Archive for September, 2015

Be Patient

Sunday, September 27th, 2015

18th Sunday after Pentecost, September 27, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Evangelical Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114

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“You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” [James 5:8]

Would you agree with me that waiting can be a hard thing to do?  Would you also agree with me that sometimes being asked to wait with patience can seem unbearable?  Patience is something that is not natural to us, and that is because it is a quality of God, which He demonstrates as He deals with sinful men and women who deserve His anger and punishment, yet He waits patiently for us to turn to Him.  So patience, is a quality that by nature is foreign to us.  But it’s a quality that God gladly gives to us the baptized, if we will simply receive it and live it out.

What does living out that patience mean to we who are now Christians, who walk by faith and live out our baptism?  Well patience is essentially the life of a thankful sinner who has been redeemed by Christ’s cross and recreated in baptism and sustained by God’s Word and Sacrament until…  Until what?  Until Christ’s second coming.  And when will that be?  We don’t know, but what we do know is that God has deferred that Second coming of Christ, the time when He will judge the living and the dead so that as many who desire will be saved.  Why?  Because God is patient, and He does not desire that any should perish, but be saved.  So we wait like God… Patiently.  What does that look like?

A Christian teacher had just finished putting the last pair of rain boots on her first-graders—thirty-two pairs in all. The last little girl said, “You know what, teacher? These aren’t my rain boots.”  The teacher removed them from the girl’s feet. Then the little girl continued, “They are my sister’s, and she let me wear them.” The teacher quietly put them back on her pupil.  Patience, unnoticed by the world yet celebrated in heaven.

A famous teacher of the early church named Chrysostom once said that a patient man is one who although he has the resources and opportunity to avenge himself, chooses to refrain from carrying out vengeance and waits for God.

In our Epistle lesson this morning (James 5:1-12) that is precisely what James is encouraging us to do, wait.  But like we said earlier waiting is hard, but waiting patiently is almost unbearable, especially when we see the world outside of Christ not waiting but taking all they can, even at the expense of others.

This morning, through James God is warning us not to worry about those who live for worldly glory and fame. He is telling us not to envy them or copy their ways because their time of judgment is coming, and it wont be pretty.  Listen: “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten.  Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days.” [Vs. 1-3]

In this world where the lives of politicians and the rich and famous are celebrated, it can be hard to not envy their life styles and attitudes, but this warning from God is meant to remind you that their moment is fleeting and futile; it will vanish and wither life a puff of steam on a hot summer day.  Their eternity has been set and their punishment is certain, but the sad part about that is they don’t even care.

Their lack of concern over their sinful lives is then the best evidence and justification for God’s punishment. They have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence (without a care in the world for their eternity).  They have fattened their hearts for the day of judgment and slaughter.

But God sees and God will act.  He sees His little ones being cheated and neglected.  He sees those who may have the ability to fight back simply rest and wait for the purposes and vengeance of God, and God pronounces us blessed.  We are blessed because…

We are waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ who will make all things new and right.

Listen to the example James gives starting in verse 7: “See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains.  You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”

I remember when I was a boy growing up in Wisconsin the anticipation we developed for the sweet corn harvest.  I want to tell you right now that some of the best corn you will ever eat comes from my home town of Pewaukee.  For a period of about 3 weeks, I would have, if I could have, eaten corn every day and in every way.  I loved it boiled, baked, and grilled, but I especially loved it fresh and raw, right off of the stalk.  My friends and I every summer went on wonderful walks through out the country side through forests and farmers fields, and for someone who loves raw corn, walking in early summer when the corn is only the size of your hand being patient and waiting can be very difficult.  Many of my friends just could not wait, so they plucked the baby corn and ate it any how, but not me.  You see I knew that if I just waited another month or so, that sweet delicacy would finally arrive and I would then eat my fill!

So we wait, but remember, we are to wait patiently and anticipate the joy that will be realized when Christ finally comes again.  And because we are waiting for our Savior and Lord, we will wait in a way that will also help others wait.  So… “Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.” [V. 9]  In other words, don’t take your frustration or your lack of patience out on other Christian folks, because they’re waiting just like you, and like you, they too are struggling to have patience, the patience which comes from God, as a Father gives gifts to His children.

In God’s Word, He has lavishly given to us wonderful examples of saints who have gone before us who were able to persevere in the toughest of trials.  Look at the lives of the prophets who spoke God’s Word and in His name.  Don’t we consider those great men and women of God blessed because through their lives and patience God was able to not only speak through them in their time, but still speaks in the Word preserved in our time?  And what of Job, that great champion of God, who through God’s gift of faith and patience, was able to not only persevere but latter speak great Words about the resurrection and Paradise that still give us hope.  Listen: “Oh that my words were written!  Oh that they were inscribed in a book!  Oh that with an iron pen and lead they were engraved in the rock forever!” [Job 19:23, 24]

Let me just interject and say to Job, “Dear brother they were written down in a book that bares your name.  But the words are not only yours, but the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ!  A Word that not only is written in the rock, but is the Rock of our Salvation!  But go ahead Job and preach on…

“For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth.  And (long) after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh… I shall see God… Whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.  (And oh) My heart faints within me!” [Job 19:25-27]

These Words are for you dear baptized.  They are meant to give you strength and patience as you hold on to the cross of our dear Savior Jesus.  They are meant to give you joy in the midst of tribulation as you wait for that great and final day, which is the resurrection of the body.

The ancient church has always found encouragement in the truth of scripture, which clearly proves that God’s ways are not only different from man’s ways, but in fact they are far superior. Where the world scoffs at pain and suffering, the church knows that these things will inevitably come to one who gathers at the cross of Jesus.  But the cross of Jesus is what the world calls dead and foolish.  The world will show you the evidence of an opulent and materialistic life, and they declare that is real life.

Martin Luther said that each of us are called to look at two different kinds of wood, one that the world says is living and one that the world calls dead.  But he says, “From the living wood (the tree of knowledge of good and evil) came sin and death; from the dead wood (which is the cross of Jesus, comes)  righteousness and life.”  And so Luther warns us, “Do not eat from that living tree, or you will die, but eat of this dead tree; otherwise, you will remain in death.  That is, do not hunger for the things of this world, but for the things that find their source in heaven.

You who are baptized have a new spirit; one that truly wants to eat and enjoy [the fruit] of a tree, so that you will live in God’s Paradise. Let me turn your hearts then, to a tree that is so full of fruit that it could feed all of creation for eternity. But be warned, just as it was difficult for our first parents Adam and Eve to stay away from that living tree, so it is difficult for us to enjoy eating the fruit from the dead tree. This is because the tree in Paradise that was forbidden, was the very image of life, delight, and goodness, while the fruit from the other tree, the cross of Christ is the image of death, suffering, and sorrow.  To the eyes of sinners, one tree is living, the other is as good as dead. Within each of our hearts there is a natural desire to follow the way of glory now, in this life; that is within this life of those who must die, and then there is a natural fear to run from death where we are promised from God the only sure and certain source of life.  This tension between death and life can only be resolved when we take up our cross and follow Jesus.

Taking up the cross is by nature something that causes pain. We do not choose the cross, but it has chosen us. All we are asked to do is agree with God that there is a need for this tree, and then we are to take up the cross, and by faith follow Jesus and live.  We must agree with God that there is a need to be conformed to the image of the Son of God, which was given to us within our baptism. [Romans 8:29]  We must in the Word of God, hear the Holy Spirit speak to our hearts, and by faith believe that “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus can expect and will experience pain and suffering.” [II Timothy 3:12]  We will come to believe that “In the world we will have tribulation.” [John 16:33]. We will know sorrow and weeping in times when the the world will rejoice,” [John 16:20]  But we preach teach, confess, and believe that “If we share in [Christ’s] sufferings we shall also be glorified with him.” [Romans 8:17]  And so we know that “if we are left without discipline, which all experience, then we would be illegitimate children and not sons.” [Hebrews 12:8]

But we who are baptized, have learned by God’s hand to hunger for the fruit of the cross, because we know that the touch of Christ’s hand sanctifies all of our sufferings and sorrows and replaces them with the joy of anticipated future glory. We know that if we run from suffering, then we are siding with the unbelieving world, and turning from our Savior who has given both the gift of salvation and the privilege of sharing in his own passion.

Sadly for those who are perishing, those who do not wish to follow Jesus and bear the cross which God places upon him, there is no future for eternal glory and a return to Paradise.  God will not force them to follow—they are always free to deny Christ. But in so doing they have chosen to forsake the eternal fruit of His cross and will never know the joy of fellowship with Christ.

So hold on dear saints.  What we experience now in our time is no better or worse than the saints who went before us.  The promise that sustained them then is the very same promise that sustains us today.  Even in times where it seems impossible for us to wait for Christ, still we must wait.  Even when there seems to be no supply of patience, still we are ever reminded of God’s baptismal promise that He will never leave us nor forsake us.  It is in the Word of promise that we find both forgiveness of sins and the strength to hold on and wait.  In the washing of the water and the Word we are promised that though weeping may come to us in the dark times of evening, joy will be ours in the morning, and so we wait.  We wait with the church that has always patiently waited in anticipation, when Christ will come again and usher each of us into His kingdom of power and glory, forever and ever… AMEN!

From the Cross to Glory

Sunday, September 20th, 2015

17th Sunday after Pentecost, September 20, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Evangelical Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114

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“Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.” [James 3:13]

When we read our gospel lesson this morning (Mark 9:30-37), did the apostles strike you as wise?  Is it ever proper or wise for Christians to argue over who is the greatest?  And yet, here we have the pillars of the church falling for one of the devils greatest allures; a diversion designed to cause the Christian to turn away from the cross that leads to eternal glory, and instead take a path of the world, the path of Satan, which promises that you can have the glory right now!  Do you want to avoid that dark path?  If so then pay attention to this message and understand that the devil will do everything he can to get you to follow his way and not the way of the cross.

Our Plea: This morning, each of us must understand the danger that surrounds us on our pilgrimage we call life.  We must seek to forever have this prayer, this plea on our lips: “Save me, O God, by your name; vindicate me by your might.  Hear my prayer, O God; listen to the words of my mouth.” [Psalm 54:1, 2]

All around us are folks that hunger for more and more earthly things.  They try to scratch an itch and feed a hunger that they can’t even truly identify.  For some, the allure is simply gathering more things, and for others its money, and for others it’s power and prestige.  They work to be noticed and clamor when they feel they are being ignored or devalued.  But what did Jesus tell his disciples was the key to being great in heaven?  Listen: “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

Is that Word from God enough to stifle your desire for a greater reward here on earth?  Now before you answer that question, let me simply say that if you lack faith, the answer will be “No!”  But take heart, the good news for you this morning is the truth that the very Word of God you have been hearing, a word which has already been delivered to you, is the same word within you, which creates that kind of faith.  There’s just one thing standing in the way of you and this faith, and it is what we will call…

Our problem: “Strangers are attacking me; ruthless men seek my life—men without regard for God.” [Psalm 54:3]  The Prophet Jeremiah, in our Old Testament lesson, like King David, was familiar with enemies who wanted to shut him up and shut him down.  Jeremiah was speaking out against the sin of the people.  He was warning that God was getting ready to take away their kingdom and lead them away in captivity.

In the people’s minds this could not be right; they had made great progress with their struggle to include God in their lives and government, and now all God had to do was cosign their plans for greatness.  So, if Jeremiah was going to continue living and speaking to them as if they were still gross sinners, well then they would just have to shut him up!

Jeremiah had what appeared to be a problem.  The people wanted one thing and God wanted another.  On the one hand, if Jeremiah simply shut up and went along with the plan of the people, life would certainly be easy for him; he would win his popularity back and most certainly would be well taken care of.  This path is what we will call the way of glory.  But God has a special word for double minded people like that, and Jeremiah certainly did not want to have God declare him to be an “adulterer!”

Does that sound a little harsh to you?  Well in our Epistle lesson [James 2:13-4:10], James addresses the Christians of his time who were grumbling against God.  They were upset that God had not blessed them with the “good life” as it appeared the Godless were enjoying.  So he answered them like this: “You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.  You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?”

Truth be told, we are a lot like those early Christians.  Doesn’t our real problem lie within our own hearts?  Sure the devil is prowling like a lion seeking to devour all he can, but he can’t have us, because we have already been saved through Christ; we already have been washed with the water and the Word.  We already have been given and claimed the wonderful promises of eternal life; promises that come directly from God.

So what is our problem?  Is it other people; folks that just want to trip us up and shut us down?  No, they’re just tools of the devil, and remember the devil has been defeated.  Friends, our real problem comes from within our own hearts; those passions and desires that are modeled by the unbelieving world that has deceived us into thinking are necessary in order to be a success.  We have been tricked into thinking that we have to have it, but God won’t provide it, so instead of taking our anger to God, we take it out on our neighbor in the form of fighting and quarreling.  As a result, we become distant with God and quit talking to Him.  And so, because we don’t ask we don’t receive.  Or we ask and don’t receive, because we are asking in a way that is not God pleasing; a way that seeks only to satisfy our passions and desires but gives God no glory and offers no help to our neighbors in need.

When we embrace a life like this, we have become a friend of the world, and a traveler along the way of glory. And to this life style God indeed calls us adulterers.  We have left our first love and embraced the selfish path of self fulfillment; we have become a friend of the world, and a friend of the world is an enemy of God.

So what are we to do?  We are to embrace…

Our Solution: “Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me.  Let evil recoil on those who slander me; in your faithfulness destroy them.” [vs.4, 5]

Long ago, David was persecuted by Saul relentlessly, but never captured by him; David always was given a way of escape by God.  Jeremiah like wise was persecuted by his own family and friends, from the very town he was from, but God saved him.  And now like those dear saints that went before us, it is our turn to trust in God as our great helper and sustainer.  It is our turn to ask God to destroy both the evil and the slanderer that surrounds us.  And it is our turn to realize that our prayer has already been answered.

At the cross, we see that Jesus allowed the crowd of accusers and glory road travelers to load both their accusations and their sins upon His shoulders.  He allowed them to ridicule and humiliate Him by hanging him upon the cross.  He listened as the devil laughed and the glory mongers cheered.  And as He drew His last breath, He sighed and said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  And then with His final words He proclaimed, “It is finished.  Their debt of sin is paid in full.  They are made right and new with the Heavenly Father.”

In His life and in His death, Jesus Christ the very Son of God, traveled the way of the cross.  The Lord of glory became the least of men so that you could become the greatest.  And all He asks of each of us is that we believe that this is enough to guarantee the world of an eternal glory that far out does any glory promised in this life time.  He asks you to walk with Him from the cross to your baptism, where all of His work upon the cross is given to you.  All of your fears, worries, and frustrations have been replaced with faith, salvation, and joy, if you will just walk this way of the cross; if you will walk by faith and trust in Christ.

While your sin may be great, and your faith weak, Jesus asks us this morning to understand that His grace, that is the Father’s love unearned by you is greater.  Through the way of the cross, God is asking each of us this morning to submit ourselves to Him.  To humble ourselves before the Lord, so that when our travel on the way of the cross is finished, each of us will finally realize…

The Promised Outcome: “He has delivered me from all of my troubles, and my eyes have looked in triumph upon the defeat of evil and the glory that awaits me in Paradise!” (Psalm 54:6)

The Lord alone will lift us up into a resurrected life of glory within God’s Paradise restored.  There within Paradise each of us will once again walk with our LORD in peace forever.  This is an outcome guaranteed for the travelers who follow the way of the cross.  It is an outcome realized by faith but not yet by sight.

I pray that faith is enough to sustain you on this journey of life.  I pray that it is enough to continue bringing you back regularly to this house of prayer for God’s Divine Service of Word and Sacrament.  And I pray that through His Service you will allow Him to equip you to live a life of thanksgiving and praise to His holy name.  I pray that when asked by those who are not yet traveling this way of the cross, you would always be ready to answer when asked why you travel such a lonely way simply as David responded in our Psalm this morning: “Because He has delivered me from all of my troubles, and my eyes have looked in triumph upon the defeat of evil and the glory that awaits me in Paradise… AMEN!”

On Taming the Tongue

Sunday, September 13th, 2015

16th Sunday after Pentecost, September 6, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Evangelical Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

“And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.” [James 3:6]

With our mouths we both bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse our neighbor, who is made in the likeness of God.  Brothers and sisters, this should not be.  Who among you fears the Lord and obeys His servant?

If some who here are listening to this message this morning are struggling with this sin, and we all struggle, then allow this message to lead you out of the darkness of sin and into the light of God Himself.  Trust in the name of God; rely on this message to speak freedom from this sin.

(James 3:1-12) Isn’t it interesting that James, compares a sinful tongue to a spark of fire, that is able to burn down an entire forest?  Listen: “How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.”

With the wild-fires blazing throughout the western United States this is a powerful illustration.  Think of all of the devastation that is being caused by these fires.  What started them?  Who started them?  They don’t know yet, but we can go back just one year ago and have an answer to the “who” question for another serious fire.

Do you remember the Coco’s fire from May of 2014?  That fire caused more than $10 million in damages and threatened the entire San Marcos area and parts of Escondido.  Did you know that the fire was caused by a 13 year old girl who was simply playing with a lighter, and wanted to see what would happen if she set a few leaves of a tree in her yard on fire.  It is hard to believe that just a few leaves caused all of that damage.  Thank God no one was killed.  But if we are talking about fires that take lives, let’s consider perhaps one of the worst fires in our nation’s history, the Great Chicago Fire.

It was started on October 8, 1871 and it burned a full two days until it was finally extinguished.  That fire ripped through the urban residential area of Chicago and left an estimated 300 people dead and another 100,000 others homeless.  More than 17,000 structures were destroyed and damages were estimated at $200 million dollars.  The cause of that fire was never determined, but experts agree that it probably was not O’Malley’s cow, as urban myth would have us believe.

Back to the truth behind the illustrations, the tongue is like that lighter in the hand of the child, or like the spark that set off the Great Chicago fire.  When it set’s off a spark by way of a word of anger, gossip, or untruth about a person or an organization, the results can be devastating.  It defiles both the source, that is the one speaking the word, and the target, that is the one the word is spoken against, setting on fire the entire course of peoples lives, and it is a fire that finds it’s source from the very fires of hell, and the devil himself.

When the word of fire is spoken within a Christian congregation the effects can be, and usually are devastating to that precious gathering of saints.  The wicked tongue defiles not just the one speaking but the whole body of believers, because the sin of gossip and slander is carried from one mouth to another until it has devastated the entire congregation or community.

Martin Luther in his explanation of the Ten Commandments specifically in regards to the 8th Commandment (Thou Shall Not Lie), wrote that Christians are absolutely forbidden to speak evil of other people—even if what they say is technically “true.” The only exceptions are those who in their God-given vocations (civil judges, parents, pastors), are asked to judge others so that evil does not go unpunished. But Luther also points out that the commandment also directs us to perform a lot of positive works of love and service to others.  He says, “We should use our tongue to speak only the best of all people, to cover the sins and infirmities of our neighbors, to justify their actions, and to cloak and veil them with our own honor.” Luther then closes with this thought, “There is nothing around us or in us that can do greater good or greater harm in temporal or spiritual matters than the tongue, although it is the smallest and weakest member.”

It is not hard to find modern proof of the evil that comes from the human tongue. Simple lies are everywhere; they mask our selfishness, cover our sins, and destroy our relationships. We lie to other people and we even lie to ourselves. But the evil of the tongue isn’t just limited to lies: many times we manipulate the truth (to our advantage) and use it like a weapon or an untamed fire. And then we justify the damage and pain we cause by saying, “I just spoke the truth!” In fact, we might even be tempted more strongly to excuse and justify our slander, backbiting and lies by claiming that we are defending God’s Truth.

Sadly, in today’s world, what James called a sin of the “tongue” has taken on a whole new identity. Today the tongue has been extended to things like text messages, Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, email, and many other things that serve as powerful amplifiers for our flaming, poisonous tongues—or rather, our flaming, poisonous hearts. In fact, technology seems to give us license to fling nasty words out into the world that we might be ashamed or embarrassed to say aloud, to someone’s face. Every day we are invited to slander people and spread lies and filth by simply clicking “like” or “share.”

Here is a truth worth remembering: The “tongue” itself is not the real root of the problem. Our words are a vicious, contagious symptom, but the disease itself comes from our hearts.  Jesus taught us this when He said, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” [Mark 7:21–23]

“From the same mouth”—our mouth—“come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.”  So what are we to do?  We are to take our sinful mouths and hearts to the Lord.

(Mark 9:14–29) In our gospel lesson, Jesus is joined by His disciples and a great crowd.  What is interesting to note is He had just left the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter, James, and John, and He had just informed them that now was the time for them to make their way to Jerusalem so that He could suffer and die for the sins of the world.

From within the crowd, an unnamed father of a boy who was possessed by a demon, approaches Jesus and says in the form of a request for help, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “ All things are possible for one who believes.”  To that statement, the father replied, “I believe.  Help me with my unbelief.”  And to that request for faith, Jesus cast out that demon with a simple Word, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

After that, in a private time and place, the disciples demonstrated both their amazement and frustration with this simple question: “Why couldn’t we cast the demon out?”  And Jesus answered, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”  What kind?  The kind that is beyond your ability to control; the kind that is too powerful for you to defeat.

Dear friends, I submit to you that our tongues are this very kind.  We have already proven that the fire of the tongue and the damage it causes finds it’s very source from within the fires of hell.  Try as you might, you can never on your own cage that venomous reptile and prevent its escape and damage; even though the cage that it is in is your own mouth, and all you need to do is shut the door; that is shut your mouth.  So what are we to do?  Cry out to Jesus in prayer, and confess the truth that you are powerless to master this sin, and by faith trust that He will give you victory by walking with you.  Look to Jesus, the Master and teacher and He will speak the very Words that will give you victory.

(Isaiah 50:4–10) In our Old Testament lesson, we are given the very source and type of help.  Listen: “The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary.  Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught.”

These Words are not only for you to hear, but it is God’s desire that they come from within your own heart; out of your own mouth.  Here God tells you what work He desires to do within you.  But this work is completely dependent upon the work of Another.  Listen: “The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward. I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting.”

This Servant willingly suffered the treatment reserved for criminals in the ancient East.  This servant willingly gave His back to those who struck him; He was whipped within an inch of His life.  No natural human being, no Christian, so long as they are still in the flesh could endure all of  this mistreatment without anger or desire of revenge.  Is there any doubt who this Servant that has come before us is?  This Servant is Jesus Christ, the Holy Son of God, Champion of the Father, the Savior of the Church, who alone could endure that much suffering and pain for others. He is the very One that drives out demons with a Word.

In His passion, within His suffering and death upon the cross, Jesus knew that He was doing all of that for you.  He desired that you would receive His Work as payment for your many sins along with His gift of faith.  He desired that You would then speak the Words of Isaiah as your own Words on account of His Word and Work.  Listen: “But the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me?  Let us stand up together. Who is my adversary? Let him come near to me. Behold, the Lord God helps me; who will declare me guilty? Behold, all of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up.”

In His passion Jesus has defeated our lying tongues and the sinful heart that controls that serpent of fire.  Through His suffering, death, and resurrection He gives victory over the judgment of this sin, and within your baptism, He gives to each of you both the ability and the desire to master the tongue and the heart.

Dear friends, Jesus has given us the victory over sin, even over the evil that comes out of our hearts and from our tongues.  And now, he asks you to fight to live out what He has already given to you… victory.  This victory is both received and held onto by us when we walk in the fear of the Lord.  The fear of the Lord is in reality, respect for our God who gives us free and faithful grace.

The Lord has graciously promised deliverance from sin, death, and hell. As God’s prophet Isaiah and all of Scripture tells us, the Lord has and will fulfill His promise through his Servant, Jesus Christ. Because we are all sinners, we must have this deliverance from the hand of the Lord of grace. Before God, all of us stand in absolute terror of the punishment we deserve because of our sins. But the Lord of free and faithful grace has declared all sinners not guilty because of this great Servant.

And now, we live our lives here in this sinful world as believers who possess deep respect and awe for our Lord; and because of this, we listen to his Word and allow it to change us. By His grace, every day we become captivated and interested in the Word of this Servant, Jesus Christ. And we prove our redemption and eternal salvation to others by showing appropriate fear of the Lord and allowing the Word of his great Suffering Servant to change us as a light and example of one who agrees with God and struggles to control both our tongues and our actions. This Servant, our Savior Jesus Christ has redemption and victory for everyone. That’s why he asks the world to listen to Him.

May all who fear the Lord and trust in the Word of His Servant find deliverance, forgiveness, and life.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Ephphatha… Be Completely Opened!

Sunday, September 6th, 2015

15th Sunday after Pentecost, September 6, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church,
San Diego, CA
7210 Lisbon Street,
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. [Mark 7:34, 35]

Our text this morning is not about faith healing, although there was a healing of a man who was deaf and could no longer speak.  Our text is not meant to show you the power of faith, as if it was some secret force that you can use to steer your life in a positive way, thus avoiding the pain, sorrow, and tragedy of life.  No, instead, all of our texts this morning, are examples of God doing and desiring things His way; of God simply doing what He has already declared He will do for us and in us, if we will simply yield to His will and trust in that will.

This morning, God says to each of us, “Ephphatha” that is, “Be completely open!”

This morning God has made a way that you must follow in order to know Him and have an abundant life; it is a way that only He can provide.  It is the way of faith that allows you to not just hear Him speak, but to be changed by the very Words He speaks.  Will you be opened?

In our Old Testament lesson (Isaiah 35:4-7), God instructs me to declare to you His children, the same message that He instructed the prophet Isaiah to declare to the children of Israel who were in bondage in Babylon:  “Say to those who have an anxious heart, to those who are quick to loose faith and grow discouraged and want to run away and hide when the devil attacks, “Be strong!”

Say to my children, “The devils have already been defeated and they are powerless to harm you; their roar and fierceness is only an illusion to trick you into scattering out of fear.  Say to my children that even if all of the devils awaiting punishment were to gather in mass against you, your God is still much stronger and able to save.”

Say to them, “Behold your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God.  He will come and save you from all of your enemies.”

These Words can be hard for us to hold onto because they are Words about the future, that is, they require us to have faith; to wait.  The Israelites were in bondage in Babylon, but they had been in that position before, hadn’t they?  They were in bondage in Egypt much longer than they were held in Babylon, and still God made good His promise.  And now, the prophet Isaiah declares that God is getting ready to do something even greater, very soon, so hold on and trust God.

And indeed God did return a remnant back to Judah; back to temple worship and back to another chance to walk by faith with their God.  And how did they do?  Well, once again they began to loose faith in God’s presence and promises; they began to replace His pure Word with the delusional teachings of men.  They began to question the prophet’s declarations of promised healing and restoration to the land.  What declarations?  Listen: “God will come and save you.”  Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.  For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.”

They began to grumble that God was not keeping His end of the bargain; that He was slow in restoring glory to the nation Israel. They may have given up on God and His Word, but remember, God always does what He says He will do.  And if we miss it, then the fault is ours and not God’s.

In our gospel lesson (Mark 7:31-37), God’s own Son, Israel’s Messiah and our Savior is demonstrated in all of His glory, breaking into the time and lives of men.  He enters a region of the Decapolis, by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, the same area that Elijah settled into with a widow, whose oil and flour would not run dry; the very same widow whose son was raised from the dead.

It’s within this region, Jesus, the Son of God, the Messiah of Israel and the Champion and Savior of the church begins to demonstrate to Israel His credentials as the Messiah.

Some well meaning people heard that Jesus was passing through; Jesus the healer, the master who can even drive out demons, so they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged Him to heal him by laying His hand upon Him.” [v. 31-33]  But Jesus does not work as man demands, but instead He does the work and will of God.  So…

Jesus takes the man aside into an isolated place, away from the crowd and they are alone; just Jesus and the man that is to be healed.  Jesus looks into the deaf mans eyes, and begins to engage in a sermon that will bring both faith and obedience; a sermon that will bring not simply a healing, but a right relationship of faith with God and eternal life.

Once Jesus has the deaf man’s attention he uses his fingers to communicate; He places them in the man’s ears.  Now the man understands that Jesus is getting ready to do something that will restore his hearing.  Next Jesus spits and then touches the man’s tongue.  The man understands that Jesus is also going to fix his speech.  Then, with the man still intently looking at Jesus and understanding His instructions through this amazing sign language, Jesus looks up to heaven, informing the deaf man that this healing comes from God alone.  Finally, Jesus takes a deep breath and sighs, signifying that the deaf man should pray to God for this healing, and if God is willing it will happen.  But what this man did not understand yet was…

It was God Himself in the person of Jesus Christ who was preaching and teaching Him God’s will.  With the authority of God, Jesus declares “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”  And with that command, our Old Testament lesson begins to unfold in a powerful way to both the people of Israel and the people today; if they and we will be opened, if we will understand that God means what He says and accomplishes what He promises.  Now in a very physical way, the eyes of the blind are being opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped; the lame will begin to leap like a deer and the tongues of the mute will sing for joy.”

But God’s ultimate truth, the sermon that must be received as anxiously as the deaf man understood Jesus, is spiritual and eternal in its true sense.

Eternal life comes with great joy, and within the spirit of a forgiven sinner, the waters of eternal life begin to break forth out of places that before were desolate and lifeless.  Like streams of living water in the desert, the Spirit of God brings new life into the reborn hearts of sinful men and women, much like a great pool of fresh water springing out of the burning desert sands.  Where once a human heart was the place of evil and the home of jackals and devils, now all things are new, and new life comes out of the person that has been redeemed by the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

This morning, Jesus says to each of you “Ephphatha—be completely opened” and if you will not reject this gift of God, you will be opened.

Think about those disciples whose ears of understanding were also stopped up concerning the feeding of the five and then seven thousand (Mark 8:17-18), who “having eyes and not seeing, and ears and not hearing” were more concerned about what they would eat, than the spiritual feast Jesus was feeding them. Or, think about the disciples’ lack of understanding about Jesus parables (Mark 4:13).  And think about those disciples, who because they were unable to hear or  understand, were filled with fear at the empty tomb (Mark 16:8).

And think about us, who are also in the very same way His disciples. Couldn’t God also say of us, “You have eyes, but do not see; and ears, but do not hear” because we are so caught up in the worries of the day, so caught up in the real and the material, looking for miracles to rescue us from the reality of the pain and the rejection which we experience.

We too, like the deaf mute, and the disciples, find ourselves this very moment alone with Jesus in an isolated place within our hearts, struggling to understand Jesus, and afraid of all of the times of failure that we allow to define our past.

Think about the times when we are unable to hear the Good News, because of the noise and distraction within us and around us. Think about those times when we felt alone and abandoned because of what was happening around us, when we needed to have others bring us to be touched and to have that word spoken—Ephphatha.  Be opened to make possible the entrance of the power of our Lord.

“Ephphatha — be completely opened!” Think about those ears that don’t particularly want to be opened because of what they might hear, those ears which do not want to hear the Lord’s word but are so eager for the spectacular, those eyes which would rather see signs and wonders, (Mark 7:11-12), and none would be given.  Those ears that wanted to hear the glory stories, but instead are told only about the life of Jesus, and the cross of His suffering for all sinners (Mark 7:31). They heard only of the way they must follow, taking up their own crosses (Mark 7:34-35); and about their lives that must be given in service to each other, about being last and least rather than first and greatest (Mark 9:35); and about losing their lives to find them (Mark 7:34-35). These, too, are the ears of the deaf mute, unable to hear the Good News. They are the deaf ears afraid to hear what they have to lose, therefore, deaf also to what they have to gain.

These ears are all around us within our community and even within our own families.  We feel great fear and pain because the people we love will not be opened; we fear and worry because we know that if they will not be opened and receive new life they will be lost for an eternity.  So what can we do?  First, we hear Jesus tell us “Ephphatha!”  Believe that He has risen!  He has risen and so shall you!  The grave is not an end, but a signal that your promised life, your eternal life has begun!

Ephphatha, and believe; Ephphatha and continue speaking to those who have not, can not, or will not hear the Words of Jesus, simply because that is God’s way and His will!

Like the deaf man, we follow Jesus’ instruction and we pray to God, but also like the crowd that brought the deaf man to Jesus to be healed, we bring others here, to God’s house to hear the Words of healing.

In the final analysis, this really is a healing miracle story. “Ephphatha!” breathed from the mouth of God, and the kingdom was opened to the deaf who could not hear, and even to the ones who didn’t want to hear.

“Ephphatha!” On the cross, no spectacular display of glory, only the mundane death of a man very much on the outside with the outsiders, and rejected, He breaths His last “Ephphatha,” and opens the gates to God and to paradise restored.

“Ephphatha!” And the stone door of the tombs of all those who have gone before us in death are opened and they are given a resurrected life where once only death could be found.

“Ephphatha!” In the bread and the cup, in the body and the blood “given and shed for you,” we hear it again, anew, when we’re deaf to the news, when we’ve been brought, unable to come ourselves.

“Ephphatha!” We hear it again, each time the forgiveness of our many sins is fresh and new, along with the hope and confidence that we are no longer outcasts, but children of God.

Ephphatha! Ephphatha! Ephphatha! And behold, we declare with those before us, “God’s grace is truly amazing.  He has accomplished all things well! Even the deaf He makes actually to hear, and the dumb actually to speak! Even a wretch like me and a wretch like you!  AMEN!”