woman at the well, “Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” [John 4:14]

And yet, how often do we who have been washed clean by this holy bath grumble and complain about God’s way of dealing with us.  Oh how easy we forget the God who is in, with, and under the water, and how easy we forget that through Christ, He never lets us slip slide away!  How easy we forget His plan for us to be His light of forgiving love in a world darkened with sin, so that the world will know that there is a God among them!

“Sir,” we must say every day to our Lord, as the Samaritan woman did, “give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty.” [John 4:15]  We must say everyday, “Lord, help me live in, with, and under this spiritual water, and protect me when I thirst for other sources of refreshment offered by the devil and this sin-darkened world.”

Dear friends, like the Israelites following God through the leadership of Moses, we too are traveling through the desert of sin.  We to will know pain and suffering along our journey.  It will be tempting to grumble against God and those who lead us through the proclamation of His Word, but God is not absent in these times of testing; He is not hiding some master plan from you that you know nothing about!  The master plan is first and foremost your salvation through the cross of Jesus and the washing of His water and Word.  And next, that plan is for you to listen and follow Him out into our community that is dying of thirst.  They need to know about the God-man Jesus Christ who knows everything about them, and yet still loves them!

This morning we have seen the holy washing of many children, and we have once again had our hearts turned towards God’s refreshing drink.  Let’s learn from the mistakes of the people of Israel and not allow Satan to draw us into a spirit of grumbling and complaining, which is really a sign of unbelief.  Instead, let’s keep our eyes on the Author and Perfecter of our faith Jesus Christ.  He is the God who is among us as our Rock and our Living Water; He is the One who promises that He will never allow us to slip slide away.  AMEN!

Go, Blessed to be a Blessing!

Sunday, March 16th, 2014

Lent 2 (A), March 16, 2014
Rev. Brian Henderson
Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” [Genesis 12:3b]

In God’s promise to Abram, you, your children, your grandchildren, your neighbor, our community, our nation, and indeed the entire world IS blessed!  What promise is that?  Well, it is the very first promise made by God to sinful man way back in Genesis 3.  You remember that promise from last weeks Old Testament lesson, don’t you?   God promised Adam and Eve that through one of their descendants would come a Champion, a Savior who would crush the head of Satan, thus defeating sin, death, and the devil, but that old crafty serpent would also bruise the heal of man; that is there would be a great degree of suffering that would come through the victory of the Savior.

Who is this Savior?  Well Jesus made it obvious to Nicodemus in our Gospel reading that He was the Savior of the world.  [John 3:1-17]  Listen:  “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” [John 3:14-17]

It is Jesus alone that the world is to look upon as He is lifted up before our eyes of faith; lifted up hanging between two thieves.  Why?  Because God loves the world, He loves you that much, so much so that He sent His very Son to be your Savior!  This is the same Champion that God guaranteed to Adam and Eve would come and save them and their descendants, and it is the same champion that God promised Abram would come through his lineage to be a blessing to the world.

Today, I declare to you that God has fulfilled His promise through His Son Jesus Christ.  The devil has been defeated, his lies have been exposed, and sin and death, that is even your own sin and death have been undone.  Now some of you may be thinking, “Then why is this life I live and this world I live in so messed up?”  Because the heal of the Servant Savior is still being bruised!  That is there must be suffering.  Why?  Because some still lack faith in the promise of God.

Let’s look at faith during the time of Abram and faith during our time and perhaps, just maybe we will understand how God’s plan of salvation for the world is unfolding, that is how everything is moving along just as it should.

During the time of Abram, whom God latter renames to Abraham, the descendants of Noah who were the descendants of Adam and Eve, had only been out of the Ark after the flood about 500 years.  The children of Noah were now very old, but still very much alive.  They had seen first hand God’s anger towards sin, specifically the sin of idolatry, which is the worship of false God’s.  The penalty of course was death, and in regards to all but Noah’s family, that death came in the form of a flood, which wiped out the entire world, with exception to the animals that God placed into Noah’s ark.  Wouldn’t you think that a global catastrophe of that kind would be sufficient to warn mankind that God is serious about sin?  But here we have Abram, living in an age where people once again worshiped all kinds of false gods, or no God at all, and they saw no problem with that, including Abram.

Now don’t get me wrong, Abram was a good man in the eyes of the world.  He was wealthy but he was also kind and generous with his wealth.  He came from a good family; in fact many believe that his grandfather Shem, the son of Noah was still living.  Yes, Abram and his family seemed to have it all, all but one thing… they no longer remembered God’s promise that He would one day send a Savior who would bring sinful mankind back to paradise; maybe they didn’t even believe that the promise was ever made.  So while Abram was a good man in the eyes of other men, in God’s eyes Abram was like all other men, sinful and unclean!  He was an idolater.

So what does that have to do with faith?  Well simply this, when God called Abram to leave his home, the land of his father and take everything with him, never to return, Abram listened and was obedient.  In God’s call through His powerful Word, Abram was once again given the promise that God Himself would send a Savior.  Abram’s heart was reminded of the promise made in the Garden of Eden and his eyes of faith were directed to trust both the promise and the Creator God who made the promise.  This is a wonderful example of how God’s Spirit works faith within the sinful heart of a sinner; working faith where and when the Spirit chooses, through the Word of God. In Abram, we see saving faith that believes in a God who will do what He says He will do.  God promised Abram that He alone would make Abram into a great nation, blessing all the world through the Son of God who would come through both Abram’s lineage and his faith in that One who was to come.

Now you are the children of Father Abraham; you are those who by faith are to be a blessing to a dying and sinful world.  You are the church, the body of the promised Savior who has come, Jesus Christ.  You too are told to go, that is go out where ever God leads you and be a blessing to those you meet.  Let’s see how we are doing; let’s see how faith in the Savior who has come is faring today.

You dear Christians today are blessed beyond expression.  You know that the Savior of the world has come and defeated your sin and undone your certain death, and He has even crushed our mortal enemy the devil!  You know the Easter story of the empty tomb, the ascension of the Son of God at the right hand of the Father, and the promise that through the Holy Spirit, God our champion is still right here with us.  You have this wonderful house of worship that you may come to and receive God’s mercy and forgiving love, through His means of grace, which are abundantly showered upon you in the preaching of the Word, the washing of Holy Baptism, and the Holy meal of forgiveness at our Lord’s Table.  Abram saw none of these things and yet he had great faith.  In fact, he had many reasons why he should doubt God’s promise and follow the promises of the devil and sinful society.  His marriage up to that point was childless.  Where was this great nation God was speaking about?  And then there was the fact that no one but him even knew about this God who was still jealous and angry over the sin of idolatry.  So we can see that the faith of this holy man of God was great, because he believed those promises as if they had already taken place before his eyes.  So with Abram’s great faith before us, let’s compare it to our own little faith.

We know that Jesus Christ will come again on the Last Day and He will destroy all of His enemies.  We know that until then, we are to wait here in the land of those enemies, even if those ungodly idolaters persecute us and make our lives unbearable.  We also know that while we wait, Christ is here with us through grace, and He is strengthening us so that we can wait in faith, while He preserves both His church and it’s great and sound doctrine, along with real God-pleasing worship.  And yet, all to often we live our lives as if God is only secondary to our needs and concerns with this life.  We live a life that is many times wrapped in fear and worry.  We allow our schedules and the demands of society to pull us away from God’s promises of grace, and many times we act as those who have no hope at all!

If we really believed what we declare in our Creeds of faith, do you thing that it would be possible for any of life’s circumstances to take our eyes off of our Savior and His cross?  So, if we do have faith, I think that we must all admit that our faith is very small, very weak.  We really are people of little faith and in no way could we begin to compare ourselves to father Abraham, who receives the invisible things with a strong faith, and lives a life as though he were already holding the promises in his hand.

Oh we of little faith.  Why do we doubt so?  Because we need strong faith, and we forget that God alone gives faith only through His chosen means.  Through His means of grace, God fulfills His promise both to Abram and us, “I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing (to the world).”

Our great blessing is the Son of God, who has come to us to make us sons as well.  By Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection, we have been set free from the demands of a Law that offers us no help in doing the things that please God, thus leaving us in the penalty and bondage of sin, death, and the devil.  But thanks be to God, through the promises of the gospel, that is through Christ alone, we have been given a new heart, a heart that desires to not only see the things of God, but do them ourselves.  And in our doing, that is in our proclaiming and living out the gospel message, which boldly declares that God loves the world enough to send His Son as it’s champion, we become a blessing to the world.

In our doing we gather together often, at least weekly around God’s chosen means of grace as we allow Jesus to continually fill us with His presence and clothe us in His righteousness.  In our doing, like Abram, we establish new places of worship, places pleasing to God so that others within our own community and other places outside of our community are blessed.  They are blessed because through God’s gifts, our feeble little faith grows and trusts His gospel promises and desires to share them with others.

Like Abram, we simply go as God directs and trust that it is He who began the good work in us who will complete it through our Savior, Jesus Christ!

This morning dear friends, God’s Word has filled you with faith.  As Martin Luther said long ago, “Faith is a vigorous and powerful thing; it is not idle speculation, nor does it float like a (duck) on water.  But just as water that has been heated, even though it remains water, is no longer cold but is hot and altogether different water, so faith, the work of the Holy Spirit, fashions a different mind and different attitude, and makes an altogether new (person out of us).”

Now you have been filled with the same faith that filled Abram.  It is an active and powerful force of God.  It is something that has been done to you, not something that you do or have earned.  It is the kind of faith that changes your heart and mind.  It alone is able to comprehend the will of God and stand in awe of things that are against reason and seem to not yet be present.

So once again, I declare to you that God has fulfilled His promise through His Son Jesus Christ.  The devil has been defeated, his lies have been exposed, and sin and death; that is even your own sin and death have been undone. May this fulfilled promise of God keep your hearts and minds in the one true, active, and transforming faith, as you go out into our community blessed and in the name of Jesus to be a blessing to those you encounter… AMEN!

The Fortress Awaits!

Sunday, March 9th, 2014

Lent 1 (A), March 9, 2014
Rev. Brian Henderson
Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

“These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” [John 20:31]

I chose our text this morning as a guide for examining the message that’s communicated in all three of our readings.  What is that message?  God wants good for His children; He wants you to have a “good” and eternal life in and with Him!

How could God who alone is good, desire any thing but good for us?  In the first two chapters of Genesis we learn all about God’s goodness.  Each time He completed a stage of creation we hear… and it was good!  Like the comforting purr of a kitten the word good is repeated over and over.  But on the sixth day, the last day of creation, God created something good that would reflect His goodness and love to the rest of creation, but it also would give the devil an opportunity to strike out at God.  “God said, “Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness.  And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” [Genesis 1:26]

“And God said (to Adam and Eve), “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit.  You shall have them for food.  And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of lie, I have given every green plant for food.” [Genesis 1:29, 30]

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden to work it and keep it.  And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” [Genesis 2:15-17]

The Garden of Eden, Paradise, eternal life with God the creator, the land of milk and honey, was a perfect place for perfect people.  All of God’s good creation existed within His perfection; it was the perfect picture of peace.  When God created man is His image, in essence He was creating a people who also had the power to create; that is man was created as a rational being who could conceive an idea and then work towards its conception and completion.  Man alone was the one creature that God gave full charge over the rest of creation.  In essence, God was telling Adam and Eve that they would be His ambassadors to the rest of creation. All of creation was their’s to manage and put to use; all except one tree, “the tree of Knowledge of good and evil.”  That tree was to represent God’s presence or authority over man and the creation that He had given them to be stewards over.

Now we must not misunderstand the significance of this one tree.  It was not as if God created man and then said, “I’m leaving, but that tree will remind you of my love and the good times we had together.”  No, God was no absentee father and man was not a latch key kid!  After all, scripture clearly says that man and God walked together in the garden in the coolness of the day, and man was not afraid.  Man knew God and loved Him.  The tree instead represented the otherness of God.  It reminded man that while they were as god to creation, they were not God!

Martin Luther called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil “Adam’s Altar”.  I like that idea.  There at the tree Adam and Eve could return to God the true worship He was due as an act of obedience.  But this was just the opportunity that the devil would exploit.  You see, Satan was craftier than all of creation, including man!  The devil, disguised as a serpent began to craft innocent questions in order to create thoughts that then caused doubts in the minds of Adam and Eve, doubts in regards to the truthfulness of God’s Word.  “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’”

How Eve should have answered the devil was, “No, God never said that.  Why do you question His Word?”  But instead, Eve replied the truth of God’s command, but then she added a little something to it.  “God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the garden.’” But now listen to what she added, ‘neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”  Now, Eve has demonstrated her weak spot so to speak, the kink in her full armor of God.  I believe that she was attracted by the beauty and splendor of the fruit.  And the rest as they say is history, the history of the fall of all of creation.  But where pray tell was her husband?  He, who was her spiritual head, was right there with her and never once did he intervene by rebuking the attack of the devil.

So there you have it, the loss of paradise.  A perfect home for perfect people, enjoying the love of a perfect Father, undone by a carefully crafted lie, “You will not surely die.”  Now Adam and Eve knew shame.  Their shame was not their nakedness but the nakedness of their sin before their perfect Father.  They no longer went out to meet their Creator God joyfully, but hid as he approached.  They knew that their loving Creator-Father had now become their judge!  And once found out, neither of them accepted responsibility for their sin, but instead they began making excuses and shifted blame to each other and even onto God Himself!

But Satan’s trick and our sin would not win the day.  God’s love would not let them go; He would not give them up.  God would not abandon them in their guilt.  He would send a Savior who would come and crush the power of sin and the devil forever.

“You ask who this may be?  The Lord of hosts is He, Christ Jesus mighty Lord, God’s only Son adored.  He holds the field victorious.”  [LSB 657 vs. 2b]

In our Gospel reading, Jesus the Son of God and the Son of man performs perfectly the task that Adam could not accomplish; He defeats the devil.  Armed with only the Word of God, Jesus led by the Spirit of God entered the wilderness to right the wrong of Adam and undo the sin of our first parents.  His victory over the devil using only the true Word of God is also our victory, as He sends the devil running.  His righteousness becomes our righteousness by faith.  Just as in the garden, the battle being fought is really over obedience to God’s will, which is communicated in His Word.

As Satan addressed Jesus, he used the same tricks that Eve fell to.  Through deception, He attempted to plant doubts and half-truths, and then finally blatant lies in order to attack and already weakened Jesus.  But this was Jesus, the Christ, and the Son of God who enters the fray as your Champion.  Notice the decisive and bold stand that Jesus takes in our place: “Be gone, Satan!”  For it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.’”

Dear friends, the truth is that all of Satan’s attacks were meant to deter Jesus from His Divine appointment to become our Savior.  The devil tried every trick in the book to prevent Jesus from doing what Adam could not.  And now, the devil tries the same thing against us.  Think of how most temptations still come to us today: “If you are really God’s forgiven child then why do you still struggle with guilt and sin?  If you are truly a Christian, blessed by God, why are you experiencing all of this trouble, pain, and loss?”

Dear friends, Jesus knows what it is like to fight off questions about God’s truthfulness, which undermine the message about His forgiving love.  He knows how the devil tempts us to take short cuts as a way of getting to our treasured goal.  He knows what we all go through in those tough times of life when our baptism seems so long ago and far away.  He knows what is like to doubt the trustworthiness of our Heavenly Father.  And that is why Jesus wielded the sword of God’s Word against the devil.  He did it to crush him and send him running in defeat, a defeat for you!

“Though hordes of devils fill the land all threatening to devour us, we tremble not, unmoved we stand; they cannot over power us.  Let this world’s tyrant rage; in battle we’ll engage.  His might is doomed to fail; God’s judgment must prevail!  One little word subdues him.” [LSB 657 Vs. 3]

What is that little Word?  Jesus!  God Saves!  It is the name of Jesus that is your fortress.  Blessed is the name of the Lord.  The name of the Lord is a strong tower.  The righteous run into it, (that is they cling to their Savior Jesus by faith), and are safe. [Proverbs 18:10]

Through Jesus alone, the pattern of death begun by Adam is over. [Romans 5:12–19] Jesus is that seed of the woman who would smash the head of our enemies: sin, death, and the devil.  Upon the cross, that ancient serpent shrieked when he heard the last Words of our Savior: “It is finished.  Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”  For Jesus, these are Words of victory, but for us, they are words that bring faith.  Words that assure us the battle is over and won!

Just as Adam’s one sin led to death for all of mankind, so also Christ’s obedient death and then resurrection, brought justification and new life to all who are baptized in His name and continually flee to the fortress of His Word and His cross in repentance and receive God’s forgiving love.

What an unspeakable gift God has given us through Jesus Christ!  It is literally paradise restored.  As God’s new people sealed by baptism into Christ, we can once again walk with God without fear.  We can look forward to the day when we die in faith and are welcomed back to Eden restored, where our Savior has gone to prepare a place just for us.

But for now we live and walk by faith.  And as we live, it’s God’s will that we would drink up every one of His promises that declare, “He who began the good work in us” will complete it through the new and greater Adam, Jesus Christ.  We declare boldly by faith to our enemies, that no one, not even the devils can snatch us out of the Father’s hand or the Son’s abundant gift of grace.

“God’s Word forever shall abide.  No thanks to foes, who fear it; for God Himself fights by our side with weapons of the Spirit.  Were they to take our house, goods, honor, child, or spouse, though life be wrenched away, they cannot win the day.  The Kingdom’s ours forever!” [LSB 657 vs.4]

So follow Jesus. The fortress awaits and paradise is restored!  AMEN!

The Blood of the New Covenant

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

Ash Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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Ash Wednesday is a first night of 40 nights that we seriously reflect on three things.  First we consider our frailty.  We are but flesh.  We come from the earth and to the earth we shall return; Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  Second we consider our sinfulness; our complete lack of excuse before God for the sinful things we have done and the good and holy things we fail to do.  And finally, we consider God’s righteousness and His gifts to us and for us, which are ours through Christ Jesus.

Tonight we will look at two covenants or promises that God has provided to save His people.  Both involve the shedding of blood.  One was temporary and the other eternal.

Modern men and women within our society are repulsed by the Old Testament sacrifice of animals, so much so, that many people want to close their eyes to the truths in those portions of Scripture which demand a sacrifice.  They want to close their eyes because it shows how horrid our sins are.  Oh they’ll gladly agree that the Old Testament points to the promised Savior of the New Testament, but the bloody stories of a God who punishes seems to have no place in a civilized society.

But the old covenant demonstrates unashamedly our God who is holy, disciplined, exacting, loving and trustworthy.   In fact, the entire Old Testament reveals the depth of humankind’s depravity, the seriousness of our sin, the extent of God’s anger, the depth of His love, and the need for a redeeming Savior.

Moses understood these issues. Speaking for God, he told the Israelites that to cover human sin, blood must be shed. The power of the blood must accompany any approach to the Father. And as the blood of the old covenant was spilled onto the altar and was sprinkled on the people, God revealed His redeeming grace and the forgiving power of His mercy.

Why blood? Well, as Moses explained, again speaking for God, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life” (Leviticus 17:11). All of the Old Testament rituals involving the spilling of blood made it clear that God takes sin seriously. Lifeblood must be shed to pay for sin. Someone, or something, must give its life. God’s wrath needed satisfaction. So, instead of requiring the death of the sinner, God offered grace by allowing the sacrifice of animals in their place.

But within God’s heart, His delight was not in blood sacrifice but in the yielding and surrendering of His people’s lives in dedication to Him. God desired a new relationship of faith with His children.  As Samuel said to Saul, “Has the Lord as great a delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22). David also said, “For You will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; You will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise” (Ps 51:16–17).

Tonight, we approach God with broken spirits and contrite hearts.  And we know, He will not despise those things.  Why?  Because of the blood!

The blood in the Old Covenant, was used to foreshadow the sacrifice of Christ, and it pointed to something far deeper. Remember, God desires a right relationship of faith with His children.  He yearns for reconciliation and fellowship—something blood sacrifices could only point to. He knew the blood spilled on the altar and sprinkled on the people was temporary. What was needed was a blood sacrifice greater than the blood of rams and goats.  He needed to take His children’s eyes and hearts off of the Law and instead place their hope in His incomprehensible mercy. But to accomplish this God must provide One final blood sacrifice upon an altar made of wood.

Moses built an altar as his first sign of the covenant relationship to consecrate the people to God (Ex 24:4–5). To the Israelites and other ancient peoples, an altar meant a place for putting something to death, not only physically but also in their hearts. For the people of God, the altar also represented God’s real presence in their lives.

The blood sprinkled on the altar represented a life offered, or poured out, to the One true God in sacrifice. Sacrifices were not wasteful or extravagant acts of worship, in fact after the sacrifice, most of them required that the meat be eaten. So, the altar of God was the place where the people, the priests, and God held a meal together to show that they were in a relationship of peace and fellowship with each other.

As a place of fellowship, consecration, and sacrifice, the altar had to be made holy through the shedding and application of blood. The sanctified altar, then, became holy ground on which to lay the sin offerings of the people. The throwing of blood on the altar signified access to God; the blood of a chosen substitute replaced their lives, lives now committed and dedicated to Him.

Jesus’ disciples understood the blood of the old covenant, but how could they possibly comprehend the depth of Christ’s words on Maundy Thursday when He lifted a cup and spoke of the blood of the new covenant (Mt 26:27–28)? Christ often foretold His suffering and death, yet no words could prepare the disciples for the events that followed.

On Good Friday, another altar rose above the earth towering far above all other altars, and it was wooden and roughly cut. It would hold the Sacrifice, the One whose blood would redeem all people for all eternity. And From heaven, the Father observed His Son Jesus’ obedient death upon the cross and accepted His sacrifice on our behalf. From that time forward, in the heavenly tabernacle, an everlasting covenant—a new covenant—was made (Hebrews 9:11–14). By the cross, Jesus’ disciples, you and me, became partakers in His life and possessors of the heavenly inheritance (Hebrews 9:16–22).

This evening, we have witnessed a baptism.  We have seen two young children snatched from the kingdom of the devil and transferred into the Kingdom of Heaven.  It was the blood of the very King of Heaven that was sprinkled upon them in the washing of the water and the Word.  A blood far superior to that of animals, for it’s washing is eternal.

You dear parents are now called to model a life of repentance and faith.  You must agree with God that He is right and you are wrong.  You must turn to the Author and Perfecter of your faith every day for forgiveness and then you must teach your children to do the same.  You must instruct them of the importance of hearing and studying the Word of God, and when they are older, you must ensure that they and you approach the table of the Lord together for His Holy meal of forgiveness.

Just as a meal followed the sacrifices of the old covenant, so God’s people commune with Him today at the Lord’s Table. When you receive the body and blood of Christ, His fullness fills you. His mercy forgives you. His grace redeems you. You rest assured in the blotting out of all your sins (1John 1:7). With immediate deliverance and total justification, you know that God’s wrath has been removed, and that He no longer sees your sins but the covering of Christ’s blood sprinkled upon you and your children on your behalf.

In this new life of faith, I pray that each of you will dedicate yourselves in service to Jesus.  I also pray that as we pass through these 40 days of Lent, you will prepare yourself to be engulfed by all that is Holy Week.  Allow God to create a great hunger within you to dine at the Lord’s table on Maundy Thursday.  Ask Him to prepare your entire soul to enter into the grief of sins, even your own sins on Good Friday, and then prepare your self for the wonderful resurrection joy, which is the experience of Easter morning.  And through it all, I pray for you that God will continue to reveal His redeeming grace, His unlimited love, and the forgiving power of His mercy by the blood of the new covenant. The blood of Jesus Christ spilled on the altar of the cross, which now saves you.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Welcome, Now Listen!

Sunday, March 2nd, 2014

The Transfiguration of our Lord (A), March 2, 2014
Rev. Brian HendersonPastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” [Matthew 17:5b]

These are powerful words that either thunder from God’s Holy Mountain as an “or else” statement, or they are the sweet melodies of comfort, taking the promises of God’s mercy and presence directly into our hearts, as a mother would sing a lullaby to her child.  How you take these words will determine how this mornings message works within your soul.  The disciples and Holy Apostles of Jesus found themselves in a similar situation just a few weeks before Jesus’ transfiguration.

While in the district of Caesera Philippi, which was near the Syrian border, Jesus asked His disciples a simple question, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  That is, who do they say Jesus is?  Now the disciples gave Jesus different answers as they had heard them spoken among the people.  When they had finished, Jesus asked the real question: “But who do you say that I am?”  Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonah!  For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.  And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” [Matthew 16:13-18]  Then Jesus strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that He was the Christ.  “(And) from that time (on) Jesus began to show His disciple that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.  (But) Peter took Him aside and began to (scold) Him, saying “Far be it from you, Lord!  (That) shall never happen to you.”  (Then) Jesus turned (around) and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!  You are a hindrance to me.  For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man( that is, the things of this world).”

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me (that is if you want to truly be my disciple), let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” [Matthew 16:19-24]  After those Words, Jesus encouraged them with these mysterious Words.  “For the Son of Man is going to come with His angels in the glory of the Father, and then He will repay each person according to what he has done (in faith).  Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom.” [Matthew 16:27, 28]

This morning, God wants you to see the truth about Jesus; it is a truth that only His Holy Spirit can reveal to you.  He wants you to declare and believe along with Peter and the whole church, “(Jesus is) the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  But He also wants you to see the absolute necessity of His suffering death and His resurrection.  He wants you to allow both your declaration of faith and your new life through His death and resurrection to lead you out into a world dark and dead in sin with no fear.  But Jesus knows, like Peter, you will have both doubts and fears; He knows that the devil will attempt to take your eyes off of His path, which is the painful way of the cross, so just as He rebuked Satan for Peter, He does the same for you.  And with Satan defeated and your eyes back on Jesus He says, “Take up your cross and follow me.”  Now let’s get into our gospel reading (Matthew 17:1-8).

This morning, we celebrate the Transfiguration of our Lord.  We see whom those few are that would not taste death before they saw the “Son of Man in the glory of the Father.”

There on the mountaintop, Peter, James, and John were allowed to see who Jesus was… God Almighty.  There on the mountain top Jesus the Son of Living God is shining with all of His divine glory “like the sun.”  And there appearing with Him in a holy conversation are Moses and Elijah.  The disciples needed no introduction, because God’s Spirit was present and working within their hearts.  Both of these long departed men of God were national heroes to the Jews, and they collectively represented all that was good in being one who has been chosen, called, and protected by God Himself, as a Father protects and a mother comforts their own dear children.  Moses was the great lawgiver.  The Law was God’s way of protecting His children by creating a hedge around them, which would deliver them from their enemies both physical and spiritual.  And Elijah, he represented all of the prophets, which God had sent to remind His people that the Messiah, their Savior would soon come by breaking into our reality and delivering the long awaited salvation from their real enemies, which were sin, death, and the devil!

Please remember this: While Jesus, Moses, and Elijah were talking it was only Jesus who was shining in glory.  Any shining that came from the other two was simply the light of the Son of God reflecting off them, much like the moon can not generate its own light but only reflect the light of the sun.

Now in the middle of this moment when both heaven and earth become one, a time when most people would be still and silent, Peter can not help but declare, “Lord, its good that we’re here!”  Peter, Peter, what are you doing?  That was a divine A-B conversation between God and the Law and Prophets.  The only part you play in that conversation is “C” so SEE your way out of it!  But he doesn’t; in fact he makes it worse, well for us he makes it better when he asks: “if you want, I’ll make three shelters here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah” [Matthew 17:4]

Now here is what I mean when I say that He makes it better.  Just when Peter asked that ridiculous question, Moses and Elijah vanished, making it clear that the center of attention are not Moses and Elijah. A shining cloud surrounded that mountaintop and the voice of God the Father speaks just as He had spoken at the Jordan on the day of Jesus baptism; He says, “This One is my beloved Son, in who I am well pleased.”

Did you hear those Words?  He said this One; not Moses, not Elijah, but Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Living God!  He is the One who will fulfill all of Israel’s hopes in their waiting for the coming Messiah; He is the One who unlocks the meaning of all of God’s Word.  This is the One who will forgive the sins of the world and make all people who will follow Jesus, children of the Living God!  And what does the Voice of God the Father tell them to do next?  “Listen to Him!”  Listen to Him and see only Jesus.

This was enough to knock the three disciples to the ground hiding their faces from the glory of God.  They were terrified, because no one can see God and live; yet there they still were on that mountain alone with Jesus and still living!  And in the middle of their fears, Jesus the Son of God and son of Mary, their friend and brother and now clearly their God, taps them on the shoulder and says: “Knock it off!”  No, I mean He says, “Get up and stop being afraid.”  Come on I’m still here with you.  Follow me.  You know where we have to go, and you should understand by now that it will be all right.  I am not just a simple carpenter; I am not just your teacher, brother and friend.  I AM your God, the Son of the Father.  So follow me. Pick up your cross and come down from this Mountaintop Epiphany and follow me into real life and real death ; first my own suffering and death and then yours; first my resurrection and ascension into heaven, and then yours.  But we do not want to follow, do we?  Following Jesus means…

Fear.  Fear of things like betrayal, humiliation, suffering, and death.  Let me speak into your hearts some of those things that bring betrayal, humiliation, suffering, and death, and then let me speak Words of faith, hope, and comfort.  Words of victory over all of things that hound us and cause us to doubt, stumble, and fear.  (ILLUSTRATIONS: Please listen to the audio.) To those of you who have been stuck on that mountain top for years, Jesus is tapping you on the shoulder and saying, “Quit being afraid.  Follow me out into real life and know freedom.”

This morning, through the Word of God, empowered and defined by the Holy Spirit through other portions of God’s Word and yet spoken and written by sinful yet redeemed men, you have been given freedom.  You have heard the eyewitness account of God’s real presence in our world.  You have heard how easily He breaks into your reality with the means He alone chooses.  And now, through that same Word of God and the gift of faith, you too have become in essence, “eye witnesses”.  You have been shown through the Word of God His “Majestic Glory.”  You have also heard with your own ears, this is my beloved Son, with Who I am well pleased.”

You have all of the prophetic Word more fully confirmed than all those who were called “children of Abraham” before the coming of the Messiah.  They had only the promise of the coming, but you have the fulfillment of the promise, Jesus Christ!  As St. Peter says, “You will do well to pay attention to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”  That is until the fulfillment of your baptismal promise is complete and you finally arrive within the House of the Father and reside in the place that Jesus has gone to personally prepare for you!

You can trust these Words dear children, because they are not simply the fanciful writings of sinful yet hopeful men; they are the very Word of God to bring courage and cheer to your heart.  Know this and remember it always, “No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along (and led) by the Holy Spirit (of God).” [2 Peter 1:16-21]

This morning, God welcomes you like He always does as we gather around His Word and Sacraments.  He welcomes you with the Words, listen and believe.  It’s in that Word that He reminds you that in your baptism you have been sprinkled with a blood far superior to that of animals; you have been forever washed clean by the blood of Jesus Christ, the true Lamb of God.  In His Word, He invites you to His table to “Take eat and drink for the forgiveness of your sins.”  God wants you to receive all that is in His Living Word, which is Jesus Christ and then have faith.  Get up and go.  Go out into a world of darkness where there is real suffering and pain; real inequities and unfairness.  A world that appears to still be under the bondage of sin, death, and Satan.  But know that Jesus has overcome this world.  Follow Him and the way of the cross, because the way of glory has not yet fully arrived, but it will soon be yours eternally.  It will be a time, no an eternity, where you will never again know pain and sorrow; a time when all your tears will be wiped dry.

Now, may you turn only to Jesus, who alone can sustain you as you deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Him!  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!