Archive for August, 2016

The Art of Thankfulness

Monday, August 29th, 2016

Fourteenth Sunday After Trinity-HL, August 28th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ for you.” [1 Thessalonians 5:18]

Many times it seems as if God’s will for us to give thanks is seldom fulfilled by us.  Oh it’s true that there are some circumstances in life when we can’t help but be thankful, but sometimes, many times those circumstances are few and far between.  That’s because people usually—even those of us who want to behave as Christians—have a limited view of our eternal reality.

Our realities consist first of all of ourselves, then it widens into our immediate everyday lives, but last of all, to our shame, we consider God.  Isn’t it true that we can be overwhelmed just by dealing with our everyday lives?  Bad things and good things happen to everyone, and many times, we forget to thank God.  Oh we’ve been known to turn to God when real situations arise; situations that we can’t explain or control, and if and when God responds, we gladly give Him thanks and praise, but sometimes we do forget to praise Him even when we successfully pass through those tough times.  We can be a lot like those nine lepers in our gospel lesson (Luke 17-11-19) who were healed and never bothered to return to Jesus and give thanks to God.  Yes, we modern folks aren’t all that different from people in Jesus time.  So how can we correct this?  Well the quick answer is that we can’t.  When we tell ourselves we must give thanks, it is no longer an expression of gratitude from our hearts, but rather a law or regulation that imposes something that really should be given freely and gladly.  So the secret to being thankful isn’t something we can develop, but rather it is something we are given.

The secret of thankfulness is no secret at all; it’s simply the art of walking by the Spirit, and learning not to evaluate things by the desire of our flesh.

When we learn to see things first within a spiritual reality we will also discover that things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and self-control are things that come only through knowing Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected for me… for you!

And knowing Christ in this way can only come by being in God’s Word.  When we are in the Word we will find ourselves gladly being led, renewed, and refreshed by the Holy Spirit of God who empowers that Word.

It is that intimate relationship with God through Christ in His means of grace that begins to teach us all things; in other words, the Spirit brings us wisdom.

In our Old Testament lesson (Proverbs 4:10-23), the voice of God calls out through Holy Scripture and says, “Hear, my son, and accept my words, that the years of your life may be many. I have taught you the way of wisdom; I have led you in the paths of uprightness.”

This is a challenge God puts out to each of us who are baptized.  It is as if He is saying, “Try me out.  Listen to my Word; let it teach you the truth about sin and death, and then let it take you on another path, the path of forgiveness and eternal life.”

The path of forgiveness and eternal life comes only through the Word of God, and it is always a Word about Jesus Christ.  That Word forces you to see your need for Christ as your Savior and it is showing you the true victory Christ won for you on the cross, and the sure and certain promise of the resurrection that He gave to you in the waters of your own baptism.  This is why our Old Testament lesson ends with this plea: “My son, be attentive to my Words; incline your ear to my saying.  Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart.  For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh.  Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” [Proverbs 4:20-23]

But even if we give God this kind of thanks, it is still only a portion of the gratitude that we should return to Him.  So how can we develop this art of being thankful? It’s not that difficult really; we do it…

By keeping our eyes on Jesus, which will both teach us and fill us with a God given ability and desire to be thankful.

Jesus thanked His Heavenly Father for everything—from the bread and the wine on the table to the deepest mysteries of salvation.  He thanked His Father for an answer to prayer even before it came. [John 11:25-43]  But you and I aren’t Jesus; we are imperfect saved sinners struggling to hold onto the gifts of forgiveness and new life.  But still we know that God both desires and equips us to be thankful people.  The apostles took part in this same struggle, but in the midst of trials they constantly urged their fellow Christians to continue practicing that art of thankfulness, always giving thanks to God our Father in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ!  This is not a pious figure of speech that God’s Word teaches but instead, it is described as a basic attitude of life and a direction for our personalities.  It is the proper attitude of a Christian, and it flows from our knowledge of God, which only comes through the frequent use of His Word.

God is not only the God of the unusual event and the difficult circumstance, but  He is also the source of all things and the giver of every good gift. [James 1:17]  It should be a real eye opener when we read the Psalms and we discover that many “normal things” are objects of praise and thanksgiving for the psalmist.  The psalmist praises and blesses God for the streams that make their way through the hills, for grass which comes forth out of the ground, for the grain that makes bread, or wine which gladdens the hearts of men and women, for sun and moon, for the darkness of night and the light of morning, for the task of the day and even for the work which last until evening.  God is praised for covering the skies with clouds and for giving rain to the earth, for giving food to the creatures of the earth and sustenance to all living things.

But thanksgiving becomes even more abundant when the Scriptures begin to speak to our hearts about the salvation that God has provided for sinful people like us.  This is the same spirit of thankfulness that led St. Paul to break out in joy and praise, right in the middle of some carefully studied thought.  “Thanks be to God” Paul says, “through Jesus Christ our Lord!” [Romans 7:25]  “God who is over all be blessed forever.  Amen.” [Romans 9:5]

You see for Paul and the other apostles, everything is ultimately spiritual, and it’s all connected to how God is breaking through into our physical reality.  Everything that Paul writes is filled with a God given spirit of thanksgiving for Christ, Who is God’s unspeakable gift for sinners like you and me.  Oh that we would overflow with praise and be taught to rejoice even in the middle of suffering and tribulations; oh that we would learn to rejoice in Christ with an unspeakable and glorious joy. [1 Peter 1:3-9]

Dear friends, today God is calling each of us to be transformed like the Samaritan leper in our gospel lesson and like the apostles and early disciples of Jesus.

God is asking each of us to be the minority that returns to Jesus every day to give Him thanks and praise.  Let’s not try to answer the question that asks, “Where are the others?  Was no one found to return and give praise to God accept this foreigner?” But instead, let’s just be thankful that He accepts foreigners like us; let’s thank Him for His faithfulness.

Let us be transformed everyday, becoming more and more thankful that God would call sinners such as us, such as I, such as you!  And as we are being made thankful, let us also like the Samaritan respond to Jesus invitation to journey with Him.  Let us proceed to and through those Dark Gethsemane moments and even to the cross of suffering and shame, being thankful that Jesus is our’s and we are His.  Let us follow the sorrowful procession to His tomb and say a resounding yes to the Spiritual that asks, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”  Yes you were there; it was YOUR sins that He died for, but let’s also remember that we were there by faith, when God the Father raised Him from the tomb.  And because He lives, we too shall live with Him forever in Paradise restored.  Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, that Jesus would suffer and die for such a worm and foreigner as I!

Again we find that the art of being thankful is not in trying to make ourselves thankful, but instead it comes simply as a gift of comfort from God Who breaks into our sometimes painful reality, as we are being taught to cling to Christ and His gospel alone.  It is in moments like these that we find ourselves simply rejoicing in the knowledge that God loves us and He has forgiven us for Christ’s sake.  When this one pure thought becomes certain to us, we will not be able to contain our thankfulness.

And this thought can only come by faith through the Word of God and the work that the Word performs in our hearts.  It is the Word that assures you that you are everywhere and always surrounded by the goodness of God in Jesus Christ.  From Him and through Him and unto Him are all things, even our cries of thanksgiving.  To Him be glory forever and ever…  AMEN.

Who Is My Neighbor?

Sunday, August 21st, 2016

Thirteenth Sunday After Trinity-HL, August 21st, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“Am I my brother’s keeper?” [Genesis 4:9]

Isn’t that the way we normally live our lives; the way we normally respond to situations that seem to lead us to act for the benefit of others rather that passing them by and doing nothing.  It’s the way we justify not doing something; the way we naturally react to all the various people in our lives; people like coworkers and acquaintances.  Isn’t it true that we find it easier to show friendliness and do good towards a few chosen people in our lives; people who we know will reciprocate with equal friendliness?  But toward the majority of people whom we meet during the day, we usually do exactly as the priest and the Levite in Jesus’ parable did; we pass them by without more than a passing thought.

But in contrast, the Scriptures teach us that next to the great commandment to love God with our whole heart, body, mind, and soul, we are to  “Love our neighbor as ourselves.”  With such a broad, high, and demanding command as this, it isn’t unusual to find ourselves asking along with the lawyer in our gospel lesson (Luke 10:23-37)…

Who then is my neighbor, if I’m to love my neighbor as myself?

Jesus answered that question by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan who traveling alone one day happened to meet a man he could help.  In that moment, this suffering, dying man next to him became his neighbor.  You see, my neighbor, your neighbor is every person that we come in contact with, a person to whom we can do either harm or good towards.

Our neighbor can be a person who is close to us in the sense of proximity, or close to us in the sense that we have a God given ability to render immediate help.  The Jews were prone to limit their definition of who their neighbor was, to someone who was first and foremost part of their own people, and especially part of their own family.  In regards to how they would treat the others, they had a mindset that pretty much guided them, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”  But Jesus teaches that even the person who is unknown or indifferent or even repulsive to us becomes our neighbor as soon as we have dealings with them.

Does this seem like a difficult concept to embrace?  I would not be surprised if you answered yes, because the truth is, by nature,  all of us are lousy neighbors.

The belief that every fellow man is my neighbor is based in the truth that we are all so closely related to each other because of our fallen and sinful nature.  But…

All of us have also, been created by God to be His children and to relate to Him through faith.  In reality, we all have the same Creator-Father; we have all been redeemed by the same Savior, the Son of God.  And if we are baptized, we are even more closely related in that we have all been chosen to receive the same spiritual home, a place where we will all eternally live together as members of the same family.

The unknown people that we pass by during the day while we are walking or driving are also our brothers and sisters “for whom Christ died.” [Romans 12:5]  We are members of the same body, joined together by God Himself, so “that the members may have the same care for one another.”  We are to love the others just as much as we love ourselves.

In the Hawaiian language, there is a beautiful word that has multiple meanings and it is Aloha.  It can mean hello or goodbye. It also means love’ abiding love and affection.  With that in mind let me sing to you a bit of a song written by Larry Rivera titled “Aloha Begins With Me.”  I like to think of it as the “Good Samaritan Song.”  Aloha Begins with me.  Aloha begins with me.  Aloha begins with me.  When I walk down to the street, I will smile to all I meet and say Aloha!  When I drive on down to town and the traffic is slowing down, I smile and say Aloha!  In this country of many races we are blessed with all God’s graces.  So let every creature that has breath sing His praise.

Contrary to the spirit of Aloha or the type of love the Bible calls agape love, the truth is that we are usually pretty much concerned only about ourselves and not about sharing aloha with others.  But if we could only see just how closely we are related, actually one with another, wouldn’t we treat them just a little differently? “For no man ever hates his own flesh but nourishes and cherishes it.” [Matthew 7:12]  The simplest explanation of our obligation to love our neighbor was given by our Lord when He said: “As you wish that men would do to you, do the same to them.” [Luke 6:31]

The person who loves God is a person who truly understands who he is before a perfect and righteous God.  This kind of person understands just how deep God’s love for he or she runs, and then through this understanding of true agape love, aloha, they’re given a new ability from God, to approach other people with this new kind of love.  This love is given to us to be shared with both relatives and acquaintances as well as all those we encounter as we journey through life together.  But this kind of love, this agape love can only come through a true Christian faith; it is something that can only be received from God as a gift.  And after God gives this gift of love and faith, this person, these true Christians can say that they  “both love God and know Him.”

God is love, and to live in a right relationship with God through faith in Christ means to not only have His love residing and abiding in our hearts but it also means that it radiates from within and goes out to others as well.  The person who does not love his brother whom he has seen, can’t love God who he has not seen.  Everyone who loves the parent loves the child.

No one can force us to love.  The only way for us to receive the love of God is when He showers it upon us and in us through His means of grace.  When this happens, then we can love as He first loved us.  This morning, Jesus through His story about the Good Samaritan has done just that; He’s showered us with faith and grace.

In His story we should understand two important things: First, who the person robbed and dying in the ditch is and second, who the Good Samaritan is.

You like the lawyer testing Jesus, are in fact the injured traveler, who has been left to die alone in the ditch.  You were beaten by your enemies the day you were conceived; they left you robbed and in the grip of death the day you were born.  There was nothing you could do to save your self.  Even other people, important people in your lives are helpless to save you; and even if they could help they wouldn’t because they too were left alone and dying in their own ditch of sin and death.  They too, need the Good Neighbor.  But Jesus story does not stop there.  Next He tells you about a “Good Samaritan.”

A Samaritan was a class of people who were hated by the Jews.  To call a Samaritan good would be blasphemous to the ears of a Jew.  So you can understand the insult intended when the Pharisees out of frustration called Jesus a Samaritan simply because they could not trap Him and brand Him as a sinner.  They said that He was a Samaritan possessed by a demon.  Yes, Jesus says, “I am the “Good Samaritan.”  I am the only one who can be a good neighbor; the only One who has the true aloha spirit.  I alone have come to you, picked you out of the ditch, anointed your wounds with the gospel, and took both you and your burdens upon my self and carried you to be cleansed in the waters of baptism, and fed the Father’s Manna from Heaven, which is my Word, my body, and my blood.  I am your champion who not only rescued you from your true enemies, but I also destroyed them for you.  Now sin, death, and the devil can never harm you again.

But Jesus is also your good neighbor because He willingly took your place in the ditch; He allowed your enemies to beat, rob, and kill Him, upon the cross.  But it was His life to lay down for you, and He gladly did it, just so He could take it back up again.  He rose from the dead so you could see that because He has overcome death and the grave, so too shall you.

How can we become “good” neighbors?  Only by receiving and being transformed by God’s mercy as given through His Son, Jesus Christ.   Legalists who like to cross-examine Jesus Word and make it say a more palatable message, like the lawyer who confronted Jesus, still make no progress today towards appeasing their guilty conscience and satisfying the Law of God.  They never will have peace until they recognize that they are the man half dead and Jesus is the one who does mercy as their true neighbor. The lawyer says, “I will act to love my neighbor as myself; tell me who he is.” But Jesus answers, “You can’t act, because you are dead. You need someone to love you, show mercy to you, heal you, pay for you, give you lodging, and revive you. I am the only one who does those things, but I am also the one you despise because I love to be with sinners, but in fact I am the one who fulfills the Law, who embodies it, and brings God’s mercy. I am your good neighbor and will give you the gifts of mercy, healing, and life. As I live in you, you will have life and will do mercy—not motivated by laws and definitions, but animated by my love.”

I pray that each of us will continue to allow Jesus to deliver us from the ditch of sin, heal us, and strengthen and guide us as we go out allowing Jesus to be the good neighbor through us.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN.

Words Are Important

Monday, August 15th, 2016

Twelfth Sunday After Trinity-HL, August 14th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“For by your words you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned.” [Matthew 12:37]

This is the word of Jesus.  It sounds dreadful, and we can understand why there were times when after the disciples heard Jesus teach and preach they responded with the question, “Who then can be saved?” [Matthew 19:25]

Why are our words so important?  And if they’re so important, why do we so often say so many things that we don’t really mean?  Well Jesus teaches that “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” [Luke 6:45]  Since every tree is known by its fruits, our thoughtless, angry, empty, and noisy words should then reveal the real condition of our hearts.  And to make sure that we understand this truth, Jesus also said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter.” [Matthew 12:36]

But thank God we are not limited to only our words; thank God there is a Word much bigger and powerful than any and all Words we will ever speak.  Thank God Jesus also says, “With man salvation is impossible, but with God all things are possible; (Matthew 19:26) all things that begin not with the word of men but with the Word of God like this…

“In the beginning was the Word.” [John 1:1] “And God said, ‘Let there be …’  and all that exists came into being—by the power of his Word.” [Genesis 1:3- 24]

God likes to talk because in His Word there is power! He began the world by talking it into existence. When Adam and Eve doubted his Word and hid from Him because of their guilt, God came to them in order to call them back into a relationship with Himself. [Genesis 3:9] As a way to reclaim and restore his people, God has placed his power in our language as we speak His Word so that His gospel will lead people to trust in Him.  God’s good news brings us back into His grace and favor; the very thing we were first created to exist in.  So this is why God loves to talk; because His message of forgiveness and new life brings us back into a right relationship with Him. And this “being made right” with God is given to us only through His Word, and only because we are allowed to receive His Word of promise through His gift of faith. [Romans 1:17]  And yet so many people still think that they can make things right with God in their own way. They see God’s 10 Commandments as suggestions or a loose code of conduct that they can adapt to fit their life style. They believe in this so strongly that they are willing to completely dismiss God’s gospel message.

Here is the very point that God wants us to understand: on our own we are broken; our words and our good intentions accomplish nothing.  That is the primary function of the law, of the Ten Commandments; to show us that we are broken.  We are trapped in our sin, and on our own we can never be right with God. If you know this is true, then you have experienced the work of God’s Law.  It’s like a hammer that crushes us and it is like a sword that pierces our very souls, but it only does this work so that you will remember that with God all things are possible; so that you will be led to call out to God for His healing balm!  The healing balm of God, the forgiveness of sins is the work of the Gospel.  The gospel tells us about God’s grace, His forgiving love through Jesus Christ.  But why do some find it so hard to receive and believe in the gospel?  Well the problem isn’t in God’s Word, the problem is in us; it is a problem of sin being in our hearts!

Both God’s Law and the Gospel come to us through the same means; they come to us through the Word.  It is the same Word that we are to take into our mouths and then into our hearts!  Both Law and Gospel are essential for making us right with God.  If we truly want a relationship of love and trust with our Creator, it can only come to us through God’s Word, both the Law and the Gospel; we can’t have one without the other.  If we reject either one we are simply lost in our sins; separated from God for time and eternity.  We need to hear both the Law and the Gospel if we are to be right with God.   We need to receive that Word like the man in our gospel lesson (Mark 7:31-37) who was deaf and had a speech impediment.  He knew of no grand possibility of being made whole; he only knew that his friends brought him to Jesus as a broken man and that Jesus desired to make him whole.

What is the Gospel?  It is the Word of God that tells you that you have a God who has come to save you.  You have a champion that has destroyed the power of sin, death, and the devil!  You have a Savior and His name is Jesus Christ, the Son of God!  If you go off looking for help from other means, then you are trying to make yourself right with God by your own code of conduct, and because of that, you are denying Christ’s death for you, and you’re in essence telling God, “No thanks Lord.  I’ve got this!”  If you do that then you can’t have a new and eternal life!

You see friends, Christianity is unlike any other religion.  It is the only absolute and perfect religion because it doesn’t ask you to do a thing, but instead, it teaches you to accept and receive God’s perfect and complete work for you through Jesus Christ—“God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself.” [2 Corinthians 5:18–19]  In other words, the Christian religion is absolutely perfect because it isn’t a moral code that teaches us how to earn forgiveness of sins, but instead it teaches us that through God’s Word of Law and Gospel we receive faith that recreates and sustains us while God reshapes us.  All of this was given to us through Christ’s work upon the cross.  There on the cross He was pierced and killed for our sins.  By His stripes, by His suffering and death we have been healed!

So what must we do to be saved?  Well, what does God’s Word say?

It says, “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” [Romans 10:8-13]  So the simple thing we must do is be in the Word of God and call out to Him.

Sadly people today, will hear this Good News and still think that we Christians and our Bibles are narrow minded and bigoted.  They will say how presumptuous it is of us to assume that we are the only ones that are right about God.  They will point out that the great Creator God would never limit Himself to just the printed and spoken Word.  They love to point to the marvels of the world we live in, the universe around us and our own history to prove that God can and does speak to men and women outside of His recorded Word.  But the truth is, when people say something like that, what they are really trying to do is neutralize the Law of God.  Why?  Because to them, the Law is like a mirror, and they don’t like what they see in that mirror!  In the mirror of God’s Law they see the ugliness of their sin and they see the perfection that God demands!

Now while it is true that God does make use of creation and our history to communicate to us, He does this only to direct our attention to His Word, a Word which alone tells us of our need for our savior, Jesus Christ!  The knowledge about sin and grace, can only come to us through God’s Word of Law and Gospel.  It is through the Word alone that we are recreated back into God’s image!  Without the preaching of Christ’s Word, darkness still covers the world and our sinful hearts.  Even though our history shows that God speaks to us through the majesty of the heavens and the earth, even though God speaks to sinful man with a loud voice in earthquakes, war, and famine, we are lost without God’s Word of Law and Gospel speaking death to our sinful flesh and then recreating new and eternal life within us.

(But)“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” [Romans 10:14-17]

Isn’t it sad that so many people still reject The gospel!  But this isn’t any thing new; even Isaiah lamented to God and wondered if he was preaching in vain.  But God’s Word corrects this thinking; He corrects it by reminding us that the working of faith is His business.  He reminds us that He gives faith only through His Word, and that Word teaches us that saving faith is always faith in the Word of Christ, faith in the external Word of the Gospel, which Christ commanded His Church to preach and to teach. [Mark 16:15–16; Romans 1:1–2]

This external Word is both the object of our faith and the means by which faith is created.  This is why churches call pastors and it is why seminaries train and send them!  Any belief centered in anything that is not proclaimed in the Word of Christ as we have it through Moses, the Prophets and the Apostles (John 17:20), according to the Scriptures is just a delusion and a product of the sinful human heart and mind. [1 Timothy 6:3–4; 1 Corinthians 2:1–5]  And this is also why God expects you as His priests, to be His witnesses to those who don’t know Him through His Word; because He wants them to know that there is power in His Word… Power unto salvation!

Through the proclamation of the gospel then, the preached Word of God is sent out to every corner of this sinful world, inviting sinful men and women to believe and rest in God’s Word of forgiveness.  Through our witness as to how God’s Word has restored us, others can see Jesus living in and recreating us, and by God’s grace they will be moved to ask us about our faith.  This then is a God given moment to invite them to look deeper into that Word by hearing it preached and taught in God’s church, even our little church here.

Through faith in Christ we are covered by the righteousness of Christ, to be Christ’s many ambassadors.  Through the Word of God spoken by men, we have been given a new heart from which we can bring out things that are good and pleasing to God. [2 Corinthians 5:17]  Something new has been created within us, a good tree that can bring and bear good fruit.  This new fruit that comes from within our new hearts will bear witness on judgment day that the tree God planted within us was good.  But it is not for the sake of the good fruit that you are granted forgiveness and eternal life.  There is still enough left of the old sinful flesh that we need to pray day-by-day, “Forgive us our trespasses.”  But for the sake of Christ we are now “not under law, but under grace.” [Romans 6:14]

So you see, faith does grow out of hearing the Word of God.  Through God’s Word, new life is created and protected by the giving and sustaining of faith. Now our faith might not always understand the mystery of how God can speak to us through His Word and Sacraments, and faith won’t always be able to explain why God does what He does for sinners like us, but that’s alright, because you see, “faith is the assurance of things for which we hope for; it is the conviction of things that we don’t see. [Hebrews 11:1] So faith is simply hearing and resting in God’s message about Jesus Christ; His cross and empty tomb; His church and His means of grace; and the cherished time we spend alone in that Word and the time we spend together as the communion of saints!  May God continue to give us ears and a heart to hear and believe this message!  In Jesus name… AMEN!

On Being Made Righteous


Monday, August 8th, 2016

Eleventh Sunday After Trinity-HL, August 7th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”  [Luke 18:14]

This is the verdict in regards to the no good tax collector, who for the Jews was the epitome of a sinner; he was considered a traitor to his people, because he worked for the evil Roman Empire.  This tax collector had been in the temple along with the self-righteous and confident Pharisee, the ultimate church goer.  We should note that the Pharisees had the same view of people and morality as many hard-working, idealistic, and socially responsible people have today.  They believed that there is a moral law that people are expected to live up to.  They believe that if you’ve done the best you can, the best you know how, you won’t fail in pleasing God, or another way of saying that is you wont become a lost sinner.

But according to the Bible this is simply a way to deceive ourselves.  It is a way that makes God out to be a liar and reveals that “His Word is not in us.”  [1 John 1:8-10] When we really see what God expects of us we can never be satisfied with ourselves.  Even when we have the will to do good, there is something evil in our nature that makes us prone to jealousy, pride, and self-interest.  And even if anyone should keep the law in its entirety and yet fail in only one point he has become guilty of breaking all of it, namely of sinning against God Himself. [James 2:10]

So, armed with this information, let’s again look at Jesus parable this morning.  “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.” [Luke 18:10]

“The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” [Vs. 11, 12]

The Pharisee in Jesus story simply is a character that personifies all of the countless people who have ever passed before God and who ever will pass before Him, trusting in their own righteousness, that is in their own good works as a way to appease God; to make Him happy.

We know that pride certainly is an issue for this Pharisee, because he took his place in the temple, during the prayer service right up front and in the central part of the room where everyone could both see and hear him recite his personal prayers to heaven.  And why shouldn’t he; everyone seemed to admire him for his piety, or he certainly wouldn’t have made this his practice.

Next, he thanked God that he was not like other people, like most people.  He wasn’t an extortioner, one who manipulates and uses other people.  He’s thankful that he’s not an unjust man, in other words in his mind, he is completely justified as righteous before God.  He’s thankful that he’s not an adulterer, running around living the swinger life style.

But now as he looks around the sanctuary, he spots a very notorious member of the worship community… the tax collector.  And he thanks God that he’s not like that man, an enemy both of God and God’s people.  He’s probably even wondering how that man was even allowed into the temple area. “He should be locked up” he might have said under his breath! But in reality, he really had nothing to thank God for, because in God’s eyes, the life he had made for himself was worse than the life of an extortioner and even the tax collector. You see, he was measuring himself and others with a wrong human rule and not with the rule of God’s Word, and what’s more, he was doing it right in God’s Temple, which had been dedicated to God’s Word.

Of all those who, like the Pharisee, trust in their morality, it is still true as Jesus said: “They say one thing, but do another.” [Matthew 23:3] When the law speaks, our mouths are stopped, and the whole world stands guilty before God. [Romans 3:19] There is therefore none that are righteous accept Jesus Christ. [1 Peter 3:18]. And all that Jesus has done He has done for us.  In our place and for our sake He has fulfilled everything, even the smallest parts of the law in order that “by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous. [Romans 5:19]

“But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” [Vs. 13]

Here is Jesus’ example of the complete opposite to the Pharisee. He, too, stands before God in the Temple, but he is not in a special place of honor or attention, in fact, he stands as far away from these places of honor as possible. He felt that he was too unworthy to go any nearer. He didn’t even have the will to lift up his eyes to heaven, because he was completely ashamed to stand before God. He doesn’t even attempt to brag about what he has done for God and the church, but instead he simply pounds his chest as a way of showing great sorrow and pain for his sinful life.

And now we hear his prayer, which is also his confession of sins.  He admits his sin of being an open and public sinner, but he prays that God would atone for, or take away his guilt.  It’s to bad that our contemporary translations choose to use the word merciful, because the actual word translated from the Greek is translated as “propitiated.”  So, his words should really be read like this: “God be propitiated to me a sinner.”  He had probably just provided his gift of something that had just been sacrificed by the Chief Priest at the altar of God; a gift that he hoped would atone for His sins.  So he is praying, “God please accept the sacrifice I offered and let it be enough to bring atonement for me and bring me peace with you.”

The main point lies in in the comparison of the two men.  The Pharisee thought of others as being sinners but fails to see the truth about himself; the tax collector thinks of himself alone as being the sinner and doesn’t even begin to think about others. Do you see, this is a mark of true humility; of true contrition and brokenness? This condition of the heart finds no comfort at all in the fact that there are many others who are even greater sinners; it sees only itself before God, only itself as “the”sinner who is unable to answer to God for his sins.

“I tell you, this man (the tax collector) went down to his house justified, rather than the other.” [vs 14]

So now Jesus tells us the very reason for the parable and the point of ultimate importance that we are to leave with.  Jesus wants to ensure that through His Word this morning, each of us will leave here justified, that is made right with God.

Jesus used the word justified intentionally.  It is the word that every sinner must use before God; both the tax collector and sinners such as our selves must confess before God that He is right and we are wrong; we must “acknowledged God as just” by remembering the need for Christ’s cross and the importance of our own baptism.  We must acknowledge that it is only through these means that God has chosen to both declare someone as righteous and recreate them in to someone who is righteous.

The irony here, of course, is that the one who goes back to his home “justified” is the confessed sinner and not the self-righteous sinner. So it all boils down to a simple matter of who we trust for our salvation: we either trust in ourselves, as does the Pharisee, who exalts himself as the means of his own redemption, or we trust in God and the atoning sacrifice he has provided (as did the tax collector).

So the tax collector and we this morning go home justified.  What difference should that make in our lives?

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” [Ephesians 2:10]

Do you understand?  Praise His name, God has propitiated us; through the Sacrifice of Christ upon the cross He saved us from our sins, but He has also equipped us to live out our redeemed and justified lives with a purpose. As we leave this house of worship right with God, we are called and equipped to live out this status by doing the very things He has prepared for us to do; prepared for us to share with others who do not yet know Him rightly unto eternal life.

It is by sharing this righteousness that we demonstrate to others that we are in fact justified before God.  John writes: “…if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (one).”  [1 John 2:1]  His righteousness frees us from the judgment and punishment of our sins.  His righteousness is our propitiation; it’s our salvation when we believe in Him.  We “are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” [Romans 3:24] That means that our sins are covered over by the righteousness of Christ, by the blood He shed upon the cross, and by the waters of our baptism, which applied that atoning blood upon us personally.  It means that God no longer deals with us according to our sins, neither those which we have committed nor those which are still part of our fallen human nature.

And this is why it doesn’t help a person in the least if they simply embrace a high morality.  No matter how much a person protests that their moral goodness should count for something, God says it does not; He says that they still belong to the group of those who did not go and do that which the Father wanted to have done.  But both tax collectors and prostitutes who repent may enter the Kingdom of God, and so can no good sinners like you and me.  [Matthew 21:29-31]

Inevitably this truth will mean that each of us will go out justified and do the will of our Father and do that will better than we ever could have done if we were simply servants of this worlds standard of morality, the law, and pure idealism.

May God continue to equip and empower us to do these good works, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!