Archive for November, 2015

The King’s City: Safe and Secure

Sunday, November 29th, 2015

Advent 1-C, November 29th, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

Where do you consider home?  Is it where you live now’ or maybe it’s where you grew up? Sometimes that’s not an easy question to answer.  In this ever mobile society we live in, everything seems to be changing; things keep us moving, and that can cause us to feel unstable and even restless. In our virtual world of the Internet, space and time seem to be both expanded and compressed in a confusing and dazzling, and sometimes dizzying, way.

But we all want and need a place we can call home. Here’s a news flash: Sociologists have come to the remarkable conclusion that a safe and stable home has an enormous positive effect on child development—who would have thought! If your like me, you can think back on your childhood memories of home with mixed feelings of comfort and conflict, and maybe even remember that fateful moment when you were determined to run away from home— and only getting a block or two away before the rights and liberties of independence gave way to the certainties and securities of a place called home.

This is a universal truth; it touches all cultures in all time and places. We don’t know a lot about the emotions of home life in Bible times, but we do know that family, land, house and home  were an anchor in life where being “on the road” was no less dangerous than in our day and age.

The “home” that engages us in our Old Testament lesson today is really even greater than our traditional family home—it is the home of a whole country, a nation, a people.

In our Advent lessons this year from the Old Testament prophets, we will listen and learn about God’s kingdom, and God’s king, and what it meant to be the people of God in his kingdom.

In the days of the Old Testament prophets, the kingdom of God on earth was under the human leadership of Davidic Kings; kings that were from the lineage of David. A king had his palace, as well as the temple, in his capital city, which became the focal point and even identity of his rule and reign.

For our spiritual ancestors in the Old Testament, that was, of course, Jerusalem, or, in light of the future home in paradise that it symbolized, Zion. In fact, Zion was the citadel of God’s “palace” or His physical dwelling place in the midst of his people, within the temple.  The kings and the people often had to be reminded of a truth they often conveniently forgot; God’s Temple was right “next door” to the King’s palace, and the palace was to find it’s worth and importance from the Temple, and not the other way around.

In the time of the prophet Jeremiah, the time of our text today (Jeremiah 33:14–16), both the king and the temple were being threatened and under siege by the Babylonians and their king Nebuchadnezzar.

There was a good and godly reason for this, and Jeremiah had made it clear to all: both king and people had forsaken their God; they had forsaken God’s way and were following the ways and the religious practices of the world. They had also assumed that if they did just enough to keep the temple worship going, bringing sacrifices and offerings, then God would be kept happy, even appeased, and then through their service, they assumed that they had earned God’s protection. After all, he was their God, and they were his people.

If there had been an international press corps back then, the siege of Jerusalem would have been reported as just another act of aggression and expansion by the dominant world power at that time. In the eyes of the prophet, priests, and some of the people this was clearly God’s righteous judgment on the sins of his people. But in the eyes of the king and most of the people, this seemed to be an unfair action by a God who should have been saving them, not destroying them.

But Jeremiah stood up to the false prophets, who “prophesied peace when there was no peace,” and he stood up to the king, who refused to believe either that the city would fall or that this was God’s just judgment against him, his leadership, and the sins of all.

Here is something worth noticing for we faithful witnesses living in this contemporary world: Jeremiah’s faithfulness to God earned him only scorn and derision; he was punished and then put in prison. So much for the life of a faithful prophet!  But, Jeremiah through faith, saw the bigger picture. Yes he knew God’s judgment, but he also knew that this was part of a larger plan, not to destroy and kill, but to restore and make alive. And so, as is always the case, a faithful saint must always speak as God speaks.

Right in the middle of this message of judgment came another message that spoke of God’s forgiving love, his everlasting love and His commitment to His people. Yes, God would punish them, with “tough love”. Yes, their sin had to be punished. Yes, Jerusalem, the “home” of king and people, would be lost, and they would be refuges in exile, but that was not the end of the story.

You see, God had a future and a hope for them.

In fact, just as the siege of Jerusalem was underway, Jeremiah even bought a field; at God’s direction, he invested in real estate — just to demonstrate his conviction that God was committed to this land and to bringing the people back to it.

God saw a future for both the king and the city, and he described them both in the same way: In those days (those days to come, when God would fulfill his promises once for all) and at that time (yes, at God’s “right time,” not ours), I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it (Jerusalem) will be called: Yahweh (God) is our (only source of) righteousness.

Dear saints, have you been away from home too long? If so, you know the feeling that creeps into your heart, don’t you? It can be rough out there; sometimes it can even be rough at home. But deep inside, we long for a home that is safe and sound, where we are loved, saved, and dwell securely.  Imagine how the folks from Jerusalem felt the first morning they woke up in Babylon! They weren’t on an exotic vacation to see the Hanging Gardens; they were in exile, far from home.

Yet for them, and for us, God has provided a place, right here on earth, in space and time, where He calls us home.

It’s a place much greater than any capital city of the world. It’s even greater than the most loving and safe home we’ve ever lived in or dreamed of living in. It’s a place where true peace and justice, righteousness and salvation are to be found, to be given, to be shared. It is completely dependent on God, not on us, or on our efforts even to make the world a better, a safer, place.

You see, back then in the time of Jeremiah, God promised a King and an eternal city that only He could create. Yes, the king and city that his people had messed up had to be destroyed, but God found a way to punish sin and yet save His people. He promised a new and supremely better King, of the house and lineage of David, but not just another David. He promised a new and better City, which would be called righteous. But note where the righteousness, justice, truth and peace are found: Yahweh (God) is our righteousness.

Back then in the time of Jesus, there was one born of the house and lineage of David, to be a new and greater David, David’s son, yes, but also David’s Lord. And He came also to provide the new and greater temple and city, where God would dwell on earth in the midst of his people.

By now, I hope you see, right now, in these days of Advent preparation, we can celebrate, right here, right now, that we have a home. A city, if you will, a place to call home, where God is with us with an everlasting love. Call it church, call it our faith family, call it the Body of Christ, where both King and city come together in one person and in one place, where His cross, His Word sprinkled with water, His body and blood are here for us to forgive, renew, and empower us to be the place where God dwells in our world, in our time and space, for all who perceive a need to be a part of this King, this city, this house, and this home.

Where do you live? Where do you call home? Where is a place for safety, security, salvation and life for you? Perhaps you’ve found your home right here in this little church we call Trinity; a place where you and your family gather around the message of a true and righteous King who offers a real place to live in comfort, hope and security.  A place where by God’s design, you continually hear the story of how your God through His Son Jesus Christ works through His Word and Sacraments to bring you faith in this home right now and eternal life in your home to come in paradise.

With all we will do in the weeks ahead, with overfilled schedules both at home and running around, today we remember the anchor of our lives, our home with God in Jesus, in this place where he cares for us with forgiveness and life!  May this message continue to bring peace for today and hope for tomorrow.  In Jesus name… Amen.

A Different Kind of Kingdom

Sunday, November 22nd, 2015

Last Sunday of the Church Year (B), November 22nd, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“”Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world.  If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews.  But my kingdom is not from the world.” [John 18:36]

On December 7, 1941, a quiet naval harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii was attacked by the Japanese military.  After several years of sitting out the war, that was enough to propel our great nation into action.  We were at war, and we would defeat the enemy at all costs!

On September 11, 2001 our nation was attacked on three different fronts, by a loose but large confederation of Islamic terrorist known as Al Qaeda. That was enough to begin a war on all terrorist who pose a threat against our country, and indeed democracy throughout the world.  Our nation, once again has vowed to win that war at all costs, and even now, that war rages on throughout the world against the same enemy, but now preferring to be called ISIS.

And yet, in our gospel reading, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who alone is our true and eternal King, was about to be brutally beaten and crucified at the hands of an occupying terrorist force in Palestine, known as the Roman Empire.  Where was the outrage?  Where was the beating of war drums?  Why would God the Father allow this to happen?  Jesus gives the answer: “My kingdom is not of this world.”

What does that mean?  Well simply put, like our King Jesus we do not find our identity here, but in Him we live, breathe, and find our being.  We know that in this world of sin, we will find suffering just as our King found suffering. We have learned to accept this truth as our reality while we wait patiently for our King to return.  And while we wait, we are not a threat to this physical world.

We live in this world, but we are not of this world.  We obey the law, we pay taxes, we do many works of charity, and we give large sums of money to work towards peace in this world, and yet, we suffer for the good we do.  Why do we accept this as our reality?  Because we know that the time is coming when our true King will come in power for us to make all things new and right, but we also know that He is coming to judge the unfaithful and punish sin.

Until the day of our Lord arrives, we are simply to wait; we are to do nothing disruptive, but simply wait and behave as good citizens under whatever government we find ourselves in.  Are we doing anything to prepare for our King Jesus’ return?  Are we preparing by committing acts of sedition?  No!  Are we working to undermine the authority of our rulers?  NO!  So what are we doing?

We are praying, “Thy Kingdom come and Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

So, is prayer all that we do to prepare for Christ kingdom?  Certainly not; you see we also speak God’s Word, which is God’s power, or God’s means in both opening the gates to Christ Kingdom and closing them to those who rebel against His Kingdom; those who prefer to reject Christ and His Kingdom of grace, will be forever banned from His Kingdom of glory, and instead they will be forever banished into an eternal internment camp, built by the Power of God to forever separate unrepentant rebels from God’s children of faith.

The Kingdom of God is here with us right now; we call it His Kingdom of Grace, but His Kingdom is not yet complete.  On the great and terrible day that it comes in full, it will come with power, great power that will not only topple all earthly kingdoms, but it will also destroy both the earth and heaven together.  And when it comes, it will usher in a new heaven and earth that will be one under the rule of the Son of God, King Jesus Christ.

Now, as Isaiah reported in our Old Testament reading, our King has set His Word as a true source of justice and divine light for all of the people of the world.  It’s righteousness draws nearer every day as His Holy Gospel is proclaimed throughout the world.  He has prepared those who will hear His Word to respond to that Word of forgiveness; that is why Isaiah was compelled to write that “the coastlands hope for (their King). [Isaiah 51:4-5]  And what we hope for is what we wait for; so we can say that the Kingdom of Jesus, that is His Kingdom of Power is not yet.

And this is where people who are not God’s children of faith have a problem.  They have a problem because they will not look up to heaven for answers.

The Kingdom of Power is coming whether you believe in it or not; whether you hope for it or not.  The day is coming when the heavens will vanish like smoke and the earth will wear out like a garment, and all will die and all will come back to life.  The only question really is, after you die and you are returned to life, where will you spend eternity.  And what will answer that question will be the kingdom you are trusting and resting in.

You dear saints, who are resting in the Kingdom of Grace, Christ’s Kingdom are also pursuing righteousness. You are seeking God’s Kingdom and waiting for it to come in power.  But waiting in the Kingdom of grace and pursuing that Kingdom of power isn’t easy; in fact it’s impossible without faith.

As we live here in this world of sin, we soon discover that there is very little grace shown to us, and the power we experience seems to be evil and working against the good we try to do.  At best here in this world, we seem to have fleeting moments of happiness, but they elude us so quickly and then we fall to sin ourselves and collapse again in guilt, fear, and doubt.  We can become frustrated when we discover, that we can’t simply take off our sinful nature and hang it up in the closet or throw it in the trash.

So what are we to do?  Well listen of course.  We are to hear the word of God and pay attention to it.  Listen: “Give attention to me, my people, and give ear to me, my nation (of faith); for a law will go out from me (to you).”  What law?  The law of grace that can come only through your King of Grace, Jesus Christ.

You see, God knows that you are but flesh; He knows that in your sinfulness, you cannot come into His Kingdom of Grace, so in His Word, He brings that Kingdom to you.  What word is that?  The Word about Jesus your King; His suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension.  It is that Word that has been sent out and found you.  It is a Word of forgiveness.

Grace to you… grace for you… grace, which is yours right now, if you see a need for it; if you want to be in God’s Kingdom.

God’s unmerited love is yours right now through Jesus who loves you and has set you free from your sins by His blood shed upon the cross.  He has done all of the work and simply calls you to come and rest in His kingdom of grace and pursue every day His Kingdom of Power.  You pursue His Kingdom of Power as His priests as you do the good He desires and as you go about proclaiming the message of His Kingdom of Grace; the message of your God and Father.  And the life we live here in the kingdom of man we live while waiting for the Kingdom of Christ.  And the life that we live is how we give glory to God the Father of our King Jesus, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. [Revelations 1:4-8]

At least every Sunday we pray, “Thy Kingdom come” in the Lord’s prayer.  What does it mean then to pray those words?

God’s kingdom comes all by itself without our prayer, right?  So why must we pray those words?  So that His kingdom would be so great within us and among us that others would know that there is a God in Heaven.  We pray those words so that we will be the type of child that not only lives in His kingdom but also helps to make that kingdom grow among us!  How does that Kingdom grow among us?  Through the message from and about our King Jesus, and that message, is the good news that God sent his Son, Christ our Lord, into this sinful world to redeem and deliver us from the power of the devil, to bring us to himself, and to rule us as our King of righteousness.  In this kingdom we are given life, and salvation against sin, death, and the devil. It is this message alone that keeps us in His kingdom and delivers His Holy Spirit to us in power, so that we may have faith to continually be saved by his holy Word and Sacraments.  These are the only means God has provided to save us and deliver us safely into His Kingdom.

When we talk about God’s Kingdom, when we pray that God would help us rest in His kingdom, we are really asking God to help us praise His name and live a Christian life. We ask this so that those of us who have already entered into the kingdom of grace may remain faithful and grow daily in it and also so that God may use us to help others enter it, and together we may all remain eternally in His kingdom that He has now begun in us and among us!

“The coming of God’s kingdom to us” then takes place in two ways: first, it comes here, in time, through the Word and faith, and second, it comes in eternity, with the end of days.  It comes in great power and might, and it is the only way that you can enter the kingdom of God.

Christ has done all of the work.  He has given to you His Holy gospel so that you may hear and believe through His gift of faith.  He has washed you clean in the waters of your baptism.  Not only has he stripped you of your sinful and soiled nature, but he has given you a new nature; a robe of righteousness, which is the very nature of your King Jesus.  And what’s more is, He invites you to come to His holy table to have communion with Him and all of the saints that have gone before you.  He asks you to dine on His very body and blood for the continued forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of your faith.  And all that He asks of you is that you continue to use these things every day and trust in them alone.

Oh yes, there is one more thing He asks of you.  He asks that you pray to Him in Heaven that He would continue to keep His name and you holy, and He asks that you pray that His Kingdom would come soon in power and might.

Will you remember to pray that Christ’s Kingdom would come soon?  Will you look forward to that Kingdom and let all that is within you work towards ushering in that Kingdom first in you then around you?

I pray that God would continually move our hearts to always ask for His kingdom to come among us.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

On Cleaving and Clinging

Sunday, November 15th, 2015

Pentecost 25B, November 15, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” [Hebrews 10:24, 25]

Growing up as a Christian I heard a lot of talk and teaching about cleaving and clinging.  I was taught in Sunday school that I must cleave, or split away from the naughty way and always search out the good way.  I was taught that I must “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” [Matthew 7:13, 14]

Now, I was taught that this meant that I must leave my sinful life and cling to Jesus and the road to salvation.  The only problem with this teaching is that no one ever told me how to do this, and no one bothered to tell me that in Holy Baptism, I was already on the narrow road of salvation; Jesus had already found me and given me the new, forgiven life.

This morning, we will look at what means God uses to both keep us on that narrow way and help others to find it also, and then, we’ll learn to trust in Jesus alone.  And to do this, we will simply allow God’s Word to speak to us and teach us how He draws us to Himself, and then secures us in His love.  And then we will learn how God uses we, who are clinging to Jesus, to draw others who are still trapped within a life of guilt and separated from God’s love.

First, as a way of refreshing our memories, let’s define God’s love, or Agápē love. It is God’s own love for creation, for you and me; a love that is intelligent (He knows all of the facts about you and still loves you) and works to bring about new purpose and new life for you and within you.  It is God’s Agápē love that saw the world and all of mankind from the very beginning as sinful, defiled, and lost in darkness, and yet it was this Agápē love that moved God to act in such a way that His act of love would save every last sinful person who was willing to be saved.  To accomplish this mission of salvation centered in Agápē love, God the Father called upon His Son to make a way, a path, or a road back to Paradise.

God sent His Son Jesus to us as one of us, so that He could be our true High Priest. There were priests before Christ came to us, very many of them who were called upon to serve under the old covenant of the law; they were called to do a monotonous service, “offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.” [Hebrews 10:11] But God sent His Son and named Him Jesus (God saves).  The very name was to indicate the mission that this God-child, born of the Virgin Mary was sent on.  He would grow to become the God-man, the only One who could live a perfect life, and then out of love for sinners, by way of Pontius Pilate offer His life upon the cross in exchange, or as payment for our imperfections… for our hideous sins.

Prior to Christ our Great High Priest, the high priest of the old covenant was the only one who could pass through the curtain that separated sinners, all sinners, from the holy of holies, the Ark of the Covenant, and the Mercy Seat.  All of these were physical representations of a spiritual reality, and a real place and position, which was simply beyond the reach and beyond the comprehension of sinful mankind.

“But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.” [Hebrews 10:12]  This single sacrifice is both the very definition of Agápē love and the source of our salvation and our own expression of God’s Agápē love.  Through the sacrifice of His body and the spilling of His blood, Christ has brought into completion both our rebirth and our perfection.  Through God’s Agápē love, Christ has paid for the sins of the world, but more importantly, His passion, His payment, included your sins.

“By a single offering He has perfected for (eternity) those (of us) who are being sanctified (that is perfected in His holiness.  And so that you will be convinced of this truth), the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us.” [Hebrews 10:14, 15]  Within His Word and throughout your life, as you cling to Jesus, the Living Word, God demonstrates that He has put His law on your heart and He has written His Word in your mind.  And then He says, through Christ your High Priest, “I will remember your sins and your lawless deeds no more.” [Hebrews 10:17]

Here is a truth worth remembering: God draws all sinners to Himself only through the Cross of Christ and His chosen means of grace.

It is through God’s means of grace where all of the Agápē love of the Father becomes yours personally, through the work and sacrifice of your Great High Priest Jesus Christ.  Through the blood of Christ, the entrance into the true Holy of Holies is open for you in connection with that blood, and it shall never be closed to you.  Jesus made a way, a very narrow way back to Paradise for all sinners.  It is narrow because it excludes all other ways.  It is a way, because you follow it every day; it is a living way, because the very veil that you must pass through is through Christ’s flesh.  The Son of God, Jesus Christ Himself is the living way, the truth, and the only source of eternal life.  In the old covenant or the old way, only the high priest himself could enter the holy of holies by way of the great veil or curtain, but this new way is for all of us; each of us are to use Jesus’ flesh as the great means of entry.

The crucified Christ is our entrance into both the holy of holies and the very mercy seat of God.  Jesus reminds us of this truth with these words, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” [John 14:6]  This morning Jesus holds out His hand to each of you and makes sure you understand all of this as He says, “My blood.  My body.  No other means.  I am the veil that separates sinful men from God the Father.  To get to the Father you must pass through me.”

So how may one enter through Christ our great veil and curtain?  We must continue to draw near to God “with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” [Hebrews 10:22]  Dear friends, we are drawn by God, that is we are pulled away from our sinful lives and into God’s Agápē love through the cross of Jesus Christ.  Through the suffering, death, and resurrection of our Great High Priest, His very body and blood are the only method of payment the Father will accept as atonement for our sins.  So, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:8)  But how are we to draw near to God?

We draw near to God with a clean heart; with a pure conscience.  How?  With our hearts sprinkled clean by the blood of Christ and our bodies washed clean with the pure water of Holy Baptism.  And what is it that makes the water pure?  Nothing but the life giving, life changing, Agápē making Word of God.  Through His means of grace, God gives us both rebirth and continual forgiveness of all sins.  And through these gifts we are given a new way to love God and each other; we are given Agápē love; the love of intellect and purpose.  A love that finds it’s definition in the cross of Christ; a love that compels us to bear our own cross of sacrifice and the giving of our selves to our neighbor.

“(So) Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” [Hebrews 10:23-25]

How do we continually leave our sinful past and cling to Christ? How can we receive the strength and ability to continually love God with all of our heart and mind, and love our neighbor as ourselves?

By holding fast to our confession of faith. By hearing the Word of God often and receiving the blessed assurance of complete forgiveness and the promise of eternal life.  By remembering our baptism and all that it represents.  By gathering each week to confess our sins together before God, and then quickly being assured that through Christ we are forgiven and loved.  By allowing God’s Word read, declared, and preached to sustain our faith and to increase within our hearts a hunger for a deeper relationship of Agápē love with our Heavenly Father.

And then, as faith and love lead us, we are to approach the mercy seat of God, take our place around this altar and receive the very body and blood that continues the Father’s work of Agápē love within us.

And now we must follow this work of Christ that God does within us to a new place.  There is no longer a need to continually focus on only our hearts when God has promised to do such a great work within them.  But now, God asks us to be concerned out of Agápē love, for the countless hearts around us; people lost in darkness and sin that God wants us to focus on.  But how?

By being a living representation of the very Agápē love that saved us; by encouraging “one another, and all the more as we see the Day (of judgment) drawing near.”

In these words, God is telling us that our time is both short and precious; He is inciting us, by the leading of His Spirit and the gift of Agápē love to cling to Christ alone, to come alive, and to help bring new birth and forgiveness to others.

Dear friends, our faith and God’s Agápē love that comes out of us are living, busy, active, and powerful things.  Martin Luther once said that faith and love do not ask “whether good works are to be done; but before the question is even asked, it has (already done) them and is always engaged in doing (those good works).” [C. Tr 941, 10]

Brothers and sisters, we need to meet weekly within this communion of saints,  because from within this very place, out of God’s Divine Service for us, we are continually filled with both faith and God’s Agápē Love, which then sends us out offering and performing good works for Christ’s church and our neighbor.

But because our human nature is constituted in such a way that we would rather be around and deal with those who are only good and perfect, and then neglect and ignore those who are imperfect and hard to love—because of this sinful tendency within us, we notice that those who are weaker cause those who are more perfect to be haughty, spiteful, judging, selfish and unloving while, on the other hand, those who are more perfect, more mature in their faith, cause those who are weaker to envy and be disrespectful.  This is why not only this epistle focuses in on our relationship with other saints, but indeed all of the epistles do the same as a way of warning and countering this evil, so that divisions and false teaching can not arise in Christ’s church.

So how can we avoid these terrible things and live our lives in a way that pleases our Great High Priest and Savior, Jesus Christ?  By leaving these things, confessing these things, and then by clinging to Christ alone; by turning to His cross and seeing atonement, and then turning to the Font and seeing new life.

When these things are active in our lives, it will be God’s Agápē love within us and around us that will bring peace and a strong witness to our community, the very people that need to know Jesus Christ unto eternal life.

This, therefore, is the Christian love that we cling to; it is the Agápē love that is shown to those who are contemptible and unworthy of love; this, Christian love that dwells within each of you, is the kindness that is given to those who are evil and ungrateful. For this is what God did for us; and we, too, are commanded to love as He loves.

Dear friends, broken people are messy, time consuming, and very hard to love; love them anyhow because God chose to love you!  AMEN!

Living the Consecrated Life

Sunday, November 8th, 2015

Pentecost 24B, November 8, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” [1 Kings 17:9]

For some of you here this morning, the scripture readings all point to one conclusion: The pastor is going be preaching on stewardship, or giving.  If that is the conclusion you reached, well you’re not entirely right, but you’re not entirely wrong either.  You see our message is on living, and not giving.

This morning, our message will speak God’s words of faithfulness, which will in turn cause our hearts to trust in His care for us.  And that in turn will lead us to live a life set apart to glorify God as we praise Him and serve our neighbor.  So, in a sense this is a stewardship message, that will move us to live a consecrated life for God, but not the kind of life that some so called “evangelist” might define it, with the  words “Name it and claim it” behind their message; no our message comes directly from the heart of God.  It’s He alone who speaks to  our hearts, not sinful men, and He alone gives us faith and courage to follow and believe what He says in His Word.

In our Old Testament reading (1 Kings 17:8-16), Elijah the prophet is given yet another test from God in trusting His Word and taking action that is born out of faith. The test from God isn’t meant to trap Elijah, but to prove to Him that God will always provide.  God will do what He says He will do.  But God’s testing of Elijah’s faith, or His strengthening of faith, didn’t stop there.  God also spoke to a poor widow woman who had a home and family, and no more resources to provide for it.  The world was in the middle of a famine and this poor woman only had enough flour to make one last meal for herself and her child.  She must have been wondering, “Is there a god, and if there is does that god really care?”

And this is exactly the place where the living God proves that He is real and He does provide for those who receive faith and trust Him.  Through Elijah, God would also test her faith.  God’s promise to her was simple: the bowl of flour and the jar of oil will not be exhausted until the famine is over.

When Elijah spoke the promise of God to the widow, she heard and believed.  She passed God’s test of new found faith by preparing the bread for Elijah.  The widow acted as though the flour and oil would last forever.  And that is the very essence of faith; the widow trusted God’s Word.  “Faith is being certain of what we do not see”. [Hebrews 11:1]

Does God still look for examples of that faith today?  Yes!  But how, how is that kind of faith even possible?  Only by the Word, the promises of God; only when the one being blessed by the promise of God is trusting in the promise.  What promise?  Well there are many great promises that God makes in His Word, but the greatest of them all for sinners like us, is the promise of complete and total forgiveness of sins.  Have you claimed that promise?  Are you truly trusting that God has done that for you?  If you have then it should completely redefine your life.  It should change you in the very core of who you are and why you are living in this sinful world.  Has it; has it really changed you?  Well, let’s put it to the test.

We just sang the hymn “Take My Life and Let It Be” (LSB 783) right?  Do you really believe the Words we sang in vs. 5&6?   “Take my will and make it Thine, It shall be no longer mine; Take my heart, it is Thine own, It shall be Thy royal throne.  Take my love, my Lord, I pour at Thy feet its treasure store; take myself and I will be ever, only all for Thee.”  If God were to ask you right now if the life that you were living is a good example of your appreciation for all He has done for you, and an accurate representation of your trust and love for Him, would you be embarrassed?  If you’re honest with yourself, I think you already know the answer.

Ok, I know the message is getting a little uncomfortable for us this morning; that always happens when the Law of God begins poking and probing into those secret and protected places.  And what does God want us to see in all of this poking and probing?  Well, the quality of our faith of course.  He is always looking to test our faith, so that He can strengthen it.

When Elijah was sent to the widow to be cared for, God was already preparing the widow’s heart to be God’s caregiver for Elijah. When the man of God came and spoke the words, “Do not fear” God was through those very Words giving faith and courage to the woman so she could hear what came next: “make for me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son.”

Now, those are challenging words, in fact they are impossible words for anyone on the brink of starvation.  It is an all or nothing proposition.  You would have to be a fool to believe those words, unless they were God’s Words.  You see God’s Word always provides faith to believe the promise within the Word.  What was the promise?  That she would never lack!  It was not Elijah saying that, but God speaking through a true prophet.  She knew who Elijah was; she knew he was the real deal.  So the question that God was asking her was not if she trusted Elijah, but if she trusted Him.  God’s Word provides faith and it provides courage; God’s Word and not the word of men.

Earlier I referred to the phony evangelists and preachers who are known as the word of faith preachers.  Some of them use the slogan, “Name it and claim it!”  Or as I like to say, “Blab it and grab it!”  When they speak about seed money and sowing for blessings of wealth and prosperity, they really mean it; the only problem is that they’re talking about their own wealth and prosperity and not yours!  They aren’t preaching the gospel of forgiveness but the gospel of redistribution of wealth, from your hand to theirs.  These are the type of phonies that Jesus was talking about in our gospel reading this morning (Mark 12:38-44), listen: “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows houses and for a pretense make long prayers.”

Today, we might say beware of the prosperity preachers, who like to walk around in Armani suits wearing Rolex watches, expensive jewelry, living in lush million dollar homes, and driving around in a new Mercedes Benz.  You know who they are don’t you?  Where ever they go they want everyone in the community to notice them.  They are the ones who will use wonderful sounding prayers intended to manipulate you and take your last penny, with the promise that God will bless you.  Baloney!  Jesus says that those kind of phony preachers will receive great condemnation!  He tells you that for a reason; He wants you to take your heart and eyes off of the promises of men and instead focus on the promises of God.

After Jesus condemned the scribes, He called His disciples to His side, and He asked them to look at a poor widow who was putting a penny in the offering. After the widow deposited her offering, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.  For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Like the widow in our Old Testament reading, God worked within the heart of this widow with the penny to give everything and then trust in His care and blessing.  It was God who did that and not sinful man.  Why did God ask them to give everything?  So that He could be praised, not so the preacher or even the giver could be admired.  What was the reward for the widow’s giving?  Stronger faith; faith to know and experience God’s care and love, even in the middle of hard times.

Now at this point, many of us are asking ourselves this question, “Could I do that; could I give everything if God asked me to?”  The answer is simple; yes you could if God willed it!  But the truth is friends; the kingdom of God does not rest upon your obedience or lack of it.  God doesn’t need your time, talent, or treasure to build His kingdom, but He does invite you to use those things and be a partner in seeing that kingdom grow.  Why?  Because all that you have is from God; it’s a trust from Him, a tool that God wants to use to test and strengthen your faith.  But faith in what?  Faith in God’s faithfulness; faith in His forgiving heart, which speaks to you forgiveness of sins… the gospel of Jesus Christ!

It was Jesus, the Son of God who appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin (your sin), by sacrificing Himself upon the cross.  And just as it is appointed for (each of us) to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sin of many (yes, even your sins dear baptized, He) will appear a second time, not to deal with or punish our sins, but to save we redeemed and baptized sinners, who completely trust in His life, death, and resurrection as being done for us and in us, as we are eagerly waiting for Him to come again to bring us into paradise restored. [Hebrews 9:26b-28]

How much of our time, talent, and treasure does God ask us to give to Him?  All of it, everything we have, but when we realize this truth, He also takes away the fear of not being able to call it our own.  You see, He gives it right back to us, and then He asks us to hold onto it for Him, as a trust; something that has been consecrated, that is, it has been set apart as holy, and it is to be used in service to our Lord Jesus Christ and our neighbor.  God asks us to be responsible with our lives and to use them to further the spread of the good news about Jesus Christ and His Kingdom of grace.  He asks us to hold onto our treasure with an open hand so that He can take of it as He sees fit.

How much should you give?  I do not know; that is between you and God, but I do know this, you don’t decide to become a steward after you have a good job.  No, Christian stewardship demands that we take good care of our time talent and treasure, what ever it is, simply because we have been commissioned by Jesus to manage those things, how ever much or little of those things we have right now, and we do it simply for God’s glory and the spreading of His kingdom of grace one forgiven sinner at a time.

You see, we are all stewards; the only question is whether we are good stewards or bad ones.  I know that God is always testing our faith so that we will get better and better at trusting Him and believing that all we have is His alone, a trust from God to us.  May He continue to give us faith to believe this truth and also faith to embrace a consecrated life, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Christians Are At War With One Another As Americans Leave The Church In Droves

Thursday, November 5th, 2015

By Michael Snyder, on November 4th, 2015

Christianity is under attack from a thousand different directions all at once, and yet many believers have turned their guns on one another.  This war among Christians seems to intensify with each passing year, and believers are often fighting for some of the stupidest reasons you can possibly imagine.  Meanwhile, people are leaving our churches in droves and church attendance is way down.  This is especially true of younger Americans.  According to an incredible new report that was just released by the Pew Research Center, only 27 percent of all Millennials (U.S. adults born since 1990) attend religious services on a weekly basis.  When you go into many churches in America on Sunday mornings, all you see are “the greys”, and I am not talking about space aliens.  But instead of focusing on fixing what has gone wrong, many Christians (including a number of very prominent ministers) spend most of their energy savagely attacking their brothers and sisters in Christ.  This is absolutely disgraceful and it needs to stop.

America is on the exact same path to secularization that Europe has already gone down.  The Pew Research Center discovered that the percentage of Americans who are “absolutely certain” that God exists declined from 71 percent in 2007 to 63 percent in 2014.  Meanwhile, the percentage of those that are “religiously unaffiliated” rose from 16 percent in 2007 to 23 percent today.

Atheism, agnosticism and other religions are on the rise in America, and Christianity is in decline.  And as I noted above, this is particularly true among our young people.  Here are some more numbers from an excerpt that I pulled directly out of the Pew report

Millennials – especially the youngest Millennials, who have entered adulthood since the first Landscape Study was conducted – are far less religious than their elders. For example, only 27% of Millennials say they attend religious services on a weekly basis, compared with 51% of adults in the Silent generation. Four-in-ten of the youngest Millennials say they pray every day, compared with six-in-ten Baby Boomers and two-thirds of members of the Silent generation. Only about half of Millennials say they believe in God with absolute certainty, compared with seven-in-ten Americans in the Silent and Baby Boom cohorts. And only about four-in-ten Millennials say religion is very important in their lives, compared with more than half in the older generational cohorts.

It has been projected that if current trends continue, the percentage of Americans attending church in 2050 will be about half of what it is today.

So those that are supposedly “leading the church” in America today need to wake up.  What you are doing is not working.  This nation is falling away from God, but many of you are spending much of your time and energy attacking one another.

Another thing that should deeply, deeply alarm Christian leaders is the fact that a large percentage of “believers” do not even seem to grasp the essential basics of the Christian faith.  I am talking about things like who God is, the plan of salvation and the authority of the Bible.  Here is more from Pew’s new report

Among Christians, two-thirds say many religions can lead to eternal life, and most of them (50% of all Christians) say some non-Christian religions can lead to life everlasting. The view that some non-Christian faiths can lead to eternal life is held by roughly two-thirds of Catholics (68%) and mainline Protestants (65%), as well as 59% of Orthodox Christians. Fewer members of the historically black Protestant tradition (38%), evangelical Protestants (31%) and Mormons (31%) say some non-Christian religions can lead to salvation. Just 5% of Jehovah’s Witnesses say some non-Christian faiths can lead to eternal life.

If other religions can lead to eternal life, then why did Jesus have to die on the cross?  Why couldn’t He have just come down and pointed us in the direction of all those other faiths?  Many Christians don’t seem to understand that Jesus had to die for us on the cross because there is no other payment for our sins.  He took the penalty that we deserved, and now He offers us a new life as a free gift.

Without Him, we would have absolutely no hope and no future.  But because of Him, our sins are forgiven and we have been given eternal life.

But a very large percentage of believers does not understand this.  Sadly, many Christians seem to think that you can believe whatever you want and it will all be okay in the end.

So as you can see, the church in America today is a mess.  As a Christian myself, this pains me greatly.

But instead of working to fix the problems and praying for revival, many believers seem to take glee in tearing down their fellow Christians.

One of the bad things about the anonymity of the Internet is that it gives people an opportunity to show what is really in their hearts.  And in many cases, what comes out of the hearts of many supposed “Christians” is absolutely frightening.

If you venture into places where believers hang out on Facebook, on Twitter, on YouTube and on various Christian websites all over the Internet, you will find some of the most vile things imaginable being said about specific individuals.

I have seen Christians use curse words to describe one another, and good, solid believers that I know personally have been called “whores”, “heretics” and “scumbags” just to give you a few examples.  There are even some “Christians” that publicly wish for their brothers and sisters in Christ to die and go to hell.

This kind of thing should not be happening.  In Matthew chapter 22, Jesus gave us instructions about how we are to treat one another…

36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

38 This is the first and great commandment.

39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

On my websites I talk about some very hard things, but you will notice that I don’t attack specific individuals that are on the same side as me.  In this day and age, it is imperative that we all figure out who our friends are.  None of us are ever going to agree 100 percent on everything, and that is okay.

Yes, sometimes there are things that need to be addressed, but the vast majority of times they can be taken care of privately.  I have had some very honest discussions with people that are on the same side as me in private, but I would never air that stuff publicly.

If we are going to make it through what is coming, we have got to learn how to love one another.  And we have got to stop viciously attacking one another over stupid stuff.  Yes, there are some things that are so important that they must never be compromised on, but most of the attacks that I see happening are over very petty things.

And without a doubt, there are times when it become necessary to rebuke someone.  But when at all possible it should be done in private, and it should always be done in a spirit of love.

Because in the end, if we do not have love, we are nothing.  You can have all of the “knowledge” in the world, and you can go around correcting everyone else, but if you are lacking in love you are just a baby.

This is a hard lesson that I had to learn, and hopefully what I have written here will be helpful for someone.

This war among Christians needs to stop.  Our faith is under attack like never before, and we desperately need to learn how to start working together.

At some point, hopefully we will begin to actually live the words of our Savior in John chapter 13…

34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.

35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

Are You Ready For Separation?

Sunday, November 1st, 2015

All Saints Sunday, November 1, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared;” [1 John 3:2a]

Think about those words for a moment; what do they mean to you?  Do we really understand what it means to call God our Father, and the Son of God our brother?  How will we think differently about those Words when we leave this world and see and speak to God face to face?  When we are living and praising God with “All Saints” who are arrayed in white?

I am reminded of my youth during the Apollo missions, watching in amazement as each one of the rockets were launched.  Each one started out like a tall building upon the launching pad, until those four words, that to a young boy seemed like magic were spoken: “Houston, we have ignition.”  And then, “Houston, we have lift off.”  And then the real magic took place; some how the cameras were able to follow that rocket being propelled by a continuous explosion of fire for miles into the sky, and when the camera on the ground was no longer able to detect the rocket, “Presto!”  Just like that, a camera attached to the space capsule began to report its images.  Now this is where, the part I especially liked came to happen; the first stage rocket was separated from the second stage with a small explosion, and still the rocket continued forward, until after a few minutes the second stage did the very same thing.  And then, the words I loved to hear were spoken, “Houston, we have separation.”

Are you ready for separation?  Are you ready to shed the things of this world so that you can finally realize perfectly, who God says you already are?

Living a life that leads to separation can be difficult and tumultuous; full of terrifying fire and explosions of emotions. It is both beautiful and frightening all at the same time. Our first reading (Revelation 7:9-11) calls life before separation a tribulation.  Here in this existence of flesh we live, just as untold millions of saints before and after us have lived; saints that make up the church, who have existed since the fall of Adam and Eve.  And each one of us in our own time have been buffeted and attacked by sin, the threat of death, and the devils, and the entire time we are asked by God to simply trust Him,  that our time of tribulation will end soon, and when it does, we will see that it was simply a stage of life that led us to where the saints before us had already passed… into eternity in Paradise.

But is there strength enough to wait?  Yes, in these words…

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” [1 John 3:1a]  Make no mistake friends, this little word love is not the kind of love that the world so easily gives out in all of its many sinful forms.  This love of God is not fickle, temporary, or conditional.  No, this kind of agape love, is the love of full comprehension and understanding, yet its propelled as unstoppable until it sees you through until your final separation.

What I mean by that, is that God loves you even though He knows your every sinful thought and action.

Jesus, the very Son of God came into our flesh and lived through the many tribulations of betrayal, and even death, so that you would be assured that God understands the many temptations you resist and sometimes fall to, and because He understands, He forgives.

God understands the harsh reality of this sinful world that we live in as strangers.  He loves you, and through His Word and sacraments He is sustaining you, just as He did for the saints who have gone before you.  Why?  Because through faith in the life and death of His Son Jesus Christ upon the cross, He has made a way for you to be His child, and through this same Jesus Christ, He has given you a way to know that for sure, He is your Father.

But then why must we experience so much pain, hardships, and tribulations in this stage of life if God loves us so?  Because…

You have not yet separated from this stage of existence.  You are still in this world where all of God’s Christians are called aliens and strangers.  Listen: “The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”[1 John 3:1b]  This is why the church is asked to not just preach the gospel hope for today, but the certainty of that hope for the eternal tomorrow; the time when God calls us to go to our new home in paradise restored.  And I hope, that we have been doing an acceptable job of it, but let’s put it to the test, shall we?  Please fill in the blank for both of these hymns:  “I’m but a stranger here, ________ is my home.” [LSB 748]  “Have no fear little flock, for the Father has chosen to give you ________;”  [LSB 740]  But these hymns would be pointless if they did not have the seal of authenticity of Jesus behind them.  Listen to Jesus’ words about where our trials and tribulations in this world are leading us, and allow them to speak faith into your hearts…

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.  Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” [Matthew 5:3-12]

Wonderful words of Comfort and Hope, are they not?

So why must we experience these tribulations of life? Because you have not yet separated into that final stage; we’re still in that 2nd stage of Living the new life under the reality and hope of Holy Baptism, where we have been given the promise of new and eternal life.  Maybe we can better understand this stage of life by thinking back to our first stage, before the first separation; I’m speaking about our prenatal nine month stage, before we were born.

No one here this morning, would regard that nine-month period as the whole meaning of life, where nothing else exists. By now we know better.  But let’s just say, by way of illustration, that during our pre-natal life we had the capacity to think, to hope or not hope, and so on. And let us add that while in our mother’s womb we got word that another life was waiting for us, a life that might last an incredibly long time of eighty or ninety years or more. The new world we would someday enter would contain light in which we could see things and vast reaches of space in which we could move around. It would contain towering skyscrapers, majestic mountains, strange looking creatures called animals, large plants called trees, four-wheeled vehicles traveling at shocking speeds; why we were told there were even towers that are propelled into space by an explosion of fire called rockets. Someday, we were assured, we would be able to do such impossible things as walk and talk. What’s more, we wouldn’t be alone in this vast new world; there would be millions of other creatures similar to our self. Yet strangest of all would be the mode of entering this new world, a rather perilous process called birth, involving pain, danger, doctors, and hospitals, a process we would never guess could thrust us into such a beautiful life as we live at presently.

Now what reaction might an unborn child have toward this talk of another and more abundant life, assuming that an unborn child can have reactions? In spite of the fact that the child couldn’t possibly understand what earthly life would be like, that child could still believe in it and look forward to it. And doing that, would make the child’s nine-month existence much more pleasant. Or conversely, the child could be a realist and assume that the dark, warm, and enveloping womb that is home, is all that there is to life, and beyond that dreaded process called birth there is nothing more but the end. All this talk about another life is just wishful thinking, and one might better make the most of what they’ve got.

Then comes the day—the day of birth. It turns out true, after all, gloriously true! There is another life. You can live eighty or ninety years, or more! There are such things as light and space and skyscrapers and mountains and animals and plants and fast-moving vehicles and rockets!  You can walk and talk. And this dreaded process called birth, in spite of appearances, turns out, after all, to be the gateway to this new and wonderful world.

I’m sure you see where we’re going with this illustration. Our present life is not the climax of life; it is but a phase in our journey, until our final separation. In relation to the heavenly life, we might call it a pre-natal stage. We have it on good word—God’s word— that there is another life, another world ahead of us called heaven. In it we shall live unbelievably long—forever! It is a world without space or time. Angels will share mansions with us. We shall behold the face of God. We shall see him as he is. In fact, we shall be like him. All the ills and inconveniences of this present life, chief of which is sin, will have vanished. We’ll be with all those who have gone ahead of us, even the ones we love and miss who went to sleep in Jesus before us!

Dear friends, it will be a great day when Jesus calls us home to glory.  We will behold the Lamb of God, and along with the host arrayed in white, we will behold His nail scared hands, and simply stand before His throne of grace and call out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord.”  But that great day has not yet come for us who are called children of God, and yet are still sojourners in this sinful world.  We know that because God calls us His children, we are!  And we also know that there is no stage of existence beyond that final state of separation.  And in this knowledge we not only wait in hope for this final stage of separation, but in this hope we are being purified just as Christ is pure. [1 John 3:3]

Listen, the world will give you all kinds of things that they claim you should hope in.  They will offer you the brother and sisterhood of man and claim that there is no greater calling than to work towards that hope.  They will offer you the hope of science, world order, and the proper disbursement of wealth as the solution to our many ills.  But this morning God assures us, that kind of hope is simply sinking sand, because it’s foundation is not centered on Christ and His cross; the place where God made He and man right with each other.

Are you ready for that final stage of separation, where God shows you that His Son, your Savior has indeed made all things new?  I pray that you are, and I ask God to continue doing this very thing within you and around you, in Jesus  name… AMEN!