Archive for January, 2017

You Are Blessed!


Monday, January 30th, 2017

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany (A), January 29, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

beatitudes“You are blessed!” That is both the title of our message and the truth that God’s Word proclaims to us this morning through this message. Last week we heard Jesus invitation to live a blessed life under the cross with these Words, “Repent because the Kingdom of God is at hand!” So right off the bat, we know that our blessed state is intricately connected to Jesus’ cross and even our own. We expect to hear a message that not only declares that Christ is present in hard times and suffering, but in fact He is always with us and promises to never leave us. But we also know that while the world laughs at this kind of message and calls it foolishness, God’s Word assures us that because we trust in Christ and His cross, we really are blessed with the only faith that gives both God’s peace and joy through the forgiveness of sins, that is through God’s power received only by grace and only through Christ. In fact this faith is the only way to receive eternal life.

This morning, let’s look into what this power of God’s grace gives to us; in short let’s discover why we are blessed!

Now again, let’s remember to the sinful world, all of this talk about being blessed under the cross, having joy and peace in the middle of tough times, is all just a bunch of nonsense! They can’t hear Words of blessing in Jesus message because they don’t think that good people, or those who follow the right religion should be suffering. They don’t think that they should suffer because they don’t see themselves as the type of sinners who need to turn to God for forgiveness; in fact many people think that God is right there with them in their sins approving of them!

What if we considered our gospel lesson this morning through the lens of this very political season. What if we were to consider Jesus Word’s this morning (the Beatitudes) as a kind of state of the union address, but in our case this morning, this would be a state of the church address? Well if that were the case, then His opponents should have equal time.

Maybe the response or rebuttal of Jesus political opponents might sound something like this: “Dear friends, our simple little preacher would have you think that you are blessed or happy if you rest in weakness and poverty. He sees the world as a place where we simply prepare to die in whatever state we find ourselves. But we of the prosperity party say no… this isn’t what you need to hear and it is not what you should expect from your leaders.”

“We say rather, happy are the aggressive people, those who know what they want and do anything to make that dream a reality. They will be the successful ones of this world. We say happy are those who are tough and hard-skinned, for they will never let this life hurt them or prevent them from knowing prosperity. Happy are they who complain unceasingly. We know that the squeaky wheel gets the oil and the ear-marks, so we will not be happy until we get our own way! Happy are they who give very little thought to a Creator-God, because they are happy in their own skin and never worry about such a small thing as what that ancient book, called the Bible, says about sin! Happy are the demanding and self-serving business owners and managers, because they know how to get results! Happy are the educated and knowledgeable men and women of this world because they can teach others how to be productive and serve the greater good, which we all know is seeing the rich get richer with a promise that some day the poor will join them! Happy are the troublemakers, because they really know how to make people take notice of them!”

And to this rebuttal, we the Church are called to speak yet another message; we say: “Our Lord’s opponents once more prove that they do not understand the Kingdom of God. They are talking about a material world that soon enough will vanish and no longer matter. They don’t understand that the reality that Jesus speaks about is an eternal reality; a reality where there is a different kind of world, one where heaven and earth are combined into something real and something perfect. They will not acknowledge this eternal reality because they will not repent of their sins. They will not repent because they do not believe that the Kingdom of God has come! But the time will come when they will believe in this reality because they will see it with their own eyes, but then it will be to late for them to enter. They will experience it outside of God’s grace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth! There in that place, there will be eternal mourning and persecution that will never be relieved. But we dear Christians are of another reality. We by faith know that you are blessed and protected by God!”

Do you hear how the word “blessed” is repeated over and over like the sound of steeple bells from heaven. Their ringing goes out to everyone in this sinful world inviting them to enter into peace with God through Jesus Christ. Its God’s invitation assuring everyone that they can know peace with God lright now, and soon enough never again experience sin, pain, suffering, or death!

This Word of blessedness is for everyone if they will just hear it and believe. For those of us who believe, we are assured that we already have this rich possession of Heaven right now, but we have an even greater promise that guarantees that riches far greater than these will soon be ours!

Jesus says to us who place our hope in this Kingdom of Heaven, “Blessed are you who are poor in spirit, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.” What does it mean to be poor in spirit? Well, it means that God’s Word has convinced you that on your own you’re lost in your own sins. It means that you know that unless you receive help from Him you can never know peace with God. It means that you know that without Jesus Christ and His cross you have no hope. It means that in your spiritual poverty you are moved to follow Jesus’ call to turn to Him. And when by faith you turn to Him you also learn to rest and trust in Him, because in Jesus you have found the Kingdom of heaven!

It’s within this eternal reality that Jesus also says…

“You are also blessed if you are mourning, because you shall be comforted!” Don’t we all mourn and don’t we all have a great need to be comforted? We mourn when a loved one dies or when we experience a great tragedy. But don’t we also mourn intensely over our own sins? Yes, when we sin, we feel deep pain and loss, we feel separated from God. But God’s Word comes to us in the absolution and assures us that even in these times of great mourning over our sins, we are forgiven; that Christ died even for those sins. We are assured because we turn to the cross of Jesus and cling to what He has done for us, and that He will never leave or forsake us! What greater comfort could you receive? Only this, one day you will see Him face to face and you will no longer need faith because you will live in His eternal presence and love. But doesn’t the sinful world mourn and receive comfort too? Yes friends, but their mourning shall never end and the little comfort they get here in this sinful world will soon end. All because they would not believe that the Kingdom of heaven had come to them through Jesus Christ!

But Jesus also says, “Blessed are you who are meek, for you shall inherit the earth.” Oops! We might have a problem. We aren’t always meek, in fact we can be outright aggressive and mean! And to this fear, Jesus says, “But I am meek. I was meek for you! I let them lead me to the cross like a lamb going to slaughter; I let them kill me for you. By my stripes, blood, and death, you’ve been healed. You’ve been forgiven. And because you believe that I did this for you, I have come and made my home within your heart. I am in you and you are in me. And because I am in you, I’m changing you… I’m making you meek! All that I ask of you is that you rest in this truth, cling to it and allow me to transform you. And because you rest in my truth I have declared you righteous!”

But now, our sinful minds remind us that we are not righteous and we never will be! We are reminded that we may look righteous and clean on the outside but inside we are like the Pharisees and Scribes, we are full of deceit. We are like freshly painted white tombs that on the outside are pleasing to the eye but on the inside we are full of dead men’s decay and bones!

And to this Jesus says, “Blessed are you because you see this; because you hunger and thirst for righteousness, you will be satisfied. You know that you can never be righteous on your own, but you also know that I was righteous for you. You know that I gave you this righteousness in your baptism, and you know that I continue to fill you with my righteous Word. So listen to and read my Word. Step up to my table and be nourished by my very body and blood that is yours in with and under the bread and wine! Eat and drink, and be satisfied knowing what I have given to you through my means!

Well, now that we are beginning to understand just what the mercy of God means and how it has saved us, Jesus asks us to go demonstrate this mercy to our neighbors. And He does it with these Words:

“Now blessed are you who are merciful to others as I have been merciful to you! I guarantee that you shall receive mercy! You shall receive mercy because in me, you see the very Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world… even your own sin! And because you see this in my Word, because you see my cross as a means of peace with your Heavenly Father, you are judged to be pure in heart. Blessed are you friend because of this pure heart, for you shall see God. You see Him even now in me. In my Word you see me, in your baptism you see and hear me through the Word of forgiveness, and in my Holy Supper you see, smell, touch, and even taste my very body and blood which gives you a pure heart.

Dear friends, the Kingdom of God, the reign of heaven in Jesus already belongs to those of us who are poor in spirit, even to those of us who are persecuted because of our faith in Him. But the promise of final comfort, our final inheritance, our final righteousness and experience of peace with God will not come until we receive the final vision of God on the Last Day. In the meantime, we who are the disciples of Jesus Christ must expect that our lives will be experienced through the lens of mourning, thirst, and hungering. But our eternal reality is that we are saved in hope… “But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait eagerly for it through endurance.” [Rom. 8:24-25]

This present tension of blessing and joy, suffering and mourning until the Last Day of comfort is central to our lives as we live under the cross of Jesus, as we follow Jesus on this narrow path. But we follow Him as His peacemakers, as His ambassadors of the cross, and as we follow Him we know that as His peacemakers, we should expect some persecution because we speak His Word to our neighbors. In our witness, we bring the very peace of God and that peace is breaking violently into a sinful world that will have none of it! So Jesus leaves us with this last truth; a truth that will only become clear under the cross: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven!”

I pray that this reward and joy of the Kingdom of heaven will become powerful and transforming in your lives as you learn to rest and live out the cross of Jesus Christ. I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Walk In The Light!


Monday, January 23rd, 2017

Third Sunday after the Epiphany (A),
January 22, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

http://www.orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

repentThis morning, we’re allowed to briefly look into the heart of an apostle who is also a pastor. This pastor, the apostle Paul is troubled by some news he’s received. It seems there’s controversy brewing back in the parish over who is the best teacher, or preacher. Some say its Paul himself, others say that it is Paul’s assistant pastor, Pastor Apollos, and others say that it’s Peter. Then there’s another group who is trying to stay out of the whole argument, and they simply say, “I don’t know and I don’t care, I just follow Christ!” Paul now wants them to examine themselves and their faith and see the error, the darkness in what they have started. He wants them to be of one confession of faith, and he wants them to be of one heart and mind, the heart and mind of Jesus Christ; He wants them to walk in the light of the gospel!

Now before we begin to click our collective tongues at this whole mess, let’s see if we too have a need to repent and refocus our lives; let’s see if we to need to simply turn from darkness and walk in light.

If you call yourself a Democrat or Republican Christian, you may have to repent. If you call yourself a poor, middle class, or wealthy Christian you may need to repent! If you only call yourself a Christian around other Christians then friend, you really do need to repent! Now why do you think that any of this really matters? Friends, it matters because the world is watching us; your neighbor is watching you! They want to see if you’re the real thing; they want to know if you’re any better off than they are; they want to know if you really have the power of God unto salvation!

[1 Corinthians 1:10-18] Let’s look at our Epistle lesson a little more deeply to see where God is leading us.

Was Paul angry when he wrote this letter to the church at Corinth? No, I doubt it, but he was concerned. There have always been disagreements among people of faith and there always will be. Paul simply wanted to get everyone back to common ground… he wanted them to go back to the very foundation of their faith, Jesus Christ. If he could get each person’s heart back to what Jesus did equally for each of them, then these other matters, like who is the best preacher, or what political party you vote in become secondary, and may I even say unimportant?

Divisions weren’t anything new in Martin Luther’s day either. Listen to what he said regarding divisions that were created because of his preaching of the gospel: “For the operations of God are not childish or bourgeois or human, but divine and (they exceed) human (understanding).  But you do not seem to see that these tumults and divisions are marching through the world by the counsel and operation of God, and you are afraid lest the heavens should fall.  But I, by the grace of God, see this clearly, because I see other greater troubles in time to come, by comparison with which these present seem no more that the whisper of a breeze or the murmur of a gentle stream.”

What is Luther teaching? He’s teaching the same thing that Paul is teaching and it’s this: Each one of you is saying something different, and that is what will cause divisions. Instead of being different for your own purpose be different for God’s purpose. Instead of preaching opinion to your neighbor, and causing division, preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and let the divisions be between light and dark, good and evil! Speak of Christ crucified!

Now there’s a danger when we share our faith with our neighbor, and Paul wants to be sure that we don’t fall prey to this threat. What is that threat? Friends, it’s the temptation of proclaiming a bloodless gospel, or if you will a cross without the body of Jesus! Why would we do that? Because many people today don’t like to hear about a Savior who died a criminal’s death. They don’t want to hear about a savior who was beaten near death, and executed on a cross. So instead of simply sharing the gospel as it’s found in the pages of the Bible, the temptation is to explain these things with modern ideas, or to just share the moral ideals of our Christian faith.

Then there are those that we will encounter who don’t mind hearing the mysteries about a dying God, who came to us in our flesh and lived the perfect life on our behalf; they enjoy hearing how this God paid the penalty for our sins, but to just leave it there, doesn’t seem fair. This group of people insists that they need to add something to Jesus work upon the cross! So for these challenged individuals, some parts of the church has\ve, in error I will add, come up with little rules and regulations to help sell the message of the cross. These false teachings say things like, “Jesus starts us on the right path with His cross and with our own baptism by giving us His grace, but after that” they say “it’s our responsibility to finish what He started by loving and living a good life!” With this slight of hand, they turn God’s work into the work of sinful men and women!

To both of these groups, Paul is almost shouting at us in vs. 17 and saying, “No! Christ didn’t send me or you to proclaim a gospel that’s centered on eloquent wisdom, the work of sinful man, or in a way that will be more accepting to sinful people! If we do that then the cross that’s saved us will be emptied of its power!”

[Matthew 4:12-25] Now let’s look at our Gospel lesson.

Do you want God’s power in your life? Then look to the cross! What kind of power am I talking about? Well how about this… it’s a power greater than the power that God used to create the entire universe! It’s the power of God unto salvation and we call that power grace! Grace is the undeserved kindness of God; it’s God making you right with Him and not the other way around. Its new birth through the washing of the water and the Word! It’s the power of grace that gives you faith to believe in God’s Word and follow it where ever He leads! It’s the power of the Word which moves you to trust God even when you doubt Him.

In our gospel reading this morning, Jesus demonstrates that power for us when He calls Simon-Peter and his brother Andrew out into the mission field. If you remember in last week’s gospel reading, Jesus had already spoken the Word of eternal life to them. They were given God’s power of grace and faith unto everlasting life, and now Jesus calls them to learn to use that power to build the Kingdom of God. What was this Word that Jesus spoke to them that was so full of the power of God? It was “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” [Matt. 4:17-19]

Dear friends, in these Words of Jesus we see two things. First we hear that we must repent. “That seems easy enough” many think, “I must simply quit doing bad things and try my hardest to do good!” But friends, this is a grave and mistaken way of looking at repentance. This type of repentance becomes your work and not the work of Jesus! Do you want to see the work of Jesus? Look to the cross! That is His Work, His work for you! To repent does not mean simply turning away from your sinful life, but rather it means turning to the cross and seeing Jesus suffering and dying for you; to save you. It means clinging to a Savior, to a God who died in your place so that you can know for sure that you are saved!

Now some might say, “Oh that’s just semantics preacher. They both accomplish the same thing!” And to that I say, “NO!” Not at all; you see one way of repenting gives you glory for having the wisdom to know that you are a sinner. It gives you glory for taking the initiative to turn away from your sin. But the other way, the Biblical way to repent is to simply turn to God’s mercy and forgiving love and see Him dying in your place. To turn to Jesus is to know that only through Him can we find life, abundant life! And when we turn to Jesus we also hear Him say, “Follow me!”

Why do we follow Jesus? Because we have heard Him call and invite us through the mighty power of His Word. Why do we follow Jesus? Because His Word has moved us to turn to Him and trust Him. Can you see by the light of God friends that it is God alone who has done this great work of repentance within you and it is God alone who should get the glory! Through the Word of God and His invitation to follow Him we begin to hate our sin, and we are given the power to live a new life—the life of holiness. Through the power of God unto salvation we are not only forgiven but we are changed.

Let’s close our message with a story that will bring all of this message together.

The story is told of a former cocaine addict who met up with a bunch of his former friends. They were shocked that he became a “goodie two shoes” Christian, so they began belittling him. “Man, you use to be so sensible! How can you believe in miracles like Jesus turning water into wine?” The man responded by showing the evidence of his own changed life: “Whether you believe that Jesus turned water into wine I’ll leave up to you, but I know that in my home He’s turned crack into furniture and food and clothes for my wife and kids!”

Yes, the Word of God often does seem like folly to our unsaved neighbors, family, and friends, but to us who have been saved by seeing Jesus’ cross as our only means of salvation, it is God’s mighty power! It is a mighty power that is always changing us and demonstrating His saving love and just how real He is! Through the Christian artist the world is shown that Jesus and His cross are the source of all beauty. Through the Christian musician they discover melodies that even the angels can’t sing. Through the Christian builder, the world is shown that Jesus is the sure foundation. In the service of the Christian baker, the world is shown that the church, which is Christ’s body is the one true loaf. Through the Christian doctor, the world learns that Jesus is the great physician. Because of the Christian geologist, the world learns that Jesus is the Rock of Ages. In the love and care of a Christian parent, Jesus is pointed to as the way for the world to know the true Father. And when each of us is living our calling through Jesus Christ, the sinner learns that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And for we who make up the Christian church, together we declare that Jesus is the Son of the Living God, our great savior who calls each of us to follow Him to His cross by living out our own cross of service and suffering for our neighbor and together building the Kingdom of God.

I pray that you will continue to follow this call to walk in the light of the Gospel and in that light, find your vocation as a way to be a fisher of men. I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

What Are You Seeking?

Monday, January 16th, 2017

Epiphany 2A, January 15, 2017
Sanctity of Life Sunday
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

WMLTThis morning, Jesus turns to each of us and asks us, “What are you seeking?” [John1:38] I know that you are seeking something, because that is the fate of us all. We are born into this life seeking something greater and stronger than ourselves. And within this natural state of seeking, this world that surrounds us and desires to mold us gladly tells us what we should seek. And what is it that we are told to seek? Something, anything that makes us happy, fulfills us, and gives us a sense of self worth.

When we are born we simply seek food in our bellies and a dry diaper. As we become a little older we seek to learn and know as much a we can about our family, school, and neighborhood. And still we grow, and our desires, the things we seek grow as well. We desire to be popular; to fit in. We may discover things like academics, sports, music, alcohol, drugs, sex, and status fit the bill, and still we seek something more; always seeking and never really knowing what it is that will fulfill us. Why is that? Because…

We have a big problem that keeps getting in our way… sin! 

Because of our sin, we do not love as we should, and we do not fear God as we must.  You could say that as well intentioned as we may be, by nature we are sinful and unclean; we are disobedient to the core!  We seek things that please ourselves and not God or others. So what is the solution?

We must be overtaken by the true obedient servant of God; that is the Son of God must come to us, redeem us and teach us every day what it means to be redeemed, that is saved from our sins.

In our Old Testament reading (Isaiah 49:1-7), we are allowed to enter into a conversation between God the Father and the Son of God, who for us men and for our salvation, came to us as Jesus Christ, to be one of us in order to save us from our sins, and teach us what obedience to the will of God is.

So many people will willingly confess Jesus Christ as their Savior and God, but moments later, they’ll go about living their lives as they see fit, and not how God demands.  They will jump on board of whatever social idea is popular, just to avoid being singled out and being forced to defend their faith and the truth of God’s Word.

Today is national Right to Life Sunday.  You have a wonderful hand-out that you can take home and read, and perhaps consider supporting with your time, talent, or treasure.  It is a cause that is Biblical and clear.  Life begins at conception.  But that is not what society says.  And what do they say?  Well, the truth is they can’t agree when life begins.  So instead of having a real discussion on the matter, a discussion that we Christians want to be part of, they simply cite a Supreme Court ruling (Roe v. Wade), and they claim that the unborn child is part of the pregnant woman’s body, just as her breasts are part of her body.  And just as we’ve see recently in the news, that there are women of high profile and great wealth who are having their breasts surgically removed because of a high propensity to acquire breast cancer, so we too, see women aborting their pregnancy because there is an even higher propensity that these children if born, will change their lives forever.  We all know the arguments for having an abortion, so there is no need to bring them up this morning.  No, what we need to hear is what God thinks about these unborn children.  So what does He say?

In our Old Testament lesson this morning, we see a couple of things right off the bat: God calls children from the womb and God knows them by name; they are His servants.

Now, some may be thinking, “Hold on just a minute there pastor; that Old Testament lesson is talking about Jesus, the Son of God.” 

And to that, I will say, “Congratulations, you are one step closer to seeing things God’s way.”  Yes, that scripture is about the Servant of God, the Son of God, but it is also about Jesus, the Son of Mary.  Born of a woman and suffered on this earth as all of us know suffering and pain.  Why is that important?  Remember that I told you that because of our sin, one of our biggest problems is disobedience?  Well, Jesus did not have that problem; He was obedient even at the expense of His life. And it is this same Jesus who asks you once again, “What is it you are seeking?”

Now to help us understand what we really are seeking, Jesus as the Obedient Servant in our Old Testament lesson says, “Listen” and the next Words He speaks are “pay attention.”  Who is the Son of God talking to?  He is talking to everyone who is far away from God.  He is talking to us because we have a sin problem!  Aside from the call He received within the womb of His mother, He tells you how His flesh was created; it was created to give witness to God through the words of His mouth.  Words that were like sharpened swords.  Have you ever heard the saying, “The truth hurts?”  God’s truth, which is the Law is suppose to hurt!  In fact, it is suppose to kill.  You are suppose to hear what God says about sin and agree that He is right and that you and society are wrong, and then God wants you to hear and receive His solution to your sin problem.

The solution of course is God’s obedient servant Jesus Christ, who exchanges His obedience for your disobedience.  To the world, this Servant of God was on a fool’s errand.  And as proof they will point you to the servants own words in verse 4: “I have labored in vain (that is for no purpose); I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity”.  That is what the world believes, and for a moment that is how Jesus felt as He hung upon the cross between to criminals and experienced for the first time in eternity His separation from the Father and the Spirit.  So painful was the separation that He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”  But Jesus knew why He was forsaken; He was forsaken for you.  His cry should rightly be your cry, because of your great sins and your continued disobedience.  But shortly after His cry of fear and pain, we hear Him speak the gospel, the hope of sinners and gentiles.  “It is finished.” Their debt of sin has been paid in full. “Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit.”

Here, in this moment of death, Jesus the Christ, points your eyes of faith to God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and He shows you what you must seek.  And then He calls for you to look upon His agony and death and see Him as the Father’s only Son, your Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.”  But why?

So that you would understand these next words from our Old Testament reading: “What is due me is in the Lord’s hand, and my reward is with my God.  And now the Lord says—He who formed me in the womb to be His servant to bring Jacob back to Him and gather Israel to Himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord and my God has been my strength—He says, “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant (and only) restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles (that is all disobedient sinners) that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”

So Jesus “descended into hell.  The third day He rose again from the dead.  He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.”

Now, hear a Word that is simultaneously both Law and Gospel.  You will be judged!  If you find your peace and happiness in this willfully sinful world, which is outside of the Obedient Servant’s grace, you will know only eternal damnation, that is separation from God forever.  But because your eyes of faith are continually fixed upon the cross of Jesus, the Servant who alone is obedient, even unto death, you are saved.  You are judged one with Jesus.

Jesus is your light, your source of hope and peace with God because He alone has taken away your sins, and in your baptism He has washed you clean and made you right with God the Father, His Father and now yours.  Jesus is your Redeemer.  You who were once sold into sin as it’s slave are free.  You, who once knew only eternal misery because of your bondage, now know by faith that the sinless Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, has even taken away your sin.  Because of the Lamb of God, the Obedient Servant, you now have peace with God.  You lack nothing!

Just a Jesus invited the first apostles to follow Him with the Words, “Come and see,” so too, you have been called out of darkness into the wonderful gospel light of grace.  As God ensured that you would hear and keep on hearing the message of the Gospel, which alone is the light for all gentiles, He now asks you to throw in with that work.  He has called you to be a witness.  A witness is nothing more than one who reports what He has experienced.  He speaks the truth, even if the truth hurts, but He speaks the truth in love.

Yes, we are all witnesses, but we are also ambassadors.  We are to speak the message that God declares to the gentiles who are lost in sin.  What is that message?  Repent, that is turn to God and know His forgiving love.  Know that there is no sin so great that God can not nor will not forgive through His grace, which is yours through Jesus Christ, if you will not reject it.

This grace, this fullness of life is for all people, even the unborn; and mystery of mysteries, even for the unborn who have been aborted and their mothers who still grieve over that decision.  God knows each of us, even in our darkest moments, even in our mother’s womb.  He knows and He loves us all with an abundant love through Jesus Christ.  None of us deserve this love, and none of us will ever be able to live up to the standard of this love, but it does not mean we won’t try.  When we look at the birth, life, and death of Jesus, the Son of God, we can also see our lives knitted right into His.  We remember that the Lord looks beyond appearances, and He asks us to do the same.  As we listen to or read His Word, He tells us always about His Obedient Servant who was despised and abhorred by society.  And He tells us that His servant was also our Servant, and His service has become ours.  He reminds us that things are not what they seem to be.

Today Christ’s church faces frustration and what appears to be failure. 

Our membership declines and society is more hostile than ever to those who speak God’s truth.  All of our witnessing and effort seems to be done in vain.  We know that we are not innocent in regards to blame; things we have done and even the many things we have left undone have contributed greatly to the apparent failure of the church.  We have not been that city on a hill, that bright light unto the gentiles.  Yet, we are reminded that just as we are, we lack nothing in regards to God’s gifts of grace, which are ours through God’s Obedient Servant, because we are the body of Christ!
Together, we testify to God’s salvation as His wounded and scarred body, which is often rejected and scorned.  But we know that our labor, the giving of our time, talent, and treasure is not in vain.  We know that just as God the Father was faithful to His servant Jesus and raised Him from the dead, so too we live and bear witness to this gospel hope for us in Christ alone.

May God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit keep us in this great epiphany hope, the mystery hidden for ages but now revealed through Christ Jesus our Lord… AMEN!

God’s Compassion Comes in the Water and the Word

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017

Baptism of Our Lord-A, January 8, 2017
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

baptism-holy-spiritWe just finished singing that we are “God’s own Child.” As sinful as we are and through no work of our own, God has declared and we have declared and sung right along with Him that through God’s Compassion and the waters of our baptism, we have been taken out of the reign of sin, death, and the devil, and translated or transferred into the Kingdom of God… Paradise. How did this happen? Well that is what we will discover in our message this morning.
God’s Compassion first comes in the form of a warning.

Picture if you will, thousands of people being moved and gathered at the banks of the Jordan river by the Word of God, through the preaching of John the Baptizer. Most of them have been cut to the very soul, because God has shown them their many sins, but He’s also promised that because of their repentance, that is because they have turned to God for salvation, He alone will wash them clean! Now I said most of them had been moved by the Word, but a notable few hadn’t! They were the Pharisees, the hypocritical teachers of the Law! They loved to point out other people’s sins while conveniently ignoring their own. To these few who are gathered at the banks of the Jordan, John shouts out, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath and judgment of God that’s coming? (Do you really want this baptism? Then) Bear fruit (true fruit that comes only through) repentance. [Matthew 3:7-8]

Wow! Right away we know that this baptism business is serious business, and why wouldn’t it be? You see, it is the business of God and any business of God’s is ALWAYS serious business! So why was Jesus there? What did He want with this baptism? This is a baptism of confession, repentance, and forgiveness of sins, and now Jesus has come to the same place, why? And a shocked John asks this exact thing when he says, “I (myself) need to be baptized by you, and (you are coming) to me?”

Do you hear the confession of the very one who is performing the blessed Sacrament? John had just proclaimed that while He was baptizing with water for repentance, there was one who was coming soon after Him Who is mightier than Him, Whose sandals He was not worthy to untie. He said that this one would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire! He warned that when this One would come, He would bring judgment and the punishment of Hell’s fire with Him. And now here He stands waiting His turn at the font of forgiveness? So John was saying in essence, “For some unknown reason, God has chosen a wretched sinner like me to give this gift of forgiveness to other sinners, which I don’t understand but am obediently doing; if you were here to perform this miraculous sacrament on me, I would understand, because You are the only one who could wash others of their sins and yet have no need to be washed Yourself. But now You ask me to wash what is already pure and holy, why? I don’t understand Lord!”

This was John’s conundrum and it is also a stumbling block for many today. Here the Creator and judge of all sinful flesh comes as promised, but not as One who baptizes with the Spirit and fire of judgment, but as a passive recipient of John’s own baptism. Why?
Jesus quickly reassures John and us that all is going as God desires through His answer.

“Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” [15a] Friends, do you want to know along with John why Jesus is at the banks of the chilly and cold Jordan? Do you want to know why He who has no sin or need of baptism steps into those life cleansing waters? He does it to fulfill all righteousness. But what does that mean?

Well, it means, that God through Jesus Christ has broken into our sinful reality to do what He said all along He would do, save us from our own sinfulness. John’s message of repentance was direct and true, God would come through Jesus Christ to judge and punish sinful man, but first He would come through Jesus Christ to save sinful man. Before Jesus comes with power and might, He must come in lowliness to be baptized by John. Here we begin to understand the true ministry and mission of Jesus first for the Jews and then for you and me. Jesus comes as was declared long ago; He comes as Emmanuel… God with us! Remember, John declared and asked, “I need to be baptized by You, and You YOURSELF are coming to me?” And to this Jesus answers, “Of course I am! I’m Emmanuel and that is my mission. I have come to you and I will stay with you, and if you’ll let me I will save you!

What John didn’t understand, many still don’t; Jesus who is the One who was promised to come and be judge and punisher for sins is also the One who comes as the descendant of David to bring comfort to God’s people. He comes with the Balm of Gilead to heal the sin sick hearts. He comes as the compassionate, humble sin-bearer. He comes to fulfill all righteousness.

What does it mean to fulfill or enact the scriptural plan of all righteousness? It means that God’s compassion and real presence have broken into our sinful reality. It means that God’s mighty act of creation has come to us for re-creation. Jesus who is the God-man will not only repeat John’s message of repentance, but He will also make it come true in the hearts of many by giving Himself in both power and might! Friends, when Jesus stepped into those waters God was beginning to act, and God’s promised righteousness among us had begun to be fulfilled once John baptized Jesus.

And what is God’s righteousness? It is His saving act that He performs on behalf of all the people on this earth. It is God accomplishing what we could not; in God’s righteousness He gives you an eternally clean heart! Jesus Himself will perform all righteousness, that is, He will begin God’s act of salvation for His people by literally standing with sinners, taking the place of sinners, and receiving from John what only sinners need to receive. Ultimately, by stepping into those waters, Jesus was committing Himself to all that Holy Scripture foretold about our Messiah. When He stepped into the waters, He was really laying down at the cross! When Jesus went into the waters of the Jordan He was the sinless One. When He left those waters, in a sense He left bearing all of our sins… all of your sins! And from those waters He methodically proceeded over the course of three years to the cross. And at the cross, the sinless One would offer up His own life as a ransom payment in your place.

John was obedient even though God’s plan was a great mystery to Him. And because of His obedience, God confirmed to Him and to us who read this gospel today, that everything is going according to God’s plan. And after “Jesus was baptized, immediately He went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on Him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, with whom I am well pleased.”” [vs. 16]

This opening up of the heavens is hard for us to understand.

I like to think of it as something like our picture in a picture technology we have in our televisions. Somehow a window was opened and for a brief moment we were allowed to see what one day we will see eternally; heaven and earth become one! This opening of the heavens to Jesus signals to John and to us that John’s proclamation of the end times and judgment are coming, but only at God’s prescribed moment. And what of the dove descending upon Jesus? Well we know that through this open window into heaven that answer was clear; it was God the Holy Spirit who would forever be with the flesh of God the Son and within and among even our own flesh. And in our own baptism the very same Holy Spirit descends upon us and begins to live in us, and with His presence, He also brings to us God’s compassion; the heart of Jesus Christ!

It is Jesus Christ who comforts all those who are contrite and mourning because of their own sinfulness! Jesus who is God’s Son from eternity friends has come to you; He takes on your own flesh and even your sins, and now confirms that God has come to us. And He does this by declaring, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” [vs. 17b]

But what does this mean for us? Well it means dear friends, that God has come to you personally in the waters of your own baptism! Through simple water, God’s promises of Salvation through His Word are applied to you in a miraculous way; in a way that gives you peace with God first and then peace with each other. And behind this peace is your new nature. A new nature recreated with the Compassion and heart of Jesus Himself.

When you consider that God, in Jesus, has been about the work of helping the helpless — and by God’s definition, that includes you and me, because we matter to Him — it makes perfect sense that God would have a heart for the literal poor in this world.
And as followers of Jesus, so should we.

Now, certainly there are all kinds of reasons I could come up with for not getting involved with caring for the poor, reasons like, you know, others have the appropriate experience and resources to do a better job. Or, there is so much poverty in this world, how in the world can I, as one person, ever hope to make any kind of significant difference? And, you know, there may be some truth, in fact, to the hesitancies that we have to reach out to the poor. But again, the bottom line, more than anything is that the heart of Christ lives in you, and that heart is a compassionate one! In other words, Jesus is always adjusting your heart so that it is more like God’s heart.

Jesus Word always seems to work towards filling us with Compassion, of giving grace to others as we have received that grace. Jesus said, “I came not to be served, but to serve.” So should you. “Love one another,” He said, “just as I have loved you.” “Whatever you do to the least of these, you in turn do it to Me.” In so doing, Jesus knew we would begin to develop a heart that reflects the image of God’s heart for all people.
We’re calling today’s service “Compassion Sunday” because we’ve created a connection with Compassion International. Compassion is an organization that works throughout the world. There are 17,000 children waiting to be sponsored. And that sponsorship means that they eat in a healthy way; they have education opportunities provided for them, they have faith opportunities provided for them, and health opportunities, and good health care. And that takes place in the context of an organization that is second to none in terms of getting the money that you give directly to the children. And so, this is a good organization, and it is a way to make a difference in the life of one person, a child. And that will impact their family and others as well, the whole community.

This morning we are giving you an opportunity to discover if that heart of Jesus is leading you towards compassionately supporting this ministry. The demonstration area is open right now in the lower parking lot. I would encourage you to simply take the tour and then let the heart of Christ lead you in your decision to get involved.

Dear friends, your baptism isn’t something that you can play with and attach your own meaning to, because it’s really Jesus baptism; a baptism that fulfills all righteousness. You can never say that it’s simply an ordinance of the church. Why is that? Because it comes with God’s own command and the promise of salvation. And with that promise comes the heart and compassion of Jesus. This is why we must always insist that what God declares as His own means of salvation can never be considered simply a formality. Instead, we must see our baptism, Jesus baptism that fulfills all righteousness as the most precious gift that God can give. Because within those waters of your baptism are the very life and blood of Jesus, poured out for the forgiveness of the entire world’s sins… even yours! The Waters of your baptism are really the waters of Jesus baptism poured into the cup of God’s own Word, so that by clinging to Jesus’ work for you and His promises of forgiveness you might know forever that you truly are a “child of paradise!” I pray that you will always cling to these truths and to the source of them, Jesus Christ your Savior, the Son of God. I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Who Are You… Really?

Monday, January 2nd, 2017

Christmas 1A, January 1, 2017
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

“And at the end of eight days, when He was circumcised, He was call Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.” [Luke 2:21]

f4d3548fd632361774d6702500809ea9For you who have embraced the name of Jesus, there truly is something about the name of Jesus; it truly is the sweetest name you’ve ever known. Jesus was given this name on the day He was circumcised. Just like every other Jewish man-child, Jesus was circumcised a week after His birth. That is the reason we speak of the name of Jesus on New Year’s Day, which always comes exactly one week after Christmas Day. But there is likewise a deeper reason why we should begin the new year in the name of Jesus…

Jesus name tells us who we really are

Who are you?

I know who you were; before God gave you faith, you were someone who was held prisoner by the law. You needed to be held prisoner, because your sinful nature was leading you. And within your sinful nature was the potential to be a thief, sexual deviant, liar, and even a murderer. You were forever separated from God’s love and presence because of your sin. So it’s true, “Before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.” [Galatians 3:23]

But faith has come; the Living Word of God, the promise of God that He would come and be the Savior of the World has come to us, in our own flesh. He was born of the Virgin Mary, presented at the temple of God for circumcision and a name. The act of circumcision was done so that Christ would be held accountable to the law of God just as we are; the only difference is he kept the law perfectly. The name that was given to this baby God-man was Jesus.

What is in a name, well in the name Jesus, there’s a whole lot. You see the name Jesus means God saves! In this child is God’s answer to the sin of the world; even your sin that separates you from His love. In this child is the only One who is the begotten Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary. He is the one who has suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified and died for your sins, and then He was buried. He did all of this for you. He alone is the one who not only gave His life for sinners separated from God, but He took it back up again by rising from the dead on the third day and He ascended into Heaven, where He forever sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From this place of power, He invites all sinners to take on His righteous work and follow Him.

All of this, He does for you. He does it so that you would be free from the bondage of God’s Law that always declares, “You are a sinner. You don’t deserve God’s love or His forgiveness. No matter how hard you try to be good, you will always fail; you will always fall short.”

So, who are you really?

God knows who you are, do you?

Well, let me tell you who God says you are! Through faith in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God! Through faith, because of faith, only by faith are you right with God. It has nothing to do with what you did or wanted to do, it’s by faith alone. Listen to me now, you are a son of God. Don’t change it to daughter, because this has nothing to do with your sex. It also has nothing to do with your race or economic status. You are a son of God exactly and precisely as everyone else who has received this gift of faith.

It’s a gift that you received in your baptism, and it’s a gift you’ve confirm every day that you still want. You see, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” You have put on His identity, His persona. And what is that identity? You are one who is holy, perfect, and righteous before God the Father. There is nothing that you need to do to have this new identity, it was given to you 100% in your baptism. All that you’re asked to do is live out this identity. And that dear friends is where the struggle comes in. In our baptism, we were given Christ’ identity, Jesus name once and for all. Our old sinful nature was drowned in the baptismal waters where we were washed by the water and the Word of God. But now, every day God directs us to live out this identity by daily drowning or putting to death our sinful nature.

In your walk of faith, God wants you to follow Him by trusting in and depending on Him. But this trust isn’t something that comes natural to us; we must be given the ability to trust Jesus by God as a gift. And this gift is called faith! By this gift of faith then, we can learn to depend on Jesus and the strength that God gives to us through the name of Jesus Who is the living Word of God!

Who are you? Are you someone who’s defined by your failures or someone who’s defined by Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and the devil?

Every morning, when you get out of bed you have a choice; you can look backwards and embrace the chains that once bound you or you can live the life of freedom that Jesus provides. So will you be a victim or the victor? You can watch with anger, hurt, or disappointment as Jesus frees others from the sin that has bound them in the past, or you can follow Jesus and watch as His forgiving love remakes you too into His image. Who do you want to be, really?

God wants you to always remember that in your baptism, you were given a gift, the gift of faith. It’s the same gift He gives you every time you come to His table of mercy and receive His body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine. Faith is a gift from God. So is the air, but you have to breathe it. So is food, but you have to eat it. So is water, but you have to drink it.

To believe in Jesus can therefore be said to have faith in His name. The forgiveness of sins is preached in His name. He that believes on Him shall receive the forgiveness of sins through His name. To be a Christian then is to have life in His name. The Scriptures are to be taken literally when they say: “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be save.” “… at the name of Jesus every knee should bow… and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”

To pray in the name of Jesus, then, means to pray by faith in Jesus under the protection of Jesus, with all forgiven that would seem otherwise to keep us from being heard, and with Jesus as our helper and intercessor.

So who you are depends on whether you will receive and live out this gift. How do you receive it? I’ll tell you one thing; it doesn’t depend on how you feel, because “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” [Romans 10:17] Faith isn’t something that you need to sit down and wait to experience, instead it comes when you take God at His Word, and that Word says that in your baptism, through the gift of faith you have been made a son of God! You have been made right with God! You can either take that truth and live it out and let it change you, or you walk away from it and go back into bondage.

I’d like to close with a story about a young boy who was doing chores in the yard with his Dad. He was doing his best to lift a rock that was too large for someone his size. He grunted and groaned as he tried to lift the rock. He tried all different methods to move it, but nothing seemed to work. His father finally walked over to his son and asked if he was having trouble. The boy answered, “Yes, I’ve tried everything, and I can’t move this rock.” The father knelt down to his son and asked, “Are you sure you’ve tried every possibility son?” The boy looked up with frustration at his Dad and grunted, “Yes!” With kindness, the father bent over and softly said, “No, son, you haven’t tried everything. You never asked me to help.”

How often are we like that little boy, struggling with our problems, unable to solve them, and forgetting that we are children of the Most High God. We forget that we have a new identity, a new nature, and a new name, and a Heavenly Father who loves us because we carry His Son’s name! Jesus, God Saves, His name is your name too, so trust that name and in prayer continue to ask the Father for His help and protection!

Dear Christians, God is asking each of us to live our lives in the name of Jesus. Whether we go to our daily meals or we go to lie down and rest in order to begin a new day or a new year, we must fight to remember that we take the name of Jesus with us, to stand under His forgiveness and His protection, and to know that He is with us always and everywhere, all our days, and in everything we do.

Who are you? You are a Christian now go and live out that identity. AMEN!