Archive for October, 2015

Trust The Lord Of The Harvest

Sunday, October 25th, 2015

Reformation and LWML Sunday in Pentecost B, October 25, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

The song that we just heard, “Don’t Worry; Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin, will be our mental hook this morning, which we will hang our message on.

As you come to worship today, on this joint Reformation and LWML Sunday, what is it that you are worried about? Now, I know that it’s common for folks to do their best to convince us that there’s nothing to worry about, and in fact, one of my jobs as a pastor is to convince you to cast your worries upon the Lord, because He cares for you.  But we do worry and we don’t like others to tell us not to.

So the truth is no matter how many times we’re told not to worry, we do worry. And then naturally, we are drawn to environments and events that seem to limit the drama or worry that we might be exposed to.

Speaking of drama or worry free zones, from what I heard, that is exactly what thousands of saints during the LWML 36th Biennial Convention held in June this year at Des Moines, Iowa. That convention was based around the theme “Bountiful! Sow ∙ Nourish ∙ Reap.” I have been told that at the Convention, the ladies were blessed to be able to sow the seeds of faith in the lives of those God placed in their path.

Those in attendance were reminded of their Baptism where the seed of faith was sown into their hearts. They were nourished through God’s Word and the Sacrament of Holy Communion as they spent much time gathered around that very Word of God in worship in different settings like, Bible studies, devotions, and time together with roommates in the hotels. The convention body put this nourishment to good use in God’s Kingdom as new LWML Mission Grant recipients were selected for the 2015-2017 biennium. In selecting these grants, the LWML commits to support them with prayers and offerings. Those in attendance also celebrated the success God gave to His saints in the mission field through the last biennium.

Everything was wonderful. For many there was not a care in the world as they spent time on that mountaintop of worship. Then in the closing service, the proclaiming pastor shared God’s Word and the urgency to go back into their communities and sow and nourish the seeds of faith, and reap the harvest by the power of the Holy Spirit working in each of them and in those with whom they would share the Good News of our crucified and risen Savior, Jesus Christ.

And at the conclusion of the Divine Service, just like it is here every Sunday when the Divine Service is over, it was time to leave the mountaintop. It was time to go in peace and serve the Lord.

So how do we, the redeemed, the bought and many times brought back, sons and daughters of the King respond to this awesome mission challenge that our Father places before us; how do we go in peace and serve the Lord?

Perhaps we worry as He calls us off the mountain and back into the sin darkened world in which we live to share with our neighbors, the Good News of Christmas and Easter – the Good News of the Savior, born at Christmas, crucified, died, and buried on Good Friday, resurrected Easter morning, ascended back to heaven forty days later; sitting at the right hand of God until He returns to judge the living and the dead. We worry whether or not we “shared it right” and how people will receive this Good News.

Interestingly, even though this Good News is our blessed assurance, for many reasons, it causes us to tremble, tremble, tremble (“Were You There,” LSB 456) every time we hear the call to share it with others.

Now at this point, you might want to say to me, “Pastor, every time you talk about the opportunities God gives us to be “witnesses,” to be sowers and nourishers of those seeds of faith; or every time I hear my Savior say to me, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), or “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8), my worry level rises and I tremble.”

And when we get caught up in worry, it can become a burden of fear that actually binds the Word of God within us, preventing it from going out into our families, community, and parts beyond.  So what should we do with this worry?  Well how about this, “Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.” (Psalm 55:2). And to that promise from the Lord you might counter, “Ok Lord, what do You have that helps me with my case of worry?”

As we ask that question of our heavenly Father, He responds by reminding us to look at how we are already incredibly blessed. In fact the over-abundance is what can lead to worry as we stand looking into our closets trying to pick out an outfit from the abundance of clothes we have, or when we have to throw out food that has been in the refrigerator or cupboard too long and is no longer fit for consumption by man or beast, or when we have to buy another freezer because the other one is full to the brim.

And so we continue our conversation with God and say: “What really causes me to worry, besides health issues for some of those I love, and problems I have with members of my family, or issues I am having in a relationship, or my congregation here that seems to be dying, is when I seem to hear You calling to me and saying, ‘The time is now to come off the mountain, back to the plain, out of the worship service and into a dark and sin-sickened world with the only answer and solution to all of our and society’s ills.’”

Without a doubt, the time is now for each and every one of us, to use our God-given gifts and abilities to meet the challenge of sharing the Gospel message of Jesus Christ with those around us, and into all the world.

To be perfectly honest that is a huge responsibility and it causes us concern, worry, and moments of trembling. This is true as we look at the billions of people who need to hear of God’s love poured out to them through faith in Jesus Christ. This is true as we consider where some of our friends or some of our family members are in their walk with the Lord. We make excuses to our God: “Lord, You know that those conversations are very difficult to have for many reasons and on many levels. It is hard to confront those with whom I am very close in a way that will be perceived as loving.”

On this reformation Sunday, we remember almost 500 years ago how God used a terrified and trembling monk named Martin Luther.

Luther would have been satisfied and happy if God would have simply allowed him to remain shut away behind the walls of the monastery, oblivious to his sin and God’s solution to all sin, through Christ alone.

It was in God’s Word, where Luther began to understand that unless in love, God chose to have mercy on him, he was doomed to eternal damnation.  Listen to the wonderful news that not only set Luther free from his guilt, but also from his worries; it comes from our Epistle lesson, listen: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.  It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:23-26)

God wants each of us this morning to first be assured that through Christ, by grace alone and faith alone, we really are forgiven, and all of this is a work of God that comes to you by scripture alone.

Through this very same Word of God, God not only performs His work of salvation, but He also creates an equipping and support system that uses little old you, as a witness to others through your redeemed life, through which, He demonstrates to others, through His means of grace, that in Christ, He really has forgiven them and loves them too.

But perhaps this is where the worry comes; how do we show others the error of their ways without sounding “holier than thou,” or preachy, as we strive through the power of the Holy Spirit, to use God’s Word as the instrument that brings repentance, forgiveness, and new life?  And it is as we are dealing with these worries and countless others, that our Abba Father assures us that He knows what we need and has promised that as we seek first His kingdom and His righteousness first, all these things will be given to us as well (Matthew 6:33).

And still we continue to question God: “But I still have to ask Lord, what do You have to help me with my case of worry?”

Now, first let’s be honest with each other, shall we?  We really don’t want God to take away our worry, because if He does, well that will mean we really will begin to share our faith and His love with others.  But God does answer us in His Word.

Within all of Holy Scripture, God has placed our hearts and feet of faith upon the very foundation of Christ.

In Christ alone, we have been given the very source of our security and the power to come off the worry free mountain of worship, and then cling to Christ alone and His promises of new and eternal life, through faith in the perfect life He lived.  But Christ perfect life will not help you in the least, if you do not claim it as the perfect sacrifice for your sins.  So God asks you to continue to believe by faith, that Jesus suffering and death upon the cross was for your sins, and that His glorious resurrection three days later, is proof that the end of your mortal flesh is not the end of you; God desires that you believe that you too, shall rise to eternal life with Him in Paradise.  He wants you to agree with St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:20, that “your brother Jesus Christ is the One who has been raised from the dead, and is the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

And to this, we might yet again respond to God: “OK, that all sounds wonderful in theory, and I know that this is where my strength and assurance should be, but when and where the rubber meets the road, how can my focus change from fear to faithfulness, from worry to faith, so that I don’t have to be anxious about anything from food, drink and clothes, to working for the Lord in His harvest field ever again?”

Allow me to share with you some of the main thoughts from our Reformation Scriptures.

First of all, hear, believe and find comfort in Jesus’ Words this morning where He moves our hearts to both the source of our mission and the One who completes it.

Listen: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:37) Now why do you suppose Jesus wants us to pray?  I mean, He’s God right; He could do it without us, right?  Yes that’s right, but He has graciously invited us into His mission and into the salvation story of others.  But how do you suppose He’ll do that?  Well by sharing His compassion for those who are dead in their sins.

Listen: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matt. 9:36). Jesus saw people, His people who were dead in their sins and He wanted to bring them eternal life; He wanted to be their Shepherd and Savior just as He is for you.  And when He invites you into prayer He also asks that you allow His heart and compassion to become yours.  In other words, Jesus not only invites you into His mission to seek and save the lost, He makes you part of that mission.

Let me share with you another well-known passage you can apply to your worries. Hear the inspired words of Philippians 4:13, where our Father in heaven assures us that as His forgiven, redeemed, restored children we can boldly profess with St. Paul, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

And, if I may share one more passage with you, especially when it comes to God’s call to you to be out in the harvest field doing the works of Him who sent us while it is day, since night is coming, when no one can work (John 9:4), it would be the promise from the very lips of your Savior as He said in Luke 12:11-12, “And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”

And finally, consider our first reading from Revelation 14:6, 7, listen: “Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people.  And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

The truth is dear saints, within those very Words, God not only promises success in the mission your on, He also promises to give His Word protection from devils and sinners.  The Word comes from above us and never finds its strength in us, and neither can it be defeated by devils.  When you live out the scriptural promises of forgiveness, you do so by God’s gift of faith which allows you to receive that forgiveness as an unearned gift, that is by grace alone, all because of Christ alone!

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, all of these promises are ours even when we speak to the neighbor across the street, our friend at work, or our son or daughter who has grown away from the Lord and for whom our heart aches.

You and I have a heavenly Father who does not just talk a good game. “Don’t worry, be happy” is not His mantra. He backs up and follows through on the promises He makes 100% of the time. He acts on that admonition to seek first what is of utmost importance, promising that all of these other things we have been talking about will be given to us as well. (Matthew 6:33)

God’s promise throughout the ages is the same, “seek first the kingdom of God (“desire above all to live under the rule of the one true God” [Lutheran Study Bible Notes, Matthew 6:33]) and His righteousness (the salvation which Christ Jesus has won for us and all people on the cross of Calvary, [John 3:16]), and all these things will be added to you.”

That my friends is providing and coming through on a promise. And since you and I are united with His Son in Baptism, in hearing the Word, in receiving His very body and blood, in His very death, being “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), we have nothing to worry about as we seek first His kingdom, serving Him as we serve those He places in our lives (Matthew 25:40) wherever and whenever He has need of us, carrying out the great task He gives to us of bringing the lost and the erring into eternal fellowship with Him. Amen!

There IS Rest For The Weary

Sunday, October 18th, 2015

21st Sunday in Pentecost B, October 21, 2015

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”  And (to this, Jesus disciples) were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”” (Mark 10:25-27)

There’s a city in Peru named Arequipa.  The name of the city was chosen due to a miscommunication. You see, in 1537, Diego de Almagro, who was the first Spanish explorer to visit there, pointed to the ground and asked the name of that place. The natives thought that he was asking permission to sit down, so they courteously replied, “Arequipa,” meaning “Yes, you may rest here.”

Well this morning, God wants you to know for certain, you may rest here.  He desires that all will find rest here in this place and in His Word.  And He also desires that through His Word, you will find faith to believe that He has prepared an eternal place for you to rest.

Today, we’re all equals; that is we’re all Camels looking at the eye of a needle. And this needle’s eye is meant to cause each of us, along with the apostles to wonder out loud, “Who can be saved.”  And God’s answer through Jesus Christ is, “You can be saved.  You can be saved if you are weary of living your life your way, and if you are ready for God’s idea of rest.”

The rich man from last week’s gospel lesson wanted rest; that’s why he searched out Jesus.  But, he wanted rest according to His understanding of rest.  “What must I do to be saved” He asked?  And how did Jesus answer that request for knowledge?  Sell everything you have and follow me.  Now that’s an impossible teaching… for man.  That’s an impossible request to fulfill, but not for God.

What the rich man lacked was the very same thing the Israelites who died in the wilderness lacked… fear of God and faith in God’s ability to give them rest.  This is why our Epistle lesson (Hebrews 4:1-13) starts out with this simple statement:  “While the promise of entering (God’s) rest still stands, let us fear lest any of (us) should seem to have failed to reach it.”  Are you in danger of failing to reach God’s rest?  You could be if you lack fear in Almighty God, and faith in His ability and love to do exactly what He says He will do, and give precisely what He says He will give!

The good news for us this morning, is that God’s promise of eternal rest through the forgiveness of sins is still offered to us.  Think of the sweetness of these two words “promise” and “good-news”.  God is promising you right now today, that through His Son Jesus Christ, your sins are already forgiven.  Can you believe and receive this?   God wants you to believe, and that is why He freely offers faith that comes through His Word and Sacraments.  And through this gift of faith, God asks you then to obediently come to Him and receive rest; rest here in this place through His Word, and ultimately an eternal rest in Paradise.  But that good news, may also be bad news for some people.

For some folks who lack fear of God and faith in His loving promise of forgiveness and rest, instead of receiving a spirit of obedience, they are now caught up in a spirit of disobedience.  Oh God still calls out to them, He still invites them to come to His house of prayer and to receive His gift of rest in His divine service, but instead, with hearts hardened by a lack of faith, like the disobedient Israelites in the desert, they hear the invitation to come and the promise of rest and they do neither.  Occasionally they will gather with others around God’s Word and Sacraments, but because of their hard hearts they count it as nothing more than formality.

Sadly, some people refuse to believe, and because of their refusal they loose both their rest in Christ here in this sinful world, and also their rest for eternity.  They are Camels who scoff at the possibility of passing through the eye of a needle, even though the only One who can make the impossibility a reality is telling them how this can be done.  Listen to Jesus invite us now: “Come unto me, all who are weary, and I will give you rest.” [Matthew 11:28]

We are all weary, whether we will admit it or not. You can hide your weariness from your loved ones here and at home, you can even hide your weariness from yourself, but it does not change the reality that God through His Word constantly points out your weariness.

God’s Word is indeed sharper than a double-edged sword.  It cuts deep like a butcher’s knife that separates bone from bone and even slices bone in half, exposing the very marrow deep inside.  God’s knife, which is His Word is able to separate your soul from your spirit.  And what is it that He wants us to discover?  He wants us to discover the very thing that we must acknowledge; that without Him, we are sinful and dead and in need of new life and rest.

And here is the amazing part of God’s pronouncement of our condition, even after it is proven to us unless we have faith, which is mingled in with the hearing of His Word, we will justify our emptiness and lifeless condition, by saying, “I’m just tired.  I need a break.”  And what is our idea of a break?  We stop for a moment from our work and we recreate; we use vacation time or we buy something special or many somethings that we really want, and we use these things as a way to put our minds and hearts at ease.  And at the end of the day, ease is all we’ve gathered for ourselves.

Now please hear me, and listen and learn what I am about to teach you.  Ease and rest are not the same thing. Ease can only give you a temporary respite by taking your mind off of your real problem.  And your real problem is that without God’s Word and promises you will never find relief from a guilty conscience, because that guilty conscience is God’s way of demonstrating your real need to enter His rest.

Your conscience can never find rest and peace through work or through ease, but by faith in Christ alone.

St. Paul says “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God.” [Romans 5:1]  So what is it that is preventing you from resting in Christ, in trusting Him, in leaving your old life and following Him into a new life?  Could it be your accumulation of stuff that you are afraid to live without?  Is there something in your life that you have put your trust in that is causing your terrified conscience to waver and doubt the promises of God?  Are you compensating for your guilt before God by working harder to be a better person, a better parent, or better what ever, so that at the end of your life God might see these things and be pleased?  But can’t you see, that these are the very things that are causing you to reject God’s offer of forgiveness and rest?

So let’s take this path to its obvious conclusion, shall we?  In the end you will simply rush headlong towards your ultimate demise pretending to be alright, but inside you are tired, afraid, and in need of the one thing you have refused, and that is rest.

But God will not give up; His Word will always hound you until you simply quit running from Him and admit something we all know to be true; you do not do the good that you want to do, but rather the evil you don’t want to do. [Romans 7:19]  With your mind you are a slave to the condemnation of God’s law, but with your flesh you are a slave to the law of sin. [Romans 7:25]

It is God’s Word that has left you naked and afraid before His ever present eye.  And now shivering in the dark cold of reality, God has you where He wants you, your cornered and crying out to Him, “Who can ever love or fear you enough?  Who can wait patiently while hardships, disease, and personal attacks are coming down upon them?  Who is it that can be so faithful that they never doubt what they hear in your Word?”  And at that point, addressing all of your fears, doubts, worries, in the midst of your emptiness, God points the eyes of your heart to His Son Jesus and says, “He can and He did.  And what’s more is that He did it all for you so that you may find rest.  He is your High Priest who came from me so that you could find, keep, and rest within the abundant life of forgiveness that I give.”

All of this is yours for the taking, if you will simply receive it by faith.  Your sins really have been forgiven at the cross.  You really have been washed clean, recreated at the font.  You really do eat and drink Christ’s body and blood for the experienced forgiveness of sins.  Will you believe?  Do you want to believe?  Good, then simply continue to turn to Jesus every day in His Word.  Continue to come to this place to be filled, healed, and restored with all of these wonderful gifts.

Perhaps this morning, the best way for me to close our message is the same way that Mark closed the 10th chapter of His Gospel; with a further explanation of who Jesus really is and why He really came to us.  Listen: “And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.” [Mark 10:32-34]

Do you get it?  Jesus is saying that He would be smitten, stricken, and cast down for you!  He knew that where He was going to, would be a place where He would be mocked, spit upon, beaten, and then crucified for you; He would undertake all of this for your sins so that you can be free.  And then, after all of this was done to Him, three days latter He rose from the dead to prove to you that His promise of eternal life and rest is real and it’s yours, if you will simply believe and receive this gift through His Word.

It is His Word friends that comes to you every week here at Trinity.  It is His Word that not only strengthens your faith to believe but also changes how you think, speak, and live.  It is His Word, which convinces you that the greatest Christians in God’s eyes are not the ones that seek leadership, but the ones who flourish in humble service to others.

Finally, God points our eyes to the last verses of Mark Chapter 10, where we meet a blind beggar named Bartimaeus in the city of Jericho, who encounters Jesus as He makes His way to Jerusalem and then to the cross, and He simply cries out, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”  That cry for help from that poor man was enough to stop Jesus in His tracks, and have that man brought over to Him.  “And (the Apostles) called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.”

This morning Jesus is pointing our hearts to that blind beggar and to the camel that must pass through the eye of the needle, and He is asking us if we understand.  He is saying, “Do you get it?  That’s you!  I am here every Sunday passing in your midst and all you must do is see your need for both the faith I give and the rest I provide, and then simply enjoy My gift of forgiveness.”

Dear friends,  all of God comes to work for you, and He comes in response to sinners like us crying out to Jesus, “Son of God have mercy on me!”  If that is your cry this morning, then Jesus answers you, “I have forgiven you and I always will, if you will but trust me, leave everything behind, follow me, and you will have… rest.”  AMEN!

Today Is The Day!

Sunday, October 11th, 2015

20th Sunday in Pentecost B, October 11, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Hebrews 3:13)

The song that you just heard, “No Show Jones” by George Jones and Merle Haggard will act as our mental hook to hang our message on.  Hopefully, the reason for the choice of this song will become clear throughout this message.

There’s a quote that became popular in the 90’s and still is today, and it goes like this: “It takes a village to raise a child.”  For us this morning, we could say that it takes a congregation to help us persevere in the Christian faith; a congregation that shows up as often as possible in God’s house to receive His means of grace that both creates and sustains faith.  But that same faith is what God uses within each of us to encourage, warn, and assist those who are beginning to falter and leave their faith in Jesus Christ.  A faith, that has sustained the church of God since the fall of Adam and Eve.

The threat of course is the temptation to wonder away from the gifts of God and to replace them with the ways of the world.

The threat is real, and it is immediate. It presents itself any time we become more consumed with the things of the world (anything of the world) than the things of God.  Just a quick thought can allow our minds to expand on what these things might be.  I can think of time with family who are visiting from out of town on a Sunday.  We will gladly go to the zoo, a ball game, or the beach, but to church, well that’s something we may not want to subject others to because, well it’s personal.  Or it might be sleep that competes with our time with God and His saints.  But then, maybe your tired on Sunday because you were up all night doing something on Saturday that you wouldn’t want your church family to take part in?

So this morning, God’s Word is giving us a warning that is for right now, and that warning is, “Watch your heart today.”  Another way to say that is “Hold on to the faith that God has given to you; hold onto it tightly.”  But we’re here today; isn’t that what were doing?  I sure hope so.  If you are here because you know that with out God’s Divine service you’ll end up lost again in sin, then great.  If you’re here because God has convinced you in His Word, that without Christ’s death upon the cross, the entire world would be helplessly lost in the condemnation of sin, great! If you are here this morning because you’ve been baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and going to church is the thing that sinners who have been saved do, that’s great too.  But I want to warn you that occasional church service is not enough to protect your heart from the sin that is all around us and within us.

Faith is something that is given freely, but it is something that is contingent upon your consistent and constant use of God’s Word and Sacraments.  It is dependent upon God’s plan to sustain your faith until the day He calls you home.  Think of Church and the study of God’s Word as part of God’s Divine Scheduled maintenance program.  Much as corrosion, grime, and constant use can wear down and wear out our vehicle, the same thing can happen to our faith throughout the week, due to the sin that surrounds us in our daily living.  So just as we must care for our vehicles with regularly scheduled maintenance, so it is God’s order that we daily care for our souls.

Warning! Whether you’re a 15 year old boy or a 80 year old woman, no one is exempt from the corrosion of sin; no one on their own can detect and overcome the allure and power of sin.  No one is exempt from sin’s deceit.

The people of Israel certainly weren’t able to do it.  Think of the great miracles they witnessed as God arranged for their deliverance from slavery in Egypt.  Think of the plagues that tortured many but never bothered them.  Think of the Red Sea that was parted so that they could escape the pursuing army of Egypt.  Think of the Manna from heaven and the water from the rock they were nurtured with when they hungered and thirst.  Think of the thundering voice of God they heard from the mountain top as Moses spoke with God.  Think of the pillar of fire that led them as they trekked through the wilderness.  And then think of how they grumbled and how they tested God with their unbelief and lack of trust in God’s care and God’s prophet, Moses.  And now think of the millions who due to God’s displeasure with their faithlessness, were allowed to fall and die in that wilderness.  Think of the millions of sun bleached bones that littered the path they followed, all because they forgot who the God of deliverance was.  So you see, Israel heard and witnessed God’s grace and still fell.

What we learn from this is that yesterdays faith does not save a person today. The fact that you are baptized proves that God saves through His chosen means.  Your baptism is not a one time entrance into God’s kingdom, but rather it is a source of Divine power and a certainty of faith that God has chosen you for today; for this moment.  Your baptism is not meant to simply be a milestone that allows you to check out of the life of faith, simply living on the memories of the past when you were once active in your attendance at church and your service to your church and community in the name of Jesus.  Living in the past does not guarantee anything today!

Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as those children of Israel.  Today, there is a need for fresh and new faith, in order to meet and defeat the threat of sin that is lurking at the door of your heart right now!

Today, there is a need for us to encourage one another, to hold onto the faith once taught and to fan that spark of faith into a flame of love for God and His means of grace.  Today, let us look at one another and admit that we need each other to overcome the attacks of sin and the devil.  Let us not be afraid to both encourage and rebuke one another when we begin to neglect the meeting of the saints on Sunday; when we begin to allow other things to take first place in our hearts above God’s Word and our family of faith.  This strategy is a sure defense against unfaith, but it is a strategy that many will resist and even attack you for.

In our Old Testament lesson, Amos says as much when he declares, “They hate him who reproves in the gate, and they abhor him who speaks the truth.”  So once again we find that God’s way is the difficult way; it is the way of the cross and a way that brings discomfort and pain.  This is why we must not attempt to walk this way alone; we need to act as a community of faith.  We need to resist becoming a “No Show Jones” and remember that we are part of that village or congregation that is called to help raise God’s children of faith.

Today, we must remember that what we were yesterday belongs to yesterday.  We must remember who God says we are today through Jesus Christ.  We must remember that we have been baptized for this moment.  And we must remember our tendency to base who we are today on what we have done yesterday and what we hope to do tomorrow.  Like the rich young man in our gospel lesson, we must understand our hearts natural desire to base our identity on our doing and not on the gift of faith that God has given us through Christ.

The rich young man became so enamored by the many regulations he felt he kept since he was a youth, that he seemed completely oblivious to the very relationship of faith and love that he was searching for; He could not and he would not see the great gift that Jesus offered him through faith in who Jesus is.

This morning, God is warning each of us that we too may get lost if we neglect the meeting of the saints; if we allow anything else to take first place over the time and place that God does His Divine Service for us and within us.
The truth is friends, every “today” becomes part of a long line of todays.  On their own they seem insignificant, but collectively they are the very thing that has and will sustain us until God calls us home to paradise restored.

When we live each day for today simply because God says that it is urgent to live this way, over time we find that we have been creating a legacy.  And the legacy we’ve created is not for us; it is not our way of showing God we are worthy of salvation, because that is a gift He has already freely given to us through Christ.  No, instead our legacy is a gift for those who follow us; for those who come after us.  It is a legacy of a life lived by faith, proving to other sinners that the only way back to God is living life one day at a time by faith.  It is a legacy for others to emulate and a legacy for us, that in the end leads to eternity, the eternal today!

Today is the first day of the rest of your life.  It is the day that the Lord has made for you to rejoice in and be glad.  Yesterday is gone and tomorrow may never come, so all we have is today.  Today, you are not a “No Show Jones” and with God’s strength and the encouragement of this congregation, I pray you will also be in place and in service tomorrow, as God provides.  So, What day is it?  Well then, go and do the work of today!  In Jesus name… AMEN!

On Marriage and Families

Sunday, October 4th, 2015

19th Sunday in Pentecost B, October 7, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

“Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Mark 10:15)

Each of you who are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are promised a seat at our Lord’s banquet table; you’ve even been promised a mansion in heaven.  Or like I taught the children in their message this morning, by abiding or resting in Jesus, you’ve been given a ticket on the heavenly train to glory.  So, are you going?  Will you be there in glory?

God’s Word promises that you will be there if you trust in that promise; it encourages you to trust in Christ alone; He wants you to rest in everything that He has done for you in this life and the life to come.  Is that enough for you, or do you need more?

In our epistle reading this morning (Hebrews 2:1-13), God warns His little ones, He warns us, that if we don’t continually grab ahold of His promises about our blessed assurance, we might begin to drift away from our seat at the banquet table; we might begin to want to find another way to our heavenly home.  So is that a danger to us; drifting away from God’s precious promises?  Well it could be, if we allow ourselves to trust in anything for salvation other than the work and the promises of God!

Why do you think we have times when we feel like our lives lack meaning and purpose?  Could it be because we’ve taken our eyes off of God’s promises?!  Why is it that when trouble comes our way, often times we become afraid and filled with doubt?  Could it be, we’ve lost sight of Jesus and His real presence in our lives?  Why is it that when fear and doubt come, we begin to lose that joy in knowing that we really do have a place prepared just for us in heaven?  Could it be, we have begun to judge success by what we do and not by what God has done for us!

The truth is we all fall short of God’s will for us here; we all fall short of His perfection, but we still want so badly to please Him; to earn His love and respect.  But it’s also true that no matter how hard we try to be good, we will fail.  And yet we still try to earn our place in heaven by what we do.

This morning the theme in both our Old Testament and Gospel lessons seems to be marriage and family. In both of these readings, God is showing us His perfect will and how far short we fall from that perfection.

So then why do we still think that on our own we can be a good husband or a good wife, a good parent or child?  Because we have a sin problem, and our sinful nature won’t let us see the impossibility of change; it won’t let us see that on our own, we are without hope.  And so, even though we know that we fall short of pleasing God, our sinful desire to be independent would have us believe that we can bridge this gap by our own efforts.  So we are deceived into thinking that if we just try a little harder, then our marriages will be repaired and our families will be God pleasing.

This kind of thinking is not only dangerous, it is darn right destructive.  It’s harmful to ourselves and to those we love.  You see, when we think that action and effort are enough to please God and restore joy in our lives and our relationships with others, we have abandoned God’s promises of help and hope.  We’ve exchanged the hope of the gospel for the demands of the Law; a Law that will settle for nothing short of perfection!

Now please listen; I’m not telling you that we shouldn’t try harder to be better, what I am saying is that you can’t even try harder in a God pleasing way, if God is not the source of both your strength and your goodness.  Without God’s grace, we are just trusting in His Law that demands we do good, but then gives us no power or ability to do that good thing.

People who are trusting in the law are easy to spot.  They are the ones who struggle and strive but never really see any lasting improvement in their lives.

Life guards on our San Diego beaches say that the biggest danger to swimmers are the many rip-tides that are present off our shores.  They say that swimmers caught in a rip tide are also easy to spot.  They are the ones who swim and swim, yet they aren’t moving.  They aren’t moving because they aren’t strong enough to defeat the current.

Sadly, each of us can get caught up in the riptides of life.  We tell ourselves that if we just try harder, everything will be alright.  And when we become exhausted at trying to fix our marriages or our other relationships, we become discouraged and maybe afraid that God is angry at us because we aren’t spiritual enough.  So what do we do?  We look for another way to maximize our effort; we read another book or take another course.  We try new techniques and try to be nicer and more attentive.

Maybe, we hear about a Christian who seems to have everything going for them, so we try to find out their secret or technique to happiness.  And if we hear that they get up every morning at 4:00 a.m. to spend more time with God in prayer and Bible study, we resolve to do that too, even though we aren’t a morning person.  And what do you think the result will be for us?  We will probably still be frustrated, but now we’ll also be dazed, confused, groggy and grumpy all day because we didn’t get enough sleep.  And now with inadequate sleep, our marriage is worse and the people we love are avoiding us!

Now at this point, you would think that we would admit failure and try things God’s way, right?  Nope!  Instead, we’ll tell ourselves that because we’re exhausted and miserable, this must be what God wants us to do.  It must be spiritual!  So we keep it up for a few weeks or maybe even a few months, but eventually our discipline will break down, and we’ll abandon this latest technique towards building a better marriage, and a stronger family.  You know what comes next don’t you?  Guilt!  And after enough guilt we’ll simply move onto the next program or buy another book with 10 easy steps towards fulfillment.

Eventually, we will just give up; we simply won’t have the energy to try anymore.  And then what?  We learn to fake it.  We think that we can bridge the gap to heaven by acting like we’re alright, even though everything within us and around us is screaming in our ears that we aren’t ok.  But we keep up the image; we speak as if we had deeper spiritual experiences than we really have.  Our hearts become cold, and we speak as though our sin bothers us more than it really does.  We pray as though our voice is throbbing with deep emotion that isn’t really there.  Why we might even join in a game of spiritual musical chairs, always searching for a different church or ministry that will provide the magic key.  Some people go from one movement to another, continually rededicating their lives to the Lord, only to fall away again and again.  And if this continues, God is warning us that eventually we will secretly give up.  Oh, we’ll still hope that there’s a place for us in heaven, but between now and the day we die, we’ll spend the rest of our lives disappointed and not even trying to change.

So what’s the answer?  Where is the hope?  What is it that can break us free from these riptides of life?  It certainly isn’t greater resolve or another program; no I think that we need to follow the example of the mothers and babies in our gospel lesson to get our answer!

We need to let go and let God’s power take over our lives; we need to get to Jesus! Listen: “And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.”

The Pharisees didn’t really see a need to hear from Jesus.  Instead, they wanted Jesus to sit around with them simply talking about the best technique, the most God pleasing program that would free people from the condemnation of the law; in this case they were arguing about divorce.  But Jesus wouldn’t let them do that; instead He told them that they didn’t have a problem in choosing the best strategy, they had a problem with their hearts.  They were sinful.  They needed a new heart, and that was something only Jesus could give them.

The apostles didn’t have the problem of being with Jesus; they had constant access to God’s recreating presence; they were with Jesus all of the time.  No, their problem was their desire to control Jesus; they wanted to limit His audience, and the people who also got to be with Him.  They really wanted Jesus to themselves and they wanted Him to minister to others in a way they thought was best.  So they forbid the mothers from bringing their children to Jesus.  But Jesus wouldn’t have any of that.  He was angry and He let it show!  He told them that not only should they quit standing in the way of these little ones getting to Him, but that if they did not become like one of those babies, they would never get into heaven!  In other words, they too needed a new heart; they needed to turn to God confessing their helplessness, sin, and total dependence on His care!

The truth is, eventually all of us finally figure out that we can’t break free of the rip tide of our sins; we can’t ever bridge the gap to eternal life by our own efforts. We discover that we can never earn God’s love and forgiveness.  We discover that God will always work the way He desires and not the way we want Him to work; we discover that we must become like a child and realize that this kind of love can only come by grace.  A child knows that salvation is a gift; it’s simply something that is given to him; it’s something that he trusts in because it comes from Jesus.  That is why Jesus loves to use little children as his teaching aids.

What is God’s plan for you, your marriage, family, and life?  Well try this on for size; He doesn’t want you to trust in your own abilities or your self-improvement plans, but instead learn to rest and trust in what He has done for you through Jesus Christ.  In Jesus, concerning your forgiveness, there is no place for self-improvement because that would negate the need for the cross.  In the cross, God takes you away from your plan of salvation and He shows you His.  He shows you His Son who suffered and died for every sinner that ever lived.  But He also makes it very personal by taking you to the waters of your baptism.  In your baptism He promises that you have been recreated and restored; He promises that in His Word, in His promises you can grab ahold of them, trust them and then watch as He continually renews you and changes you.  In His promises, He tells you of a Paradise restored that is waiting for you on the day the Lord calls you home.

The mothers in our gospel reading knew what you also know but often forget.  If you can just get to Jesus and stay with Him, there is new life and hope in abundance!  In the Word of God, Jesus speaks to you, to your marriages, to your families; He speaks Words of forgiveness and hope.  Even if you have been marked by divorce or a family tragedy, Jesus promises that this is not what defines you or condemns you; instead, He speaks forgiveness and new life as He continually invites you into His plan of salvation for you; and in this plan, He promises to give you a new and abundant life.  In the middle of the riptides of life, Jesus promises that if you simply quit struggling and let Him take over, He will pull you through.

Listen friends, God doesn’t want you to just be saved by grace but to live by it as well!  God’s plan is for your daily life to be guided, guarded, and energized by Jesus suffering and death for you!  He wants you to live in grace and then watch as it flows out of you and into your families, your relationships and even into our community.  In essence, God wants you to be amazed at how His Spirit will transform your life, your family, and our community.

In a few minutes you will hear me welcome you to the Lord’s Table.  Most of you will respond to receive Jesus body and blood, in with and under the bread and wine, simply because He invites you to be filled with His forgiveness of your many sins.  And one day, maybe sooner than you think the Lord’s eternal Banquet Table in Paradise will be the only table we are invited to sit at, because this earth bound altar will cease to exist.

So, will you be there, at the banquet in heaven?  Yes by grace alone!  But listen, God doesn’t want you to be satisfied with just your seat or just your mansion in heaven, He also wants you to go out and invite others to join you.  You can do that as you let His forgiving love live in you and pass through you.  You can do that as you invite others to come with you to this place of worship so that they too can experience the very same thing.  I pray that you will do this very thing… in Jesus name… AMEN!