Archive for January, 2016

It’s a Powerful Word!

Sunday, January 31st, 2016

Sexagesima Sunday, January 31st, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As Jesus said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”” [Luke 8:8]

This morning, each of us gathers as both the soil for God’s Word, and fellow sowers of His Word.  Each of us gathers needing to hear Jesus speak, so that together we may obtain an abundant harvest.  So, what kind of soil are you?  Or another way to ask this question is, “Do you have, do you desire to have ears of faith that will hear God speak to you this morning?”  And then what kind of seed are you sowing?  Do you know of it’s power and purity?  Do you know, really know what it is able to do?

God’s Word is indeed powerful, but to the world it seems like a very small and insignificant thing; “After all” they say, “it is only words!”

And yet, it’s these very Words, which Jesus speaks to proclaim the mystery of the Kingdom of God.  Jesus spoke in parables, which to the outsiders were only words.  But to the apostles and disciples who walked with Jesus, those Words were the very source of hope and eternal life.

Some people stopped and listened to the Words of Jesus; they found a temporary diversion from the drudgery of daily life, but when He was finished speaking, they gathered their things and went back about living their lives, unaffected and unchanged by the Word.  But for those who remained at Jesus side, something else was given to them; they received the gift of faith.  To them, another Word was spoken; a deeper Word was given that both maintained the mystery of the Kingdom of God, yet assured them that they were a part of that mystery; a part of that Kingdom.

Why did this Word of Jesus seem to only grab a hold of so few?  What was there about these folks that separated them from the others?  Well, they were the good soil that Jesus talked about; not on their own or through their own doing, but rather they were changed from bad soil into good soil simply by grace and their felt need for that grace.  In their weakness, they knew that Jesus had the Word of life that would make them strong.  We might even say that these Disciples of Christ were even moved to brag about their weakness in order to point out God’s power, glory, and His wonderful gift of grace.

In Jesus’ story, He gave four examples of hearts that His Words would fall upon.  In His story, He compared those hearers and their hearts to soil and His Words to seeds being sown.

In His first example, Jesus speaks of hearts that are already shutoff from the power of His Word.  These hearts, Jesus compares to soil on a hardened foot path that can not receive the Word, due to lack of tilling or preparation, so the seed simply sits on top of the hardened soil.  But then Jesus adds an antagonist to the story; he adds birds.  These birds He tells us, are an example of Satan and the devils who do their very best to snatch away the seed of God’s Word, before the soil realizes what it is.  These devils use things like logic and philosophy and competing religions to make the Word of God seem impotent or no different than any other word.  They will even try to convince you that the true preachers and teachers are simply ignorant and selfish men who only want to make a living out of deceiving the masses.

The second example of soil is a rocky one; a thin veneer of soil that simply covers rock and gravel.  The Seed is received and even begins to sprout, but because of the lack of depth in the soil it can’t take root.  This soil, Jesus says are the hearts that gladly hear the Word of God and rejoice in that Word, but after leaving the presence of the Word, they are overcome by the temptations of a sinful lifestyle, so they go right back to a Godless life, unchanged by the power of the Word.

The third example of soil are those areas where the thorn bushes and bramble were not thoroughly uprooted in the plowing phase of planting.  As the seed grew, it was choked out of life from the thorns and brambles.  This soil represents those who hear the Word, become changed and renewed by the Word, but as life happens and responsibilities increase and the promise of wealth and happiness call, those hearers forget their first love and chase after created things and give up their desire to know deeply both the Creator and the mystery of His Kingdom.

And the fourth example of soil are we who simply trust in the seed to both recreate and renew our hearts as we are daily and weekly watered and nurtured by God’s Word and Sacraments.

It is God’s desire that everyone will allow Him to recreate our hearts into fruitful soil that gladly allows it’s weakness to be turned into God’s strength for His glory.  It is God’s will that each of us will see a need for His grace and mercy; that we will see that grace and mercy displayed for the world to see in the weakness of the cross.  He desires that you this morning, will remember that His grace and mercy were showered upon you and made yours completely in the waters of your Baptism.  It is God’s will that you will understand the true and utter power of His Word that is for you!

The power of God’s Word is the very thing that makes it different from all other words.

When God sows His Word out into this sinful world, it not only proclaims a message, but it also fulfills it.  In other words, God will do what He says He will do!  “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” [Isaiah 55:10, 11]

And this is how God’s power is revealed through His Word.  He did this very thing first in the creation of the world. [Genesis 1:30]  He spoke and it happened.  He commanded and it was done.  And since the creation of the world, He has been creating through His Word spoken by His chosen prophets.  God sends His Word out to “pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” [Jeremiah 1:10]

The same is true about the Words found within your Bibles.  It isn’t just a collection of teachings or a library of stories; it’s God speaking to you as you read; even those things that were written about and happened long ago, were written for your sake.  It has been written for your instruction.  In the very form that the Bible has been given to us, God meant it to be, so that His Word could be spoken and shared throughout the world for all generations.  The Bible declares to you, God’s desire for the world, for you as an individual, as “teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.”  God sends His Word out against our sinful hard hearts as a fire, and as a hammer, that crushes rocky hearts into a powder.  It is living, and active, sharper than a two edged sword.  But when it strikes a broken heart, then the Word is Spirit and life.  It heals and regenerates, it turns the soil of our hearts from powdered rock to rich nutritious soil.  It is the power of God unto salvation.  And if you will allow yourself to be led by it, it will be a light unto your feet and a lamp upon your pathway.

But the Word does not work irresistibly.  Everyone of us are free to despise the Word and cast it aside.  But even then it is at work.  It hardens our hearts and finally, it brings judgment.

Dear friends, what Jesus Parable really give us is a final picture of sinful hearts that have been confronted with the Word of God. When each life is over, some will show a harvest, but many will not. Sadly, so many people will never let the Word in, some will never let it root, some will never let it grow up. God is showing this truth to us now as a warning, so that we will examine ourselves and discover how we are treating His Word now, before our lives here in this sinful world are finished. And while it’s true that no man or woman can change themselves, God by His grace has mercifully given to each of us His means of grace to change us all; trodden path, rocky places, and briar patches will all be turned into good soil through His Word alone.

You will need these means of grace and the power and change it brings, because God has invited each of you to also go out and broadcast, share, and sow His Word of eternal life to any and all He puts in your life, as you live out your lives being good soil and abundant in the life His “Good Seed” brings.

May God bless this planting and grant us an abundant harvest, in Jesus name… AMEN!

This Race Requires Great Faith

Sunday, January 24th, 2016

Septuagesima, January 24th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.” [1 Cor. 9:24]

Our lives of faith, your Christian life is like running a race.  It’s a peculiar race in that you aren’t competing against anyone, but rather to win you must finish the race.  And the prize you win for completing your race is a place reserved and prepared “for you” by Jesus Himself!

There are three ways we can run this race once we enter it, and they are:

  1. We can run with flawless execution and perfection, being careful not to make so much as a single mistake.
  2. We can run with a grumbling spirit.  That is we can run with the expectation of continuously being rewarded for each success and made whole through restitution for each time we feel we have been wronged.  Or…
  3. We can run with our eyes on both the author and perfecter of our faith Jesus Christ, Who is both the prize and the giver of the prize.

So what does it look like to run a flawless and perfect race?  Or rather, what does it take to live a perfect life?

In the tenth chapter of Mark we get our answer as Jesus meets up with a young rich man whom we are told He loved.  Listen: “And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’”

Now, I don’t know if you caught Jesus immediate answer, before He summed up the second table of the law of God, so I am going to point it out to you; listen: “Why do you call me good?  No one is good except God alone.”  Here Jesus is asking this young man if he’s just throwing out and misusing that Word “good” in regards to Jesus or if he really understands what it means to call Jesus good.  You see, if he is just misusing the word good, then he has already sinned; he’s broken the first commandment, “You shall have no other God.”  However, if He truly means to apply one of God’s titles to Jesus, then He is a lot closer to eternal life than he believes.

Do you understand what Jesus is saying friends?  He is saying that goodness is perfection, which is something both man and creation lost long ago, when through the sin of Adam and Eve paradise was lost.  Since that time, there truly is nothing good accept God.  We are lost in our sinful state and simply alone with no help of ever finding our way back to God’s goodness, accept through the only man who is good on His own, Jesus Christ, Who is also very God.  So to think that there is a way that you can live your life out side of Christ that will be God pleasing is just delusional.

But what about living a forgiven, Christian life, and running in the race of salvation with sinful eyes that have been opened by faith in Jesus Christ?  Well then, that makes all of the difference, because you see Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, which alone brings us to the prize of eternal life.  So now with Jesus, we are in the race again.  But so many times we disqualify ourselves by running our race, living our Christian lives as grumblers; as if someone or some God, owes us some thing.

Running the race, living the Christian life as a habitual grumbler is simply the surest way to disqualify ourselves from finishing the race.

In our Old Testament lesson (Exodus 17:1-7), we see this truth playing out in a very bold way.  Think about it for a moment; these Israelites had witnessed numerous miracles that God used to free them from their bondage in Egypt.  Why they even saw a deep and vast river halted with an invisible wall holding the raging rapids at bay.  The muck and mire that should have been the river bottom was instantaneously dried and hardened and they were allowed to walk across with out so much as getting a drop of water on their feet.  But when the pursuing Egyptian army tried to follow and do the same thing, the wall disappeared and the waters devoured them.  It is this group of Israelites who are now grumbling because they are thirsty; they’re grumbling because they feel that Moses and the God who freed them isn’t taking care of them.  Do you understand the audacity of their demand?  Do you understand how their grumbling and bickering is a direct attack against Jehovah-Jirah, the God Who always provides?  Do you understand that we have that very same sinful grumbling spirit within us today?

The crowd that Jesus was teaching in our Gospel lesson (Matthew 20:1-16) did not understand this truth, so Jesus told a story designed to show them the truth, and give them the desire to repent.  In the story, Jesus is showing all who will listen, even us today, what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.  In this Kingdom there are two ways to experience it: As one who’s running the race in time, and finally as one who has finished the race and is resting in eternity.

To run the race, to live the Christian life is a reality of grace.  That is, you come to realize that every good thing you have is simply an unearned gift from God.  To run the race is also another way of acknowledging that you don’t even deserve to be in the race.  In Jesus story, God is the Master, the Owner of the Vineyard.  He calls all to work; He excludes no one.  In Jesus’ story there are no other employers, only the one.  All may work and find gainful employment, but not all will respond.  But here is the part that blows our sinful minds, everyone is paid the same whether they worked all day or one hour!  Why?  Because the owner does not need them to work, He simply offers them the privilege of working for Him, in His vineyard and with Him,  all so that He may bless them and they may also know Him.

Can you believe that in our modern time, especially in our American culture, we still have Christians who think that they need to evaluate themselves and others so that someone comes out on top and someone comes out on the bottom?  But Jesus won’t let us get away with this spirit of grumbling and judging other workers of His vineyard.  He won’t allow our demands for reward and restitution to go unanswered while we are running in His race, towards His prize.  So what does He do?  He warns us.  He says, “Beware of this evil in your heart, because at the end of the race, “The first will be last and the last will be first!”

So what are grumblers like us to do?  We are to keep our eyes on both the prize and the giver of the prize.  We are to keep our eyes on Jesus Christ!

It takes great faith to enter and finish the race towards the prize of eternal life in paradise with Jesus!

There are two people in the Gospels who Jesus said had great faith, the kind of faith that saves.  They were a godless Centurion and a sinful Canaanite  woman. [Matthew 8:5-12; Matthew 15:21-28]  I trust that each of you are hoping to hear that same proclamation from your Savior as well.  But our problem, the thing that seems to get in the way of our hope is the truth that very often our conception or idea of great faith, is completely wrong.  So what does Jesus mean by “a great faith”?

A people of great faith believe that there is nothing great about themselves.  Like the Centurion, they too say,  “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.”  They like the centurion know what is wrong with themselves  and what they lacked.  But they have respect for the will and command of God.  They’re comfortable to let others brag on them, but they refuse to do that themselves.  These kind of people, these people of great faith, don’t think of themselves as an example of greatness.

The Canaanite woman didn’t think her faith was anything either.  She thought it normal to be compared to the dogs that the Jews kept as pets; dogs who had no right to eat the bread of the children.  And yet she believed that because of Jesus’ love for sinful dogs, He would hear her and help.  And to this belief, Jesus told her she had great faith.

So a great faith isn’t something the world would take notice of.  Great faith is not faith in oneself, but it is a faith that believes great things about Jesus.  The Canaanite woman continued to pray to Jesus: “Lord, help me.”  You see, she knew to Whom she was praying to; that Jesus was the only One Who could help her.  This is what a great faith knows.  It knows its own weakness, but it also knows the great power of the Savior.  So this kind of faith, this great saving faith says: “I am not worthy… but only say the word.  I am receiving the just reward for my sins, but Jesus, think of me.  I know I don’t deserve it, but I wait like the little dogs under your table, hoping that some crumbs may be mine.  Lord, if you will, you can.  Give me sight.  Heal my servant, heal my child, heal even me!”

But there is still one more thing that marks a great faith, and it is the greatest thing of all.  “Say only the Word Lord.”  More than anything else, it is faith in the Word of Christ.  Great faith, saving faith needs this Word.  By this faith, a sinner may take a hold of Christ’s promises of forgiveness and cling to it alone.  By ourselves, without this faith, we have nothing but mistakes and failures.  We’re prone to wander away from God and doubt that there is any faith to be had at all.  But then the Word of God is heard and the saying is believed to be true, “worthy and of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  And I am the chief of them.”  So a great faith, can exist in a person who feels nothing but weakness in himself, and it is this great faith alone that can say: “I believe Lord Jesus; help me with my unbelief!”

So we find that when we believe that our weak faith has disqualified us from running the race, from being a Christian, great faith born in the promises of Christ’s Word reminds us that we should  not base our hope on our feelings; we should not judge our progress in the race on victories, and we shouldn’t look for successes in life as encouragements to run with confidence.  Nor should we go poking around in our own sinful heart’s for some other source of a great faith.  Instead, God asks us to cling to Christ and His Word alone; to turn to Christ cross and there remain, strong in prayer and strong in His gift of great saving faith.  And as we wait there at Christ’s cross, He continuously teaches our hearts to trust in Christ alone, as we humble ourselves under the almighty hand of God, so “that in due time He will lift us up.”  Blessed are you runners, you Christians who are on the road of faith, because your gift of faith is great even though your spirit is poor, because already yours is the kingdom of heaven.  AMEN!

God’s Delight is With Us and In Us

Sunday, January 17th, 2016

Epiphany 2-C, January 17th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married.” [Isaiah 62:4]

Indeed, because God’s delight is with us and in us, I cannot keep silent.  For the sake of the church and for the sake of our very salvation I will not be quiet until God’s righteousness goes forth within your life, your family, and Christ’s church, like a burning torch.

Indeed, if ever there was a time for a simple men like myself who have been called to the divine and holy office of ministry to speak out for righteousness it is now; now when both the family and the church are under attack.  This morning, I must remind you that there is a God among you who both created water for a divine purpose and then continuously blesses us by changing that water into the wine of joy.  This morning our message will speak to our lives, our families, our church, and our eternal home.

Each of you were moved from an existence of shame, loneliness, and desolation; you were transferred, married to God through Christ Jesus into a position of honor and community, within a place; a land of plenty. A God who changes water into wine and then wine into water did this for you and to you.  Let me explain what I mean.

On the day you were baptized, God used a simple element like water and attached to it His promise to redeem you from your sins.  With simple water He took the redeeming work of Jesus completed upon the cross for the world’s sins, and He made it a work done specifically for you!  You who were once forsaken and desolate, lost and dying in your sins, He recreated you into His image through the forgiveness of sins.  And now, God the Father looks upon you as cherished and beautiful.   He delights in you because He delights in your Lord, His Son Jesus Christ.  He promises that while you live within this land of darkness and sin you have a place and a Lord waiting for the day He calls you home to Zion, paradise restored!  But for now you live knowing that you wait with a purpose; your purpose is to declare your joy in being loved and redeemed by your God and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Your Lord loves you and desires you to know joy.  This is where we need Jesus to change water into wine for us.  You see our Lord knows who among us do not have the gift of singleness, and so He repeats what He said long ago to Adam in paradise, “It is not good for man or woman to be alone.”  And so He moves our hearts to search for the one who is also alone to be our spouse; that other person who makes us complete; who gives us joy.  Jesus not only blesses us with the wine of joy but He also is at our weddings as the honored guest.  It is Jesus who brings us the gift of spouse and the joy of intimacy with another.  It is a gift that is wrapped with love, the commitment of God, and the promise of faithfulness, husband and wife to each other and together committed to a promise of faithfulness towards God.  God joins these two to become one, so that together they may know the joy of the Lord and together they may stand against anyone who tries to separate them.  And why has God joined them?

To help one another, is the answer of Scripture.  God saw that it was not good for a man to be alone and gave him the kind of helpmeet he needed.  God has given these two people to each other so that they may help each other, depend on each other, rejoice and sorrow with each other, forgive each other, and carry burdens for each other.  They are more closely bound together than any other two people in this world.  In order to cleave to his wife, a man must forsake even his father and his mother.

So it’s the obligation of a man to love his wife.  She really is a part of him.  “He who loves his wife, loves himself,” writes Paul.  And he continues: “For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes it and cherishes it.”  You see, one does not become angry with his own body if it becomes sick or maimed.  Instead one seeks to make the best of it in every condition.  And this is the way married couples should  treat each other.  They do not blame each other.  They try instead to sympathize with the faults of the other, as though they were one’s own.  And together they use these skills to bless and encourage each other.  This is necessary because if God wills it, there will most likely be children, and where there are children there is a family.

The Scriptures teach that when the two who are one become several or many through the birth or adoption of children, these children are a good gift from God. They should be accepted with thanksgiving and nourished with a sense of responsibility.

Parents have the duty to care for these children.  They must have patience with their faults and think more of the children’s welfare than of their own comforts.  They have no right to allow them to do as they please; they must be trained or taught to grow into adulthood.  This is just a matter of stewardship; they are caring for God’s children.  On the day of judgment we should be able to say to the LORD: “Behold, here am I and the children the LORD has given me.” [Isaiah 8:18]

Our homes are the most intimate natural fellowship in this world.  It is there that we see the clearest indications of our inherited selfishness.  In our day-to-day tensions with people who try our patience it is not possible to withdraw like a hermit, and since we can’t hide our real nature, the testing of our character can be very trying.

But it is not intended that we should solve the problems of our home and family by ourselves.  It is as members of the body of Christ, all united in the same common faith in our Lord Jesus, that we find strength and wisdom to serve one another.  It is not a question, then, who is the most important, or who has the greatest success, or who makes the most money, but it is a matter of sharing the joys and burdens we bear with each other.

The church is the place where Jesus first turned water into wine, and where He will also return the wine into water.

When you were baptized it was His church that Christ used to give you this great gift of eternal life; a gift that Christ then used to provide you with joy through the wine of His gladness.  But there is also a time when we think that Christ is not present with us; a time when our joy and gladness has turned to sorrow and dread.  It is in these times we feel like He has abandoned us and taken away our wine of joy.  It is within these times, we must allow the wine to return to water, the water of our baptism so that we will see that Jesus is really with us.

Jesus is there still with us, hiding away in an unseen corner within a divorce court when a judge of the land tears asunder what no man ought.  He’s there with us when one of our cherished children, a gift from God is shipped away to serve our country within the armed forces.  And He is there with us when they come back injured, damaged, or worse yet, they come back lying in a coffin.  He is there when death takes away other loved ones and friends, who’s passing seems to leave such an empty place in our hearts.  He is with us turning wine into water as joy gives way to grief, hope to destruction, and life to death.

When the joy of wine is gone, it is the mission of the church, Christ’s body, to remind you that the baptismal promises and commitments of Christ and His church still remain to sustain and support you and your family.  It is the church that is called through it’s preachers, services, and ministries to remind you that you are never alone.

When the gifts of God that bring temporary joy seem to have been taken away, we can very easily become angry at God and His church for allowing our joy to be taken away.  The spouse we lost to divorce or death, the children who no longer visit or seem to care, the career we lost, the child we never had, the home or reputation or money or friends that are now no more.  When these things disappear, many times we can become bitter or angry, even resentful towards God. But God in His Divine service reminds us that we are not alone in our grief.  He minds us that Jesus is with us.

Jesus knows the joy of a loving mother who stood by him even to the point of death. He also knows the Father who forsook him in His hour of deepest need. He knows what it’s like to be betrayed by those closest to Him and rejected by those He suffered and died for. He knows what it means to have more than enough food, and to have no food for forty days and forty nights. He knows what it is to be at peace and what its like to be attacked; to love and to lose; to live and to die.

He is our God, this man, this Jesus. And when water turns into wine, or wine retreats and takes you to the water, he remains the same—the very incarnation of love and faithfulness of His Father. He is always working toward the same goal: to be our delight and for us to delight in Him, as we live to bear his image.  And it’s that truth that will one day bring us to our native land, a place that He has gone to prepare for us within Paradise restored.  May God continue to do this great work within each of us, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Tension

Saturday, January 16th, 2016

A Funeral Sermon for the Christian Memorial Service of Father and Son, our brothers in Christ, James Albert Love and Orgrette Lloyd Love
January 16th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” [Proverbs 14:10] (But praise His name) “The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. [2 Peter 3:9]

Grace, Mercy and Peace to you dear family and friends of James and Orgrette Love.  Today, it is my privilege and honor to declare to you as pastor to both James and his son Orgrette, that His patience won the day as both father and son went to sleep in both repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.  Both had followed the way that seemed right to them, even if it was obviously wrong to everyone else, but both eventually repented of their own way and in fact, by faith they embraced and followed the narrow way of holy  baptism, of confession, contrition, repentance, and forgiveness.

Both father and son started out the same way that all of us started out, sinners in need of a Savior.

Thank God, both had parents that knew that their children’s lives, even as infants, must be turned over to God.  Both were baptized, like most of us, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Both father and son were taught of God’s love and mercy; both knew that it was only through Jesus Christ alone that they could be saved, and yet both like most of us, chose a way that seemed better, a way that seemed right to them; a way not of the Lord.  And so within their hearts, they consciously walked off of the narrow way of Christ, and embraced a different way; the way of the world.

Can you feel the tension?  If you can, then you are looking at their lives from the perspective of God.  You know, you can only have that perspective if you yourself are already resting within God’s grace through Jesus Christ.  You can only have that perspective if you’ve been given a more excellent kind of love that can come only from God the Father through His Son Jesus Christ.  For you see, this kind of tension or un-comfortableness is only possible when you can understand the hurt God feels when one of His own walks away from Him.  This is why preachers like myself can boldly declare to sinners, all sinners that it is never too late to return to your God, to embrace the gifts that the Son of God, Jesus Christ freely and gladly gives to sinners, all sinners; even you.

You see, our God is patient; He does not desire the death or eternal punishment of any sinner.  Now, perhaps there are some, maybe even some here this morning, who may not understand how this could be true for James or Orgrette.  Perhaps they have caused pain or turmoil that some may feel was never atoned for or made right; maybe you feel that their sin can never be made right.  But God knows, and God waits.  He knows what we could never know, and He waits for opportunities and circumstances in life that we could never foresee.  God waits because God loves each of us sinners; He loves us and He does not wish for us to die apart from Him.

Both the father James and Orgrette the son knew of God’s love and mercy.  They both knew that there was another Father who would show His love to sinners, any sinners, all sinners, through another Son, His Son Jesus Christ.  You see, both sinners, father and son, came to know of the love of The Father, through the love and sacrifice of The Son.  And both would have me tell each of you this morning that this very same love of God is for you as well, if you will only see a need for it.  Both would have me tell you, that upon their death-beds, each repented of their sins all sins, and both of them were heartily sorry for any hurt they may have brought to God and you.

So which way are you following today?

I know that you are here, within the tent of the Lord; but are you only visiting or are you living within it?  Do you want to flourish within the love of the Father and find both forgiveness and new life through the grace of the Son Jesus Christ, or are you determined to follow your own way; a way that God and not the preacher declares leads to death?  Are you uncomfortable with the question, because you have always considered yourself a Christian?  But let me ask you another question, “Is it possible that your un-comfortableness is due to what God calls backsliding; walking away from God’s way?

This morning, God calls us to do now, what James and Orgette also did; He asks us to consider our ways and think of every step in life we have taken.  And after you consider those things, can you agree that you have a need for a Savior, for a Champion who can bring you back out of darkness into God’s own light.  Can you agree that you do need to turn away from the way of the world, from the way that seemed right to you, and return back to what God started for you?

Brother James Love, was a trusted and valued member of this congregation.  He is the only man in the history of both Trinity and Messiah Lutheran Church that I know of, that was granted through a unanimous vote of the members of this church, an honorary title of Elder Emeritus.  It would be an understatement to say that He was loved and cherished by us.  It is this man, who freely confessed to be a sinner as defined by sins past, but gladly confessed to be a saint through the work of Jesus Christ, who would remind me constantly of two things, and for fact, I was assured by Orgrette that his father repeated these words to him as well, and here they are…

“Pastor, ya gotta remind the people that CHRIST will come again like a thief in the night; ya gotta remind them that they need to come back to Jesus before it’s too late. They got that Atomic bomb, and they’re not afraid to use it.  If they wait to come back to Jesus it might be too late.”

I promised brother Love that I would somehow work that into every message; I would do my best to communicate the urgency of returning to Jesus, or coming back to the church, a clear and trusted message.  And this morning, once again I am making good my promise.  But there was one more promise I made to Elder Love that I must tell you of; it is a promise that rests on his conviction that members of Messiah Lutheran Church would never be forgotten nor forsaken by Trinity.

Elder Love felt that the reason that so many never moved from Messiah to Trinity was because of his past failures or sins to keep the church together under the same zeal that Pastor Brink used, in order to form Messiah, long ago.  So, he asked me to never give up on his children and all of the other children that were now themselves adults, parents, and grandparents.  He requested that they remain members of Trinity in perpetuity; that is a promise I made and still intend to keep.  This dear friends is a picture of the repentant heart of Brother/Elder James Love.  And because of this promise, I beseech you in the name of Jesus Christ to be reconciled to God; come home to Christ’s church.  He and we, are here for you, and we love you; we always will.

Your God, Jesus Christ is here at Trinity in the very same way He was with you at Messiah.  He has not given up on you; He still saves a seat for you at His Table, where each Sunday, we become part of His Holy Communion, where we eat and drink His forgiveness of sins through Christ’s body and blood, in, with, and under the bread and the wine, just as you were taught long ago at Messiah Lutheran Church.

As I close this special funeral message, I can assure you that both James and Orgerette were able to see the Father, through Holy Scripture and the body and blood of Jesus Christ.  You dear saints, each of you have through the years also come to know the Son, and because you know the Son, you also know the Father and His forgiving love.

I pray that you will believe that Jesus is One in and with the Father and that the Father is here in Christ’s body, His church, even here at little Trinity Lutheran Church.  I have now in Christ’s Word shown you both the Father’s righteousness and His mercy, His grace and His love.  Will you be reconciled; will you come home?  I pray that you will, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

The Lord Is In His Holy Temple

Sunday, January 10th, 2016

Epiphany 1 (HL), January 10th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven; his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man.” [Psalm 11:4]

Each Sunday we hear a similar call and a declared need to both worship our God and be surrounded with His glory.  But do these words still apply to our churches today?  In Israel the temple was considered to be the dwelling place of the Lord, the place where His glory resided.  Is this true for us today, or is the time past when the worship of God is confined to a special place?

We can answer both yes and no to that question.  Without a doubt the time of the Old Covenant temple, with its sacrifices and ordinances is long past.  All that the Old Testament commands about the offerings, the service of the temple, and the festivals doesn’t concern us.  But on the other hand, the time isn’t past when God reveals Himself to us through distinctly tangible and physical means.  The God who surrounds us on all sides and fills the whole universe, Him we cannot meet or truly know as our dear Heavenly Father except through Jesus Christ.  It is in the Gospel, in the Word and the Sacraments, that we possess God as our God.

In every place where GOD’S Word is preached and the Sacraments are administered God comes near to us, in the same way that He drew near to His people Israel within the temple.

When a church building is set aside for worship, it is properly consecrated by the Word of God and by the prayers of God’s people who gather there to be both surrounded and filled with His glory.  This is why we call our church a holy place, because it is set apart for God, to be the meeting place where He comes to meet us within His means of grace.

Jesus Himself modeled for us a life that honored both the temple and the local synagogue.  As we heard in our gospel lesson this morning (Luke 2:41-52), at the age of twelve Jesus already spoke of the temple as “my Father’s house.”  As a mature man He drove the traders out of the temple and wouldn’t even allow them to carry anything through the sanctuary.  It was meant to be a house of prayer for all people.  It is stated that it was His custom to go to the synagogue.  Evidently this means that He attended the local houses of worship.  And following that same pattern of living, the apostles as well were loyal to both temple and synagogue as long as they were able.  And then when they were no longer welcomed, they found other rooms for worship, which in time became the forerunners to our Christian churches.

You see dear friends, we have both the right and the obligation to foster the same love toward our own churches, which the godly Israelites had with regard to the temple.  The truth is, our baptized souls and minds long for the house of the Lord; it is there where our hearts, whether we admit it or not, seek rest, as rain rests upon a lake, at the altars of the Lord of hosts.

We peculiar people who are called “Christian” in our spirits, are glad when they say: “Let us go to the house of the Lord!”  When we arrive at his house we truly can “enter His gates with thanksgiving and praise” and we can go forward “to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple.” [Psalm 27:4]  We are aware that in the house of God that “Splendor and majesty are before Him; (and) strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.” [Psalm 96:6] Word for word a Christian can say: “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.  So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.”  [Psalm 63:3, 4]

And we will need this work of God, because this entire world and really our own sinful nature both implore and even demand that we give up our faith and style of worship, which is considered by many, to be antiquated and a relic of the past.  To these voices from within the darkness of sin we respond, “The LORD has said that He would dwell in thick darkness.” [1 Kings 8:12] So “In the LORD I take refuge.  How can you say to my soul, ‘Flee like a bird to our places of safety.  All is lost within your religion, and we non-Christians surround and out number you.  Can’t you see that your foundations are destroyed?  So why do you cling to a faith and religion that can’t protect you?”  “Ha” we respond confidently…

“Our help is found by resting in the Lord; by allowing our faith to be strengthened through the means of grace that God Himself has determined to work through for our good.” You see, when we do this, we become part of the “foundations” of the very society God has instituted.

So what are these foundations that the darkness of sin threatens to destroy?  They are very simply the church, government, and family.  Luther called these institutions the stations of life, and he said, “Where such stations operate as they should, there things go well in the world, and there is the very righteousness of God.  But where such stations are not maintained, it makes for unrighteousness.  Now God declares (that) these stations must remain if the world is to stand, even though many may oppose and rage against them.” [AE 13:58 cf AE 54:446]

Now, while it is true that if we judge this world by what we see, all seems to be lost and enveloped by the darkness of sin, but remember God and His glory dwell within the darkness; even from within that darkness God declares, “I AM.”

The Lord is in His holy temple in heaven, but His glory fills all of creation; His eyes see and He guides you, and even if the world only see’s Him as if His eyes are closed, and even if they think He does not see or know, HE IS.

But the truth is friends, this darkness isn’t just something that surrounds us, but in fact it resides even within our own sinful flesh.  And because of this darkness we can begin to be flooded with doubts and fears.  Although it might sometimes seem that the wicked are prospering in their wickedness, God is still ruling in the heavens. Nothing escapes his detection. He sees the deeds of the ungodly, and he will punish them fully in His time. The Lord hates evil and He loves righteousness. When He comes in judgment, he will punish every sin of the unbeliever. But those who are righteous through Christ, you who trust in Christ alone, will dwell with God in eternal happiness.

Even when the very foundations of society seem to be undermined, this assurance of Isaiah remains true: [The Lord] “will be the sure foundation for your times” (Isaiah 33:6). Even when wickedness and lies flourish, “God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and, ‘Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.” [2 Timothy 2:19]

Dear saints, we must be filled with all these promises, comfort, and strength regularly, and God does this very thing within His Divine Service here within our church home, which is His church.

The truth is, we who are God’s saints are being built up as His very foundation for maintaining His glory within this sin-darkened world.

We are drawn by the work of the Holy Spirit to this place; we come to be filled with light so that the world in darkness may know the source of our light.  We come as sinners forgiven through the Holy cross of Jesus, washed clean in the waters of our baptism, so that others will be drawn for the same reason and to the same source of new life and cleansing… Jesus Christ!

When the world looks for you to throw in with them, to be like them, and to act with them; when they look for you to follow them, and in surprise comment how strange it is that you will not; that you still find it necessary to “go to church,” you can then, through the work of the Holy Spirit respond as Jesus responded to Mary and Joseph, “Why do you wonder where I’ll be on Sunday?” “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

You see, through Christ, God is not just the Father of His Son Jesus, but He is also your Father as long as you see your need to take His Son as your Savior from your many sins.  And because God is your Father, you will also have the same regard as Jesus did for His and your Father’s house.  You will not neglect the meeting of the saints nor the up-keeping of the church and its ministry, because it is within that place of meeting and within those means of grace, that God freely gives you both forgiveness and new life.

Dear friends, our faith is often tested and its often found wanting. God’s faithfulness and mercy toward us, however, never weakens or fails. Despite our lack of faith and even our wicked deeds, He extends His grace as a refuge from our sinful nature and the sinful works of others. He does this so that we can both see and hear Him work through His Word and Sacraments, in order that we will have access to His undying testament, which guarantees His great and unending love for us.  Let us pray…

In You, O Lord, we take refuge. Though we are found lacking righteousness, save us by the righteousness of Christ. We ask this in Jesus name… Amen!

Don’t Be A Little Herod

Sunday, January 3rd, 2016

Christmas 2 (HL), January 3rd, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” [Matthew 2:13]

Perhaps the title of our message, “Don’t Be a Little Herod” has got you wondering what God and your pastor may be up to in this message.  Maybe your even thinking, “How could someone imagine that any of us would be even remotely similar to that vile villain, Herod.”  Well, we will address both the title and those questions in a moment, but first let’s look at the most obvious things the church must address within this historic text.

There are three things that demand our acknowledgment this morning; they are three things that the church has always acknowledged within this text.

First, we must understand that our plans no matter how God-pleasing, how extensive, or how well thought out they are, are not necessarily God’s plans.  You see, there is a way that seems good, right, and salutary to sinful men and women, but in the end; in the end they lead to death. [Proverbs 14:12]  Joseph and Mary had a good plan.  They probably put a lot of thought into where they would raise their son, God’s Son.  And after much prayer and love for the boy, they intended to remain in Bethlehem indefinitely.  But then Herod entered the picture.

Jesus must have been several weeks old buy the time the Magi showed up to worship Him as the King of Israel.  But the Magi didn’t stay long; as soon as the closing benediction was announced, off they went into the night, because they were warned by God not to return to Herod.  But the Magi weren’t the only ones who were warned by God of Herod’s evil intentions.  Joseph, warned by God in a dream woke, roused Mary and off they went to Egypt, a strange land they neither knew nor wished to know.

And so goes the ways and plans of men, even God fearing Christian parents.

Second, we learn that bad things really do happen to good people; even people we call innocent… people like the little children of Bethlehem that had done nothing to deserve death.  This gospel reading has always been reserved for acknowledging the first martyrs of the church.  We call this High Holy Day, “The Slaughter of the Innocents.”  What is interesting to note is that while they died so that Jesus the Messiah could live to begin and complete His ministry, because Jesus lived, He would latter die so that they could be forgiven of their sins (even that great original sin inherited from Adam and Eve), and live for eternity in paradise.

Third and finally, we must acknowledge that if God has determined that a thing will happen, it will.  Even Herod’s evil was no problem to God; God already knew what was in Herod’s heart since the beginning of time; God planned for it.  And to prove this, God had his prophets proclaim three promises long ago so that you could read and hear about them today, and thus be assured that all things really do work for “the good” for those who are called by God and know and love Him by faith. [Romans 8:28]

First, God said long ago through the prophet Hosea, “Out of Egypt I will call my Son.” [Hosea 11:1]  An indeed, God did that very thing when Joseph and Mary were latter directed to take Jesus, the Son of God and return to the Holy Land.

Secondly, the prophecy of Jeremiah stands out for us in these Words, “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” [Jeremiah 31:15]  These Words, while they immediately refer to the Israelites going into exile in Assyria and then Babylon, they ultimately find fulfillment in the slaughter of the innocents at the hand of Herod.  But what is interesting are the next two verses proclaimed by Jeremiah; verses which bring the hope of new life, which is intricately connected with both the life and death of this Christ-Child who escaped the evil plan of Herod.  Listen: “Thus says the Lord: “Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your work, declares the Lord, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy.  There is hope for your future, declares the Lord, and your children shall come back to their own country.””  Here in this ancient prophecy, we already find the proclamation of the gospel; a gospel that promises that God will actually overcome the evil will of devils and men.  Here is the Word of God announcing that through this Child, the very Son of God, our true enemies, which are sin, death, and the devil have been defeated!

And finally, all of scriptures declares that even the place where the boy Jesus would grow to be a man had been determined and announced for a reason.  Listen: “But when (Joseph) heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee.  And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.”  While God left the choice of the town to Joseph, and Joseph alone selected this place, the hand of God was, nevertheless, guiding him. This becomes clear when we read: “in order that what was spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, for he shall be called a Nazarene.”

A Nazarene is one who hails from Nazareth. All of us familiar with the gospels know that the enemies of Jesus branded him the “Nazarene,” as if it was a curse word.  That name would become infamously attached to Jesus and His disciples, and it would loudly proclaim the reason for His rejection among His own people. They put into that title all the hate and derision possible. And this is “what was spoken through the prophets.”  All of the prophets that spoke of the rejection of the Messiah explained that He would be despised by the very people He would come to save. [Psalm 22:6; Isa. 49:7; Isa 53:3; Dan. 9:26; and Deut. 18:18]

If Jesus had been reared in Jerusalem, He could not have been vilified as the Nazarene (Can any thing good come from Nazareth?).  But if Jesus was not vilified by sinners, how could we hold other villains  such as Herod up to Him and contrast true evil to divine goodness?  Which brings us to the warning within the title of our sermon, “Don’t be a little Herod.”

I think that it is true to say, we are comfortable in seeing Herod as the ultimate Gospel villain; the epitome of evil incarnate if you will.  We very quickly see the depths of his sin and treachery and we comfortably think that it is impossible for one of us to stoop or fall so low.  But Herod is in fact every man, woman, and child.

Herod teaches us that it is within our sinful human nature to be openly rebellious to the kingship of Jesus.  You see, if Jesus is Lord, then we are not.

What was the first sin of Adam and Eve?  Wasn’t it to become like God?  And friends, we have been trying to do that very thing ever since the fall.  So what do you think our immediate reaction is, when God through His law exposes our false lordship over our lives as a sinful delusion.  Herod was delusional, and so are all sinners one way or another.  Each of us in our own way tries to play God.  While its true that Herod was an extreme example, he certainly isn’t an isolated case.  Herod is what every man, woman, and child is deep down in our hearts.  Every sinful thought or action that we are confronted with through the law of God is evidence that testifies against us that we are indeed little Herods by nature.  It’s those very sins that tempt us to doubt, hate, plot revenge, and then resist the real King and unseat Him from the throne of our hearts.

Every Sunday we as the church militant, within our prayers and collects pray for God’s help in defeating the little Herods that threaten the security of our salvation.  We are always reminded how God has poured out His love in our hearts through the presence of Jesus Christ His Son, His Word that has become Flesh.  It is this Word of God that creates faith, and it is this faith that creates a desire within us for Jesus to be our Lord, even upon the throne of our own sinful hearts.

The truth is friends, God can and has dealt with the likes of Herod; He has done it once and for all.  And…

God can deal with our little Herods too.

God defeated the plans of the devil and his little puppet Herod by protecting His Son and giving Him His foster father Joseph, who fled with the baby and His mother to Egypt.  Herod in all his authority and might couldn’t overcome one little baby.  God makes him out the fool and then he dies.  And that pretty much sums up the rest of the gospels too.

A poor carpenter turned rabbi begins to preach and teach in a small insignificant part of the world.  The collective powers and authorities there would try to kill Him, and when they finally succeeded in crucifying Him, they thought they had won.  Yet, along comes the third day and it’s proven that God’s power really is glorified in weakness, even the weakness of a cross, and the fruit of Christ’s cross then produces eternal life.  And this is always God’s way; the Kingdom of God starts as the smallest of seeds and then spreads (and is still spreading) to the four corners of the world.

The Herods of this world will all die one way or another, even us.  God deals with them in two ways.  For the unrepentant like Herod, God kills them and destroys their evil plans and still accomplishes His purposes in spite of them.  The other way, the way you dear saints are following much even better.   God still kills you, but then He raises you up again with Jesus.  That’s exactly what He has done and is doing for you.

Every Sunday we witness mass deaths within God’s Divine Service, in fact everyone of us should be dying to ourselves right now; we should come here prepared to die; we come to die to self, die to sin, to have our little Herod crushed by God.  God drowned that little Herod in the waters of your Baptism, like He drowned evil Pharaoh in the Red Sea, but He doesn’t stop there.  You see, He has raised you up again in the forgiveness of your sins to everlasting life.  He pours into your heart the true light of the Incarnate Word so that His light might shine brightly in your life.  He nourishes you with the food that grants eternal life in His body and blood, which you will receive soon in the Sacrament of the Altar.

The world expects a king who wins like other kings; with brute strength. Instead, we have been found by a God who defeats the powers and principalities of this world by falling into their clutches and being crucified.  Your sin must be dealt with from within this sinful world.  If God came from above, with His Divine strength and fury, you and I would be utterly destroyed because we are sinners who only deserve death.  But instead, God in His wisdom came down to the depths of our human need by becoming needy, and He deals with our sin by becoming sin for us and dying the death we deserve.

This morning, we see the holy family suffering just like the rest of this broken world. Herod’s rage was simply a glimpse into what was to come at the cross.  The Christ child in His weakness, was always threatened, but God the Father was always with Him.  The truth is dear friends, while we live within this sinful world there will always be suffering and inequity, and this suffering will always lead towards death.  And because of this reality, we tend to forget that God has already prefigured all of this, and still guarantees that all things will work for the good of His saints.

Here is a truth worth remembering: What the enemy takes, God can give back a hundredfold within His Kingdom.  The eyes of Rachel will be dried and one day her tears will be no more.  This is precisely what will happen when the King comes again, but He does not come in weakness; no He comes in power and strength to open up the very gates of His kingdom to you.  Jesus alone brings each of you back to paradise restored, where you will live in the light of the Incarnate Word Jesus Christ forever and ever.  In Jesus’ name… Amen.