Archive for July, 2017

What Is This Hidden Treasure?

Sunday, July 30th, 2017

Eighth Sunday After Pentecost-A, July 30, 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 her for audio of this message

The central theme in all of our reading is found in Jesus’ statement in our Gospel lesson (Matthew 13:44-52), “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” So, this morning’s message will explore that statement by answering three questions, which I believe are central for living the life of a Christian in the kingdom of Heaven, here and now. But to answer these questions, you will need to be equipped and well trained by the Word of God. So without further discussion, here are the questions: 1. How should every Christian treat the Word of God? 2. How does God really feel about Christians who struggle with faith and sin every day? 3. Should a Christian be afraid of the final judgment?

Are we ready to get into God’s message for us this morning? Good, let’s go…

How should every Christian treat the Word of God?

This week, God’s Word is compared to the most valuable treasure you could find; it was compared to the most valuable pearl that a person could cultivate, so valuable that you would give up every thing to posses it. “Do you feel this way about your Bible and the Word of God?” And I think that if we average Christians were to answer that question truthfully, the answer is “No!” But why is that?

I believe that I can speak for not just myself, but also for many of you when I say that we truly do love Jesus and His Word. Ok, so then why don’t we also have that kind of excitement when we open His book? The answer is of course, because we do not understand just how extraordinary that Word truly is. Isn’t it true that most of you have at least two or three Bibles in your home? Isn’t it also true that most of you grew up in a home that had that many, if not more Bibles in your home? Didn’t most of you grow up going to church and Sunday School, and didn’t you spend your formative years handling that Word? So is it possible that both time and commonality have diminished your estimation of that Word?

This morning, Jesus tells us two stories or metaphors that are meant to correct our misconception of both God’s Word and His Kingdom; He speaks about a hidden treasure and a chance encounter with a “pearl of great price (or value).” When we hear these stories, we think about incidents where people have accidentally found large sums of money, and after waiting for the owner to come forward, they are told by the authorities that because no one came forward to claim the money, it is theirs to keep. Or maybe we think of those lucky ones who struck it big by winning millions of dollars after playing the lottery. But this story is different, isn’t it? The men in both stories had to spend everything they had just to get their hands on the treasure, and once they did, their lives were forever changed for the good. I don’t know of too many incidences where lottery winners were impacted for the good; usually their money created a whole bunch of problems they never had before. But Jesus’ story about the man who bought the field to get at the hidden treasure is different. Why? Well to answer that, we must understand the metaphor; the field represents one thing, and the treasure represents another.

In order to improve our estimation of God’s Word, let’s consider the field as a representation of our Bibles.

And within those Bibles, this field that most people take for granted is the greatest treasure you could ever receive, it is knowing intimately the very Son of God, Jesus Christ. You see your Bibles are not given to you by God as some instruction manual that helps you live your life, but instead every page of your Bibles shows you two things, your need for a Savior and who that Savior is.

God’s treasure, which is the message of His Son Jesus the Christ, is indeed hidden, but it is intended to be found by you dear Christians. Others hunt for this treasure everywhere, but you have found it; you found it with very little effort. You see, God didn’t hide His treasure in a far off place in some philosophical realm where no one could even come near it, but instead he hid it in a common, lowly place, where it could be found by anyone who did not feel that the location of the treasure was beneath them because of their personal wisdom, pride, or self-sufficient attitude.

Now, let’s talk about this wonderful treasure that’s hidden within the field; within our Bibles. The treasure is so great that the men in Jesus’ stories sold everything just to obtain it. But they did not just sell all that they have, they sold it joyfully! And when they finally obtain the treasure they rejoice, but not in their poverty but in their new found wealth!

The point of Jesus story is this: The Kingdom of Heaven has come to sinful men, and it comes in the Son of God who is also the son of man. If there is anything at all that is standing in the way of you being drawn deeper and closer to Jesus, then that thing must be done away with so that you will be sure to obtain this great treasure, which is Jesus Himself. If you truly understand this message, then Jesus says that you are like a “scribe (or a teacher of God’s Word), who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven, and you will bring out of (your) treasure (things that are) new and (things that are) old.” In other words, through your discovery of the hidden treasure in both the old and new testaments, which is Jesus Christ, you have gotten your heart filled with all kinds of spiritual knowledge from the kingdom and the King, and you will be equipped to use it when it is needed.

Now, let’s add another dimension to Jesus metaphor, by allowing our Old Testament lesson (Deuteronomy 7:6–9) to guide us into our next question.

How does God really feel about Christians who struggle with faith and sin every day?

Well, let’s allow God to answer Himself, listen: “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” Friends, do you hear that? You did not choose God, He chose you! You did not find Jesus and the forgiveness of sins that is yours through Jesus on your own; no, Jesus found you!

Do you understand what this does to Jesus’s stories; to His metaphors? It completely turns it around. Let me show you what I mean. Since it is Jesus who finds you, then the field becomes the sinful world, and the man who sells all that He has, is none other than Jesus Christ. And you know what that makes you, don’t you? You are the treasure! Upon the cross, all of God gave great wealth to obtain you as His very own, but only the Son of God, Jesus Christ who is the son of Mary, gave all of His life to redeem you from sin, death, and the devil.

God the Father redeemed you through the life blood of His Son; He redeemed you from the curse of sin. But the reason He did this for you has nothing to do with anything that is unique or good about you, but instead it was because of His love and the blood of His Son Jesus, that you have been set free!

Listen friends, God is so serious about this truth, that He even swore it in an oath to our spiritual fathers long ago. He swore to Abraham to bless his seed and to bring blessing to the nations through his seed. [Genesis 22:16-18] But that oath includes blessings for us as well. It was kept, and still is being kept, through Christ’s work upon the cross. So, know this today, that it is those of (us by) faith who are the (true) sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you (that is in your faith), shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith, (that is those of us who have been found by Jesus and are resting and trusting in Him), are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” [Galatians 3:7]

Now, doesn’t that make you want to rest in God’s calling of faith? Doesn’t that allow you to realize that it is He who began the good work in you that will complete it? But you may ask, “How do I know that God has really began that good work of salvation within me? Where can I turn for assurance that I am really His great treasure, and He is mine? Well, why not turn to the very place that He began that good work in you… return to your baptism where He marked you and sealed you as His very own! And that takes us to our final question to be answered.

Should a Christian be afraid of the final judgment?

Jesus answers that question in one last metaphor, when He says, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” [Matthew 13:47-50]

Friends, let me ask you a question, that if answered by faith, will also tell you whether you should be afraid of the final judgment. Are you a good fish or a bad one? Now before you answer, remember that you are Jesus’s own pearl of great price, and you are His valued hidden treasure. He bought you with His own life-blood. Do you believe that? If you say yes, then why in the world would He ever allow you to be called bad?

But don’t just stop acquiring the wealth of God’s Word there, let St. Paul in our Epistle lesson (Romans 8:28-39) give you a little more data to base your answer on, listen: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” [v.28] “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?” [vs.31-34] Friends, that’s called a hypothetical question, and you are to enthusiastically answer it like this, “No one!” No one can accuse you of being damned and lost to judgment, because, “Christ died for you! But more than that, He also rose from the dead for you.” In His dying and rising, He shows you what is a done deal; a deal that was accomplished for you within the waters of your baptism. Your old sinful nature was put to death, and your new baptismal nature that will one day rise up with a new resurrected body is not only how God sees you but, it is also how you are to view yourself!

You are a good fish, who has been caught in the gospel net of the church. In all aspects of that net, you receive the hidden treasure of God, the message of Jesus Christ. And within that message, which comes to you in both Word and Sacrament, you have discovered that you are God’s valuable and hidden treasure. But, you are not hidden from God, you are waiting and resting within the gospel net, which is the church, along with many other fish; some are good and some are bad, but this morning Jesus says that is not your concern to worry over, you are simply to rest in the most blessed Word and will of God.

While it is tempting to worry about many things as we wait here for Christ’s return, we have been assured that God’s day of reckoning , that is the time of making all things right has not yet come. As we wait, we also trust and follow Jesus as His very own disciples. We wait both as people who have found a great treasure and, we wait for Jesus who will come to this world, and claim and acquire us has His own treasured possession. Even though our life in Jesus and His life with us remains hidden now within His Word and Sacraments, we can trust in the great and final work that Christ has done for us.

When we trust in this work, and in this Word, we are indeed like disciples who are able to not only draw out wisdom from a great treasure store, but we become wisdom in action. And that wisdom sees the wonderful faith, faith giving Word of God as great treasure indeed, and then it learns to trust and rest as part of that treasure. AMEN!

The Good Seed and the Solid Rock

Sunday, July 23rd, 2017

Seventh Sunday After Pentecost-A, July 23, 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 her for audio of this message


“Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” [Matt. 13:30]
Let’s start our message this morning with a question! If O. J. Simpson or George Zimmerman were to walk through our doors next Sunday looking for a new church home, how would that make you feel? Now, I doubt I have to remind any of you who O J is especially considering the media coverage of His granted parole, but George Zimmerman’s story may have slipped your memory. George Zimmerman was almost the only name in the news several years ago! He is the young man who shot and killed an unarmed teenager in Florida several years ago, and his defense was based on Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. After a lengthy and very public trial, he was found not guilty by a jury of his peers. In our judicial system that means that he like O J is an innocent man and he is to be afforded all of the rights that you enjoy! So, I’ll ask you again, if either of them showed up here at our church next week how would you feel? Would you accept and welcome them or would you judge them guilty of murder, and decide that they were a threat to this congregation?

This morning we will be talking about bad seed, judgment, and the Kingdom of Heaven! By the end of our message, it is God’s desire that you will let go of your fears about the evil that seems to threaten not just His Kingdom but our very salvation, and by faith trust in the completed work of Jesus Christ your solid rock of salvation!

In vs. 27 of our gospel reading (Matthew 13:24-43), Jesus portrays a common emotion that each of us feels when we encounter evil; surprise! Listen:

“And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, (didn’t you) sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?” With the explanation that Jesus latter gives, we know that the Master is Jesus, the field is the world, and the seed that grows wheat and weeds are both good and bad people, we might say along with the servants, “Hey, aren’t you all powerful Lord? Doesn’t Your Word always accomplish your will? Wasn’t it your intent that there be nothing but “good people” in your kingdom of sowing and reaping? Then what’s up?! What are these weeds doing flourishing among the wheat? Why are there so many evil people around and why are they so hard sometimes to distinguish from people of faith?”

And Jesus answers this question with a statement of fact: “An enemy has done this.” [vs. 28] In other words, He’s saying, “Your assumption is right; I did plant good seed, I do desire that all would be children of my Heavenly Kingdom, but we have an enemy who has been working from the beginning to turn a plentiful harvest into a disaster!” So here is a biblical truth for us to remember, “Whenever Christ “plants” true believers to bear fruit for His glory, Satan the enemy of the Church is always planting others who will oppose His work and prevent His harvest.

The first mention of these two seeds in the Bible can be found in the book of Genesis when God made a promise to man and the devil that the struggle of good and evil would continue for a long time until God would put a stopgap of to it! Listen: “He (the Savior of mankind) shall bruise your head, and you (Satan) shall bruise his heel.” [Gen. 3:15] And soon after in Genesis we are told that when Cain murdered his brother Abel, he started this struggle between good and evil within the hearts of all mankind! In the book of John, Jesus tells us that Cain was of the wicked one, a child of the devil!

So Cain represents “children of the devil” and Abel was the first saint to die in faith. This struggle still rages on today. We see it come alive for us in the New Testament and in our daily news! Satan’s seed opposed John the Baptist and did nothing when he was killed by Herod. They opposed the entire ministry of Jesus and asked to have Him crucified. At the cross, Satan bruised Christ’s heel, but Jesus the promised Savior of mankind crushed the devils head, which is Satan, and defeated the devils forever. But the battle rages on!

In the news we see, read, and hear about all kinds of evil around us. So we gather around God’s Word and Sacraments for comfort; we gather together as His good seed and comfort each other through prayer and the practice of forgiveness, but then we discover that the evil seed has somehow made it inside the church and we are shocked! But why are we shocked? Isn’t the common theme throughout scripture that those of us who relate to God by faith must live in this world but not be part of it? We are continually reminded that our true home that awaits us is the Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! So then, when evil enters even into the church we shouldn’t be surprised; we must remember that there are really two churches, one that we can see and one that only God can see. We must trust that as the Master of His church, He WILL deal with the bad seed in His time and in His way! This is the answer that He gave to His servants in verse 28 when they asked, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” In other words, do you want us to pluck them out? And what was Jesus answer? “No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up wheat along with them.”

What Jesus is telling us is that only He knows who ultimately will be judged evil and a seed of Satan, not us! Now this doesn’t mean that when evil and sin pops up in the church we can’t deal with it! Certainly God has given us complete instructions in Matthew 18 how we are to deal with evil and sin in our congregations, but the steps that we are to take aren’t meant to punish the offender, but rather to lead sinful members into repentance; that is to turn them away from the devil and to the cross of Jesus for forgiveness and restoration to God and us, and regenerate them back as good seed!

What we learned last week should still be fresh in our minds; the devil is always working to lead us away from Jesus.

If the Devil can do this, then He is confident that He will turn us into bad seed. He snatches the Word of God from our hearts, tries to smother our faith in the gospel with worldliness, or choke off our faith with persecution. Sometimes, maybe many times he is successful in turning good seed into bad, and when he does this he is able to plant false Christians wherever our Lord plants true children of faith.

I am sure that no one knew the secrets that Dennis Raider hid in his heart as they sat next to him every Sunday at Divine Service! Who is Dennis Raider? He was the congregational president of a Lutheran Church in Wichita Kansas, and he is now a convicted serial killer! He was charged and found guilty of killing 10 people! Ok, Lord, at least we can cross his name off of the heavenly roll call and judge him guilty of eternal punishment like the court has, right? And to this, Jesus says, “No! Let him grow until the harvest.”

But why? Well because only God knows the heart of a person, even sinful people like you and me and only He is capable of pronouncing the final judgment of eternal separation from His love and His kingdom. So in the meantime, we are to do the only thing we can do; continue to be good seed and trust in our Lord of the harvest!

As we gather around God’s Word and Sacrament we are to allow Him to care for us and protect us from others who might see hints of evil seed in us and want to pull us up too!

We do this when we recognize our sin, confess it before God and each other and turn to the Cross of Jesus Christ and be saved. As I said last week, this is the rhythm of a Kingdom lifestyle. It’s the heartbeat of the body of Christ made of good seed; not good seed by nature but good seed through the work of Jesus Christ! And as we are being daily recreated, protected, and nurtured we are called to stay awake! We must stay awake and protect our doctrine and watch how we live. We are called to live a life of faith that demonstrates God’s presence in a sinful world. But when we fall into a sleep of complacency, and fail to pay attention to the evil around us and within us as the church has done many times in the past, that’s when Satan works. He plants false teaching, false Christians, and false preachers, all so he can destroy the church from within! But ultimately thank God, we must remember and trust that it is God’s Church, and He alone is able to protect it! It is His Kingdom, and He alone builds it and preserves it.

So what is the Kingdom of God? Well, in Mark chapter 1, John the Baptist told us that the kingdom of God had come near; he announced that God was, through Jesus the Messiah, laying the foundation for His rule of grace within the hearts of sinful men and women. He does this through repentance and forgiveness of sins by faith in the completed work of Jesus and the gift of baptism. When what we would judge as bad seed accepts this work of God, then God declares even them fit for His Kingdom. So the work of the kingdom of God takes place in others in the same place it happens for us; in the heart! And since we cannot see into another person’s heart we trust in the only one who can; we trust in God the Father who created our bodies, God the Son who redeems our bodies and God the Holy Spirit who sanctifies our bodies.

So will OJ, George, Dennis, and countless others who appeared evil really be in heaven? Ultimately, we don’t know, only God does, but we do know that if they do enter the kingdom of heaven it will be through the same way that we do; it will be through confession, repentance, and forgiveness that can only come through Jesus Christ! Let’s remember that while the kingdom of Heaven is a place where we are promised to spend our eternity it is not the center of God’s message to us, Jesus is! On every page of our Bibles we are encouraged to center every aspect of our lives around CHRIST and His real presence with us and within us!

Now, as each of us thinks about death, it is natural that we will also think about judgment, and this can cause fear in us sometimes, because it is God alone who knows our hearts. But we must always remind ourselves and our brothers and sisters that we are now truly the good seed, that will be put into our Masters barn, that is into the Kingdom of Heaven only because Jesus was and is, and always shall be the Good Seed for us!

And when our struggle against evil and sin is over, “Then (we) the righteous will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of (our) Father. He who has ears (and eyes of faith), let him hear.” [Vs. 43] Let them hear that they are now the good seed, built on the Solid Rock, Jesus Christ! “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’s blood and righteousness; no merit of my own I claim but wholly lean on Jesus name. When darkness veils His lovely face, I rest on His unchanging grace; in every high and stormy gale my anchor holds within the veil. His oath, His covenant and blood support me in the raging flood; when every earthly prop gives way, He then is all my hope and stay. When He shall come with trumpet sound, oh, may I then in Him be found, clothed in His righteousness alone, redeemed to stand before His throne! On Christ, the solid rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand!” [LSB Hymn 575] In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit… AMEN!

Kingdom Sowing and Kingdom Reaping

Sunday, July 16th, 2017

Sixth Sunday After Pentecost, July 16, 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 her for audio of this message

Imagine that you are part of a large crowd gathered on the shore of a lake; you’re there to hear Jesus speak and teach about the Kingdom of God. Jesus is seated in a boat that’s tethered to the shore and He begins speaking. You can hear Him clearly, because the water acts as a natural amplifier. As He’s speaking, He notices a farmer scattering seed in a field not far from you, so He points to this activity and says: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grains, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” [Matt. 13:3-9]

This morning we will use our ears to hear a message about the Kingdom of God; a Kingdom of sowing and reaping. This morning we must first see Jesus in this message and then we must see ourselves. Dear friends, this is a message about God and it is message about you! Do not worry if it is a message about your spouse, your children or your neighbor, but for now receive it as a message about only God and you.

This story is about God in this way.

God the Father is the Sower in the story, because it is He alone who gives the seed to the sower and bread to the eater. It is He alone who determines how His Word goes out and what it will accomplish. And it is the Father who promises that His Word will not return to Him empty or void, but it will accomplish His will and His purpose. It will do what He has declared it will do! [Isaiah 55:11]

God the Son is the seed. He is God in our flesh, the very seed of Eve who was promised to come and defeat our true enemies sin, death, and the devil. God the Son Jesus Christ is the Living Word of God that proceeds from the mouth of the Father to accomplish the will of the Father. And what is that will? It is that where sin and death once ruled in the hearts of men, new and eternal life would take its place. Where fear of God’s Angie and wrath once filled the hearts and minds of sinful people, forgiveness and peace with a God of love would take its place!

God the Holy Spirit is the producer of the good and fertile soil; a soil that will produce much grain and good fruit. He does this through the creative work of the Father’s sowing, the fertile seed of the Son who is the Living Word of God, and He does it while driving off the birds that pluck the seed. The birds that try to destroy and stop the will of the Father are the devils. They are a bunch of idiots, because they ignore our Old Testament reading that assures us that God’s Word and His will cannot be prevented.

And now this is where you come in…

You are the soil. At various times our hearts, our lives have been different kinds of soil.

You are the broad path where God’s good seed fell and never took root because you allowed the devil to take that seed. Broad is the way that leads to hell and judgment, but narrow is the path that leads to everlasting life! But you are also the rocky soil, because there have been times when you gladly heard and read the Word, why you even tried to follow it, but as soon as trials and sacrifice became part of your life in Christ, you fell away! But wait, there’s more, because God’s Word isn’t done yet, for you see you are also the ground that is covered in thorns! You need to understand that there have been times in your life when the cares of this world and the temptations of our society have pulled you away from your walk of faith with God; maybe that time is right now?! When that happens, you become guilty of breaking the very first commandment; you leave the Living God in order to chase after an idol that promises happiness of the flesh instead of spiritual and eternal joy.

Now this would be a miserable message if it ended here, but it doesn’t! You see, this has never been about you, it has always been about God, who is not only the Sower and the Seed, but He is also the Creator of the soil, a soil that is your new nature. In your baptism God the Holy Spirit created new and fertile soil within your heart; a heart that used to be deceitful, and full of rocks and thorns. Through the power of His Word, He has spoken new life in you, and you are able to produce heavenly grain and fruit. How can this be?

Well to understand this parable you must receive the mystery that is the Kingdom of God. A mystery which declares that through the work of God, the Kingdom of God exists within you and around you. A mystery that invites you to no longer identify yourself with just the soil, but with the Sower and the Seed.

How does this happen? [Romans 8:12-17]

It happens when we agree with God’s Word, specifically verse 12 of our Epistle lesson, which states that we are debtors. Another way to say this is to say we are beggars. We must agree with God that our true life, or our new and spiritual life exists entirely outside of ourselves; we must agree that without God’s work of Sower and Seed we would be lost in sin and subject to the attacks of the devil, which can only lead to eternal death. We need to agree with God that in order to keep this new eternal life and hold onto the promise of the resurrection we must live to satisfy the spiritual desires of our new nature, and we must also put the sinful flesh to death! We do this when we remember that we are debtors, people who owe our very existence to God the Father who created both our bodies and our new nature, God the Son who redeemed, that is rescued our bodies from the penalty of our many sins, and God the Holy Spirit who is continually remaking us into the image of God and assuring us that no one can interfere with the will of the Father who desires that none shall perish, but all would have eternal life!

You know, in our own community right outside the doors of this sanctuary are thousands of people separated from God, and dying in their sins. God wants us to know that their kind of life style only brings death. But He also wants us to have the same compassion for them that He has demonstrated to us. He wants us to share His message of the kingdom with them, the same message He is giving to us this morning! What’s that message? It’s this: “if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live!” [Romans 8:13] God wants us to explain to our neighbors in word and action, that there is a living that brings only death and there is a dying that brings life, or a dying that continually makes us alive. He wants us to explain to them, that it is only with our spirit then that we can hear God’s Word, agree with that Word, and then follow Him as He daily provides new life. This is what we might call the rhythm of a Kingdom life style. And the beat of that rhythm comes to us only through God’s Word, a Word of Law and Gospel. If they, like us, are living out this rhythm, then they too will become fertile soil, and used in God’s Kingdom of sowing and reaping!

What each of us must remember is that the proper work of God’s Law is to remind us that on our own, we will only encounter sin and separation from God, a separation that leads to eternal death. That’s what God’s law is suppose to do; it’s purpose is to turn us from our sins and into His forgiving love through the cross of Jesus Christ, and there we cry out to Him, “God have mercy on me a miserable sinner!” This is our confession; it’s the cry of a heart that wants to know God’s forgiveness personally! And when this cry of fear and agony is true, then the gospel enters into our heart and speaks life! Where once there was only dead rocky ground, covered with thorns and thistles, suddenly there is new fertile soil that is created through the absolution, the forgiveness of sins. And when a heart that is heavy burdened with sin hears that Jesus Christ through the work of the cross removed that burden so that it may forever have peace with God, it has a new cry; it cries out, “Abba! Father!” “The Spirit (the producer of good soil within our hearts) Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” [Romans 8:14-16] What is it we are heirs to? What have we inherited? Well that is part of the mystery of the Kingdom of God; you see we have inherited all of the treasures of Heaven and one day soon we will be glorified with Him! We have been assured of a place of honor in heaven with Jesus! [Romans 8:17] We have the honor of working alongside of Him as He sows and reaps!

How can we be assured that all of this is ours? By agreeing with God that His Word is true and that His will, which is taught to us in that Word can never be defeated! What is that will? That you would repent, that is turn to Jesus Christ and be saved. How do we turn to Jesus? We turn to Jesus every day when we suffer and die with Him by putting to death our old sinful nature and allowing our new nature that He provided in our baptism to become stronger every day!

I’d like to close with a story about a wise old man who people sought out for answers. One day, a smart-alecky teenager came to him with his hands covering something he was holding. He told the old man that he had a small, newly hatched bird in his hands. He challenged the old man to tell him whether the bird was alive or dead. Of course, he planned on embarrassing the old man; if the old man said the bird was dead, he would simply open his hands to expose a perfectly healthy baby bird. But if he said the bird was alive, then he would crush the bird before opening his hands. Well, the old man was wiser than that young man thought, because this is the answer the old man gave, “The bird is whatever you choose him to be.”

And that’s the way we live in the rhythm of God’s kingdom. Will we die to live with Jesus or will we live for this world, only to die to God’s love? May God continue to help each of us rest in His presence and work within us and around us, and then share that message with our neighbors; I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

On Independence and Dependence

Sunday, July 9th, 2017

Fifth Sunday After Pentecost, July 9, 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 her for audio of this message

We Americans don’t like the thought of being held captive by anyone, and the historical proof of this is that 241 years ago, the Declaration of Independence was issued, dissolving the colonies’ subjugation to King George III by proclaiming that all people are created equal with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Today, over 2 centuries after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, we may be free from the tyranny of King George, but our nation has witnessed and is still dealing with many other kinds of tyranny and captivity. Terrorism, war, drug addiction, broken families, crime, and racism; these are all signs that tyranny is alive and well in this great nation of ours!

Today, it is my privilege to proclaim to you that because of what Jesus Christ has done for you, you’ve been freed, made independent from the GREATEST form of captivity and tyranny, SIN! And today, it is my duty to proclaim to you that there is nothing within you that God would look at and determine that you deserve this gift of His … NOTHING… but as our savior hung on the cross, as He was suspended between heaven and earth, He thought of you, and He willingly took on your sin and exchanged it with the perfection of God! And as He hung there, He cried out to the Father and unto all of creation, “IT IS FINISHED!” These three Words were both your declaration of independence from God’s Law that judges you deserving of death because of your many sins, and they are your declaration of dependence upon God’s mercy. It is God’s love that calls out to you in the midst of your many sins and says, “Come Unto Me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

With all of this being true, why do we constantly seem to be overcome by sin? Why do our sins and the sin of others seem to rob us of the joy of Christ’s gift of salvation?

Listen to St. Paul’s words in our Epistle lesson and see if they ring true with you: “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want to do is what I keep on doing” “I delight in the Law of God in my inner being, but I see another law waging war against my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans:19, 22-25)

We’re a peculiar bunch of people, we Christians! We hunger for God’s protection and perfection in our lives, yet it seems we constantly fall short of the mark! We seem to constantly fall into sinful habits that non-Christians enjoy so much yet when we engage in the same activity, not only are we unable to find satisfaction in these things, but they also become a trap, even a prison that takes away our joy. In short, …WE BECOME MISERABLE! Why? Because we are acting outside of Christ’s nature that was provided for us at the cross and then wrapped around us in our baptism!

The story is told of a lamb and its mother, who passed a pigpen each morning on the way to the pasture. Watching the pigs wallow in the mud seemed like fun to the lamb. On an especially hot day the lamb asked its mother, “May I jump the fence and wallow in the cool mud with the pigs?” The Mother replied, “No.” And the lamb asked, “Why not?” The mother simply stated, “Sheep do not wallow!” Well, this didn’t satisfy the lamb. He felt his mother had no reason to refuse. As soon as she was out of sight, the lamb ran to the pigpen and jumped the fence. He felt the cool mud on his feet, his legs, and his stomach, and oh did it feel good.
After a while he decided he had better go back to his mother, but he couldn’t do it. He was stuck! His thick wool was weighed down with heavy, sticky mud. His pleasure had become his prison. He was a hostage of the mud. He cried out and the kind farmer, his owner, rescued him. When he was cleaned and returned to the fold, his mother said firmly: “Remember, sheep do not wallow!”

Well sin is like the mud in that story. It looks so inviting, and appears easy to escape from whenever we wish. But, because of God’s Law at work in our hearts, which is like the wool, ultimately we don’t find pleasure, but only pain! What seemed like pleasure becomes our prison. Because we sin, because we are born in sin and because we sin daily, we are held captive under the Law. We are caught in what the prophet Zechariah in our Old Testament lesson called the waterless pit. (Zechariah. 9:11) This waterless pit was a dry well that was used in biblical times as a sort of jail cell. Once in, there was no way out accept if someone (your jail keeper) were to lower you down a ladder of some sort.
Friends, for us, our waterless pit is the Law of God that says, “Thou shalt… Thou shalt love the Lord your God with all of your heart and soul. You must always put God and His will first in your life! Thou shalt love your neighbor as your love yourself. You must put the needs of your family, friends, neighbor, and even your enemy at a level that is equal to or above your own.”

Oh what wretched people we are! We try and try to do what the Law says we must but instead of victory we run into failure after failure. Who will deliver us from this prison of death? “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

We hear Him now, at the mouth of the pit calling down to us…

“Come unto me, you who have been laboring to free yourself from your prison of sin and guilt, and I will give you rest.” He calls to us and says, “Here friend, here is the ladder of my grace that you will need in order to leave the prison of the Law. But before you climb up to me, set your burden down and leave it there in the pit.” “Now that’s odd” we think, “I wonder what burden He’s talking about?” Reading our minds, He replies, “I’m talking about the heavy burden on your back! Friend, at least take it off and look inside to see what you are carrying.”

Now this is where our Savior gets personal. We don’t want to look inside, because what’s in there is hidden for good reason—it’s embarrassing! We might even try to down play the weight of our burden by replying, “Oh that thing?! Well that’s nothing. I can manage climbing out of here and still carry the weight. Don’t worry about me.” But now Jesus is no longer at the top of your prison calling down to you, He’s right there with you. And He takes off your burden and opens it. Inside each burden, you will always find two very heavy things…

Pride and Discouragement.

If there is one word that adequately describes the average American it would be pride. We have many reasons to be proud. We are proud of our country, which is One nation under God. We are proud of our brave men and women who valiantly fight and sacrifice their lives for our freedoms. We are proud of our work ethic, which says along with the Ford Motor Co. that quality is job one. These are all great attributes that we can and should be proud of, but there is another kind of American pride that is not so admirable. It is the kind of pride that says, “I’ll be fine. I can do it myself.” Young people, your grandparents called this “lifting yourself up by your own bootstraps” and today we say that we “are an army of one.” Pride says, “I got myself into this mess; I don’t need any help getting myself out of it.” But to our pride Jesus says, “No friend. You must do this my way and then I will give you rest.”

There is another burden within our sack that we must surrender to the Lord, and that is discouragement. Discouragement is a burden because it is a sin; it is a sin because it’s a loss of faith in God’s mercy and love. Discouragement says, “Oh Lord, I’d like to put this burden down and climb out with you, but I’m so tired of my own failures. And you know Lord, I’ve tried to come out so many times before, but I just end up right back where I started. No, I think I’ll just rest here a while and maybe someday give this freedom thing another shot.”

Friends, discouragement and pride are the very things that Jesus is asking you to give to Him today. But He won’t take them from you, you must give them to Him. You must come to Him and surrender all of your burdens, and then He will give you rest. He’s made it easy for you to trust Him by providing the very means that creates this trust; we call this trust faith. He points you to His Word that gives you the faith to believe that each and every promise of rest and peace is for you and that it is true! He points you to the Baptismal font where He first saved you through the water and the Word, and He says, “I was there with you then and I am with you now. Believe that I will always be with you!” Why He even calls you to a Holy dinner where He invites you to feast on His very body and blood, where your faith is strengthened and He ensures you that all of your sins are forgiven!

So now that you are out of the pit and the captivity of sin, He has just one more thing to say to you…

“Now, take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (vs. 29a)

Rest…Wonderful rest! We all need rest. In a world where sin, sickness, disappointment and death are all around us and even within us sapping our strength, rest is the one thing we know we can’t live without and at the same time it seems to be the hardest thing to find! Yet, when we first hear these Words, it might seem that Jesus is freeing us from one burden only to give us another? Could this be true? Well, yes! You see friends, the rest and the yoke are two pictures of the same blessing; Jesus is saying that when we take His yoke upon ourselves we will find true rest for our souls; in fact, we take this yoke when he gives us rest. We know that this is true because we have experienced its truth in our lives already!

We have already established that we no longer need to carry around with us things like guilt, shame, and discouragement. In our confession today, we gave him these burdens when we confessed our sins. And then, praise God, we heard and received the sweet words of absolution, “You are forgiven!” So, if you have faith in this truth, you already feel relieved; you’ve already “tasted and discovered that the Lord is good!” (Ps. 34:8; 1 Peter 2:3) If you have already discovered by experience that the Lord is faithful and good, that He is a loving God, then you’ve already received His yoke. While he is giving us His yoke he is teaching us through experience that He is right there beside us; a gentle, humble, and loving God shouldering any load we encounter, so that we will know that He is right there working with us.

Dear friends, what can be lighter than a burden which removes burdens and a yoke which carries you? Christ’s burden doesn’t oppress us, but instead it carries itself. The yoke and Christ’s rest are just two sides of the same coin. When you take one you have the other. So we have taken on a new Master, and he lays on us a new load—but what a difference that new load makes!

By simply trusting in Jesus Words and following his gentle instruction we enjoy His grace, mercy, and peace because we are surrounded by His love. When we let go and let God lead and teach us, then we can truly know freedom from all forms of tyranny, even sin, death and the devil. Yes, it really is that simple…just let go and let God take over!
Let’s bow our heads in prayer. Heavenly Father, we thank you that you have revealed all of these things to us your little children because of your gracious will. Continue to show us how to give you all of the things that hold us back from trusting and walking with you and may Your Spirit, like a dove descend upon our lives and make us whole.
In Jesus name…AMEN!

The Cross We Bear!

Sunday, July 2nd, 2017

Fourth Sunday After Pentecost, July 2, 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


“And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” [Matt. 10:38-39]

You know throughout our Bible there is one message that God continually offers to His people who relate to Him by faith, and that is peace. In Hebrew, the word for peace is Shalom! What that word actually means is wholeness. If you are whole, that is if you are all that God originally created you to be, you will have peace. And that is the one thing that all people of every race, ethnicity, and religion have in common; we are all searching for wholeness; for peace! That was really the message that our great Declaration of Independence was declaring long ago in 1776. So then why did Jesus, the Prince of Peace say, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” [Matt. 10:34] Why did he say that in order to find our life we must lose our life? Well, the answer of course can only be found in the cross; it can only be found in the death of Jesus Christ and the example of living to die that He gave to us.

The cross of Jesus Christ does bring wholeness and life, but it also brings conflict, turmoil and death; it brings independence from the condemnation of sin and dependence on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The cross of Jesus brings these things first within us and then around us. So this morning we will be learning how to die and how to live. We will learn how death brings life to ourselves first and then we will learn how dying brings death and life to those around us!

In our Epistle lesson (Rom. 7:1-13) St. Paul confronts us with these words of life and death.

“Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” [vs. 4-6]

What Paul is talking about is how we become whole, or how we are recreated to have peace within ourselves; God’s peace that not only gives us peace with Him, but peace with our neighbor. He wants us to first understand that we were set free from the Law; a law that demands that we do this or that to please God, but then offers us no way to actually do what it demands be done! He does this by pointing us to the death of Jesus upon the cross. When Christ died upon the cross He set us free to be people of God; free to know peace and wholeness. But in order to receive this peace we need to see the need to die alongside of Jesus Christ; only those of us who are connected with Jesus in His death, can experience the peace and wholeness that His resurrection brings. The death of Jesus Christ can only free those who are willing to put all of their hopes of peace and wholeness in that death of Jesus. There is no room for any other method or technique. Doing your best to please God and find happiness won’t work; there is simply nothing you can do but surrender to your complete helplessness and trust instead in what Jesus’ death provides for you. This is what dying to yourself means.

Paul illustrates this in a wonderful way by comparing us to a married woman. He says that “a married woman is bound by the law (that is the 6th commandment that calls adultery a sin, as long as that married woman’s husband still lives), but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage (and is free to marry again without fear of sin). (So), she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.” [vs. 1-3]

Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we have been freed from our oppressive dependence on the law; we no longer need to try to be something we never could be. What is it that we were trying to be? We were trying to be whole; we were trying on our own to have peace with God through the Law we can never keep. So Jesus solves that dilemma for us by His death. He died the death that we should die to satisfy our inability to fulfill the law; this is a death that frees us from the law so that we may seek a new means to find wholeness and peace with God. His death frees us from our dependence on fulfilling the law perfectly so that we might belong to Him! In keeping with Paul’s illustration of marriage, Jesus frees us from the tyranny of our first marriage so that we can be remarried to Him; then and only then can we truly be whole and know peace. But our old sinful nature does not want to go away that easily. It fights to live; not only that, it fights to destroy our faith and satisfaction in the cross of Jesus, which is God’s means of wholeness and peace. When faith comes alive within our hearts through the means of God’s Word, our sinful nature continually seeks to find ways to defeat it and turn us back to the law, or our own ability to live a good life, as an alternative way of earning God’s love and wholeness. What is the solution? We must put to death, every day our old sinful nature. We must learn to die so that we can live! This is our internal cross that we must die upon every day. But if we’re left to do this on our own, we’ll be in no better condition than we were when we were under the law. On our own, we can never have faith to trust in Jesus and His cross. That is why God provides this faith for us. How does He do this? By living within us!

In our baptism we were sealed as God’s own possession through His means, the water and His Word. In our baptism, the Holy Spirit actually took up residence within us. Daily, we are asked to embrace God’s Spirit within us by turning to His leading presence and dying to our own sinful desires. So the Holy Spirit is our actual teacher, who teaches us to die every day, and God’s Word is the text book that He teaches through! But this is more than just a teaching; it’s a relationship of love, trust, wholeness, and peace with God that continues everyday of our lives until we leave this sinful world and our own sinful flesh behind. But this dying to self doesn’t just happen internally; you see we must also learn to die to the things and concerns that are around us.

In our Old Testament lesson (Jeremiah 28:5-9), we are introduced to the prophet Jeremiah.

He was a man familiar with sorrows and woes. In fact, he is often called the “weeping” prophet, because so many of the messages that the Lord asked him to declare caused him to weep for his fellow Jews. He was hated by most of them, because many of his messages from God were unpopular. In fact, on several occasions he was thrown into prison and threatened with death if he returned. What was the message that Jeremiah brought from the Lord? Repent! Don’t trust in a worldly way of finding wholeness and peace with God, but instead turn to and trust in the Lord’s Means of wholeness. Turn away from a mindset that says happiness can be found in the comfort of wealth and the security of earthly friends, and instead trust in the Lord’s plan. That was the last message that the Jews wanted to hear; they wanted Jeremiah to sit down and shut up! So poor Jeremiah spent most of his time away from his people, and he only returned when he had another painful message from God. We might say that Jeremiah would be completely at home singing that old African American spiritual, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long, long ways from home.” What Jeremiah discovered is what we need to learn too: Each of us must take up our cross and follow Jesus.
For Jeremiah, the cross that he was to take up was simply to declare God’s Word and place all of his faith in that Word, and that is the cross that we must take up as well. Like Jeremiah, we too live in dangerous times. There is terror all around. In a time of extreme tolerance, where all life styles and philosophies are said to be equal, we Christians are the only ones being told to sit down and shut up! But like Jeremiah, God says we can’t do that! “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” [Mark 8:38]

No dear friends, you cannot ignore God’s Word! He makes it clear, that there is no other way to please Him accept through His Son, Christ Jesus! There is a way that seems right to a society but in the end it only leads to death. Thus says the Lord, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” [John 14:6] “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”” [Matt. 10:37]

The truth is friends, in a society that continuously teaches personal gain and material riches, we are to proclaim another message, “Jesus is the only way to wholeness!”

In a society that advances the message, “If it makes you feel good, just do it!” we proclaim instead, “Seek the Lord while He may be found!” Even in many churches today, a message of extreme tolerance and acceptance like in the day of Jeremiah has replaced the Law and Gospel message of God. Itchy ears long to hear that their walk with God will be an easy and happy road; they don’t want to hear about sacrifice and pain; they don’t want to hear that they must die to live. When things go wrong they blame God, and then quickly begin shopping for a new message that will satisfy their greedy hearts and bring them peace. But what kind of peace do they really want? Do they want worldly peace or heavenly peace? Concerning peace here, again Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” [Matt. 10:34-36]
Dear friends, these Words of Jesus are Words of peace. Jesus gives them to us so that we will have peace, but to hear them we must receive them by faith. We must by faith die to what we want and receive what God desires to give to us. And what is He giving? Peace! It’s a wholeness that is always centered in Christ’s faithfulness to provide for everything we need, therefore it is a spiritual peace. The peace He gives is completely opposite of the kind of peace the world wants from Him and you. Listen to His voice speaking to your heart: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” [John 14:27]

Friends let’s not walk in worry and fear. Let’s not worry about lost relationships if we don’t endorse someone’s behavior. Instead let’s declare our independence from the ways of this sinful world, and then declare our dependence on Jesus and His cross. Let’s simply follow our Lord wherever He leads. Sometimes the road will be easy and sometimes it will be hard, but always Jesus will be walking right beside us. And now, may that true peace of God, a wholeness which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, and may that wholeness enable you to bear the cross joyfully, following Him where ever He leads you… In Jesus name… AMEN!