Archive for January, 2015

Do a One Eighty!

Sunday, January 25th, 2015

Epiphany 3-B, January 25, 2015
Rev. Brian HendersonPastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

Many of us have heard the story of Jonah since we were children.  It has several lessons that are wonderful for children to learn, because if those lessons stick with them when they are older, they will serve as reminders to them that while God is indeed merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, His will in our lives can not be avoided.

In the first two chapters of Jonah we are told clearly what God’s will is: “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” And in the very next sentence we read, “But Jonah refused to go, and instead he rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord. ”.  I remember as a child, after hearing this story so many times, thinking, “Oh oh… Jonah, don’t mess with God, and don’t run, because He will always find you.  He’s got ways of making you go!”

So what happened to Jonah while he was on board that ship bound for Tarshish?  A terrible storm kicked up and the sailors thought that the gods of the sea were angry with them and must be appeased.  But Jonah knew it was the Lord’s doing; He knew he had been found out.  But in the militancy of his sin, he devised a way of not doing what God wanted done… he would die before he would go to Nineveh.   “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord” Jonah said, “(He is) the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them.

Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea grew more and more tempestuous. He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.”  [Jonah 1]  And they did just that!

But God’s will and His presence cannot be denied.  So what did God do?  He sent a giant fish to swallow up Jonah.  And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights (Note: Does this sound familiar?), before that great fish spit him out.  And where did it spit him out at? Right there on the shores of Nineveh!

So what caused Jonah to be so militant in his sin of disobedience?  Well, two things actually.  First, the people of Nineveh were the mortal enemies of the Israelites, and second Jonah new God’s nature very well.  Listen to Jonah’s own words found in chapter four for why he ran from God: “I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.”  In other words, Jonah knew that if his mortal enemies repented, that is if they believed God and turned to Him, He would save them from their certain punishment.

In our readings this morning (Jonah 3:1–5, 10, 1 Corinthians 7:29–31, Mark 1:14–20) we are given a clearer picture of repentance for all of us in the church today.  In chapter three of Jonah, God re-commissions Jonah on the same mission, but this time he is given an even more offensive message to declare… offensive to Jonah that is.  Instead of a message of certain punishment through the Law of God, Jonah also declares the gospel, which is hope in God’s mercy.  “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”  Forty more days… that is the gospel.  If they will receive God, that is turn to him, do a 180 degree turn away from their sinful life styles, God may relent!

The story of Jonah is really the story of two groups of sinners turning to their Savior God, and conversely by turning to God’s mercy, they repented; they turned away from their sins.  Jonah, on his part was given a second chance to turn away from his sin of disobedience and simply proclaim God’s Word, which he did.  The people of Nineveh similarly, were shown their sin by God’s Law and they too repented; they turned to God’s mercy.

What is there in your life this morning that God is calling you to do a 180 from?  What is it that is interfering with your higher calling from God?  Is it you finances, relationships, anger, or lust?  Or perhaps it is your continued misuse of alcohol or drugs that is influencing you with a different kind of spirit other than the Holy Spirit?

Whatever your Tarshish is this morning, God has been trying to get you to turn from it and turn to His Son Jesus Christ for some time, and now you must apply the lesson of Jonah to your own life.  God is exactly the same now as He was when Jonah encountered Him.  He will not relent and He will not let go.  He will hound you until you relent and let go.  You will not know His peace in this world until you allow His will to happen in your life.

And like the people of Nineveh, your time is short; you too have only a certain allotted portion of time to repent; to do a 180!  St. Paul puts it this way: “The appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.”

Just as St. Paul had to be ready for the Lord’s return at any time, so we too must be ready today. In all our vocations and stations of life, we must allow God to be in first place; we are free to be in the world and use all of it’s resources, but they must not replace God’s presence or will for us.  St. Peter says that “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise (to return), as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” [2 Peter 3:9]  That is, He wants you to do a 180!

Repentance is really very simple.  God wants you to turn to His Son, Jesus Christ.  He wants you to agree with Him that you are lost, hopeless, and helpless in your sins and then like a child separated from it’s mother in a large crowd of strangers, simply call out to Him… “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner!”

You see, your sin that you think you hide so well from God is plainly seen by Him.  In other words, in your sin, you stick out like a sore thumb.  Isn’t it true that sometimes, we can be so lost in our sins that we don’t even care?  But God sees and knows; He cares!  God wants you to return to Him by turning to the cross and see His Son Jesus; look full into His passion, his suffering and death and know that it was for you.  And then look at the tomb that held the lifeless body of Jesus for three days, but on Easter morning it was found empty, because He lives!  He then wants to turn your eyes back to the waters of your baptism, and there once again be refreshed and find your identity and your way back onto the path of repentance.   Do a 180; turn back to the beginning, which is your eternal today.

You have heard me say what I am about to declare so many times, that I am afraid you are getting tired of it, but I pray that you never tire of this reminder.  “You have been saved from your sins and allowed to remain in this world for a reason.”  And that reason is clearly stated in our gospel reading.  You are to be fishers of men.  You are to proclaim the very same message that Jonah was tasked with: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

This morning I trust that you are here because you have listened to and responded to the call of Jesus.  You too have heard Him say, “Follow me.”  But follow Him where?  Follow Him as He simultaneously leads you deeper into both the Kingdom of God’s grace by faith in Jesus Christ, and then out into a world darkened by sin, seeking to save the lost, by proclaiming the very same message that saved you!  Repent… do a 180.  Turn to Jesus Christ to be saved and you will be simultaneously turning from the sins that have entrapped you!

Dear friends, you are not alone in this mission of both living out repentance and declaring it.  We the church, your brothers and sisters are right there with you as we are drawn ever deeper into the mystic union of Christ’s body the church in witness, mercy, and our lives together with Christ and each other.

As we breath in and out to live in this physical world, so too are we sustained by the spiritual pattern of repentance, confession, and forgiveness of sins.  As our hearts beat and give life blood to our bodies, so too, repentance is the very rhythm of the church.

What is repentance?  It is the cry of a lost child that knows it will only be safe in the protective arms of it’s Father.  It is the tear dropped from the eye of faith.  It is the milk and honey of the gospel after the heart has been torn by the gall and the wormwood of the Law.

By God’s free grace given to you through Christ Jesus you have been set free, so turn to Christ and live out that freedom.  He will again remind you of His mercy and bring peace to your soul.  Dear friends, do a 180… AMEN!

Mind Your Calling

Sunday, January 18th, 2015

Epiphany 2-B, January 18, 2015
Rev. Brian HendersonPastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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Have you ever had to deliver some bad news to someone?  Take just a moment to think about that question; maybe you’ve been a supervisor and you had to let someone go, or perhaps you were in a relationship that you felt was not God pleasing and you knew you had to cut it off before it developed into something sinful.  Now let me pose another question; have you ever been the recipient of some bad news?  Maybe from a doctor or a policeman?  How did you feel?

Well this morning’s message gives us not just examples of “bad news” but also good news.  We will use all three readings to look at God’s call to sinners such as us.  First in our Old Testament lesson (1 Samuel 3:1-20) we will see how God called and used a young boy named Samuel to give some bad news to his mentor and teacher Eli, and then in our Gospel lesson (John 1:43-51), we will see how Jesus’ call to Nathaniel used both the law and the gospel to bring faith, and finally we will look at our Epistle lesson (1 Corinthians 6:12-20), which will teach us how to apply all of God’s Word as we live out our lives within our calling as Christians within Christ’s church and our communities.

God equips those He calls. If you were the young boy Samuel, and you heard someone calling your name, do you think that you would immediately know that it was the Lord?  I don’t see how you could if you did not know what the Lord’s voice sounded like; if you didn’t know how to separate His voice from all of the other voices in this world.  That was Samuel’s challenge, and it is still ours today.

Samuel was called on three separate occasions during the night, and each time he went to the man that he loved and trusted, thinking that it was Eli who called him.  After the third incident, Eli who was Samuel’s teacher realized that Samuel was encountering the voice of God, and like any good teacher of the church, he instructed the boy to wait on the Lord to call again, and then simply respond to God with these words, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.”  And that is exactly what the boy did, and oh my, did the Lord ever speak.

It was a frightening message of God’s Law, which promised that the old priest Eli and his family would be punished because of Eli’s poor parenting and his son’s sins.  Now imagine if you were that young boy Samuel, would you want to tell the one you loved like a father that bit of bad news?  But Eli recognized that what God had told the boy was not pleasant, but he also knew that what ever God’s says is ultimately for the good of those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.  So Eli continues as the faithful teacher and says, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. And (Eli) said, “It is the Lord. Let him do what seems good to him.”

When Martin Luther was a student at the University of Erfurt, he found a copy of the Bible in the school library. As he paged through Scripture, he happened upon these very words.  When he came to the 10th verse, he began wishing that he could be like Samuel and hear the voice of God! But years latter after reading all of God’s Word, Luther discovered that on the pages of the Bible, God really does speak to all of us, just as he once spoke to Samuel.  Like Samuel, Luther, and countless others, when we read God’s Word, we too hear Him speak.  And when we hear, we are to simply say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.”  We are to listen and agree that God is right and we are wrong.

In Samuel’s and Luther’s day, “the word of the Lord was rare,” and so it is in ours as well.  People have little interest in hearing what God has to say. And because of that, “there are not many visions.”

No greater judgment can fall upon a nation of people than when God’s Word and voice become rare. When people do not appreciate the gospel, God often takes it from them. Do you understand that by your repeated neglect of God’s Word you can bring about a famine of God’s Word?  Will you hear Him speak even more today?  If so, then let us examine…

The Call of Nathaniel. In Nathaniel’s call wee see both God’s Law and the good news of the Gospel.  “Come and see!”  All who have tasted and seen that the Lord’s goodness is truly present and given through Jesus Christ, will agree that those are the sweet invitation of the gospel.  Andrew and Peter knew of that goodness because another great teacher of the church, John the Baptist informed them.  And Jesus desired that Nathaniel would know the sweetness of this invitation too.  So Andrew, overwhelmed with joy seeks out Nathaniel and says,  “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, (the Messiah) Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”  And how does Nathaniel respond?  “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Have you ever tried to share you faith with someone, only to have him or her ridicule you for it?  They throw up one barrier after another to avoid the real issue behind the invitation of faith.  Why?  Because if your witness is true, then there really is a God who knows all things, and if that is true then that means I’ve been found out; it means I will have to change the way I think and the way I live.

So how did Andrew respond to Nathaniel’s challenge to his witness of Jesus?  He simply said, “Come and see.”  And wonder of wonders Nathaniel did that very thing!

What we must remember is that our gospel invitation to others is really the Lord’s call through us.  It is a call to come and experience both God’s truth in the Law, which shows us our sins, and His truth of the gospel, which shows us that our sins have been pardoned; taken away as far as the east is from the west.

When Jesus saw Nathaniel and the others approaching He said to the men, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit.”  Now I don’t know how you read this, but I kind of hear sarcasm in the voice of Jesus; sarcasm directed at Nathaniel’s earlier sarcastic question that asked, “Can any thing good come from Nazareth.”  I think that Nathaniel picked up on that sarcasm too, and that is why he asked, “How do you know me?”  And to that, Jesus answers: “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”  Whoa!  Don’t you kind of wonder what it was that Nathaniel now knows by faith that Jesus saw him doing?  Was it something done in private that he would have been embarrassed to have been seen doing in public?  Maybe, we don’t know, but what ever it was it so rattled Nathaniel that he quickly replied, “Rabbi, you (really) are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

And just like that, another sinner is brought into the Kingdom of Grace by faith; faith which came by the hearing of the Word of God, the message from and about Jesus Christ.  Now if that was all we had in or message this morning, I suppose that would be enough, but that is not all of our message.  Jesus is still speaking to both Nathaniel and us, and He says, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”  In other Word’s, “Because you heard my Word and it both smashed your prideful heart and then rebuilt it in hope, you think you have heard and seen enough, but the truth is brother you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

Wait until you see me high and lifted up on the cross, suffering and dying for the sins of the world.  Wait until you discover that after three days dead, my tomb is empty and I have come back to life to teach you even more mysteries.  Wait until I give you the power and authority to do the very same thing when you speak my Word and apply it with simple elements like water, wine, and bread.  Wait until you realize that just as I died and was resurrected, so too will you and all others who hear my Word.” And this is what we call…

The work or the call of Christs church. But some may counter that the work or mission of the church is happening in a much different world than ever before.  They will say that there are challenges that face us today that the apostles or even Luther did not have to encounter.  And to that I will simply present our Epistle reading and say… really?

St. Paul wrote this letter in an attempt to correct both the thinking and the teaching of a church in Corinth that seemed bogged down in a philosophy of libertinism.  All things were permissible as long as you have Christ.  Many scholars believe that the good Christians of Corinth grabbed one of Paul’s teachings, which stated that Christians were free of the condemnation of the Law of God and ran with it; they ran to the obvious conclusion… any thing goes!

Does anything go?  Is your body simply an amusement park that you can use as you see fit?  Is flesh, human flesh really unimportant when compared to our eternal destiny?  Paul answers with a resounding, no!  What you do with your body matters to God, because the body, that is human life belongs to Him alone.

On this Sunday that we celebrate the sanctity of human life, we do so in the midst of these Words of Paul: The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?

Of course you know this, but the world outside of this sanctuary does not.  They do not see that a very young child like Samuel can be used in a very powerful way by God.  They do not understand that there is a God who sees everything we do, and yet he still loves us, forgives us, and calls us to faith in His Son who died that they might have life.

All around us are people who live very promiscuous lives that seem to be centered around sex, drugs, and … well you get the point.  They do not realize that their bodies are not their own, but rather they are the Lord’s, bought with a dear price; with His very life blood.  In what ever station we find life it is the Lord’s.  Whether that life is unborn, very young, very old, healthy, or gravely ill, our bodies, each and everyone of them belong to the Lord!  Life is a gift of God, and it ceases to live and move and find it’s being in this world only when God calls it to the next eternal one.

The gift of sex between a man and a woman is given liberally and freely by God within the relationship of husband and wife, so that if it is God’s will, an even greater gift can be given, the gift of life!  This is God’s will and it is the teaching of His Holy Word.  The church is not to alter it nor remove it, but like all other messages of God we are to receive it even if it is unpopular; even if there is a part of us, that does not agree with it.  We are simply to admit that God is right and we are wrong.  But this is not as easy as some may think; it is not easy because our culture will not receive this message.  They will call us bigoted and unloving.  And when this is done, we demonstrate the exact opposite.  We accept them as they are and we love them enough to continue calling them to repentance and faith through the same Word of God that called out to Samuel, the people of Corinth, and Nathaniel and each of the apostles.

God’s Word is never easy to share; it is not easy because it confronts men and women in the midst of their sins.  But it becomes easy after sinful men allow God to work through His Word, and then agree with Him that they are dead and lost in their sinful choices; it becomes easy because it is then when the gospel can be spoken and heard, and new life through the forgiveness of sins can be given.

While it is true that God hates what today’s society calls recreational sex, because it is outside the boundaries of marriage between a man and a woman who become one flesh, it is also true that He is slow to anger and quick to forgive when repentance and forgiveness is sought and given through Jesus Christ.  And when these sinful relationships create children out of wedlock, God does not declare the fruit unclean simply because the tree was.  God loves that child, and the proof is the very life it has been given.

And it is that gift of life that many times will create fear and worry in the hearts of the parents, and that fear can cause them to respond by compounding one sin with another, and so they choose abortion.  Abortion is the termination of life, and that is called killing, but killing another human is not the unforgivable sin; there is still room for grace.  And that dear Christians is both the call and the work of Christ’s church.  We are here to proclaim the gospel, the grace of God available to all sinners who will simply turn to Christ and trust in Him alone.  May we, each of us be busy about this work, inviting anyone who will respond to come and see; come and hear a message that will change them forever!  AMEN!

Who Did John Baptize?

Sunday, January 11th, 2015

Epiphany 1-B, January 11, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1), but then in the middle of time, “John the baptizer appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem went out to him to be baptized.  They were drawn to John; they confessed their sins to John.  They even wondered out loud and asked if John might be the promised Savior of the Jewish people, and John said very plainly, (No, but He is coming.)  “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

And then one day, along came Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee and He presented Himself to be baptized by John in the Jordan.  [Mark 1:4-11]  Do you think that John knew whom it really was that presented Himself for baptism?  Certainly he was equipped by God to receive all that Jesus revealed Himself to be, but did He know that Jesus was from before the beginning of Creation?  Do we understand?

So in the middle of our doubts and fears, the Voice that spoke in the beginning speaks again about a new beginning.  “And when (Jesus) came up out of the water, immediately (John) saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

In the beginning God… Do you understand what those simple words mean?  Do you understand that in the beginning of all that we know as our reality, there was already God Who has no beginning?  Prior to the beginning, there was no up and no down, no here and no there.  There was nothing—except God.  He always was and always shall be.

So, in the beginning before there was anything, there was God who creates time and space, simply because He wills it.  This is Who we gather to hear from this morning; He alone deserves to be held in reverence and awe by us, His creation.  Everything exists because of Him and for Him, including you and me.  We don’t exists of ourselves or for ourselves.  We have no right to exist outside of our being in harmony and peace with our majestic Creator and His plan for us.  In His plan He makes us right with Him and each other, and He alone gives our lives great meaning.  What does it mean to have life?  It means that as people who live in the middle of time, the Eternal Creator, Who is the beginning comes to us in the middle and reveals Himself and allows us to know our own beginning and our end.

Do you understand who this Jesus that desires John’s baptism is?  He is the Logos, the Word of God, who from the beginning spoke these simple Words “Let there be light” and then there was.  Do you understand that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made”?

In Him and because of Him, we live and move and find our being.  He is the image of the invisible God.  He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.  He is the beginning, the first born from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent.  For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him (the Creator of the beginning meets sinful creation in the middle and) reconciles to Himself all things whether on earth or in heaven, making peace with sinful men and women.

But how can that be?  How can one who is in the middle with the rest of us be from the beginning; not just from the beginning, but before the beginning?

Sinful men and women can not understand the truth of who Jesus is, because not only do they run from the beginning of Creation, but they can not perceive of something before the beginning.  For although in their hearts they know there is God, they do not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they cling to their futile thinking, and pretend that their darkened foolish hearts are full of light and wisdom. So, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator they are lost in the middle.  But God still comes to sinful men and women; He will not give up moving their hearts and eyes of faith to the beginning and the end.

And here in the waters of the Jordan stands Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God and the son of Mary.  Here before John and us this morning is the head of the body, the church.  He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead.  In Him alone is the fullness of God and through Him alone the middle is brought back to the beginning by the blood of His cross.

Why was Jesus baptized?  Simply put, He comes to show us the way back to the beginning; to bring abundant life.  He comes as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world so that through grace we can know God’s love.  To ask why was Jesus baptized is really to ask why was Jesus born.  He was born to bring death and life; an end and a eternal beginning.  As He walks out of the waters of baptism He immediately enters into a life of service and suffering that will lead to His death upon the cross; a death that is for us, because it brings us back to the beginning and makes us right with our Creator.  But how does this help us?  Because where He leads, we follow.  We follow Him to the waters of our own baptism, and within those waters we also encounter the cross; we encounter and end to our sinful flesh as we follow Jesus who comes from the beginning.  Like Jesus, we die to live.  We emerge from our own baptism as someone who has been buried with Christ and raised to new life through the glory of the Father; a life that was the intent of the Creator in the beginning.

So consider yourselves dead.  You old self, that is your body of sin was crucified with Christ.

At the end of 2014 we celebrated the truth that God’s Son took upon Himself our human nature; He who was the source of the beginning came to us in the middle.  But He did more than come to us as one of us, He came to take on our sin.  And because of that sin, we can say that the source of the beginning takes on the nature of the middle, so that he can put an end to our fear of the end by bringing us back to the beginning.  For us He is born and for us He dies. In baptism, faith in this Son of God unites us to Him so that His death is truly our death.

In the beginning, the earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.  In your sins, you also were covered by darkness.  But in your baptism, the same Spirit of God that hovered over the waters in the beginning, hovered over the waters of your baptism.  In the beginning when the Logos, the Son of God spoke and said “Let there be light,” there was!  And in your baptism; the day you first entered into God’s beginning, that same Logos, the Word of God spoke a beginning for you. Through the obedience of His holy church, Christ commanded that you be baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  He commanded that you be taught to observe all that He has commanded and revealed. And behold, in your baptism He gives you this great promise,  “He is with you always,” (even) to the end of this sinful age when He brings you back to the beginning.

So, if you consider yourselves dead with Christ, you must also consider yourselves alive with Him as well.

In holy baptism you have been made truly alive!  You are alive because Christ is raised from the dead.  Remember, in holy baptism you are following Christ, the source of the beginning.  You must not remain at the cross of Good Friday, but you must proceed to the empty tomb of Easter morning.  He is risen indeed!

The Father put His approval on His Son’s death by raising Him up.  Christ’s resurrection seals the atoning power of His sacrificial death for you.  The sins of the world were once and for all paid for.  And now, you too are asked to leave the tomb of death, and follow your Savior in new life; a restored life that finds its source in the beginning.

You are alive.  To be alive is to walk; to be raised to life is to be enable to walk, to move to show great evidence to all who see that you have abundant life.  Remaining in sin is to be without spiritual life; it is death.  But in Christ, that is in your baptismal newness of life you have an abundant life!  You are truly alive in Christ; alive to God.  You are to live your life with a new identity, a new status.  You are a child of God, a child of the beginning.

You are baptized; you have been born again, brought back to the beginning.  And because you are no longer imprisoned in a body of death, you are free!

You are fee to live to God in this New Year with an eternal new beginning.  What will that new life look like this year?  Only God knows.  But I do know this, you will continue to have trouble with your old sinful nature, because it does not like to die, because it is afraid of both the beginning and the end.  But you are of the beginning, and you are a new creation in Christ.  You are free; free to grow and face any challenge that awaits you.  You are free, but your old nature is not; it is bound to die, and it resents that you may live and it may not, so it will fight you.  So, you must fight it back, by daily putting it to death.  You do this when you remember your baptism; by remembering the death and resurrection of Jesus is also your death and resurrection.

I will close with this brief story about a jeweler who once told me of an easy but certain way of knowing the difference between a true diamond and a phony one.  This test is called the water test. He said that if I ever want to see the difference between the two I have to go to the water.  “An imitation diamond” he said, “is never so brilliant as a genuine stone. If you drop an imitation diamond into a glass of water, it almost disappears, but a genuine diamond sparkles even under water, and is distinctly visible.”

The moral of that little story is simple.  If through out this New Year you begin to feel discouraged and tired from fighting off your old sinful nature; if you begin to feel like sin is winning and grace and forgiveness are loosing, go back to the beginning; go back to the water, back to your baptism and remember it is there where your Creator met you and gave you new life.  Go back to the washing of the water and the Word, and let God’s Spirit dwell richly within you and shine.  AMEN.

Faithfully Obedient in Christ’s Word!

Sunday, January 4th, 2015

2nd Sunday after Christmas B, January 4, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom.  And the favor of God was upon him.” (Vs. 40)

A fable A man was sleeping one night in his cabin in the mountains, when suddenly his room filled with light and an angel of the Lord appeared. The angel told the man that the Lord had work for him to do, and He showed him a large rock in front of his cabin. The angel explained to the man that his job was to push against that rock everyday with all of his strength. So the man was obedient, and every day he worked at the task; his shoulders became strong as he daily pushed against the massive surface of the unmoving rock, pushing with all his might.  Each night the man returned to his cabin sore, and tired.  Eventually he began feeling like his whole day had been spent in vain.

Seeing that the man was showing signs of discouragement, the devil decided to pay him a visit and place negative thoughts into the man’s weary mind: “You’ve been pushing against that rock for a long time, and it hasn’t budged. Why kill yourself over this? You are never going to move it.”  After a while, these suggestive thoughts started giving the man the feeling that not only was his task impossible but also that he was a failure.  Eventually the man became depressed and he thought, “Yes, why kill myself over this?  I’ll just put in my time, giving just the minimum effort and that will be good enough.”

And that’s exactly what he planned to do, but that night, he decided to take his troubled thoughts to the Lord in prayer.

“Lord” he said, “I have worked long and hard, putting all my strength into what you’ve asked me to do.  And after all this time, I haven’t even budged that rock by a millimeter.  What is wrong? Why am I failing?”

And to this the Lord lovingly responded, “My friend, when I asked you to serve me and you accepted, I told you that your task was to push against the rock with all your strength, which you have done faithfully.  Never once did I mention to you that I expected you to move it.  Your task was simply to push.  And now look at yourself.  Your arms and back are strong and muscled, your shoulders are square, your hands are calloused from constant pressure, and your legs have become massive and hard.  Through opposition you have grown strong and your abilities now far surpass what you used to have.  And it’s true, you haven’t moved the rock.  But your calling was to be obedient and to push and to exercise your faith and trust in My wisdom.  This you have done.  And now friend, I WILL move the rock.”

Obedience and faith; these are two things which always seem to go together.  We need faith to believe that God will do what He said He would do, and we need obedience to follow the path that God has put us on!  Mary and Joseph were obedient, but for the ultimate example of faithfulness and obedience we must turn to and trust Jesus!

(Luke 2:40-52) Every year, Joseph and Mary obediently did the right thing; they took their son Jesus and made the long journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem to celebrate the eight day long pass-over festival.  This year was a little different, because Jesus had now turned 12 years old.  This was the age when a Jewish boy became “a son of the law” and was expected  to obediently learn and observe all that the law demanded.  Well the festival is over, and now it’s time to head back to Nazareth.  Joseph, Mary, and Jesus would return home along with of the other families from Nazareth and near by villages and towns.

Well after the first day of travel, as everyone in the caravan was pitching their tents for the evening, Joseph and Mary realized any parent’s worst nightmare, Jesus was missing!  They quickly turned around and went back up the hill making the long trek back to Jerusalem to search for Jesus.  Once back in the city, the couple began to search for their boy.  They retraced their steps and went to every place they thought that Jesus might be.  Finally, towards evening, they found Him, sitting on the steps of the temple as a student, engaged in a learning discussion about God’s Word with Rabbi’s who were also gathered there.

They were relieved of course but they also must have been worn-out and a little irritated as well, but they held their temper and didn’t interrupt the discussion that was taking place between Jesus and all of those teachers.  It amazed them to hear Jesus asking and answering such deep spiritual questions.  The teachers were amazed at the boy’s wisdom too.  But now, Jesus seeing His parents suddenly rose, and He obediently walked over to them.  And His mother said to him, Son, why have you treated us so? See, your father and I have been searching everywhere for you; (we were worried sick over you!)” And Jesus who was honestly surprised by this said to them, “You were looking for me? Didn’t you know that I had to be doing my Father’s work?  Didn’t you know that I would be here in my Father’s house?” And that was it, the dilemma was over!  Jesus and His family began the long trip back to Nazareth.

Mary and Joseph didn’t understand, but they knew that Jesus was a special boy, but someday they would understand that He was also the “God-man”.  So Jesus grew as any child, and he became wise and strong, and he continued to find favor in the eyes of God and man! Why didn’t Mary and Joseph know where to find Jesus?  Why didn’t they remember what the angels, the Magi, and the prophets told them about their child 12 years ago?  Why didn’t they remember that Jesus was really God the Father’s Son?  Well, because Jesus was also a very real person.

As a boy, and latter as a man Jesus was under God’s authority and dependent upon him for all things just like we are.  As a boy, Jesus was expected to be obedient to His earthly parents and keep the 4th Commandment perfectly, just as you and I must do, but the difference between Jesus and us is He was able to do it and we can’t!  But then why did Jesus become separated from Joseph and Mary if he wasn’t at fault?  Well the error was His parents.  When Jesus asked them how it was that they didn’t know where he would be, he wasn’t being sarcastic, but truthful.  “Why didn’t you look for me before you left?  I would have left with you, you know!  Have you forgotten who I really am?  Have you forgotten all that the angel told you about me?  Why would you need to wonder where I would be or where you must find me?  I must be in my Father’s house!”  Here in our gospel lesson, at the age of twelve we see that Jesus clearly knew most certainly that God was his Father in a way in which he was not Father to anyone else!

Dear friends, do you understand the wonderful mystery here?   This boy Jesus is speaking as God the Son; even before He took on our flesh He was always eternally the Son of God! Can you surrender to the mystery that declares that Jesus is true God and true man without trying to explain how this can be?  Yes you can if by faith you obediently surrender this mystery into God’s capable hands!  And it is by this same faith that we believe, teach, and confess that the divine and human natures of Jesus are now and forever inseparable; not pasted together like two boards, nor one transformed or absorbed into the other, but instead, each essence of God and man simply exist together in an unchangeable way that truly makes Jesus the God-Man!

According to this personal union this God-boy in our gospel lesson already and always possessed His majesty as God, and yet He allowed it to be hidden just as great clouds in the sky can hide the sun. This is how Jesus could grow in stature, wisdom, and grace before God and other people [Luke 2:52]. This is why Jesus, knowing that He was the true Son of God, continued being obedient to His earthly parents.

Make no mistake friends, Jesus knew that He was the Son of the Father, and He knew that He was divine, and yet, he continued as a child who was obedient to Joseph and Mary because by doing so He was being obedient to His Heavenly Father’s will.

There’s a famous picture that depicts the boy Jesus running with outstretched arms to his mother, with the shadow of the cross being cast on the ground by his form as he runs. The picture’s underlying message is true. Jesus obedience is an example not just for children growing and preparing for adulthood, but for all of us!  He was obedient to His parents and He was obedient to God’s will; but His obedience is also so much more than just an example, because without it He could not have been our Redeemer, the Savior who came to free us from sin and death by His own death upon the cross.

Dear friends, when Jesus declared His relationship with the Heavenly Father and demonstrated His obedience to His earthly parents, He was also declaring His purpose for coming to this world; to be doing His Father’s work, that is to fulfill his Father’s will, which was to seek and save all people who are lost to sin. By perfectly living His life, that same life became a perfect act of worship.  By being obedient to the will of God His Father in all things, He was obedient, even “unto death, even death on a cross” for us.  Through the obedient life of this God-boy, Jesus’ role as Savior was proclaimed every day until he obediently walked to His own death upon the cross.

As the God-Man Jesus lived and died to bring us back to God in an eternal way that would give us peace with God, Jesus,  obedient to His Father’s will  brought all people back to a right relationship with His father, and He did that work finally just outside the very walls of the Jerusalem temple where His parents found Him—He did it on Calvary.  It was there upon that cruel cross that God the Father would forsake His obedient Son and lay upon Him the punishment for all of our sins.  But after three days, God resurrected His Son from death to life in order to ensure us of our own personal victory over sin and death.  Jesus was obedient, and because of His obedience we have been given the ability to call God our “Father,” not in the same way as Jesus can mind you, but in a very real way that eternally ensures you of a loving relationship between God and you.”

Can you accept this as truth?  Can you be like Mother Mary and simply treasure these truths in your heart?  Can you obediently accept that God’s mysteries are beyond your comprehension and simply believe and by faith allow the living Word of God to remain steadfast within your heart allowing Jesus Christ to strengthen your faith unto eternal life?  I pray that you will.  I also pray that in those dark times of life, you will remember that even Mother Mary became afraid and and overcome by worry, but then she allowed God’s Word of assurance to give her peace.  That was enough for Mary, and I pray that will be enough for you too.  I ask this in Jesus name…AMEN!