Archive for July, 2016

Beware of a Comfortable Faith

Sunday, July 31st, 2016

Tenth Sunday After Trinity-HL, July 31st, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church, and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://www.tlcsd.org
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“You shall say to them, Thus says the Lord: When men fall, do they not rise again? If one turns away, does he not return? Why then has this people turned away in perpetual backsliding?  They hold fast to deceit; they refuse to return.”  [Jeremiah 8:4-12]

Yes, I too must speak for the Lord.  Why do baptized Christians  not confess and then return to the LORD after they fall in sin?  Why don’t they repent?  Isn’t it simply part of the life of a Christian to turn or rather return to Jesus after a fall from grace?  This is such an important part of being a Christian that our Divine Service liturgy always starts with Confession and Absolution.  So, then why are there so many Christians who refuse to acknowledge the sin that is separating them from the forgiving love of Jesus?  I believe that it is because they have grown sinfully comfortable in the Christian faith.  I believe that they have grown comfortable within a Christianity that makes it easy to be a Christian by creed while ignoring the deed of repentance and confession.

Is there a danger in being born within a Christian family; within a Christian culture?  Yes, and here’s why…

A person whose been born and baptized into a Christian family and culture is a person who has been received into the church, which is the body of Christ within a sinful and fallen world.  They are in the same situation as a person who has physically been born into a wealthy family and assured of an inheritance that’s worth a great fortune.  And so they may begin to feel that they are entitled to their sinful behavior because they are covered by grace.

A person born and then baptized into the church is one of the many “heirs of God” with the right to an inheritance that is incorruptible and undefiled; an inheritance that is reserved and just waiting for them in heaven.  This inheritance even includes the right to be a child of God, to be able to turn to Him in days of trouble, and to be assured that God will see to it that all things will work together for their good.

But there is an important difference between our heavenly inheritance and an earthly inheritance.

In regards to an earthly inheritance a person has legal rights no matter how badly they act.  But to be an heir of God and a joint heir with Jesus is something no one can ever demand as their right, regardless of their actions.  “For we share in Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end.”  [Hebrews 3:14]  You see, this heavenly and eternal legacy can only be taken out by repentance and faith.

So, the danger of being born and raised within a Christian family and community is that we will become use to our status under grace.  That is…

We may begin to take God’s grace and our status in Christ for granted.

Many times, when baptized Christians fall into this status of being lost within the church, it can almost always be traced back to an unhealthy familiarity with all things “Christian” or an unnatural comfortableness in their faith. They begin to feel that while going to church and being in the Word of God are important, these are things that are not urgent right now.  After all, the church has always been there and it always will be, so, when they are ready to come back to church, they think that they can pick up where they left off.  So they see no risk in living their lives without the blessing of God and the strength He gives within His Word and Sacraments.

It was the same way with the people of Jerusalem in our Gospel reading; people who didn’t realize that the Son of God, the very source of the peace and fulfillment they were seeking within their lives and community was in fact among them in the person of Jesus Christ.  They refused to hear Him calling out to them; seeking to gather them as a mother hen gathers her chicks.   They refused to hear the warning that very soon it would be to late to repent, that is, to late to turn to their Savior who alone can forgive their sins and make them right with God.

Just as the very temple would be destroyed and taken from them, so would their very lives as God’s stones of judgment and punishment fell upon them.  But if they would hear Jesus speak to them in that very moment it would not be to late to repent and be saved.  But they could not hear because they would not hear.  And those who refuse to repent cannot be forgiven.

While the call of Jesus for sinners to repent is still as fresh and new today as it was then, there is one difference.  Jesus no longer calls nations to repent but instead, He calls individuals, people within the nations to turn to Him and be saved.

The truth is, no nation has a most beloved status in the eyes of God, not even Israel. And no one can afford to procrastinate, or put off their repentance and right relationship with God until a time that they feel is right.

Not even we Christians have a valid reason to believe that we have a special privilege to sin against the grace of God.  The people of Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus, took it for granted that He would perform the same mighty miracles for them that He did for other towns; they thought that way because Jesus was one of them.  They expected the miracles, but they would not give Jesus their faith.  Sadly Jesus compared them to Israel in the time of the prophets, who would not repent and believe, which then caused God to pass them by and instead give His help to a people who did not know God.

Such a spirit of procrastination, of putting off for tomorrow what God says should be addressed right this moment, usually has dire consequences.  The classic example in the Bible is the people of Israel who became the chosen people of God; they possessed all of God’s promises as they were being drawn by God out of captivity in Egypt, but they still perished in the desert because of their unrepentant hearts and unbelief.

The same tragedy was repeated in the time of Jesus in His home communities of: Nazareth, Capernaum, Chorazin, and Bethsaida.  Jesus said that it would be more tolerable for the evil port cities of Tyre and Sidon and the wicked city of Sodom in the day of Judgment, since they would have repented if they had been able to see the same acts of God that they were seeing.

Jerusalem suffered the fate that Jesus predicted.  Not one stone was left upon another.  And the proud and self-centered Jews who, thought they were children of Abraham, because of their unbelief were broken off as dry branches from the noble olive tree of God’s people.

The early Christian church of the first century was very much aware that the same fate could befall them, so they vigorously taught the baptized that any one of them could be cut off from Christ at any time if they did not hold firm in repentance to their faith in Christ and the mercy of God.

They knew that their lamp stand could be removed from them if they did not value and hold onto the light by repenting and turning to Christ.  They knew that it was possible to have the name of being alive and yet be dead, and that it was therefore high time to wake up and strengthen that which remained and which was near death.  And to awaken meant to be concerned about the Word of God.

Today we still have the same privilege that Jerusalem had in the day of her visitation, the day when we read that Jesus taught them every day in the sanctuary.   Oh that we would have that same hunger for the Word of God that the people had then.  Oh that we would see the joy to be found in God’s visitation in our hearts, homes, and church.  Oh that we would be cut to the very soul by the tears of Jesus who weeps for the lost, because they will not turn to His cross in repentance and receive the blessing of true joy that is theirs through the waters of their baptism.

I pray that each of us would truly know and receive the gifts that God is so richly lavishing upon us this morning in Jesus Christ.  I pray that each of us would understand the beauty that is found in agreeing with and returning to God, and then finding that His grace really is sufficient to turn us away from all things that are not resting in His will as expressed by His living Word, the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

May God continue to open our eyes and hearts to see Christ’s passion that was first expressed in His tears, which were in fact expressions of His love for sinners who He desperately desired to save.  And it was that same passion that led Him to give up His life upon the cross in agony… for you!

Oh friends, beware of a comfortable faith that no longer is held captive by Christ’s passion.  I pray that you will allow the Holy Spirit to always lead you along the way of repentance and forgiveness.  I ask this in Jesus name…  AMEN!

Get Smart!

Sunday, July 24th, 2016

Ninth Sunday After Trinity-HL, July 24th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church, and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://www.tlcsd.org
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”  [Luke 16:9]

Many people tend to be shocked and even confused by the parable of the unfaithful steward.  The story is about a man who was wasting his employer’s goods, and when he got caught and given his termination notice, he was smart enough to make his unemployed life better.  And how did he do this?  By wasting even more of his employer’s goods and then dragging other debtors down with him by cooking the books and then ultimately hearing his employer say that he had acted wisely.

So wait… is Jesus actually asking us to be like this?  Well no not really, but in a way… yes!  You see…

In order to understand this parable, we need to first understand that not all of Jesus parables are alike.

Some of Jesus’ parables teach us to “go and do likewise,” or to copy the example we are given, as in the case of the Good Samaritan or the tax collector who humbled himself in the temple by confessing his sinfulness.  But Jesus does not always use this type of teaching within His parables.  You see, Jesus finds the illustrations for His stories in everyday life and then He sketches everyday people exactly as they are within His stories.  Think of the man who found a treasure in the field of another person and then acted deceptively in order to secure both the field and the treasure for himself.  And then, there’s the parable of the persistent widow and the judge who loved neither God nor man.

What we should remember is that Jesus uses these examples of everyday people from a sinful fallen world of His day, to illuminate something that should also take place in the lives of Christians as they seek to further the spreading of God’s kingdom through the proclamation of the Gospel. So Jesus is saying that it’s not a matter of acting like these characters, but of grasping the motivation behind the action, and then applying that wisdom to our own lives and our relationship with God.

In this instance Jesus praises the man because he had acted wisely.  So where was his wisdom?

The man knew that he had no way of escape.  He had no illusions.  He knew that he was going to be fired, and then become unemployed and homeless.  And because of this reality he was certain what he needed to do to ensure his security.

But people who confess to be Christians sometimes do just the opposite.  They know that this broken world is not all that there is; they know that something eternal and supremely greater follows this sinful existence.  Yet they harbor the illusion that some things aren’t  really as big of a deal as God’s Word and the preacher make them out to be, and in the end, they tell themselves that everything will be ok.  And so they procrastinate.  They put off dealing with the eternal consequences that come with persistently ignoring God’s warning.  They continue to live a sinful life that they know will put their own salvation in jeopardy.  They refuse to acknowledge that in regards to their salvation it is a matter of dead seriousness and that one day soon, they will stand before God’s judgment in everything.  And so the wisdom found in our Epistle lesson becomes a dreadful warning: “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” [1 Corinthians 10:12]

Dear friends, it is God’s desire that true Wisdom, which comes through Christ alone would dwell in you the baptized richly.  For you see, this is the only way that we can make sense of this parable.  In verse 9, Jesus gives us the key to this wisdom when He says, “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth.”  What is this unrighteous wealth?

The unrighteous wealth is any thing of value that we acquire in this sinful world.  And that includes all of your time, talent, and treasures.  Treasures includes all of your money and worldly possessions.  Here God’s wisdom alone allows us to see things here in our lives as He sees them, as they really are.  Here, God’s wisdom is teaching us that it is useless for us to claim the eternal life of a baptized child of God, if we are still trying to hide, horde, or exclude some of our stuff from His control and use. You see, there is no room for compromise; you cannot be both a friend of God and of the world.  You can’t serve two masters; you just can’t!  It will be a futile exercise if you try to withhold some of your worldly possessions from the sight and knowledge of God.  This kind of thinking and action, will only lead to the loss of your eternal, true life along with all of the treasures that you never really were able to keep any how.  In another parable that Jesus told, this type of person is called “You fool!”

A fool is someone who will not receive the LORD as their lamp in the darkness of this sinful world.   You can’t receive this kind of wisdom through any course of study or the granting of a degree from some ivory tower university.  This kind of wisdom comes only from God and only through experience, the experience of knowing and trusting in His Word.

In His Word and in the experiences of your life, God proves Himself to be true and perfect.  “This God—His way is perfect; the Word of the LORD proves true (as you live your life trusting in the promises of His Word and the presence of His Spirit in all aspects of your life).  He is a shield for all those who take refuge in Him.” [2 Samuel 22:31]

So in order to correctly understand Jesus’ parable today, we must concentrate on one point, and that is the illustration of the dishonest or unrighteous manager or steward. This man, as Jesus portrays him, is only one of the uncountable number of sinful people who have come and gone in this sinful world.  We could say that he is typical of everyone who does not know or care to know their true Master, Creator, and Savior. So within His parable, Jesus is holding up this man before our eyes today, and He wants us, the baptized Christians to see what a completed unrighteous person looks like; He wants us to see in this man his complete confidence in the resources of this sinful world, and then He wants to inspire us to do the complete opposite with those same worldly goods.

When Jesus opens our eyes to see this necessity, He has then helped us to see our own fully developed righteousness, or an opposite mindset that sees all treasures of this world as being simply a means to help build and further the Kingdom of God within a fallen and sinful world. He opens our eyes to understand that…

That which is wise and right before God often looks like foolishness to the world.

To live in order to serve; to know that one is simply a steward who does not have any real ownership over stuff; to risk persecution and ridicule; to dare to trust in God in all danger, and at last choosing to suffer martyrdom rather than being unfaithful to God—all this friends seems like foolishness to the world.  But really this way of thinking and living implies wisdom, realism, and a true sense of right and wrong, “For what is the hope of the godless when God cuts him off, when God takes away his life?” [Job 27:8]

This morning, Jesus says to us, “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”  Jesus has now shown us how the people of this sinful world use their time, talent and treasure to make friends and even greater security for themselves.  And now, He orders us to do the same thing but to make our use of these things to do the very opposite.

Let’s recap what Jesus is really saying:  The unrighteous or unsaved people of this world are stewards or managers, and we are too; they are entrusted with property and assets—so are we; the things the unsaved collect and use are really unrighteous and meaningless to God and His offer of salvation—and so are the things we have; the unsaved world makes friends with their stuff—and so should we; the lives of the unsaved comes to and end, and so do our lives.

You see friends, Jesus is allowing us to see that our lives run in a parallel with the unsaved of this world, that is, until in a flash, both the lives of the unsaved and the saved meet very different ends.  It is at the time of death that these parallel lives are no longer parallel, but suddenly they go in completely different directions.

And it all hinges on the friends that they made.

The lives of the saved, of the good and righteous stewards burst off into eternal dwellings; into a place prepared for them by their true friends, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  Three friends yes, but One God!  You see, it is God alone who is your one and only true friend.  And it is Jesus alone who has promised you that He has gone ahead of you to prepare a place in the paradise He has both restored and prepared for you!

Dear friends, to the world our lives may seem no better than their own, in fact they could make a good case that they are better off.  They strive to live in luxury and many times they will actually achieve that goal by living for themselves and taking advantage of everything this world has to offer, even other people.  But we know a truth that they will never know unless they allow God to change them as He has changed us through the truth of His Word and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.

To those who are perishing, the cross of Jesus is foolishness.  To those who are dying in their sins and place their hope only in the things of this world, baptism is foolish because it is simply water and some words.  To those who hunger for something greater than themselves and think that the treasures of this world will satisfy their hunger, the Lord’s supper is simply a small bite of stale bread and a sip of simple wine.  But to we who are being saved by faith and grace that comes to us through the message and power of the cross of Jesus, these things are the very wisdom of God.  For we know, that it is the very power of God that brings eternal life.  And we know that it is the Word of God that distinguishes baptism from a mere washing; it is the Word that distinguishes the Lord’s Supper from a mere snack and constitutes both of these as sacraments that give faith to believe in the forgiveness that they offer.

This morning, Jesus implores each of us to get smart; to receive the Wisdom of God just as He offers it.  He asks you to see that everything in this world is temporary and will pass away.  He asks you to see that these things here are simply tools that you are to use to further the proclamation of His kingdom to the unsaved so that they too may experience God’s love and forgiveness and look forward to a place prepared for them also in God’s heaven.  If you have been led to see this truth and agree with it then you too have become wise.  I pray that this is so for you, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Beware of False Prophets, Indeed!

Sunday, July 17th, 2016

Eighth Sunday After Trinity-HL, July 10th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church, and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://www.tlcsd.org
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  [Matthew 7:15]

The reign of heaven has broken into our world in power through Jesus Christ.  And now, our Lord Jesus is in the process of bringing His Father’s saving righteousness to the world. Nevertheless, Christ and His church are still being attacked by enemies both from outside and from within His church; enemies who do not want God’s true Word proclaimed.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Jesus simply came out of heaven in power and destroyed the enemies of His church?  But that is not how God has chosen to operate in this sinful age; no, God’s reign is coming to us every day in hidden ways, in an unexpected forms, that to this sinful world seem weak and meaningless. The ultimate expression of this message is the cross of Jesus, where God defeated sin, death, and the devil.  Jesus’ disciples, you and me, will have to carry our crosses too.  Jesus drank from the cup of suffering in a way we could never fully understand, but He also gives each of us who are baptized in to His death a cup of suffering that we too at times, must drink from as we follow him.

None of us enjoys suffering; we spend most of our lives trying to avoid it, and yet Jesus says that suffering will come our way if we are truly on the narrow way of salvation and eternal life.  But isn’t there a way to avoid the suffering?  The false prophets would like us to think so!  They offer you a path opposite of Jesus narrow way, a very broad path, which they promise will supply the faithful with glory and prosperity right now in this sinful age.

So today, we will examine two ways of life, and two different kinds of prophets.  One way is narrow and it is called the path of the cross and repentance, and the other way is broad, and it is called the way of glory.  Which will you follow?  How can you tell the true prophet of the narrow way from the false prophets of the broad way?  Well, first let’s understand what God’s word has to say about prophets.

A prophet is a man who speaks on behalf of God and at God’s request.

He has a message to bring that comes from God, and it is the prophet’s business to see to it that the message is given clearly.  It usually takes a good amount of courage on the part of the prophet to proclaim the message, because it’s not just in Jerusalem where the prophets are harassed and even killed by the very people God has sent the prophet to speak His true Word to.

A false prophet is a person who speaks about God and the will of God as though he knew all about these things, but in reality he does not, and in fact he is actually leading the people who listen astray.  “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name,” says the Lord through Jeremiah, “I did not send them nor did I command them or speak to them.  They are prophesying to you… the deceit of their own minds.” [Jeremiah 14:14]

“And my people love to have it so,” is the statement God declares in another place. [Jeremiah 5:31]  The falsifying of God’s message is usually in the direction of making it say what the people want to hear and not what God says they must hear. “If they had stood in my council, they would have proclaimed My Words to My people, and they would have turned from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings.” [Jeremiah 23:22]

But it is not just in the Old Testament that we find mention of false prophets.  In our second reading [Acts 20:27–38]  and our Gospel lesson [Matthew 7:15–23], both St. Paul and our Lord Jesus warn us directly about them and speak of them as something that is to be driven out of the Christian church.  They are rightly referred to as hungry wolves disguised as gentle lambs.

Here is an important truth worth remembering: Since the coming of Jesus, God no longer speaks to us through direct revelation; in other words, don’t look for a new message to be proclaim.  What God would say to our generation is spoken through the Word and can be found there and only there.  The same responsibility that lay upon the prophets rests now on those who are properly trained and called preachers and pastors of God’s Word.  For pastors, it is a matter of faithfully and diligently speaking the message that God wishes us to proclaim.

Both Christ and the apostles warn us, that we the redeemed sinners who are gathered in Christ’s church have a strange eagerness to believe in false teachers who preach another message of prosperity; a message about a false Christ, and another false Gospel.  God’s Word says that, “the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths.” [2 Timothy 4:3]

False teachers sadly seem to always “have many followers,” [2 Peter 2:2], so the size of a congregation is no indication that the true Word of God is being proclaimed from their pulpits.

It is on the broad way of glory and prosperity that sinners will discover when it is to late that it’s path was in reality the broad road to Hell.

Jesus says to us this morning, that it is from the fruits of their preaching and teaching that you will know the false prophets.  So what is their fruit?  Well lets hold it up to the light of God and let Jesus show us.

These wolves in sheep’s clothing love to declare that God does not want us to suffer, so if you are suffering it is simply because you have not followed His will.  Now lucky for you, this glory preaching, false teaching phony prophet will tell you how to live your life so you can reclaim the prosperity they say God wants to give you.  Once you are comfortably under the false prophets control and traveling on their glory road they will also proudly proclaim to you that God also does not want you to be poor or sick, and if you are it is simply because you lack the right kind of faith.  And yes, you guessed it, they will gladly preach to you and teach you about their kind of faith.  I find it fascinating that there version of faith always involves some aggressive form of tithing and “giving until it hurts!”

You see dear friends the wrong unscriptural human centered prophets always start with what is seen and perceivable with our senses, and then from that perspective they proclaim a false understanding of the unseen spiritual reality of God.  The false prophets always start from what is on earth and then they lead you to look to Heaven.  Or another way to say this is that they believe that one may know the Creator by first celebrating creation.  But the correct, scriptural, God centered answer always starts with the hidden God and it turns over all questions and mysteries to Him.  Notice, I did not say the unknown God, but only the hidden God.  While God may be unseen he is very much known, and we all may know Him equally through His Son, Jesus Christ, the very visible and powerful Word of God!

Jesus Christ is both the true message of God and the true messenger of God.

The message of Jesus is always one of repentance; of turning to God through the narrow way of the cross, which also implies a turning away from the way of the world and it’s false promises of prosperity and glory.  In other words, the only message that a true prophet of God must preach is one that insists that God is right and we are wrong.  God’s narrow way of salvation is the only way to paradise and any other message or way is not only wrong but it consists of the very sin that separates us from God’s redemption for sinners, which is only obtained through the cross of Jesus Christ!

Dear friends, there is only one defense against the deceptions of the false prophets: the Word of God.  And so it is necessary to have such an intimate knowledge with the whole Word of God that you can discern God’s truth from the errors that are peddled by the false prophets.  The truth is that God does not wish that any sinner should perish, but that all of us would turn, repent, seek the cross of Christ that alone pays for our sins, and then follow the narrow way of Jesus until one day we are at home in paradise.

You started out on this narrow way of salvation when you were baptized.  It was there where you were saved by grace alone, faith alone, and scripture alone, all because of Jesus Christ alone!  Christ’s true church and His true messengers are called to continually feed your faith with this very same message.  They are commissioned to encourage you to confess your sins as illuminated by Scripture so that they may do what the Holy Spirit has empowered them to do… absolve you of those sins.  It is this message of repentance and forgiveness that the true prophets are commissioned to proclaim and no other!  The true prophets must not deviate from it, because then they would be leading you down the broad false way that ends in eternal suffering.

Dear friends, who do you say Jesus is?  The false prophets and glory preachers will tell you that He is the means to your blessing and prosperity here in this life, and then only as an after thought will they address the eternal life to come.  This is a message that always finds its origin from within a sinful heart.  But the message of the cross and the constant source of hope and faith for sinners is that Jesus alone is your Savior and God who promises and abundance of glory and prosperity not here in this sinful world, but there in your eternal home which Jesus has prepared and has waiting for you in heaven.

So this morning, I proclaim to you that you must stay on the narrow way of the cross; a way that will surely pass through both suffering and happiness.  It is a way that is hidden from the eyes of false prophets.  It is a path that may take you through both sickness and disease but it is leading you to eternal healing and restoration.  It is the way of the cross; a cross that tests everything!  And the way of the cross always ends in God’s love and  power, as it passes through suffering, humility, and shame in the eyes of the world.  But where it ends makes all the difference.  Oh friends, nothing is worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us, that is waiting for us on the other side in God’s paradise which has been prepared for you!  For you see, “now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” [1 John 3:2]

May God keep each of us on this narrow way and defend us from both the false prophets and their teachings.  I ask this in Jesus name…  AMEN!

With Jesus, A Little Is a Lot!

Sunday, July 10th, 2016

Eighth Sunday After Trinity-HL, July 10th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church, and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://www.tlcsd.org
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

Our Gospel lesson this morning joins Jesus and His disciples after a successful missionary outing.  Each group was returning to Jesus with reports about how God had proven His faithfulness by providing for all of their needs, and even validating their message of forgiveness by healing the sick and casting out demons.  It was a wonderful time!  But it was also a time of emotional pain and disappointment; the kind that comes from devastating news.

Just as they were finishing up their reports, they were told that not far from them, King Herod had beheaded John the Baptist, a man that all of them including Jesus, had grown to love and admire.  Now, as Jesus looked around at each face of his friends and students, he came to the conclusion that He and they needed time alone; they needed to get away from the crowds, in order to rest, reflect, and learn.

So they left the crowds and headed to the opposite shore of Lake Galilee. St. John tells us that they had a little bit of  “alone time” with Jesus on the grassy slope of a large hillside, until Jesus looked off into the distance and pointed out a very large mass of people that was making its way towards their now, not so secret location; the crowd had found them again!

So for the rest of the day, Jesus stayed with the people teaching them and curing their illnesses.  As their true “Good Shepherd” Jesus was tending to their spiritual and physical needs.  And as the day was drawing to a close, and the disciples own stomachs began to grumble and growl with hunger they reminded Jesus of the hour (the dinner hour), and they began to plead with Him to send the people away, because they were hungry!  But Jesus answered them and said, “You give them something to eat.”  ‘What?  How!?  Even if we had that huge amount of money, where would we find a place so close that could even provide that much food?’  Where indeed!  There were about 5,000 in that group, and that estimate included only the men in the crowd; when you include women and children, the true size of the crowd was probably closer to about 11,000 people!  That’s enough to fill the San Diego Sports Arena!!

In my mind’s eye, I can see Jesus smiling and slowly looking around at the twelve stern and concerned faces, amazed at their lack of faith.

What a sad vignette.  This is the picture of a congregation of Christians that’s tired, hungry and frustrated by a lack of members and resources.  But we can learn something from this story; something eternal and life changing; something that just might reinvigorate life in our own ministries here and within our communities.

In our Gospel reading, Jesus has just administered a “Pop Quiz” designed to help the apostles along with us learn two things:

1.      What the true quality of our faith in God is.  And…
2.      The truth that God wants us to experience His faithfulness.

Once we have learned these two lessons, we will then also discover these two truths:

1.      With God, a little is a lot.
2.      To Jesus, there’s no such thing as leftovers!

Like the apostle’s, we all must discover what the quality of our own faith is-and Jesus used just one challenge to help the apostles discover the quality of theirs.

A challenge is like a riddle; you know there’s a way to solve it, you just have to figure out how!  Notice that Jesus didn’t ask, “Can you give them something to eat?” but instead he commanded them to do it by saying, “You give them something to eat.” A  response to this type of teaching requires a lot of thought and even discussion on the part of the students, and in regards to the teacher, He better know the correct answer to the riddle before he issues the challenge!

Now it’s easy for us modern day Christians to be judgmental of the apostles.  After all, we have the luxury of looking backwards into time.  It’s easy for us to wonder why they so quickly forgot the Canaan wedding miracle where Jesus turned water into wine.  We could remind them of Jairus’ daughter and even the widow of Nain’s son who both were raised from the dead.  Certainly we would have faired better than they, with our perspective of time, or would we?

Well this morning, I would like to ask you a question, and I want you to think for a moment before answering it: “What is the biggest problem, our own test that’s facing our congregation today?”  (Pause) Many might quickly answer that it is a lack of resources or a lack of members that’s holding us back.  But I submit to you, that the biggest problem facing the church today is not a lack of resources or church members, but rather it’s the same problem that the apostles had, a lack of faith.  And…

To our lack of faith Jesus asks us to report what little we have on hand.

To the 12 apostles Jesus asked, “How many loaves do you have?  Go and see.”  What did the apostles report to Jesus?  “We have 5 loaves and two fish.”  St. John’s gospel records that they finished their report with these words, “But what are they for so many?”

What’s the first question someone will ask when a necessary expense request is brought into almost any church council, “Where’s the money coming from?” But I submit to you that that’s the wrong question. The only question we should ask is: Is this God’s will for our church? And if it is His will, shouldn’t we trust Him to provide what is needed?  Like the apostles, our faith many times, even with the advantage and perspective of time is still very small.  But what is it that Christ said? “…if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” And we would add (if it is in keeping with God’s will). [Matthew 17:20-21]

What we must remember is that just as Jesus tested the faith of the apostles, He also tests our faith as well, by putting us in difficult situations with no easy answers. Why?  So that we can learn what the quality of our own faith is.  After asking and waiting so long, do you still trust Him to find you a job?  Do you trust Him to help repair a broken relationship?  Do you trust him to overcome your illness or disease?  Do you trust Him to replace your depression with passion and joy?  Do you believe that He will bless and strengthen our church, which is His church? You see, it’s during times like these, when prayers seem to go unanswered, that we may become frustrated, just as the apostles were. However, frustration is never what God wants us to feel! The faithful disciple will trust that God has answered their prayer, but it can only be experienced in His time.  The apostles fell short because they allowed their faith to be weakened by their own limited resources instead of seeking God’s limitless resources.

Both the apostles and even us today, seem to want God to work according to what we want instead of what God wants.  But in the midst of our worry and concern we hear similar words that Jesus spoke to address His disciples concerns, “Have the people sit down.”   I wonder what the disciples were thinking after he said that!  I can hear it in my mind: “What is he doing?  Why is He having all these people sit down as if their going to dine on this little bit of food?  Is he going to make them watch us eat our dinner?”  The truth is, sometimes we need to just sit down, relax, pray and wait on the Lord.  Sometimes we must simply learn to be willing to set aside our worries and concerns and simply wait for Jesus.

And so they did just that, they waited, they listened, they watched and then they learned and remembered that…

God wants to bless us by allowing us to experience His faithfulness!

Our Lord once said that “What is impossible with people is in fact possible with God.”  (Luke 18:27)  And now the God-man Jesus Christ demonstrates that truth by taking a few loaves and 2 fish and miraculously making it fill the bellies of over 11,000 people!  Only one person could do that … the sinless Son of God; the one who also followed His humiliating suffering and death with His exalting and miraculous resurrection from the dead to gain forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life for all of us; even for you!

Those who witnessed and personally benefited from Jesus’ feeding miracle, and we along with them who have believed by faith and benefited from His miraculous resurrection, joyfully realize and gratefully admit that all things do in deed work together for the good of God’s children and His church, only because we are called according to His purpose! [Romans 8:28]  And what is that purpose?  Well, the other three Gospels augment verse 11 by stating that Jesus had the apostles acting as waiters, by bringing food out to the people in baskets, all 11,000 of them.  The apostles were tired and they were hungry, but here they were in total amazement and invigorated with a new vitality as they partook in a miracle and served Jesus by serving the people who didn’t yet know Jesus!

Dear friends, God’s desire, His central concern after our own salvation is that as Christ’s disciples, you and me, should be continually working with Jesus to seek out and save the lost!

As I stated earlier, this message now leaves us with two eternal truths and they are: First, with Jesus, a little is a lot. The disciples’ reluctance to wait for Jesus to attend to the crowds was not really based on their concern for the people, but rather on their own tired bodies and empty stomachs.  While they knew the people must be fed, they could not see how what little they had could be used for that.  So they quit; they gave up and asked the Lord to bless their failure.  But Jesus wanted to do so much more with them, and He wants to do so much more with us!  If we will only trust in His promise to provide for our every need, then we will discover as the apostles did that day, that Jesus will provide all that we need as we follow Him.

And finally, I promised you a second truth, and it’s this, there are no leftovers with Jesus! Have you ever wondered why Jesus had the disciples gather up all of the remaining loaves and fish with 12 baskets?    May I suggest, and this is only a guess, that it was because those little baskets were intended by Jesus to be their lunch boxes, which Jesus Himself ensured were filled so that they could in-turn, each eat and be filled.

Friends, Jesus was faithful to provide for them, but He did it after they served their community; but what about Jesus?  Wasn’t He hungry as well?  Well sure He was, but may I also suggest that Jesus expected the Twelve to share their abundance with him?  Maybe 10% from each apostle?  Wow what a concept!  Friends, Jesus still pours his abundance out to us today, and He expects us to remember him in our giving to the needy, to the support of the church and with our own personal service to our congregation and the community we are located in.  May God help us to remember these lessons and believe in the miraculous real presence of Jesus that is still with us and teaching us today!  I ask this in Jesus name, AMEN!

We Need The Ten Commandments

Sunday, July 3rd, 2016

Seventh Sunday After Trinity-HL, July 3rd, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church, and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://www.tlcsd.org
http://ORLCSD.org

Click here for audio of this message

Isn’t it true to say that one of the characteristics of a baptized born-again Christian is that we desperately want to please our Creator?  Don’t we struggle to keep the Law of God, the Ten Commandments?  Sometimes we do well at this and other times we fail.  But through it all, we know we have grace, the unmerited love and kindness of God, which was won for us by Jesus Christ.

But sometimes we may misuse this wonderful gift of grace by mistreating God’s Law in two ways.  First, we can develop a spiritually unhealthy pride in how well we keep the Law of God, and second we may become flippant with the law of God and our own sinful choices, simply because we are covered and protected by God’s grace.

The Pharisees were certainly not flippant with the law of God.

The Pharisees had made a profession out of keeping the outward appearance of complete obedience to the Law of God.  They radiated an aura of holiness and superiority.  The entire religious system of the Jews had gone from being a nation of people waiting for and proclaiming the coming of the Savior of Israel to a system of laws, rules, and regulations which were tightly controlled, taught, and enforced by the religious elite, the Pharisees.

Now don’t get me wrong, love for God was present in their teachings, but it was a love that was tightly regulated and compelled by a fear of God and His religious leaders.  Fear of the Creator is a healthy thing for creatures like us to have, but only when it is properly balanced with a natural and strong love for the Creator; a love that can only come from and be given from the Creator Himself.  This type of love is what Jesus taught as Agape or heavenly born love.  Where there is Agape love, love from the Creator, then creatures like ourselves thrive, because faith and trust in the love of God abounds.

But when the fear of God begins to disappear, the result is the opposite of the Pharisees false sense of pride; opposite yes, but just as deadly.

The second way we can choose to mishandle the Law of God then, is with a flippant or nonchalant attitude.

It goes like this: “Yes, I know that the Ten Commandments are important, but I am not a Jew, I am a Christian who is covered by grace.  My sins are taken care of, so I just live my life one day at a time without getting all hung up on the Law of God.”

And to this flippant attitude, St. Paul says, “(Oh) What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?  By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”

Do you understand where Paul is leading you?  He is trying to get you back to a right relationship with God by restoring a proper attitude of respect that all redeemed creatures must have towards their Creator and His law.  Respect is simply a divinely instilled balance of both fear and love for God.  We should fear and love God so that we understand what it means to be baptized into Christ Jesus, baptized into His death upon the cross.  St. Paul is teaching us that we need to understand that through the power of God our sinful natures not only died with Christ upon the cross but we were also laid dead with Him within the tomb.  Why?  So that Just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too, in our new redeemed, baptized, and obedient nature might rise as well.  And so by faith, we understand that one day, we too will be raised into a new life perfected by God, as we live out our lives with Jesus for eternity within God’s Paradise, which Jesus restored.

You see, because you are baptized, you are not your own; you have been purchased with a great price, which is the life blood of Jesus Christ.  You have been redeemed from the power of sin, death, and the devil, and filled with the Spirit of God.

Today, Jesus speaks a truth that only his true disciples will understand; it is a truth that allows us to correctly understand the Law of God, and through that understanding we are completely emptied of our pride and made ready to receive the life changing Gospel, which fills us with the love of God and a certainty that our sins really are forgiven through the work of Jesus upon the cross; a work which alone restores us and brings us back to a right relationship of fear, love and trust with our Creator.

Today Jesus proclaims this very important truth: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”

What does Jesus mean when He says that He has come to fulfill the Law?  Is He simply saying that because of Him the Law can’t hurt us anymore because He satisfied its demands for us?  Well yes, that’s part of it, but there is so much more for us within the work of Jesus.

Think of the Law of God and all of the Old Testament as a serving cup.  It was all that was written concerning the life, work, and ministry of the Messiah who would come and restore God’s people of faith.  And now, He has come, and He has done all that was declared He would do; but never forget who He did it for; He did it for sinners, He did it for you!  So again, think of the Law of God as a serving cup, or a chalice that is filled with all of Jesus’ work and promises which are recorded and given to sinners within the gospels and the entire New Testament.

These are the things that bring and give Jesus to you.  So do you see, you can’t have one without the other; you can’t have the contents without the cup!  And what good is the cup if it is empty?  As we drink the gospel, we also drink from the cup of the Old Testament.  It is the gospel that gives us a new obedience to not only want to keep the Law of God, but it also gives us the ability to keep it.  And when we fail, and we do and we will, we are given the grace of God, the forgiveness of sins, which is ours through Jesus Christ.

Now here is where you will see how Jesus fulfillment of the Law and Prophets not only sets you free from the bondage and condemnation of the Law, but it also invites you into that fulfillment of the Law as a participant.

The Bible teaches us that all men have sinned, “None is righteous, no, not one; … all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  And this is because our very nature, our inner self contains something that naturally rises up against God.  The Bible calls it “the flesh” and says that it can never be subject to the law of God. [Romans 8:7]

And still God’s law remains.  It does not care that our sin prevents us from keeping it, but rather it just insists that you do it.  Another way to say this is that the Law of God tells us who we must be if we want to stand in the presence of our perfect Creator.  The law demands that we be perfect because God is perfect.

So you see, Jesus is very serious when He insists that no one can get around the demands of the law of God.  Jesus’ Gospel doesn’t get rid of the law but rather He teaches that He was the only one who could perfectly fulfill it, and that He did that very thing for you!  When Jesus rebuked the additions that the Pharisees had made to God’s law, He did that because even those additions fell short of God’s perfection, which the Law demanded.  Jesus said that His disciples would not enter the kingdom of God unless their righteousness exceeded the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees.  No, Jesus had not come to get rid of the law.  Not even a jot or tittle of it.  All of the law is good; it comes from God.  And because all of the Law is good, we should never think that we can pick and choose which laws we think are most important.  “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of it all.” [James 2:10]

So who can be saved?  The disciples asked that question in their day.  And Jesus answered: “With men it is impossible, but not with God.  For all things are possible with God.” [Mark 10:26]  Paul puts it this way: “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: (By) sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh.” [Romans 8:3]  Once again, we are face to face with the fact that redemption, our salvation is completely beyond us and wholly a work of Christ.  You see, in our baptism, Jesus has solved our lack of righteousness, by covering us with His own.  This is the basis on which our entire Christian faith stands and rests upon.

Whoever believes in Jesus is free from the condemnation of the law.  In spite of your many sins you can be a child of God.  But you aren’t free from what the Bible speaks of as your service of righteousness to God and your neighbor, or your obligation to keep God’s law.

You were once a servant of sin, before you were baptized, but now you have become a “servant of righteousness.” [Romans 6:18]   By the Spirit of God, you are now enabled to use God’s law as a sort of policeman over your soul and a judge over your flesh, but not your spirit, because that is new and free since your baptism.  Everyday your baptized nature is reminded in various ways of the same challenge that God first spoke to Cain: “If you do well, will you not be accepted?  But if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.”  [Genesis 4:7]  For you dear Christian, the commandments have become a useful aid to help you remember the difference between right and wrong, and then by God’s Spirit, to overcome evil with Christ’s goodness.

So remember this, you who have been baptized and believe in the work of Jesus; you are not alone, for you see, you possess the Spirit of God who lives within you.  And when you “walk by the Spirit” so that it is Jesus who is at work within you, then the demands of the law have been fulfilled. [Galatians 5:16, 17]

But also remember dear baptized ones, you have both the Spirit and your own flesh to deal with, so in this life, there will always be a clash and constant battle between the two.  So we must remember that the fulfillment of the law will never be complete in this life, and that it can never be through the keeping of the law that we are made right and acceptable to God.  But rather it is entirely because God came to you through His Son Jesus Christ and did for us what we could not do ourselves.  And where we have Jesus, we will always have faith, forgiveness and love.  Oh yes, and we are also guaranteed eternal life.  In Jesus name… AMEN!