Archive for April, 2014

Can You Believe It?!

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Easter 2A, April 27, 2014

Click here for audio of this message

“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” [1 Peter 1:8]

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed! When those words of joy were first spoken, they declared a truth; it was a truth that took all of Christ’s disciples, including the apostles by complete surprise.  Jesus had warned them; He prepared them over and over again that He would come back.  He had made it clear that it was His life to lay down into death and it was His to raise back up again, but all of them missed the meaning of His promise.  But who would have understood?  The truth is, in this life people just don’t come back from the dead.  Isn’t it true, that there seems to be nothing as permanent as death?

Even Harry Houdini, the great escape artist could not escape the confines of death.  Oh he promised that he would; he promised that he would send a message back from the shadows and spirits, but it never happened.

I believe that our common experience tells us that death is simply inescapable.  But Jesus Christ did rise from the dead.  His omnipotence, that is His power as the Messiah over all things including death was declared over and over again throughout the Old Testament, and His resurrection is the very reason that we have the New Testament; it’s the reason we have the Christian Church, and presumably, it’s the reason you are here this morning.

The day Jesus rose from the dead, He proved that He had power over sin, death, and the devil.  That first Easter day that took all of Jesus’ disciples by surprise, became the focus of their lives and the center of their thinking, the way they lived, and the way they died.  It became the very center of their beings.  Christ had escaped death and brought new hope for the world and new life for those who would trust His cross and the message of the empty tomb.

To St. Peter, Jesus’ resurrection was life changing.  You can here his joyful exclamation in the opening words of our Epistle lesson [1 Peter 1:3-9]: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”.

Have you ever wished that you could talk to someone from the past and just pick their minds for a few minutes; get some insight into just who they really were?  I have, and one of those persons I’d like to talk to is St. Peter.  I imagine, that if we were to ask him why the resurrection was so central in his writings, he might answer us this way: “Well, to understand why the resurrection is so important to me” he’d say, “you’d have to remember just who I was before Jesus rose from the dead; you’d have to remember the terrible things that I did.”

“I guess you could say that I was the spokesman for the other disciples.  I was with Jesus from the beginning when He called me away from the family fishing business.  I dropped everything and followed Him.  Oh, how I loved the fact that the Holy Spirit first spoke through me, in order to declare that Jesus was the Christ, the very Son of God.  Later, I evened bragged that if all of the others left Him, I never would.  Then when Jesus really needed me, I the great Peter let Him down!  On the night when Jesus was betrayed and arrested, I the strong and dependable Peter denied Jesus three times, and I ran away and hid for fear of loosing my own life.”

Now, in my mind’s eye I can see the shame coming back from the memory of Peter and changing the expression of his face.  With his now furrowed forehead and tearful eyes, I can hear him say, “Three times—I still feel sick to my stomach when I think about it—three times I the great Peter denied my Lord.  I denied Him while He was getting ready to die for my sins.  And while he hung there dying, John and the women were there with Him, but I did not have the stomach or the faith to watch it.  You see, I had pinned all of my hopes on Jesus, and now He was dead.  But even worse, instead of being thankful to God for being a part of Jesus’ life, I felt nothing but bitter shame and a sense that my entire life had been a complete waste of time and an utter failure.”

But now, I can see Peter’s countenance changing, as He looks me in the eye and says, “But you can imagine how my life changed when the women came back from the tomb with unbelievable news.  Jesus was alive.  He’s risen!  At first I did not dare believe it, but then they spoke a message from the angels, and it changed everything.  They said that Jesus told them to tell the disciples and Peter to meet Him in Galilee.  Think about what those Words meant to me—and Peter!  At that very moment, every doubt was erased from my worried mind and I not only believed that Jesus had defeated death, but that He truly was my God and my Savior!  From that point on I was a changed man, I was forgiven, and the entire world had changed, and for the first time I knew that my eternal future was set and certain.”

At this point we might be tempted to ask Peter what he means, when he says that the entire world had changed, and that he knew that his eternal future was set and certain.  Well, let’s let Peter answer us in his own words from verse 4 of our epistle reading:

“(Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have been born again to a living hope) to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.”  This is a strong declaration of faith; it’s a God given faith that learns to acknowledge our sins of the past, but then by grace, that same gift of faith teaches us to let go of the past and then simply trust in the completed work of Jesus Christ; a completed work that has given us a new identity as one who is “born again” for an eternal life in heaven.  But our sinful flesh fights this truth, as it attempts to set our eyes on anything else other than Christ’s cross and empty tomb.  Isn’t it true that we would rather think about how Peter let Jesus down instead of how we have abandoned Him ourselves time and time again?  Isn’t it easier to see the darkness of Peter’s regrets rather than looking at our own darkness?  Just as Peter was tempted to go back into his old life of fishing rather than waiting on Jesus, haven’t we also been tempted to go back to our old sinful ways, in fact haven’t we actually done that many times?

And when we go back to our sinful ways, isn’t it true that like Peter, we too have felt that we were letting the best of who we were, that is our relationship with Jesus just slip away through our fingers?  Doesn’t it become easier to feed on our failures, that is our sinful weakness rather than repent; turn to Jesus in confession of those failures?  Don’t we too, at times feel like Jesus has abandoned us?

When our marriage fails, when our family ties are falling apart, when our financial base has seemingly been destroyed, when addiction rears it’s ugly ahead  once again, or when death takes the very one we love the most, aren’t we too tempted to run from God and His Church, or lash out at Him in anger?  But then like Peter, we too receive the call to come to the empty tomb, and then everything is changed.  Jesus is alive, not dead.  Jesus is with us in His Word and Sacraments, He has not left us as orphans.  Mankind’s greatest enemies, your greatest enemies, sin, death, and the devil have been defeated and destroyed.

On the cross we see how our enemies were defeated.  Jesus died to save sinners, all sinners.  He died to take away Peter’s sins, and He died to take away your sins.  Upon the cross, the Son of God Himself made full payment for our sins.  But in the empty tomb, we see how the power of our enemies has forever been removed from our lives.  The empty tomb proves to us who have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, that when we were washed clean in the waters of our baptism, the empty tomb is also our reality.  In our baptism Jesus resurrection becomes our resurrection.  Death has been defeated and the dark wall that divides this life from our eternal life has been penetrated.  Or, as St. Peter puts it in verses 4 and 5…

Our eternal destiny has been assured (as) “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for (us who have been baptized), (and) by God’s power (we) are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”  What these Words declare to us is simply this, no lie of the devil and no attacks from this sinful world can jeopardize our salvation and our eternal home with Jesus, because nothing can put Jesus back into the grave and nothing can undo what God has done for you upon the cross and within the waters of your baptism.  No enemy can cheat you out of your inheritance; it can’t be stolen or destroyed.  It is being kept for you by the fact that Christ has risen!

Now we could end our message right here and the Word of God would be declared and most of us would go home happy and at peace, but some of us would not.  Some of us still have questions.  And I believe that the primary question that holds us back in sorrow and prevents us to leave in joy is this: “If Christ’s resurrection makes such a difference in our lives, and since the future holds such glory, and since Christ has overcome all of His enemies, then why is there so much suffering in this world?  Why is there so much suffering in “MY” world?”  Now to this question, let’s let St. Peter answer once again in verse 6 from our Epistle lesson…

Yes it is true, we still experience pain and sorrow just as every other person does in this world, but for us,these experiences are only temporary.  And while we go through them, we are to keep rejoicing in the hope of our inheritance, “though now for a little while we may have to suffer various trials, that the genuineness of our faith, which is more precious than gold, which though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

You see friends, Jesus is not only with you, through the Holy Spirit He is working in you.  He is working to transform you everyday into what you will be for eternity, holy, perfect, and righteous.  He is transforming your character.  And like old Job, we may at times be asked to go through some times of testing so that others can see our faith in Jesus and the transforming power of the cross and the empty tomb.  As Jesus allows us to enter into these times of testing He is also calling the attention of others to notice how we handle these times of testing, but also how God brings us through them.  And as we pass through these times, we prove to others that our love for God is not fleeting and we are not fair weathered friends of Jesus Christ, but we have been transformed forever unto eternal life.

The resurrection tells us that suffering, our suffering is only temporary.  We can make it through those periods, because we are not alone.  We can pass through it and not let it destroy us or take away our faith in Jesus Christ.  Even if the suffering drives us to the very door of death, we know for certain that beyond that door our risen Lord Jesus Christ is waiting to receive us.  We who have been baptized into the cross and empty tomb of Jesus, have been baptized into His death and into His resurrection.  We who trust Him may loose a skirmish sometimes, that is we may fall into temptation and sin, but we are not defeated, because Jesus has won the war.  Jesus’ resurrection tells us that suffering can never have the last word for those of us who belong to Him.

As we close our message this morning, I think that we should address one more challenge to living out our lives as baptized Christians, and it is this.  We can read our Bibles, especially the stories about St. Peter and the others that were in Jesus’ inner circle and think, “I wish that I could have known Jesus and learned to love Him like they did.”  And to that, I believe that St. Peter would say… “What do you mean wish?!  You can.  That’s the point of the resurrection.  He lives now as certainly and as personally as He did then.  You see Him by faith, which is the most precious gift of God that you could ever receive.  Through the Word of God, all of it “has been written so that you would believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God” by faith. “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

Dear friends, can you believe it?!  God loves us so much that He has done everything that needs to be done to save us.  It’s no wonder that Peter declared, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  The resurrection meant to him that we had a sure inheritance, encouragement in suffering, and the joy of constant friendship with his Savior, Jesus Christ.  For Peter the resurrection was an historical fact.  He was there when it happened and it changed the history of sinful men and women.  Christ is risen… that is history.  Christ is risen for you… that is history in the making… AMEN!

Indeed!

Sunday, April 20th, 2014

Easter Sunday, April 20, 2014
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” [Col. 3:3]

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  What a wonderful announcement for this sinful world to hear!  We know why it is wonderful; we know why it is good news; it is wonderful and good because through the work of Jesus Christ, God has defeated our archenemies, sin, death, and the devil!  But to this unbelieving world what we call good and wonderful, they call foolish and a waste of time!  They dismiss what we hold precious, the death, resurrection, and glorification of our Savior, and in its place they put the Easter bunny and earth day?

Now, it isn’t hard to understand why they would rather have the Easter Bunny than Christ the Savior.  I mean after all, the Easter Bunny is a fictional character from a children’s story; no rational adult ever asked another adult to have faith in the Easter bunny.  And yet, here are we Christians doing that very thing concerning the Son of God, Jesus Christ!  I’ve had atheists and doubters challenge me with this statement: “If Jesus is as real as you say He is, why have I never seen Him or experienced His presence?”  Well the answer is of course, you haven’t died with Him yet, and you haven’t been hidden with Him.  Or another way to say that is, you don’t perceive a need to see Him; that is, you don’t yet see a need for a Savior!

So, instead of simply letting us worship our resurrected Lord in peace, the doubters and the haters want to attack what we hold dearest.  Every Easter season, you will find a plethora of television specials and news reports claiming to present the historical and true Jesus,with one goal in mind… to make you doubt the Person of Jesus Christ, and then doubt His resurrection.

Yes, once again this irreligious world we live in takes what we hold dearest, the very thing we need, and tramples it under their feet, replacing it with things they want!  Why is that?  Because dear friends, to get to Easter, to get to God’s Kingdom, Power, and Glory, you must pass through Good Friday, and all of its pain, suffering, and death!  They can’t understand how God’s kingdom can come in such a low manner as that; they will never accept that idea until they have let go of their own idea of kingdom, power, and glory.  That was the problem with the people of Jesus time and it is still the problem with our world today!  In order to get to God they must first see and address their sins, and that is what Holy week and Easter Sunday are all about!

In Christ’s battle with sin, death, and the devil, Jesus appeared to be a victim.  He was put to death as a criminal.  He ruled as a King from a cross, with a crown of thorns and the broken scepter made from a reed.  “What kind of a king is this” a sinful world asks?

Yes, He was a victim, but He was a victim in our place.  Only by taking on the role of victim could be become the victor!  Yes He was the one who was put to death for sinners, but He is also the one that rose from the dead, in order to give those same sinners, you and me, the righteousness of God!  Yes they mocked him as a king with a crown of thorns, but He was a different kind of king than they were expecting.  His central concern was the truth; a truth that He both proclaimed and fulfilled!  But why?  So that God’s kingdom, power, and glory would come among us sinners and replace our own sinful ideas of kingdom, power, and glory!  Through His death upon the cross, Jesus leads the subjects of His kingdom from the cross through death into the exaltation of the royal triumph of the empty tomb.  But in order to get to the empty tomb; in order to experience the triumph of the resurrection, you must pass through the dark valley of death; death that is always the result of sin, our sins!  This is the truth that the women on Easter morning discovered first, and then the apostles and we disciples after them!

“Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.” [Matthew 28:1]  Dear friends this was no ordinary morning for the women in Jesus inner circle; no they weren’t on their way to the market to buy what they needed for breakfast; they were on their way to finish burying their King!  Jesus who they were certain was the Messiah; a king who would live forever was now dead!  All of their hopes and dreams seemed to be sealed away in that tomb with the body of Jesus!  He was buried so quickly on Friday evening because the Sabbath was soon to start at sundown; and every good Jew knew that you couldn’t do any work on the Sabbath; not even burying your king!  Well the Sabbath is over; the sun is now rising and it is a new day… Sunday to be exact.  So off they went to finish the work that was started on Friday.  Not only must they enter deeper into the dark valley of death, but they must smell and experience the decay of Him who they thought would not, no could not die!

Now, they arrive at the tomb of their king, “And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.  And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.” [Matt. 28:2-4]  Dear friends, don’t miss the significance of the earthquake!  It is the same quaking that came after Jesus was put to death!  It’s God’s expression of power after He confronts the evil plans of devils and men; plans that seek to replace His Kingdom, Power, and Glory with their own kingdom, power, and glory!  The guards at the tomb knew that this was the power of God!  Why else would they fall like dead men and shake like frightened children?  What else can you do when you are an unrepentant sinner confronted by an angel of the Lord?

The women, no doubt were afraid as well.  They were well within the deep, dark valley of death, but now they’ve been encountered the unexplainable light of the Living God!  “But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, (just) as he said (He would do). Come, see the place where he lay.  Then go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead!” [Matt. 28:5-7a]  And there you have a perfect picture of God’s Kingdom, Glory, and Power vs. the world’s kingdom, glory, and power!  What the world meant for evil God turned into good!  “They put (Jesus) to death by hanging Him on a tree, but God raised Him on the third day and MADE HIM TO APPEAR! [Acts 10:39b, 40]

“So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” [Matt. 28:8-10]

He is risen!  Glory be to God on high… Jesus is risen indeed!  And what a greeting He gives to these wonderful Christian women!  It is a shame that our translators chose such a boring word as “Greetings” to put in the mouth of Jesus.  A more accurate translation of Jesus greeting is “Happiness and joy in their fullness are yours!”  Amen and amen Jesus!  You are alive!  You are the living God; even death and the grave have no power over you!  Your kingdom is not only greater than the devil and sinful men, but your power and glory can never be defeated or replaced!  It’s no wonder that the women fell down and worshiped Him!  But Jesus has something to tell them, and through them He also speaks to us.  Listen: “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” [vs. 10]  Did you hear that good news?  He is telling you, “Do not be afraid!  Behold I have made all things new; I have defeated your enemies and my enemies and I have brought you back into my Father’s Kingdom of power and glory!  Now go and tell my brothers, those who have believed my Word; those who were heavily burdened by sin and fear; those who turned to me for rest.  Tell them I am alive just as I promised, and tell them that I will never leave nor forsake them!”

Dear friends, do not miss that wonderful description that Jesus uses to describe His apostles and disciples.  He calls them brothers!  Those who deserted Him at the cross out of fear; Peter who denied Him three times; also we who have chased after the kingdom, power, and glory of this sinful world, Jesus calls brothers!  With this simple word, Jesus brings all of His disciples, even you and me deep into His heart as His most dearest and closest relatives.  In this one word, Jesus gives us all of His forgiving love and at the same time He also gives us the highest honor we could ever receive.  If Jesus is our brother, what more could we ever need?  Brothers in the flesh possess everything together; they have one Father and one inheritance.  So we have a common possession of everything that belongs to Christ!  And what is that possession?  It is the Kingdom, Power, and Glory of God!  All of this is what Jesus gained on that great resurrection day for you who believe!

You are Christ’s brothers and sisters because He has freed you from your sins and the kingdom of the devil!  In His resurrection, Jesus defeated all of these things and now He invites you to rest in this truth.  Jesus entered into death in order to triumph over it and reclaim you as His brother.  His resurrection causes you who trust in this work to rest in it and remain steadfast, immovable, and always abounding in joy because of the completed work of Jesus Christ!  As He gives you the fruits of His resurrection through your baptism, you are now walking and growing in a new life that He has created for you and in you!  In this new life, He stands alongside of you as you struggle against your enemy the devil, and your old sinful flesh.  But you must never become discouraged, because you have been raised with Christ from the dead in your baptism, but more than that, you have been hidden away with Him.  And because you are hidden, the devil and the sinful world can’t see what you see by faith, so they laugh at you and they attack you trying to move you into fear and doubt!  Oh let them rage on all they like; they can’t harm you because you are not only protected from them, you are hidden away, out of their reach!

Christ, who was their victim is now your Victor, and He has come back from the grave for you.  You are His most prized possession and He delivers you to His Father into a Kingdom of Power and Glory!  So, when your unbelieving friends ask you, Do you really believe Jesus is God?”  All you need to do is look at them and say, “Indeed!”

Yes friends, Christ has risen… He has risen indeed!

What His Passion Means For You


Friday, April 18th, 2014

Good Friday, April 25, 2014
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“For if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” so goes the argument of St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians. [Galatians 2:21]  If we were somehow able to pay for our own sins, or if we could find the wherewithal to repent of them on our own without the leading of the Holy Spirit, then God may have been able to spare His own Son the agony of the cross, thereby removing His need to drink from the bitter cup of our salvation.  But since those things are in fact impossible for sinful men and women like us, God did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, and we can be assured that there was no other way but through the cross to defeat not just our sin, but even death and the devil.

Holy Scripture clearly testifies again and again that Christ Jesus suffered a painful death for us ungodly people, so that God could make righteous people out of unrighteous sinners through faith in the work of His Son Jesus.  And now this evening, we gather as a peculiar people redeemed for God and by God through the death of His Son.  It was His Son’s passion, that is His divine love that turned Him to the cross to suffer and die for you.  It was His love for you that caused Him to be obedient unto death, even death upon a cross so that by His stripes you may be healed; by His atoning death, you may be forgiven.  It was the death of Jesus Christ that disarmed the principalities and powers of sin, death, and the devil and opened wide the very gates of heaven for miserable sinners like as us.

A principal teaching of the Gospel is that Christ died for our sins.  And the scriptures add a very important addendum to this truth: “We have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died.” [2 Corinthians 5:14]  Or as the prophet Isaiah said, “(Christ) died as our substitute.” [Isaiah 53:6]  It was our sins that He carried with Him upon the cross.  That is why you should care very deeply about this evening and our Lord’s passion.  He was wounded for your transgressions.  And with His stripes you have been healed, that is forgiven of all of your sins.  On that cursed, yet for us a blessed tree, Jesus chose to taste death, eternal death, and for we sinners and our salvation, He experienced for the first time what it means to be forsaken of God and cast away from His presence.  As St. Paul said, “Christ became a curse for us.”  And by this, He redeemed us from the curse of the law.  In His kingdom there will forever be no more condemnation for sinners such as us; we who turn to Jesus, His passion, His death, and the gift of new life that He gives through the cross.

The absolute assurance that you have all of this work assuring your salvation is found in your baptism.  There you were baptized into the death of Christ and there you became a partaker of everything that He won through His passion and death.  In other words, baptism is your guarantee that while Christ suffered upon the cross, He had you on His mind and in His heart. Because you have been baptized into both Christ’s passion and death, baptism is not just confined to one act in your life, whether you were baptized as a child or an adult.  No, but rather it is the beginning of a life which is to be lived in fellowship with the crucified Christ and His passion to save sinners.  So, to live as a baptized child of God, that is as a Christian is to live “by faith in the Son of God, who loved (you) and gave Himself (up) for (you).” [Galatians 2:20]

Even though the death of Christ is the most world shaking event in history, it is also a constant source of assurance, joy, and thankfulness.  Because Christ Jesus died forsaken on the cross, any one who trusts in Him needs never be afraid that they will die forsaken and abandoned by God.  Because in His passion on Good Friday, Christ bore the sins of the whole world, we sinners can live our entire lives not as strangers to God, but as His own dear children by faith in Him who first loved us and died for us.  AMEN!

Bread of Heaven

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

Maundy Thursday, April 17, 2014
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”  And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”” [Matthew 26:26-29]

What is this meal that we are to receive this evening?  If you ask ten different Christians this question, you are likely to get ten different answers.  Each answer will have some similarities, but each answer will also have some major differences.  Because of that, this evening on Maundy Thursday, I propose that we go directly to scripture for an answer.  Our message this evening, will be brief and very much to the point, and the point is that you will know exactly what is given at our Lord’s Table.

Jesus said, “I am the bread which came down from heaven; if anyone eats this bread, he will live forever.”  [John 6:51] In those simple yet profound Words, Jesus summarized what all of Holy Scripture teaches.  With Jesus, there is true life; the kind of life that even death can’t touch.  There is forgiveness, which covers everyone, and the righteousness of God, that is a righteousness that pleases God, which we can never obtain on our own.  All of this is a gift that Jesus grants to everyone who believes in Him and the Words that He speaks.  When we believe, we have faith, and when we have faith, that faith signifies that we have become so intimately united with Christ that He is actually living within us.  And because He is living within us, He gives us abundantly from all that He possesses.

In the same passage Jesus continues to give us wisdom towards considering our question this evening in these Words: “… and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” [John 6:51]  Now hear me church; this doesn’t just mean that Jesus has died for us on the cross, but that now, after His resurrection, He is giving us something of Himself and His eternal life.  When Jesus says, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:54), He doesn’t mean His earthly body, but the glorified body which is bound together with the new life of the kingdom of God.

So, the Lord’s Supper, which we celebrate tonight and every Sunday, is “food indeed and drink indeed” for the soul.  The cup of blessing that is blessed by the pastor through the Words of institution, grants us a participation in the Lord’s body.  When we have received this gift by faith, then we are abiding in Christ and He is living in us and among us, and we have the promise of eternal life through Him.

In this Holy meal, we are all one with each other and one with Jesus at His table.  All of us, and I do mean all of us who participate in this one bread become members of one and the same body, the body of Jesus Christ.  And as part of His body, we exist and are sent out into our community to bear witness before those who cannot or will not come forward to this altar.  Together as one body, we proclaim Christ’s death to them until He comes again.

We understand also that Jesus was serious when He said: “Do this as often as you meet”.  The earliest Christians celebrated the Lord’s Supper each Sunday, and perhaps even more often than that.  “The breaking of the bread” was counted among the most essential matters that must be observed if a person desired to be preserved in the one true faith.

Because the Lord’s Supper was taken so often, there was a danger that complacency and abuses could slip in, so St. Paul warns sharply against them in this way: “For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.” [1 Corinthians 11:17-20]

What are the things that might cause us not to discern the real presence of the Lord’s body?  Certainly a lack of repentance and a flippant attitude towards our sins and the gift of forgiveness when approaching the Lord’s table, would be major evidence towards that end.  An example might be those who feel no compelling need to come to His table, or those who only come in order to look religious in the eyes of others, instead of coming as sinners with a need for receiving forgiveness.

What is this judgment that we bring upon ourselves when we eat and drink unworthily?  Well, first let’s be clear that this judgment St. Paul talks about does not mean condemnation, but rather a discipline of God, so that we will recognize the body of Christ the very next time we approach His table.  Listen, as St. Paul goes on to explain this: “When we are judged by the Lord, we are chastened so that we may not be condemned along with the (unbelieving) world.” [1 Corinthians 11:32]

So, Holy Communion was instituted for the disciples of Jesus on the night He was betrayed, the evening before He was beat within an inch of His life and then hung upon a cross to die for the sins of the world; to die for your sins.

Ever since the institution of this great meal, everyone who comes to faith in the Word of Jesus—every day—is a disciple, and encouraged after instruction to receive his body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine.  It was instituted for you this evening who have been instructed and long to experience the love of God, which is yours in and through Jesus Christ.  Here is an important point for you to remember: There are no worthy guests who come to His table; only sinners.  No one has earned the right to come. What Paul is warning against is an unworthy manner of coming to the Supper.  In order to be true guests of His table we must examine ourselves and judge ourselves to be sinful and in need of His forgiveness.  Then once this is completed, we must not ever stay away from His table, but confess our sins, our trust in Christ, and then eat of the bread and drink of the cup.

So, to the heart of the matter, here is what we Christians of the Evangelical Lutheran Church preach, teach, and confess about what we receive in this meal at our Lord’s Table:  The bread and wine are the Lord’s body and blood given and shed for the forgiveness of sins (SA III.vi); the Lord’s body and blood are put into our mouths and on your tongues (FC SD XII.105); and all who receive the consecrated bread and wine actually receive, in a mysterious way, the Lord’s body and blood (FC SD XII.26) for the forgiveness of sins.  AMEN!

Really?

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

Palm Sunday, April 13, 2014
Rev. Brian Henderson
Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him. [John 12:18, 19]

If you were in Jerusalem the day Jesus rode into town, humbly seated upon a donkey, do you think you would have gone after Him; made your way out to see him?  I think that you probably would have, after all, the news was spreading everywhere, like a wild fire that Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead, and remember now, he wasn’t just dead, he was dead for four days; that kind of miracle was unheard of.  So, let’s just assume that all of us would have been there, but there is another question worth asking, and it is this: Would you have been there shouting “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”

Now before you answer that question, let’s consider just a couple of things.  First, we must understand what the word Hosanna means.  It literally means, “Save Us!”  Do you need saving?  Do you see Jesus as someone who can save you?  Now, if you say you see Jesus as someone who could save you, the next question sets the stage for further investigation into who you think Jesus was and is.  Are you ready?  What would you want Jesus to save you from?  I mean the choices are numerous.  Should he save you from a bad marriage, addiction, unemployment, poverty, sickness, or a corrupt government?  Or do you see Him as who He says that He is, very God in human flesh?  Another way to ask this is, do you see Him as your Messiah who will make all things right and good now, in this world now, or is He your Messiah who makes all things well with you and your Creator for all of eternity?

Now this morning we will examine two groups of people who greeted Jesus then, and still greet Him today, and then we will allow God to show us where we fit in.

“Crucify Him!”  Those were the words that a similar crowd shouted just a few days after Palm Sunday.  Instead of  saying “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel,” they said, “We have no king but Caesar!”  They are the ones who complained that the whole world had gone after, and were following Jesus.  They were the ones who were incensed that Jesus had turned over the market tables within the Lord’s Temple and called them a brood of vipers and accused them of turning the House of Prayer into a den of thieves!

They are the ones that continually came to Jesus for the miracles, but then walked away from Him when He demanded that they acknowledge Him as the Son of God.  They are the ones that flocked to see the sight of the blind restored, the lepers cured, the multitude fed, and the dead raised, but when He offered forgiveness of sins, they rightly said that no one could forgive sins but God, and then, they picked up stones to kill Him for being a blasphemer.

To those people then and many today, Jesus was acceptable as a good man, a wise man, a wonderful teacher, but they were certain that He never should He be called God and worshiped in a way that excluded all other ways of being a good and religious person.  People then and today will gladly hear a message preached about the good Samaritan, and then agree with you that we should all demonstrate brotherly love through tolerance, but when you tell them that only Jesus can ever be the “Good Samaritan” and that outside of Jesus’ work for sinners, we can never know peace with God and our neighbor, they will call you intolerant and a zealot.

Now let’s look at the people in the crowd that shouted Hosanna.  Do you think that they really wanted the kind of Savior that Jesus said He was?  Did they even understand who Jesus really was?  Maybe not, but they did know that before Jesus came into their lives, it seemed that if God was not dead, He was at least silent in their lives.  The cruelty of the Roman government was getting more severe everyday; hunger and poverty were rampant to the point that there seemed to be only two groups of people, the very rich and the very poor.  Sickness and death seemed to be the only reward for the average man, and then along comes Jesus.  He was teaching with authority about a God who wasn’t angry with their sins as much as He was saddened by them.  He wasn’t so much a punishing God as He was a forgiving God for those who turned to Him in repentance for mercy.  He no longer was simply the God of their Fathers, but Emmanuel, a God who was with them right now, in what ever they were going through.

While Jesus taught in ways that caused the religious zealots to be angry, those who really listened to Him teach, felt shame over their sins, but then they experienced comfort and hope when Jesus proclaimed God’s forgiveness.  In essence they were changed.  They saw past the miracles and saw the man, who was much more than a man or a teacher.  Could it be that what Jesus said is true?  Is He really the God-man, the Son of God?  While their faith was weak, and they were not quite sure what to make of Jesus, one thing was certain, they knew that He was sent by God; God was no longer silent in their lives, because in Jesus’ Words, God was right there with them.

So where do you stand within these two groups?  Isn’t it true that in each of us, God can find a mindset that on some days may yell both “Crucify Him” and “Hosanna” within the same day?   Now, if you are thinking, “No, I would never be like that.” I have one word for you, “Really?  Really?!”

Don’t we many times, say one thing and then do another?  Don’t we enjoy God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness of our neighbor and then quickly refuse forgiveness to another, or at least withhold it until they feel our pain?  Haven’t each of us been guilty of ignoring our need to worship God at His Church, or perhaps the opposite, when we have put the practice of our religion ahead of the demonstration of our faith?  Does it not become an easy thing for us to justify our own sins, but at the same time amplifying the sins of our neighbor?

So what shall we do?  And to answer that question, we turn to the Words of St. Paul in our Epistle lesson (Philippians 2:5-11), who says…

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus”.  What mind?  Well, the mind of faith; a mind that is first led by faith and then rational thought.  A mind that is part of a life that has been renewed in Holy Baptism and is sanctified every day by the Word of God.  A mind that sees Jesus on the colt of a donkey and remembers that the prophet Zechariah spoke about this moment, long before it occurred through these Words: “(Fear not, that is) rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

This is the Word of God that allows you to receive both the truth and the will of God.  It is a mind of faith that is able to see God as both righteous and forgiving; a mind that sees Jesus as both fully God and fully man.  This is the kind of mind that understands that when the Son of God came to us men, He came to provide for our salvation; that is, He knew that He was coming to die for us.  Even as He rode in on Palm Sunday and one group chanted Hosanna, He knew that another group was plotting to kill Him, and very soon would shout, “Crucify Him!”  But here is the wonderful mystery that is hard but essential for us to understand… Jesus came to die for both groups; He came to die for sinners and saints, and He came to die for you!

The mystery of both His birth and His death is 100% a work of God, and it is marvelous and wonderful in our sight.  You see, within this humble savior seated on a donkey rode the God of Creation.  The same mystery of God that confronted sinful men at the birth of Jesus and confounded Herod, rode upon a donkey towards Golgotha.  He was not riding to die only for good men and women, but for the no good sinners as well.

In our processional Psalm we heard that Jesus is the gate of the LORD, and that He is the answer to our prayers for salvation, that is forgiveness for our sins.  But, He is also the capstone of that gate, which the self-righteous and self sufficient people rejected then and reject still today.  But how do they reject Him?  When they refuse to repent of their independent ways and refuse to see Jesus as who He is.  And who is he?  He is God and there is none other.  Outside of Jesus, there is no salvation; He is the only way to eternal life.  He is the one who by taking on our flesh, that is by humbling Himself, became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

These are the people who reject God; they reject Jesus as God who not only died for sinners, but he died for them.  Here then, is the gospel message for this morning; a message for all people, saints and sinners, rich and poor alike:  Jesus died for you!  While He rode in on that donkey, He had both the cross and your salvation on His heart.

This week, we will gather on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday to honor God and highly exalt our Savior, Jesus Christ.  We will look deeply into His passion for sinners such as us, and we will allow both His Word and His real presence to transform our sinful minds.  We will experience real truth, such as we have experience this morning.  Real truth that exposes both our love for Him but also our sin that still clings to us.  He alone will teach us His truth, and He alone will comfort our fears.  And then on Easter morning, we will greet our Savior Jesus Christ, whom God has highly exalted, and we will proclaim the truth of that name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  AMEN

Let Us Go and Die With Jesus

Sunday, April 6th, 2014

Lent 5 (A), April 6, 2014
Rev. Brian Henderson
Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.[John 11:16]

So are the words of Thomas, and so should they be our words as well.  They are the words that the saints are to speak to their sinful flesh that will one day die, once and for all, and will one day in the Lord’s time, rise redeemed and completely sanctified for an eternity with Jesus and their neighbor.  But these aren’t simply words we speak to make it through times of sorrow, suffering, and testing; no these are words that echo the very Word of God.  Listen: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” [Galatians 2:20]  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. [Romans 6:3-4]

These Words of dying are meant to first point our eyes of faith to a spiritual death and then to a physical death.  They are Words that first bring a spiritual renewal and then the long promised physical resurrection, a resurrection from death.  Do you think that Thomas was thinking about any of this when he said, “Let’s also go (with Jesus), (so) that we may die with him”?  No, I think that these were the words of a pessimist; words of frustration that each of us can identify with.  It’s as if they were saying, “Well, all of our hope and dreams have been shattered, so there is nothing else to do but follow Jesus and die.  In those sentiments, I hear a spark of faith that moves their hearts to believe that if Jesus is leading them, some how, some way, everything would turn out alright.

In our Old Testament reading (Ezekiel 37:1–14), we see something similar happening.  The prophet Ezekiel, who is living in exile in Babylon with his fellow Jews, is taken up in the spirit by the very hand of God and shown a vast valley of dead, dry bones.  And (the Lord) asked him, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And (Ezekiel) answered, “O Lord God, you know.”  Mark and remember those Words.  The Lord knows.  He knows what the outcome will be when we follow Jesus to what appears to be certain death, and He knows what the outcome will be in our lives when everything around us is telling us that living the life, or dying the death of a Christian should not have this much trouble, this much fear, this much worry.  He knows, and because He knows, because He loves you and calls you to follow Him, we know that in the end everything will be well for our souls and our eternal life with Jesus.

Have you ever been so depressed that you just didn’t even feel like waking up in the morning?  Some times it may be so bad that you don’t want to see anyone or talk to anyone.  Even the Word of God seems to do you no good; well at least that’s what you tell yourself, when the truth is, the Word of God is the only thing that will do you any good; specifically that part of the Word that promises new life in a situation that seems completely dead.  And that is what God was speaking to Ezekiel and all of his fellow countrymen who were being held captive there in Babylon.  Babylon was a place that seemed hopeless for the nation of Israel; they appeared to be dead as a people.  But then God asked a question that was meant to test faith and cause it to grow.  And where faith is alive and growing there is life and there is hope.  “Son of man, can these bones live?”  And to this the weak voice of faith, like that of Thomas answers perhaps a bit pessimistically, “O Lord GOD, you know.”

Do you hear the weak faith?  Oh yes, it’s small, the size of a mustard seed I’d say, but it’s the kind of faith that let’s go of all hope that may come from itself or this fallen world, and trust only is that which is greater and outside of itself and this world.  It is the kind of faith that will cause our depressed hearts to take notice, and allow our unwilling ears to listen for at least a bit of “good news.”

Then (God) said to (Ezekiel), “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.  Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” [Ezekiel 37:4-6]  What was God showing Ezekiel?  This is an important question, because God is always consistent, so what He is showing Ezekiel, He is showing us.  In other words, He is demonstrating something the church, you and I, should know right now, today!

What He was showing them and us is that the Lord who promised to bring life to dead bones in the vision is simply doing the very same thing He did long ago in the garden of Eden… He is Creating life: “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. [Genesis 1:26a] The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostril the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” [Genesis 2:7]

Do you see where the hope of life came from?  It was from the very Word of God and the very breath of God.  But the Word must be spoken; it must be declared with the power of God, that is it must have the breath of life behind it.  “So” Ezekiel in obedience to the Word, speaks the Word “as (he) was commanded.  And as (he) prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And (he) looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then (God) said to (him), “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.”  So (Ezekiel) prophesied as he (was) commanded, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. [Ezekiel 37:7–10]

At the Lord’s command, Ezekiel prophesied to lifeless bones, and a miracle happened. There was a rattling noise as bone came together with bone. To Ezekiel the valley seemed no longer to be full of disconnected bones but of skeletons. God’s miracle continued, “Tendons and flesh appeared on them.” Now the valley resembled a battlefield littered with corpses. But God’s miracle was still not over. At God’s command Ezekiel continued to prophesy, and breath entered that army of corpses, and they came to life and stood up. Through a vision Ezekiel saw how God would re-create his people now apparently hopelessly lost in Babylon.

Ezekiel carried out his orders and the Lord kept his promise. He did not want to speak, I’m sure, and neither did the Jews want to listen; they were depressed and simply waiting to die.  But, when God speaks His Words carry the mighty life giving power of His Spirit.  When He speaks, even the dead in their graves must listen and respond.  When a corpse, even one with out ears, or one where all of the atoms have been scattered to who knows where is spoken to, they must listen, and they must respond!

This ought to be a description of our lives.  When we are so depressed that even the chirping of the birds and our neighbors laughter and joy cause nothing but irritation and even anger, we have no choice but to listen and respond, as God speaks.  As we are carried away by the power of the Lord’s Spirit, we have no choice but to carry out the Lord’s orders, and then watch as the Lord carries out his promises of life within us.

Dear friends, it is the knowledge that we are doing the Lord’s will in our lives that will take away the boredom, drudgery, and even the depression we find in life; it is what brings life to dead and dry bones. When we realize that since our baptism we have been brought to death with Christ, but then raised to a new and eternal life with Him, we are not just working for a paycheck, but we are serving our risen LORD and God, who through that paycheck is supporting our families. We are not just studying to get a passing grade in school, but we are instead using our minds to the best we can, because our Lord has called us to be good stewards, or managers of our intellects. We are not just taking care of the kids or grandkids, but we are shaping their souls as God’s own children, and teaching them about Jesus by the way we talk and act. We do these things even when we feel depressed and alone, because we know that behind every thing we do is the promise of God, that says “all things work together for good, for those who are called according to God’s purpose.” [Romans 8:28]  And the Lord keeps his promises, just as he did when Ezekiel preached to those dry bones as he was instructed to.

This morning, just as Ezekiel was obedient to the call of God to prophesy, that is to preach the Word of God so that life could come amongst those who felt as good as dead, I too am called to preach the same message of life and renewal.  It has been a long period of Lent, and we are tired, but our travels are not yet complete.  We must continue to follow Jesus and learn to die with Him, so that we will live with Him.  So hear these last words:

“Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel.  And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people.  And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.” [Ezekiel 37:11-14]

This morning, some of us may be distracted by tragedy or loss in our lives.  Maybe it is the loss of a loved one through death, or the sting of betrayal.  Maybe it is the loss of a job or the lack of one for a long period of time.  And maybe, like Martha we have spoken similar words of pain and disappointment to our Lord: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  ‘If you had been with me, I would not be suffering this loss in my life.’  And now, the winds from the four corners begin to blow; the power of the spirit of God begins to fan that spark of faith that still lives in you, and along with Martha you are led by faith to proclaim:  “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”

To Martha, Jesus said, “Your brother will rise again.”  And to us, He is saying your hope, and indeed your very joy in life has not left you; I am still with you, and I will never leave nor forsake you.”  And as Martha says, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day,” we may say with her, “I know that one day this depression, this sorrow will pass on the last day, when I am in heaven.”  And to Martha and to us, Jesus says, “I AM the resurrection and the (joy of)life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”

Dear baptized, do you believe this?  Then your Master calls to you along with Lazarus, in the same power that brought life to the dried bones Ezekiel’s vision, and He says: “Come out!”  Come out with a purpose and a mission.  Come out into a world that is dying and share the church’s story of faith; share your story.  Tell others how God has saved you and is saving you.  Tell them that how even in the midst of tragedy and disappointment, He is still with you.

Holy week is fast approaching and what a wonderful opportunity it is for us to invite our neighbors, family, friends, and coworkers to come and experience the wind of God that brings life to dead and dried up bones.  You can start by inviting them to Palm Sunday, where they will experience the pomp and majesty of our Savior as He rides into Jerusalem upon a donkey, surrounded by the chants “Hosanna,” and knowing full well that be was about to die a criminals death for all sinners.  And then, you can invite them to experience the nurturing power of God that was served to the apostles and now you, as we celebrate the last supper of our Lord on Maundy Thursday.  Then as you leave on Thursday night, invite them to come back again on Good Friday and experience the agony of our Lord, as He suffered and died for every person that will ever live, even for them.  And finally, make sure you invite them to experience the resurrection of our Lord.  The assurance that one day soon, Jesus will make good on the vision given to Ezekiel, that all those who have fallen asleep in death will rise again in eternal life.  AMEN!