Archive for October, 2018

Justified By Faith!

Sunday, October 28th, 2018

Reformation SundayB
October 28, 2018
Mr. Rick Stark, Vicar of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

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In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our text this morning comes from the Epistle lesson, specifically the 28thverse. St Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans,“We hold that [a person] is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” (3:28)

What this text proclaims is at the very heart of why God sent His only Son, Jesus, to be born in our flesh, to be crucified on the cross, and to rise again in glory.  Can you imagine that this precious Gospel message was hidden out of error and nonsense from the people of God for nearly a thousand years!?!

A little over five hundred years ago, on October 31, 1517, Dr. Martin Luther, a 34-year old Augustinian monk and university professor, in the little German town of Wittenberg, took a short walk from his monastery home at the university over to the other side of town, to the castle church.  And there, on the church door, he posted a written piece he had titled “The Disputation on the Power and Efficiency of Indulgences.” 

This piece was originally written in Latin, and meant for debate among the students, faculty, and other clergymen in the area. The first line read, “Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed at Wittenberg…”

This insignificant act set into motion the great Reformation of the Christian church. As Christians, especially Lutheran-Christians, we are the heirs of that Reformation and so today, on Reformation Sunday, we join with faithful Lutherans all around the world in celebrating that historic event and all the blessings of pure doctrine and sound practice that came from it.

So what do we do to remember and celebrate the Reformation? Quite simply by believing in and caring about the same things that Martin Luther and the other Reformers believed in and cared about.  At the top of the list, the most important item in that list, is Justification. Everything else that we talk about in the Lutheran church either flows from, follows after, surrounds and/or supports this central, primary doctrine of justification.

First, let me explain what justification is? Understand that this term “justification” is a legal term, referring to the courtroom of God’s justice and how we stand before Him.

Now when the day of reckoning comes, the verdict will be read.  And, as we stand before our Judge, God will decide if we are justified or condemned by His standards. That is to say, “righteous” or “not righteous.”

The classic passage in the Bible on this subject is from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, the third chapter–our Epistle for this day–summed up in verse 28, “For we hold that [a person] is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.”But to really appreciate the brilliance, and the clarity, and sheer power of this passage, we need to back up and look at Paul’s argument leading up to this point.

In chapters 1 and 2 of Romans and continuing into chapter 3, Paul, like a prosecuting attorney, lays out the argument that all of us are guilty in God’s sight according to the standards of His Law.

The fact of the matter is, every single one of us, every human being that has ever lived (with the exception of one) will stand guilty in God’s courtroom. God’s Law accuses us. God’s Law convicts us. And, God’s Law sentences us to death, and rightly so. and moral we have tried to live, we all fail… No matter how good we think we are, we all fall, not one of us can live by the standard of the Law.

Paul, sums up the legal case against us in verses 19 and 20 of our text: “Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the Law; [but] through the Law we become conscious of our sin.”That’s what the Law does.

Jesus tells us, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  But even as Christians, we tend to manage only a half-hearted obedience. Do we have a fervent desire to be in God’s house every Sunday? Do we gladly hear and learn God’s word and hold it sacred?  Do we take time to study the Bible and pray to God with hearts of utmost devotion? I’m guessing, not as well as we should.

And Jesus says, “… the second [commandment] is like [the first]: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’’How well do we do that? Do you love your neighbor and seek his good as much as you love yourself? How many of us even know our neighbors? How well do you speak about your neighbor? I could go on & on, but you get the point.

Back in the courtroom, Law cries out, “Guilty as charged.” And if guilty, then the sentence is death.  Remember, “For the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23), that’s the punishment that the Law requires. No slap on the wrist, no probation, and no time off for good behavior. There is no room for leniency in this Law or in this courtroom.  It’s either, “Keep the Law, perfectly, or break the Law, and you die – which means to be cut off from God forever.”

The point is – the Law cannot save you. It can only convict you and condemn you.

But the Law also does you the valuable service of showing you your sins. You see, you need to know that you cannot please God and earn your salvation by how well you keep the Law. You can never keep it perfectly! No one can!

This is essential for you to know, so you don’t deceive yourself into thinking you can be good enough, or righteous enough on your own. You need to be stripped down of that way of thinking, so that your ears will be open to hear what God’s Word has to say to you, namely, the Gospel, which is the only place where salvation can indeed be found.

That’s what Paul gets at next in our lesson, and this right here is the heart of the Gospel, Romans 3:21-28, the teaching of justification by faith in its most extreme examples. Paul writes:

“But now the righteousness of God has been [made known] apart from the Law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it [that is] the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction [between Jew and Gentile]: for allhave sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified by His grace as a [free] gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a [sacrifice of atonement] by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine [patience] he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

And then Paul finishes it off: “Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the Law of Faith. For we hold that [a person] is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.”

This is the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ. This is justification that comes by grace alone, and grace alone that comes through faith alone. That’s what this passage is saying.

The Law is not the only word that will be heard in God’s courtroom. The judge will declare you “not guilty,” but it won’t be because of anything you did or how well you have lived according to the Law. But by the work of your advocate, your defense attorney, Jesus Christ– He who is without sin, the only man who has ever kept the Law of God as it should be kept–Jesus stepped forward and took your place when the death sentence was handed down. Justice has already been served, and Jesus is the one who served it.

You see, out of God’s great love for us sinners, He puts forward his own Son, Jesus Christ, to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. The precious, priceless blood of the Holy Son of God was shed on our behalf, covering our sins with His righteousness.

And all this is a free gift. It is all because of grace, God’s undeserved favor, freely bestowed on us because of God’s immeasurable love for you. It’s not a matter of your works; it’s a matter of Christ’s work for you. Not because of what you’ve done, but because of who He is; not because of who you are, but because of what He’s done! Call it redemption, salvation–or call it justification, it’s the righteousness of God, you are righteous to stand before God, to stand in His presence–the thing is this: You can’t earn it. You can only receive it. Receive it as a gift.

That’s what faith is: Simply receiving that gift that God is giving you, the forgiveness of sins won for you by Christ on the cross. That “not guilty” verdict pronounced by God–“justified by faith!” that sweet music is ringing in your ears, not because of anything you have done, but rather solely because of what Christ has done for you. Of that, you can be certain.

That’s the enlightenment Martin Luther received through the Gospel some 500 years ago.  And now, you know what the Reformation was all about, a fight to restore this critical and central teaching of the Gospel to its proper place of prominence, to give all the glory to Christ, and to give comfort and consolation to troubled souls–this was the special gift of Martin Luther and the Reformation.

Instead of turning people back to their own efforts at trying to keep the Law, Luther pointed people to Christ and the cross, to this teaching of justification by grace alone through faith alone, apart from works of the Law.

To underscore its importance, Luther would say of the doctrine of justification: “The first and chief article is this:  Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised again for our justification… For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from the works of the Law… Nothing of this article can be yielded or surrendered, even though heaven and earth and everything else falls… Upon this article everything that we teach and practice depends… Therefore, we must be certain and not doubt this doctrine. Otherwise, all is lost… (Smalcald Articles, The Second Part, Article I)

When we grasp just how beautiful, how central, and life-giving this divine doctrine of justification is… we realize it isthe very heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ–God’s gracious declaration of righteousness for Christ’s sake–when we come to these realizations then we will treasure this teaching. We will hold it dear, we will thank God for it, and we will let it permeate every aspect of the church’s life. And that is why we can say today, with joy and confidence, that the doctrine of justification is the heartof the Reformation. Amen.

 

And now, may the grace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus! Amen!

Christ Picks Us Up!

Sunday, October 21st, 2018

Pentecost 21B
October 21, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

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“Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” [Hebrews 4:7]

There’s a worship song by Donnie McClurkin entitled “We Fall Down” that we sing occasionally with a slight change to the lyrics. Listen to how we sing it:  “We fall down, Christ picks us up.  For a saint is just a sinner who fell down, and Christ picked up.  He picks us up again; get back up again; He picks us up again; get back up again.”  The sentiment is clear, the Christian life is a struggle, we live, we sin, we confess our sins,  and for Jesus Christ, the Son of God’s sake, God the Father forgives us, again and again.

Today, listen don’t worry about tomorrow or yesterday, but today, if you hear His voice, don’t let your heart become hard, but instead listen and grab onto the promises of His Word and get back up again and again!

Adam and Eve at first didn’t need the promise of forgiveness; they perfectly walked and talked with God in paradise.  

But then something happened; sin happened and they lost access to both paradise and God.  But God wouldn’t let that separate Him from the people He created in His image, so He did something to restore that image; He gave them mercy and grace, which in turn brought forgiveness and new life.  God gave His promise that one day He would come to them and provide a Savior through the bloodline of the woman.  Adam and Eve fell in sin, and God picked them up by giving them hope; He gave them the promise of a Savior, the Christ, who would  pick them up again and again!

Many years latter, the Hebrew people were in bondage and they cried out to God for help, and He heard them.  He reminded them of the promise He made concerning the coming Savior who would make all things new and right; He reminded them that they were a people of faith who by faith, should grab onto that promise.  So God sent them Moses, a type of savior, but not The Savior.  Moses would lead them out of bondage and into a type of promise land, Canaan, but not The Promised Land of Paradise.  But they began to grumble and complain.  They began to lose faith, and they sinned against God and their neighbors.  Their sin was serious; they would not repent of it and trust the promises of God.  So God allowed them to die in their sins.  But their children did  repent and believe, and God allowed them to enter Canaan.  They fell down, but the promises of God concerning their Savior lifted them back up again.

Their faith in this promised Savior was the only way God would one day give them total rest… Sabbath rest!  And that one day came, and God kept His promise and came to them from their own bloodline.  Born of the Virgin Mary, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God came to them in human flesh.  He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.  And on the third day He rose from the dead and proclaimed Sabbath rest for all who believe.  Through His death and resurrection He gave complete forgiveness for all sins.  This good news was preached first to the Jews, and then to all who would listen and believe.  Many rejected and fell down, but some believed and Christ picked them up.

And now we read in our Epistle lesson (Hebrews 4:1-16), that some are again in danger of disbelief; of lack of faith in the promises of God.  Some of them then and some now are in danger, so Christ desires to pick us up; He wants us to grab onto the promise of forgiveness and get back up.

I know that some of you here may feel like it might be too late to get back up; you might think that God is growing tired of you.  Maybe you feel that you are no longer counted among the saints.  Well like the song said, a saint is just a sinner who fell down and Christ picked up.  So… get back up again.  Do you need help getting up?  Then let this message from God pick you up again.

What was bad news for the wandering wilderness generation turns out to be good news for us.  You see, we learn that all of those who died in the wilderness, an entire generation of Hebrews, didn’t have to die; they could have repented, and trusted in the promises of God.  God would have lifted them up again, but they would not let Him, so they died in their sins, and the next generation made it to the promise land of Canaan.  But Canaan wasn’t the place where God would give them true Sabbath.  Canaan was just a shadow of the spiritual place and goal that God set before them in the promise of His Word.

Dear friends, that promise is still ours to grab onto, just as it was theirs.  It remains in force as an offer of peace with God; all any one ever needed to do was simply rest in the offer and receive the Savior who is promised in the Word of God.

Since countless men and women that went before us refused to trust in the promise of the Savior and died in their sins, forever cut off from paradise, then let us approach God and His promises with fear and trembling.  Otherwise we too may fail to reach our goal of paradise and peace with God.

The promises of God are the good news; the gospel about Jesus Christ.  Just as the promise came to those before us, it comes to us now… today!  The message they heard didn’t help them in the least, because they lacked faith in it.  You see, faith is the glue that sticks you to God and the hope of His promises fulfilled for you.  Faith is what gives you Jesus when you fall; the same Jesus who gladly calls you not just friend but brother.  He is the same Jesus who picks you up again and again.

By faith, God promises and gives to you Jesus, your true Sabbath rest.  By faith, we who believe in Jesus enter that Sabbath rest immediately at baptism.  And by faith, we walk in that Sabbath rest until we enter forever into God’s peace in paradise.  Since we have that rest and will forever experience that rest, shouldn’t we do everything to stay in that rest? Shouldn’t we put all of our attention on protecting our relationship with Jesus?

How?  How do we protect that relationship?  By staying in the Word of God.  A Word that is sharper than a double edged sword.  It is the Word of God and not our money, things, or prestige that offers peace and delivers it.  The Word of God alone looks intently into our souls and shows us the sin that we hide so well from others, and then it offers us forgiveness and new life.  All that God asks of us is that we trust Him; He asks that we hear Him speak to our hearts in His Word and simply believe.

It is the Word of God alone that strips you naked and leaves you vulnerable before your creator, and then offers to take your shame and cover it with the glory of Jesus Christ; the same glory that our parents, Adam and Eve once had but lost; but then had again when they placed their faith and trust in the promise of a Savior who would make all things new again.

This morning, God wants you to place everything you trust in at the foot of the cross.  He wants you to come empty and return spiritually naked to the waters of your baptism, where He daily clothes you with the righteousness of His own Son, Jesus Christ.  

This morning, God wants you to trust Him with your time, talent, and treasure, so that He can give you the wealth of His kingdom.  In essence, He wants you to enter heaven through the narrow way… Jesus Christ alone.  And to make sure we trust in Christ alone so that a sinner becomes a saint, He speaks Words of forgiveness and assurance to you.

Today, not tomorrow but today, if you are hearing His voice do not harden your hearts but enter into rest.  Turn to Jesus, the Son of God, your Compassionate High Priest.  Grab onto Him and let Him pick you up again and again.  Hold fast to your confession of faith that in Jesus alone you have peace with God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and Earth.  Think about this, you don’t have a High Priest in Jesus Christ who is unable to sympathize with your weakness, but instead you have your Savior and God who was born of the Virgin Mary just as you were born.  He suffered, not just in His death but in this life.  He faced all of the same tragedies and heartaches that you face, but He faced them perfectly, without sin, for you!  For you, He suffered, died, and was buried, FOR YOU, FOR YOU.  Let those words ring in your ears; let them soak into your heart and mind.  Jesus fell down; He let them put Him down, but then by His own power, the power of God He got up!  He got up so that you would trust Him and allow Him to pick you up, again and again, until the final day when He takes you up to your promised rest in paradise.

So be bold and grab onto the promises of God that were first given to you within the waters of your baptism.  Be bold and approach His table of grace where you dine on His body and blood, in, with, and under the bread and wine for the forgiveness of all of your sins.

Be bold, believe, and become the saint that Christ picks up.  Boldly believe and become all that God proclaims for you, in Jesus name… AMEN!

Who Then Can Be Saved?

Sunday, October 14th, 2018

Pentecost 20B
October 14, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

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“And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to Him, “Then who can be saved?”

Our text this morning is the ultimate question.  If a rich young religious leader who did an excellent job at keeping God’s law had the same chance of getting into heaven as a camel has walking through the eye of a needle, then who can be saved.

I’m reminded of a couple of oldie but goodies songs that kind of say the same thing: “So Close and Yet So Far” And the Johnny Mathis song, “Too much, too little too late.” The rich young ruler was so close to heaven and yet so far, and if he had not met Jesus and heard the gospel, he would have worked and tried to please God for nothing.  The proof of that is in his question and how he received Jesus answer.  “How do I get to heaven?”  And to that Jesus says, “Sell everything you’ve got, give the money to the poor, and then come on and follow me.”

There’s your answer young man; and if Jesus says it’s the way for you, well then, you can take that to the bank!

A Sunday school teacher was examining her pupils after a series of lessons on God’s omnipotence.  She asked, “Is there anything God can’t do?”  There was an appropriate silence in the room.  Finally, one young boy raised his hand.  The teacher, disappointed that the young boy still didn’t learn the point of the lesson, asked somewhat in a disappointed tone, “Just what is it that God can’t do?”  “Well,” replied the boy, “He can’t please everybody.”

Maybe a better way of saying that, is that Jesus knows a way that should please everyone, but most folks think they know more than Him, so they strike off to please themselves in a way that seems right to them, but in the end… well it just leads to judgment and death.

Throughout our lives God is consistently calling out to us.

He’s asking us to take a truthful look into our hearts and admit that our transgressions are many, and our sins are great. But we don’t want to see those things.  He wants us to see that we live in an evil time, and that there is evil all around us.  He’s telling us to seek good, and not evil so we will live; He’s telling us to hate evil, love good, and then spend our lives not just loving God’s goodness, but also working to spread it throughout our community. [Amos 5:6-15]

Sounds like a plan, doesn’t it?  Yet, while we might agree with the plan, secretly, within our hearts, we can’t accept it, because it requires a complete surrender of everything that we have come to believe is important and necessary in this life.  The truth is, money, fame, prestige, and possessions are the things that society has taught us to seek and trust in.

Unfortunately, this will always be the way we live or lives unless God’s Word intervenes and gives us a new perspective;

Before the rich young ruler asked Jesus the million dollar question, he said something that caused Jesus to begin teaching with His own question.  The young man in complete sincerity ran up to Jesus, knelt down before Him and said, “Hello good teacher.”  

Now I want you to understand what the young man means when he calls Jesus good.  He means that he respects Jesus; he admires Him, because He is wiser and better than him. And it’s because of this perception of his, that he came to Jesus with a question that he’d been wrestling with for years: “What must I do to be saved?”

And what is Jesus response?  ‘Why are you calling me good?  You know that in our tradition, we never call anyone good but God, right?  So what is the reason you call me good?  You are struggling with a great concern; you want to go to heaven, but you don’t quiet know how to guarantee your place, right?  Now stop right there and remember, you called me good, on your own.  So, if I am truly good, then hear what I am about to say.’

‘You know the commandments that relate to your neighbor; those in your family and community, right?  Just do them.’  And the rich young ruler said to Jesus, “Teacher, all of those commandments I have kept from my youth.”  And what did Jesus do next?  Did He give Him a theological teaching on the inherit sinfulness of the human heart?  No, instead He looked at the young man and He loved him.  He knew that he was sincere in his belief that he was living a God pleasing life.  The problem wasn’t in His sincerity but in the reality.  While everyone looking at this young man on the outside would agree that he was living an exemplary life, Jesus who is God and looks into the heart, looked and saw judgment and pain.  Jesus knew that this young man had been duped by the world into thinking that doing your best is what pleases God instead of trusting your best with God.

So Jesus helps the young man see what his real god is; that which he trusts in the most.  Jesus says, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me.”

Jesus was trying to get the young man to see that the one thing needful that he lacked was a real relationship with His Creator.  He was moving the young man to realize that he lacked an intimacy with God that can only come through trust in Jesus, the Son of God. 

Today, Jesus also wants you to accept His perfect life and death as the only way to make you right with God. He wants you to see Himself as God’s perfect gift of forgiveness and then trust in that gift above all things.

There’s an old hymn titled “Trust and Obey,” and the first verse goes like this: “When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word, What a glory He sheds on our way! While we do His good will, He abides with us still, And with all who will trust and obey.The major problem I see with those words is that there are many moments in our lives when we don’t trust and obey. It’s at times like those that we need to remember that Jesus loves us; that through His love for us, God forgives us. If we can remember that truth, then we will continually be drawn back to Him and learn to trust in His presence and work in our lives; then we’ll be ok. Trust and ok. I like those words much better. If we can just keep learning to trust God’s care for us then everything will be OK.  There is no other way.  But that kind of trust in the true God is impossible if you are already trusting in something else before Jesus.

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”  

The truth is friends, the real reason that the rich young ruler, and you and I have such a hard time receiving Jesus Words this morning is because when He speaks He is messing with our value system.  I mean, let’s be honest here; we all like to believe that what we have is ours, because we earned it; we worked hard for it.  We all like to look at our stuff, as proof of our success and indicators of God’s approval and blessing in our lives.  And now Jesus is telling us that our “stuff” may not be a blessing at all.

What is it that really matters in life?  If it isn’t money and possessions; if it isn’t financial security, then what?  This morning, God wants you to connect with the only One who is Good!  The rich young ruler was speaking to Him, and you do too!  Maybe like that rich young man, you also are asking God what the secret to eternal life is.  How can I know for sure that I am saved?  Well, like that young man, once you hear Jesus speak and you listen, you have what God calls the beginning of wisdom unto salvation… forgiveness of sins!

Then what about our doing good?  Doesn’t that count for something?  Well, the truth is that all of our own righteousness, our good deeds are simply like soiled rags before God, because we still have our sinful nature clinging to us.  And while we continue deceiving ourselves, thinking that we can please God by good behavior, Jesus looks at us and He loves us.  He loves us and dies for us upon the cross.  And from the cross He says follow me.  I have done all things good; all things good for you.  I am your treasure; your true wealth.

So who can be saved if there is nothing we can do to please God?  All can be saved.  All of us have been promised that salvation is ours for the taking, if we will just trust in God’s way; trust then ok.  All things are possible with God.  God alone is greater than our fears and our worries.  In His Word He gives us great treasures that make us rich.  In His Word He gives us Jesus and His righteousness.  By Jesus poverty we are made rich.

In God’s time, at just the right time Jesus died for the world.  

Jesus who emptied Himself and gave up His life on the cross, was also raised from the dead for you.  And in Jesus alone you have life, an abundant life and the promise of eternal peace and happiness.

This morning, Jesus is asking you to be vulnerable before God.  “Come and follow me,” He says.  Amos cries out to us this morning that we should “Seek the Lord and live,” but the truth is, we don’t have to go far to seek Him this morning, because He’s already sought us and found us.  In the cross, God is revealed; more than that, the depth of God’s love is shown to us.  In the cross, God demonstrates the truth that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us..

Jesus who loved the young man loves you as well.  He declared you forgiven when He splashed water over you on the day you were baptized.  You are being transformed even now, as God’s Word of grace is spoken to you.  You eat the bread of life, you drink the cup of salvation and He tells you again and again that your sins are forgiven.  Through it all you experience God’s loving purpose for you as revealed in the cross of Jesus.

I would like to think that eventually the rich young ruler understood that what he had to offer God on his own, was too much of too little.  I would like to think that he realized this before it was too late.  I trust that each of us has learned to place our own security on Christ, the solid rock.

Through Jesus and His cross, through the waters of our own baptism, we discover that a camel really can go through the eye of a needle; we really can be saved. Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness. On Christ the solid rock we stand, all other ground is sinking sand!

Childlike Faith

Sunday, October 7th, 2018

Pentecost 19B
October 7, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

“Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” [Mark 10:15]

Each of you who are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who trust in God’s Word like a little child, are promised a place in Paradise, or another way to say that is you have a mansion in heaven or a seat at our Lord’s banquet table, which has been prepared just for you by Jesus Himself. So, are you ready?  Will you be there in glory?

God’s Word promises that you will be; it encourages you to trust in Christ alone; God wants you to rest in everything that Jesus Christ has done for you in this life and the life to come.  Is that enough for you, or do you need more?

In our epistle reading this morning (Hebrews 2:1-13), God warns His little ones, He warns you and me that if we don’t continually grab ahold of His promises about our blessed assurance, we might begin to drift away from our seat at the banquet table; we might begin to think that there’s another way to get to our heavenly home.  So is that a danger to us; drifting away from God’s precious promises?  It is if we are trusting in something other than the work and the promises of Jesus Christ!

Why do we have times when we feel like our life lacks meaning and purpose?  It’s because we’ve taken our eyes off of God’s promises!  Why is it that sometimes when trouble comes our way we become afraid and filled with doubt?  It’s because we’ve lost sight of Jesus and His real presence in our lives!  Why is it that when fear and doubt come, we may begin to lose that joy in knowing that we really do have a place prepared just for us in heaven?  It’s because we have begun to judge success by what we do and not what God has done for us!

The truth is we all fall short of God’s will for us here; we all fall short of His perfection, but we still want so badly to please Him; to earn His love and respect.  But it’s also true that no matter how hard we try to be good, we will fail.  And yet we still try to earn our place in heaven by what we do.  

This morning the theme in both our Old Testament and Gospel lessons seems to be marriage and family.  

In both of these readings, God is showing us His perfect will and how far we fall short of that perfection.  So then why do we still think that on our own we can be God pleasing husbands, wives, parents or children?  Because we have a sin problem, and our sinful nature won’t let us see the impossibility of change; it won’t let us see that on our own, we are without hope.  And so, even though we know that we fall short of pleasing God, our sinful desire to be independent would have us believe that we can bridge this gap by our own efforts.  And because of this sin problem, we are deceived into thinking that if we just try a little harder then our marriages will be repaired and our families will be God pleasing.

This kind of thinking is not only dangerous, it is darn right destructive.  It’s harmful to ourselves and to those we love.  You see, when we think that action and effort are enough to please God and restore joy in our lives and our relationships with others, we have abandoned God’s promises of help and hope.  We’ve exchanged the hope of the gospel for the demands of the Law; a Law that will settle for nothing short of perfection!

People who are trusting in the law are easy to spot.  They are the ones who struggle and strive but never really see any lasting improvement in their lives.  

Life guards on our San Diego beaches say that the biggest danger to swimmers are the many rip-tides that are present off our shores.  They say that swimmers caught in a rip tide are easy to spot too.  They are the ones who swim and swim, yet they aren’t moving.  They aren’t moving because they aren’t strong enough to defeat the current.  

Sadly, each of us can get caught up in the riptides of life.  We tell ourselves that if we just try harder, everything will be alright.  And when we become exhausted at trying to fix our marriages or our other relationships, we become discouraged and maybe afraid that God is angry with us because we aren’t spiritual enough.  So what do we do?  We look for another way to maximize our effort; we read another book or take another course.  We try new techniques and try to be nicer and more attentive.  

Now at some point, you would think that we would admit failure and try things God’s way, right?  Nope!  Instead, we’ll tell ourselves that because we’re exhausted and miserable, we must be doing what God wants us to do.  It must be spiritual!  So we keep it up for a few weeks or maybe even a few months, but eventually our discipline will break down, and we’ll abandon this latest technique towards building a better  marriage, and a stronger family.  You know what comes next don’t you?  Guilt!  And after enough guilt we’ll simply move onto the next program or buy another book with 10 easy steps towards fulfillment.

Eventually, we will just give up; we simply won’t have the energy to try anymore.  And then we learn to fake it.  We think that we can bridge the gap to heaven by acting like we’re alright, even though everything within us and around us is screaming in our ears that we aren’t ok.  But we keep up the image; we speak as if we had deeper spiritual experiences than we really have.  Our hearts become cold, and we speak as though our sin bothers us more than it really does.  We pray as though our voice is throbbing with deep emotion that isn’t really there.  Why we might even join in a game of spiritual musical chairs, always searching for a different church or ministry that will provide the magic key.  Some people go from one movement to another, continually rededicating their lives to the Lord, only to fall away again and again.  And if this continues, God is warning us that eventually we will secretly give up.  Oh, we’ll still hope that there’s a place for us in heaven, but between now and the day we die, we’ll spend the rest of our lives disappointed and not even trying to change.

So what’s the answer?  Where is the hope?  What is it that can break this awful cycle of disappointment and death?  It certainly isn’t greater resolve or another program; no I think that we need to follow the example of the mothers and babies in our gospel lesson to get our answer!

We need to get to Jesus!  Listen: “And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.”

The Pharisees wanted to sit around talking about the best technique, the most God pleasing program that would free people from the condemnation of the law; in this case they were arguing about divorce.  But Jesus wouldn’t let them; instead He told them that they didn’t have a problem in choosing the best strategy, they had a problem with their hearts.  They were sinful.  They needed a new heart, and that was something only Jesus could give them.

The apostles didn’t have that problem; they had constant access to God’s recreating presence; they were with Jesus all of the time.  No, their problem was their desire to control Jesus; they wanted to limit His audience, and the people who also got to be with Him.  They really wanted Jesus to themselves and they wanted Him to minister to others in a way they thought was best.  So they forbid the mothers from bringing their children to Jesus.  But Jesus wouldn’t have any of that.  He was angry and He let it show!  He told them that not only should they quit standing in the way of these little ones getting to Him, but that if they did not become like one of those babies, they would never get into heaven!  In other words, they needed a simple child like faith and then with that faith, they must turn to God confessing their helplessness and total dependence on His care, just like a baby!

The truth is, eventually all of us finally figure out that we can’t ever bridge the gap that sin creates by turning to our own efforts. We discover that we can never earn God’s love and forgiveness.  We discover that God will always work the way He desires and not the way we want Him to work; we discover that we must become like a child and realize that this kind of love can only come by grace.  A child knows that salvation is a gift; it’s simply something that is given to him; it’s something that he trusts in because it comes from Jesus.  That is why Jesus loves to use little children as his teaching aids.

What is God’s plan for you, your marriage, family, and life?  That you would not trust in your own abilities or your self-improvement plans, but instead learn to rest in what He has done for you through Jesus Christ.  In Jesus, concerning your forgiveness, there is no place for self-improvement because that would negate the need for the cross.  In the cross, God takes you away from your plan of salvation and He shows you His.  He shows you His Son who suffered and died for every sinner that ever lived.  But He also makes it very personal by taking you to the waters of your baptism.  In your baptism He promises that you have been recreated and restored; He promises that in His Word, in His promises you can grab onto them, trust them and then watch as He continually renews you and changes you.  

The mothers in our gospel reading knew what you also know but often forget.  If you can just get to Jesus and stay with Him, there is new life and hope in abundance!  In the Word of God, Jesus speaks to you, to your marriages, to your families; He speaks Words of forgiveness and hope.  Even if you have been marked by divorce or a family tragedy, Jesus promises that this is not what defines you or condemns you; instead, He speaks forgiveness and new life as He continually invites you into His plan of salvation for you; and in this plan, He promises to give you a new and abundant life.  

Listen friends, God doesn’t want you to just be saved by grace but to live by it as well!  God’s plan is for your daily life to be guided, guarded, and energized by Jesus suffering and death for you!  He wants you to live in grace and then watch as that same grace flows out of you and into your families, your relationships and our community.  In essence, God wants you to be amazed at how His Spirit will transform your life, your family, and our community.

So will you be there, at the banquet in heaven?  Yes by grace alone!  But listen, God doesn’t want you to just be satisfied with just your seat, your mansion in heaven, He also wants you to go out and invite others to join you.  You can do that as you let His forgiving love live in you and pass through you.  You can do that as you invite others to come with you to this place of worship so that they too can experience the very same thing.  I pray that you will do this very thing… in Jesus name… AMEN and AMEN!