Archive for March, 2019

Our Prodigal God!

Sunday, March 31st, 2019

Lent 4-C
March 31, 2019
Rev. Brian T. Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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Imagine in your mind’s eye that you’ve been transported back in time to a high school football stadium.  You’re seated in the bleachers, and you are drawn to one particular man seated amongst the sea of people.  He has such a big smile on his face and you see tears welling up in his eyes.  The hot sun is mercilessly beating down on him and pulling sweat from his body and soaking his neatly pressed dress shirt, but he’s oblivious to it. His eyes are focused on one young man on the football field. “Who are you looking at?” You whisper. “I am waiting for my son” he says. “Soon he will cross the stage and get his diploma. Then it is off to college. I am so proud of him.”

Now fast forward to two years in the future and you are once again with the same man. You’re sitting outside the county jail house.  He’s alone and he’s crying.  Quietly you sit next to him.  Finally you ask him, “What’s up?” “I am waiting for my son,” he sniffs, trying to hold back the tears. “The Police picked him up for DUI and I am afraid he’s on drugs, too.  He’s been so distant lately… it’s like I don’t even know him!”

Now fast forward eight years in the future, and you are with the same man.  This time you’re seated in a beautiful little church. The man is standing by his son at the front looking up the aisle. You walk up to him and whisper, “What’s up?” he whispers back, “I am waiting for my son to get married. His beautiful, bride will be walking down the aisle toward us in just a minute. I am so proud of him. I have been waiting ten years, but finally the wait is over. Drugs, alcohol, and jail are all behind him. He’s back in church and he’s landed a good job. I am so excited.”

     This father, if he was here this morning would tell you that he can read our gospel lesson this morning (Luke 15) with a real and special understanding. He knows what it means to wait for a son who seems lost to him and God. 

This morning, God wants us to see that He’s still looking and waiting for lost sons and daughters to come home. He’s still leaving the flock to go out and find stray lambs. This morning He wants us to know that we have a heavenly Father who loves us enough to spend everything on us. His open arms are waiting for every lost sinner to come home.  The welcome home party can be started in an instant, whenever they decide to come home.  And after they come home and they’ve enjoyed themselves at the party, they can join the Father in His waiting, watching and urging more lost children to come home. And when they come home, they can sit beside their elder brothers and sisters, and show them just how much the Father has always loved them, even if they never got to have a party thrown for them. All this and much more is waiting for sinners if they will just repent.  If they will just turn away from their sinful life and their sinful thinking, and then turn to God’s forgiving love through Jesus Christ!

Our gospel reading this morning (Luke 15:1–3, 11–32) for many is a familiar one.  

It starts out by introducing us to the sinful younger brother, who committed a huge sin by walking away from his position as his father’s son. He wanted nothing more to do with his father, but he did want the blessing of his father’s money!  Once he received what he wanted and not what his father said he needed, off he went!

Did you notice that it was the younger son who was on the move?  He wanted to get as far away from his father’s house and his father’s rules as he could!  But did you also notice that the father never moved?  He was standing still; still and waiting to see his son return someday. He was a busy man, a man of great wealth and business.  There was an entire corporation to run and it all depended on his leadership, yet he left his work to watch and wait for his lost son to return. 

To return from where?  Far away… about as far from his father and his people that he could get!  He was living large and spending money like it would never run out. “Finally” He thinks, “no rules!  I can do what I want and when I want to do it!”  The son has turned his back on his father… he’s turned his back on his father’s love!  

What a sad story.  It’s a sad story because it is the story that applies to real people who have rejected God’s love and grace which is there’s through Jesus Christ.  They’ve left the church and the communion of saints.  They counted their baptism as nothing really, simply a childhood memory.  They’re living far from God and His blessings, with the intent of enjoying the pleasure and promise of the sinful world!  But soon the good times end, and the sinner discovers that all that glitters isn’t gold at all.  Like a moth drawn into an open flame the world has devoured them and their hope of happiness. Their illusion of satisfaction found in the things of the world without the Creator and the Savior of the world has come to an end! 

So there they sit, alone and broke.  Not only did they loose their wealth, but they also lost their spiritual support to fall back on.  In essence, they have burned their bridges of return!  When sinners reach this point in their lives, the devil is ready to pounce on and devour them—many are led to suicide, either by a quick death or the slow death of substance abuse. But all is not lost, because…

The Father is still waiting… He’s waiting and He’s watching.  

And because sinners know this, because they know the fathers love, they come to their senses and remember their Father’s mercy.  They remember their baptism, the day that the Father’s love was first given to them.  They remember that through Christ Jesus suffering and death upon the cross God made a way for them to come home.  “Can it really be true?  Is it really not too late for me to come home?” they wonder.  Now hungry, poor, and tired, they remember the Lord’s invitation, “Come unto me all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.”  And when they remember, they begin to hunger for the Lord’s forgiving love and the fellowship of their brothers and sisters.  Now, maybe for the first time, they begin to feel alone and empty; they feel shame and a need to confess their sin.  Will God take them back?  Will they be able to hear those sweet words once again? “You are forgiven!”  

But there is another son that’s lost. His story is entirely different from that of his younger brother.  Like his brother he too is lost, but not in some distant land.  No, he is lost in his own father’s house. How is that possible? Because of his self-righteousness. He is busy working hard within his father’s business.  Although he has been supported by his father’s wealth, he now considers himself critical for maintaining and protecting that wealth.  In fact, he’s convinced that since his younger brother abandoned the family business, his father would be out of business if it wasn’t for him!  The way he sees things, his father owes him big time!  It’s been a hard day of business and he’s beat, so he heads home. As he approaches the house he hears music and dancing.  “What’s this” he wonders, “A party?”

The first person he sees says, “Hurry!  Come inside.  Your father wants me to tell you that, well… your brother’s come home!”  “No!” he says.  “I will not celebrate the return of my sinful brother!”  Now, his father hears of the older brother’s anger, and he immediately leaves the celebration to go out to his oldest son.  But he’s not going out to order him to come in, but to plead with him to come in out of his love for his father.

And here is where the sinful heart of the older brother is revealed. “Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 

Can you hear the pride and self-righteousness in the words of this son?  Can you hear yourself in these words?  Is it clear to you that our Heavenly Father has every right to punish this type of hard heart?  To be angry with their brother is one thing but to publicly defy and disrespect God is a completely different issue!  God has every right to strip these self-righteous people of everything.  These people must be humbled like the younger brother was!

Dear friends, both of these ungrateful sons deserved nothing but anger from their father.  Both had shown nothing but disrespect.  Yet both were loved and forgiven.  Can you see yourself in one of these sons?  Can you see God’s love in Jesus story about the Father?   Maybe you’ve known this story as the “Prodigal Son”?  But really it should be called the “Prodigal Father”.  Do you know what the word “prodigal” means?  It means extravagant!  Can you see the Fathers unending love and patience towards his two sons?  We could say that the father was extravagant in his patience and love for his sons.  

Dear friends, Jesus tells this story for two reasons.  First, He wants us to see ourselves within one of the two sons.  Second, He wants us to see our Heavenly Father within the character of the father.  Jesus wants us to know that God is extravagant—prodigal in His patience and love for us.  Just as the younger son was lovingly welcomed back home God has the very same heart for each of us.  Just as the youngest son was cleaned up and given a beautiful robe to wear, Jesus wants each of us to know that in our baptism, we too have been clothed in His own righteousness.  And the truth is, the oldest son had nothing to feel threatened over; he was still clothed in the very same righteousness.  

How does God treat lost sinners? He focuses his attention on them. 

He pours his love on them. He waits patiently for them to come to their senses, repent of their sins, and come back to him. God has centered his whole plan for creation on one expectation: Sinners will see the error of their ways and turn back to him so that through Jesus Christ he can complete what He began within the waters of their baptism.

Dear friends, when you leave here this morning God would like you to remember that His love and forgiveness are always yours through your baptism.  In fact through your baptism and your faith in Jesus Christ, all that the father has is yours!  You are part of the body of Christ.  You are part of his team.  He invites you to patiently wait with Him for the lost, maybe even someone you love to come home.  He is inviting you to go out with Him, to seek out the lost, and then along with all of heaven, He wants you to welcome them back home within the church.  He invites you to help them put back on Christ own righteousness.  It’s a robe that fits them perfectly.  Because God had it tailored just for them within the waters of their own baptism!

Let’s pray: Loving, compassionate God, our Father in heaven, thank you for waiting for us to come back from the far country. Thank you for teaching us how sinful we are and what we leave behind when we desert you in our willful sin. Thank you for giving us great joy when we hear your sweet words of forgiveness… thank you for waiting for us and bringing us back home!  Heavenly Father, show us where to go for you; show us where to seek the lost and give us boldness to invite them to come home to you and to the church.  May they come to know the joy that we have found in you through Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

Precious Lord… Forgive Me!

Sunday, March 24th, 2019

Lent 3-C
March 24, 2019
Rev. Brian T. Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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“No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Luke 13:5

Perhaps the most painful question Christians and non-Christians a-like whisper and sometimes scream into the ear of God in the dark of the night is “Why?”  Why does He allow the massacre of Christians in places like Africa, the Middle East, and the Philippines over and over again?  In 1993, why didn’t God protect those two young boys Charlie Keever and Jonathan Sellers who were killed in the South Bay, and why as we’ve heard in the news lately, does it seem like the killer keeps avoiding the prescribed course of justice? 

Why is there evil in the world if God is good and almighty?  This really is the ultimate question that sinful man most wants answered! We encounter variations of this question throughout our daily lives and it most often comes to us like this: Why did my sister die so young?  Why does God allow cancer? Why did I lose my job just before my pension was vested?   Why can’t I find the right person to spend the rest of my life with?   

“What did I do to deserve this?” we cry out, as we keep noticing that people without an apparent faith in Christ seem to be living a happy life!   

Jesus’ disciples posed a similar question to him more than once. 

On one occasion, His disciples wanted to know whether the man who had been born blind had brought his condition upon himself or whether his parents were at fault because of their sin. To this question, Jesus assured them that God had a purpose in the man’s blindness.  What was that purpose?  To that question and to all of its variations, Jesus remained silent.

In our gospel reading this morning, Jesus takes the same approach, as He addresses two tragedies that seemed to swallow up a lot of people in an unfair way.  Some of His disciples had just reported that Pilate’s police had murdered some Galileans while they were worshiping God and offering their sacrifices.  Jesus used this incident to meet the obvious question: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?” “Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were guiltier than all the others living in Jerusalem?” Jesus refused to answer the question. Instead, he used these incidents to call for something much more important… Jesus called for repentance. He rejected the assumption that great evil falls only upon evil people. “No,” Jesus said. They were not the worst of the worst; those Galileans had not sinned more than their fellow Galileans. That kind of question misses the point. The only point that Jesus wanted them to see in the midst of those tragedies was each person’s need for personal repentance.  (Luke 13:1–5). He wanted each person then and each of us today, to turn away from our sins and turn to God’s mercy and say “Precious Lord… forgive me!”

Did they get it?  Probably not, and that is why Jesus began to tell the parable about the fig tree within the vineyard.  In this story, Jesus was making the analogy that the city of Jerusalem was like the fig tree… fruitless and close to being “chopped down” so that something else… something that would bear fruit could be planted.  After the parable, do you think they said, “Ah… yes I see, I am the fig tree!  I better confess my sin and then turn to God’s mercy.  Let me confess my sinfulness and seek His forgiving love!”  No, they did not!  In fact the proof that they did not or would not understand lies in the truth that they crucified their savior, Jesus Christ, the Son of God!  And because of this, they have been chopped down, and a new tree, one that will bear fruit has been planted in its place… that new tree is of course the Church.  It is you and me!

So now, these words of Jesus are being spoken to us.  Are you different than the Jewish nation?  Will you listen?  Will you repent and bear fruit?  That is the question God wants you to concentrate on this morning and each morning that he allows you to live.  He wants you to know that through Jesus Christ, He has given you His grace, His undeserved kindness.  And because of Jesus, God is continually caring for you just as He did in the parable of the fig tree.  He is tilling the soil of your heart and applying good fertilizer through His Word and Sacraments.  Do you recognize that you have been placed in the most favored position… you have been adopted as sons and daughters of the most high God!  Will you be fruitful or will you prevent His grace from changing you?  Will you bring to nothing, everything that Jesus has provided for you?  Will you turn your back on His passion for you… on His suffering and death for you?!  

Can you really do that?  Yes, He will allow you to reject His gift of love, but by doing that, you are sealing your own doom!  Will you really do that or will you repent?

In this world, even in the life of Christians, we are surrounded by countless sins, sins that God expects us to acknowledge and deplore with true and sincere repentance.  

He wants us to hear His cry within the gospel, “Repent and trust in Christ alone!”  He delivers these Words of both His Law and His Gospel to us so that we will be delivered from eternal destruction. 

This isn’t a new message, in fact it was the first sermon preached in paradise, when God cursed Adam and Eve after their fall from grace.  But after their fall, He immediately gave them complete forgiveness of their sin, and the promise of a future Savior, the son of Adam who is also the very Son of God! 

Repent and believe!  This has always been God’s Word to sinful men and women!  This is the sum of all of God’s Word and it is the message that He wants us to receive as long as we are alive in this world!  God wants each of us to read His Word, the entire Bible and hear this message come alive on each page.  He wants us to read all of the testimonies concerning His anger against sin, concerning personal and public tragedies, concerning all of the warnings about eternal punishments, and  He wants us to hear these Words and repent; He wants us to turn away from our sin and our certain punishment of death, and then turn to the death of Jesus. Why?  Why must we turn from our sin and see Jesus death upon the cross?  Because dear friends, Christ’s suffering and death upon the cross is the clearest possible proof concerning God’s anger and hatred against sin! 

God the Father sent His Son Jesus Christ to hang upon the cross in the most violent manner so that you would know just how serious your sin is!  The death of Jesus isn’t just something for you to read about and consider like some book or movie … God wants it to scare the hunger for sin and Hell right out of you!  He wants you to see how serious His wrath against sin is.  He wants you to know beyond any doubt how serious, enormous, and indescribable your sin is.  He wants you to know that the only way you can be rescued from your sin is if the Son of God intercedes for you and is made a victim for you!  If you can see all of this and if you can agree with God that your sin is a huge problem, then repent!

Dear friends, God wants each of us to see ourselves in the words of our Epistle lesson this morning.  He wants us to see our own sinful lust as being identical to the Hebrews who rejected God’s law regarding sexual relations between a man and woman, within the structure of marriage.  He wants us to see ourselves within the story of those who continually tested Him by questioning His actions and His will!  He wants us to see that we are similar to those who murmured and complained about Him instead of trusting in Him and receiving from Him.  He wants us to see all of this within our own hearts and then confess these sins and turn away from them.

But still there is wickedness and suffering all around, isn’t there?  And maybe this is causing you to still struggle with the “why” of evil!  

Why does God allow such evil to flourish in this world?  And to this God answers, “As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.”  And we ask, “Precious Lord, why won’t you answer my question?  Why won’t you tell me why there is evil?  And to this God says to each of us, “Because I care most about your love for me… I want you to trust me… trust that I am caring for you always!  You are who I suffered and died for!  You are the fig tree that I have planted within my vineyard, and you are the one that will give me fruit.  Turn back, repent from your own evil ways and love and obey me!  

Dear friends, the Father has planted you within His church.  He is nourishing you and tilling the soil of your heart so that you will bear much fruit.  What is that fruit?  It is the fruit of repentance; fruit that is called righteousness.  Fruit that trusts in Christ alone… fruit that does not lust after the riches and power of this world, but instead remains focused on what Christ has done for you.  Jesus is your fruit, and you can only find this fruit upon the tree of woe.  It is the sweet fruit of Golgotha…it is the fruit of righteousness unto eternal life!  “Take and eat” Jesus says, “This is my body!  Take and drink… this is my blood.”  Eat and drink for the forgiveness of your many sins and then rest in the truth that God forgives you; He still loves you and He still loves the world!

“But Lord” you cry out, “I am afraid that because of all this evil only a few will be saved?  I am afraid for my loved ones who will not repent!”  And Christ answers us by saying, “Friend, let me worry about that.  As for you, strive to enter through the narrow door.  Worry first about your relationship with Me and my gospel, only then will you be able to recognize and fight your own sin.”  

Dear friends, let God worry about the whys in life; you have enough to do just loving Him!  If you occupy yourself with this work, then when tragedy and suffering strike, you will be comforted and strengthened by Christ’s presence within you.  Only then will you begin to understand that true wisdom and comfort are not found in answering the why(s) but the HOW!

I pray that each of us will continue to grow in faith and be comforted by God’s love through Christ Jesus.  AMEN

BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD

Sunday, March 17th, 2019

Lent 2-C
March 17, 2019
Rev. Richard Stark, Assoc. Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!  Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’” [Luke 13:31-35]

On August 30, 2005, at 4 AM, Coast Guard Lt Iain McConnell, along with the rest of his aircrew, was summoned to the Coast Guard Aviation Training Center in Mobile, Alabama. The air base soon became primary base of operations for Hurricane Katrina relief. Less than 24 hours after the storm initially hit New Orleans, Lt. McConnell and his crew were ordered to fly their H46 helicopter into the storm damaged area for what would be a heroic rescue effort.  They entered the area ahead of every news crew in the nation; they were not prepared for the devastation they were about to see, the entire city of New Orleans was flooding.  They began to pluck people from rooftops. They literally flew around the clock, returning to the base only to refuel and then head back out, despite their exhaustion and fatigue and the risk to their own lives; they continuously went back out onto the storm. On their first three missions that day they saved 89 people, three dogs, and two cats. 

In our Gospel lesson today, as Jesus continued His way to Jerusalem and the cross, we come face to face with the Son of God in the midst of the greatest rescue effort of all time.  All of Scripture, the entire Bible after Genesis chapter 2, points to this rescue mission — Despite all the obstacles in His way, Jesus would continue on to Jerusalem; He was going there to suffer and to die in order to save. The majority of His own people would reject Him. But that too was foretold a long time ago in Psalm 118, where it says: “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” (Psalm 118:22)

Let’s look again at verses 33-34 of our Gospel lesson: Jesus said,  Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day [after that],” and He goes on, “for it cannot be that a prophet should perish [anywhere else but] Jerusalem.’  O Jerusalem… the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 

Jesus is referring to a coming day of judgment. He talks about the natural instinct of hens that would vigorously protect their young by gathering them under her wings.  If there were a bird of prey nearby, the hen would cackle and cluck and call her chicks to her so they could find protection under her wings.

One day, shortly after a devastating fire in Yellowstone National Park, a park ranger was walking through a burned field. He came across what appeared to be dead prairie chicken.  As he nudged the dead bird with his foot, three little chicks came running out from underneath the dead hen; they had survived the fire because their mother had given her life for them.  Make no doubt about it, there is a fire coming — and that fire is God’s judgment!

USA Today and Gallup conducted a poll in which they asked Americans about the likelihood of an apocalyptic end to the world:

  • 23% responded that this was “very likely,”
  • 16% said it was “somewhat unlikely,”
  • 16% said it was “very unlikely,”
  • 41% had “no opinion.”

For the most part, Americans are not too concerned about the end of the world, they aren’t concerned about the return of Jesus Christ or a day of judgment.

Jesus told us that on the Day of Judgment God is going to “…separate the wheat from the chaff.” (Matthew 3:12), He will sort “…the good fish from the bad fish.” (Matthew 13:48), and He will separate “…the sheep from the goats.” (Matthew 25:32), God is going to sift and sort all the sinners (that’s everyone of us); He will separate those whose sins have been forgiven from those who have held on to their sins, and those that deny that they have any need for forgiveness.

Now before we leave this particular verse, I want to point out one more thing about Jesus saying, “How often I have longed to gather your children together…”

Last week in our Sunday morning Bible study, we were studying St. Paul’s first letter to the young pastor, Timothy.  In 1 Timothy 2:4, Paul tells us that God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”  God wants all people to be saved!

But do you see the paradox here? If God desires all people to be saved, doesn’t God get everything He wants?  God wants all men to be saved yet not all men are saved. Why is that?  Mistakenly, many have tried to solve this paradox by looking for some cause of salvation in human beings; that men can some how earn their own salvation. “Well,” they suppose, “If some one is a good and decent person, if they have enough love and enough good works, then surely they will be saved.” 

My brothers and sisters, Salvation is salvation! That means we can’t do anything to make it happen; to be saved means just that — to be saved. If we somehow helped with that, then we would have to say that we merely survived, rather than say that we have been saved.  Jesus answers the question of the paradox. God wants all people to be saved. Jesus wanted to gather all of Jerusalem, but Jesus said the people of Jerusalem were not willing! If a person is lost, it is because they made that choice. They were not willing to be saved!

Earlier, I mentioned the rescue efforts of Coast Guard Lt. McConnell and his aircrew. I told you about the first three missions they flew where they rescued an extraordinary amount of people. But on their fourth mission, despite twelve different flights into New Orleans, they were not able to save even one person. None! Everyone they encountered on that mission refused to board the helicopter. Instead they told the aircrew to bring them food and water so that they could wait out the storm. They were warned that this was extremely dangerous as the waters were still rising and were not going away anytime soon.  Sadly, when the dykes protecting the city broke, many of those people perished because of their refusal to be rescued.

So what does it mean to be saved spiritually? That is such an important question. I don’t want anyone to be lost on the Day of Judgment, and again St. Paul reminds us that God desires all people to be saved, so this is a very important matter.  Many people know about God, many believe that God exist, but that doesn’t mean they are saved.  The argument can be made that even the devil knows about God and even the devil believes that God exists…  Far too often people only look to God for “food and water” and believe they can wait out the storm on their own; they believe by being a good person with good intentions, they can sit out the coming wave of God’s judgment.

To be saved means that two things will happen to us. First, there must be a spiritual breakdown.  You’ve heard of nervous or emotional breakdowns — I’m talking about a spiritual breakdown. This means that we must come to the realization that, because of our sinful nature, we all are totally lost and condemned sinners. As Dr. Martin Luther teaches us in the Small Catechism to confess, “I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess to God all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended Him, and justly deserve His temporal and eternal punishment…” or as we confessed earlier in our service, “…we confess before God and before one another that we have sinned in thought, word, and deed, and that we cannot free ourselves from our own sinful condition.”

Many people don’t go through this spiritual breakdown because they truly believe that they are pretty decent people and they wrongly believe that’s good enough. They arrive at that conclusion by comparing themselves to the rest of this sinful world.

In our Epistle lesson today, St. Paul tells us about people like that, he says, “[They are] enemies of the cross of Christ… their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with [their] minds set on earthly things.” (Philippians 3:18-19) So if you compare yourselves to the rest of this sinful world, you might look pretty good too.  

But we will not be judged by the standard of this world. On the Day of Judgment, we will be judged by the standard of God — the standard of God according to His Law.  Now I don’t care who you are, there is not one of us here who are able to keep those commandments perfectly. We all have broken God’s Law and we all deserve the prescribed punishment, which is death. To be spiritually broken is to come to this realization, that we are lost and condemned sinners and that we cannot free ourselves from this sinful condition.

Secondly, salvation means that we come to the realization that we are under the protection of God’s grace and mercy. As the hen gathers her brood under her wings, so does Jesus gather repentant sinners like you and me under the wings of His grace and His mercy.

These wings manifest themselves in two ways: First, in the promise of forgiveness found in God’s Word and, second, in the miracle of the Sacraments.  When you study the Bible you will find only three things promise salvation: salvation is found in God’s words of forgiveness; salvation is found in our Baptism when our sin was washed away and we were marked as one redeemed by Christ the Crucified; and, salvation is found in Holy Communion where Jesus Himself tells us, “this is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Here we can be sure and certain that God’s judgment on the world’s sin, and on our sin, will never reach us and cannot touch us.  Jesus came to the rescue, and He willfully gave His life to make sure of this: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) We have to trust in this promise!

Now we come to the best and most important part of this passage. Jesus quotes Psalm 118: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” (Luke 13:35)  God is intent on saving; God desires all people to be saved. If a person is not saved, it is not for lack of God’s efforts. Remember at the beginning of this message I quoted Psalm 118, verse 22: “The stone the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” A little further on, verse 24: “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  And in verse 25: Save us, we pray, O Lord!  This is the only time this plea appears in the Bible in these words. 

The Hebrew word, “hoshi’a na,” is translated in Greek and pronounced in English, as “hosanna.” The original intent of the scripture is “God save us!” It is a plea for mercy.

Right after that, in verse 26, there is a shift from concern to confidence. Verse 26 says, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”  This is where grace and mercy is found, it is found in He who comes in the name of the Lord!

And so we have: “Save us, we pray, O Lord! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” Or, as we know it, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” 

Jesus gathers us under His wings of Grace and rescues us from death.  Jesus fills the gap that separates us from the Father, to bring us home into heaven.

The people of Jerusalem didn’t set out to reject God. They didn’t wake up one day and decide that, instead of listening to God, they would make it their mission to kill the Only Son of God. The people of Jerusalem were deceived. They were blinded of the truth. Deluded by their sin and the author of sin. And, as a result, they were unable and unwilling to hear the Word of the God. 

Everything in our readings today, from the Old Testament, the Epistle, and the Gospel readings set up the polarity of earth and heaven, of disgrace and glorification, humiliation and exaltation. We preach the cross, because it is the only way to glory. Just look at Jesus, who set His face toward Jerusalem, endured the cross, despising its shame, and is now seated at the right hand of power, with all things under His feet. Pastor Brian told us last week that Jesus choose way of the cross so that we would know that the only way to God the Father and eternity is through the cross.

It’s not about you, it’s not about who you are or what you’ve done (good or bad); it’s all about Jesus and it’s all about who He is and what He has done. We need to surrender to the fact that we are sinners and we cannot, with anything we do, free ourselves from that sinful condition.  

But we cling to the fact that Jesus is “He who comes in the name of the Lord” (Luke 13:35) He came to lay down His life for the sins of the world, for my sins and for your sins.

Jerusalem was blind to His gracious visitation, Blind to the presence of God among them, and they put Him to death like the prophets before Him. Yet, His sacrifice upon the cross became the cornerstone of His Church. Jesus visits us today in mercy with His preaching of forgiveness, to gather us to Himself, “as a hen gathers her brood under her wings” (Luke 13:34). 

This is what God’s steadfast love is all about.  As we walk with Jesus to Jerusalem during this Lenten season, we realize just how complete and steadfast God’s love really is for this world. We need to take that love back out into the world, we need to show God’s saving grace, His mercy, and His love in how we treat our neighbors in the works we do.  We don’t do good works to be saved, we do good works because we are saved!  We love because he first loved us! (1 John 4:19)

A Day of Judgment is indeed coming one day, but God’s Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, has already come and rescued us, of this you can be confident!

Our help is in the name of the Lord! Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Amen.

Tempted!

Sunday, March 10th, 2019

Lent 1C
March 10, 2019
Rev. Brian Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil.” (Luke 4:1-2a)

In a Hollywood depiction of the events during Joseph’s stay in Egypt, Potiphar’s wife tried her best to seduce him.  No matter what temptations she threw at him, he resisted.  Suddenly, out of frustration she ripped off her skirt and threw it over the statue of a pagan god.  “Now the gods will not see,” she said, thinking that her control over Joseph was complete.  And to this, Joseph replies, “But MY God sees!”

Facing life with Jesus as your Lord means walking down the same path He walked; it means facing the same temptations that He conquered all before a God who is all seeing!  For those of us who have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, temptation often causes us a lot of distress, or as it is described in the book of Deuteronomy, we experience afflictions and even oppressions. [Deut. 26:7]  This morning, God’s Word assures us that He hears our cries for help and that He is near us… but He also assures us that in the end, because of Christ’s work upon the cross for us, we will not be put to shame! [Rom. 10:11b]

Have you ever felt like all of the forces of evil seemed to be pressing in against you?  

Well, imagine how Jesus must have felt… 40 days of tempting and testing.  No company… not even a stranger to speak to, and oh yes… no food!  He was tired, alone, and hungry, and on top of all of that, Satan himself appeared and was trying everything He could do to get Jesus to sin!  But Jesus, being both man and the Son of God was familiar with the ways of Satan.  He was there when Satan attacked Adam and Eve and led both of them and all of humanity into the captivity of sin.  He instructed Cain, before He killed His brother Able to fight the temptation of self pity with these words, “Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”  Temptation seeks to test our resolve, our faith in God’s love, and even our motives for loving and worshiping Him. 

Isn’t it strange that temptation seems to always be the strongest just when we feel the strongest?  What I mean is, just when we feel like our walk of faith is finally going well… BAMB we are tested!  Many times temptation will attack us right after we leave church… or maybe even in church!  Where does this temptation come from?

Well there are three different sources of temptation that we need to be on the alert for if we are to become its master.  They are: the devil, our own desires and the ways of the world.  

The first and second temptation comes directly from the devil and from within ourselves.  

The devils are masters in the art of manipulation.  They will attack us where we are most vulnerable and susceptible.  Listen to how Eve, the mother of us all was deceived and you can see what I mean: “(The devil in the form of a serpent) said to (Eve), “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate… ” [Gen 3:1-6b]     

Did you notice how the devil attacked?  He used three weaknesses that Eve had in order to tempt her into sin.  They were her ignorance of God’s Word, her desire to possess things of beauty that were not hers, and her hunger to  know the mysteries of God.  First, God never said that Adam and Eve couldn’t touch the fruit, but instead He said that they couldn’t eat it.  Listen to God’s actual Words: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”  If Eve had been more familiar… more intimate with God’s Word she would not have given the devil an opportunity to twist the meaning of God’s Word!  The second and third weakness of Eve is presented in these words: “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate.”  Oh dear Eve, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” [James 4:7b-8]  It is easy to find ourselves wondering what kind of tempting thoughts were going through Eve’s mind.  She must have thought, “God is love huh?  Well according to this serpent, He doesn’t love me enough to let me enjoy this pleasing fruit!  I wonder what else He’s holding back?  I’ll just take a bite and find out!”  

Now before we begin to be hyper-critical of Eve, let’s remember what God’s Word says about temptation, and how it attacks each of us: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” [1 Cor. 10:13]

Does this mean that Eve could have defeated the temptations of the devil and prevented the entire human race from falling into sin?  Absolutely!  Remember that both her and Adam were created perfect!  What we need to learn from this is that our biggest temptations always come from the devils and from within our own hearts.  

But there is a third source of temptation, and it comes to us from within this sinful world, specifically it comes by an exaggerated sense of self and a desire for material things.  Listen to how St. Paul sums up this truth in his letter to Timothy: “Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.  But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.  But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. [Timothy 6:6-10]

So what are we to do?  How can we find rescue and relief from this oppressive temptation?  We turn to God and His Holy Word!  We turn to our God who sees all of our afflictions, toil, and the oppressions of the devil, and we let His Holy Word save us, teach us, and guide us.  We turn to our Savior, Jesus Christ who faced all of these same temptations and defeated them in our place, for us!  In fact, let’s do that right now… let’s let Jesus, the living Word of God demonstrate these truths for us in our gospel lesson.

Jesus, as our Champion faces Satan in our place and for our good.

Satan, seeing Jesus tired, alone, and hungry pounces upon Him like a roaring lion seeking to devour Him, and he says, “Prove you are a Son of God.  You’re hungry right?  Well serve yourself up some hot nourishing bread!  Just turn one of the stones into bread; you can do it easily … remember who you are Son of God!”  But Jesus answers back and says, “No Satan.  God’s Word has a better answer for me.  Let me take you to Deuteronomy 8:3, where we are taught that the Father has something a lot more substantial in mind for us than simple bread.  He promises that He will supply all of our needs.  He knows what I really need right now and He is supplying me with something a lot more satisfying than bread.  I need power from Him to enter into my ministry of proclaiming the gospel.  He is giving me what He knows I need, not what you would like to trick me into thinking I need.  I will listen to the Father and serve Him… not my own appetite!”

Having failed at the first test, Satan now begins the second one: “Ok, Son of God, you and I both know that in order  to take this kingdom from me and transfer all of these pathetic people from my kingdom of sin into your kingdom of  grace you are going to have to suffer greatly for them.  But let me save you all of the pain, anguish, and humiliation… let me just give it to you.  See, come up here and look down below.  What do you see?  You see everything don’t you?  Every kingdom and every power and authority on earth, right?  Well it’s all mine, and I can give it to anyone I want, so I choose to give it to you!  Oh, but there’s just one little thing you need to do for me… it’s nothing really… just quickly bow your knee to me, just a slight bend and I’ll give it all to you.  Once you do that, you can go back to being the obedient Son of God to your beloved Heavenly Father.”  

What a tempting trade off!  If it was one of us, perhaps we would say that the end justifies the means.  What’s wrong with just a moment of false worship for full time, eternal authority over the world?  But, this kind of thinking reveals something much deeper than convenience… it shows our devotion to our own self-interest and a hunger for personal power.  It shows our willingness to abandon God and to follow Satan’s path, a path that never leads to God.

But how does Jesus answer?  He responds, “The Bible has a better answer.  Deuteronomy 6:13 says that we are to worship God and no one else.  That means that every moment of our time is to be devoted to the worship and service of God the Father.  Sorry Satan, but that means there is no time left for you!  I’m going to do things the Father’s way, even if it leads to the cross, my suffering, and my death!  I will listen to God’s Word not you!

So now comes the third and final test.  

Satan says to our Lord: “Hey Son of God!  Why don’t you show the world who you really are?  Prove to them once and for all that you are Your Father’s Son!  Let the Father serve you for once, after all you are Co-equal and Co-eternal to Him and the Spirit!  Come on, let’s go to the temple and I’ll show you how to get what’s coming to you.  Look down there below on the holy city.  See all of those tiny—insignificant people down there?  They’ll come running to you quicker than you can blink an eye if they see you throw yourself off the wall and survive.  The Father’s Word says you can do it!  Listen to Psalm 91: “For He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.  On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” [vs. 11-12]  I am certain the Father will save you.  I’ll bet you won’t even stub a toe!  Why I’ll bet He’ll rescue you in midair.  Everyone will see it and fall at your feet and your mission will be accomplished!”

And to this Jesus answers:  “Satan, you sure know how to take God’s Word out of context and twist its meaning to suit your purpose!  Go back to the book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 6 and read this Word: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test!”  You are a tempter, the one who puts God and His children to the test!  And what did it get you?  You were thrown out of heaven and stripped of your heavenly glory and your name!  God is not a tempter and He is never to be tempted!  I will trust the Father and do things His way!  Your way is slick and easy.  It might make great marketing sense but there is just one problem… it is not God’s way!  No thanks!  I will serve the Father and never ask Him to serve me.  Worshiping God isn’t a negotiation… give me this and I’ll give you that.  No, worshiping God is total devotion, no matter the cost!  I’ll follow Him even to the cross… to my death so that these “little” people that you harass and torture will have comfort and hope!  I’ll be obedient unto death, so that they will know that they have a champion… one who fights with them and beside them!  And, then I will ensure that these Words of mine are preserved for eternity so that when they hear them they will have faith… faith in my Father’s compassion and faith in my passion for them!  This is how I will save them!

Dear friends, Jesus is your champion!  He has walked among and conquered the temptations of the devil and this world!  But more importantly, He has walked the way of the cross, the way of suffering and death for you!  He did this so that you would not lose hope in the middle of your own trials and temptations.  He followed the way of the cross so that you would have the strength to overcome the many temptations of life.  But if you fall to temptation, He wants you to remember that He chose the way of the cross so that you would know the way back to God… through the message of the Gospel, which is the message of forgiveness, even for you. You are forgiven!  

In your baptism, Jesus, the Son of God spoke this truth to Satan regarding you: “Be gone Satan!  This one is loved by my Father and saved by my grace!”  But He also speaks to you… He speaks the word of the gospel, God’s forgiveness and love.  He speaks all of these things so that you may be assured of eternal life and so that you can resist the devil and order Him to flee!  Resist him by declaring, “I am baptized into Christ!  And in that holy washing of water and God’s Word of forgiveness, I have been sealed as His child forever in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit… AMEN!”

Christ Alone

Sunday, March 3rd, 2019

Transfiguration Sunday
March 3, 2019
Rev. Brian Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.” (Luke 9:36a)

When I was a boy, I use to think that Lent was, well… depressing!  I dreaded going to Wednesday evening services.  Advent on the other hand was exciting… Christmas and all of the presents were just around the corner.  I wanted the high points of Advent and Christmas worship, the mountaintop experience, not the valleys of Lent!  Boy I had it wrong!  Do you ever find yourself looking only for the “highs” and avoiding the “lows”? But the truth is friends; we can’t avoid the “lows” because they are part of life.  In our Gospel reading this morning, the Apostles were probably feeling a little confused and depressed because Jesus had recently told them about his impending suffering and death upon the cross.  His disciples were afraid, and they were confused!  Perhaps Jesus saw that Peter, James and John needed a glimpse of heaven in order to make it through everything that was about to happen. And ever since, His church has also closed the season of Epiphany (or kicked off Lent) on the mountaintop of the Transfiguration.

So why are we here this morning? 

Are we here to close off the season of Epiphany with a big bang, just as we started it at Jesus’ Baptism? Do we need a big high in order to carry us through the dark valley until we finally arrive at Easter? If you think about it, we could ask the same question about every Sunday. Do we go to church in order to get away from the real world? Or do we go to God’s Divine Service so that through us, God can make something good happen when we return to the “real” world on Monday?

Now that sounds a little “other worldly” doesn’t it?  It makes our time on Sunday’s sound sort of “not of this world”? And that is the point of the Transfiguration story. It’s a real life account about a “not of this world” event. It was the kind of event that left two apostles speechless and another one speaking nonsense. It was so much “not of this world” that it’s recorded in all three of the Gospel accounts.  And each one of them ended with the need to leave the mountaintop experience with Jesus and re-enter “real life” with Him as well.

This morning, we learn that the world of mountaintop experiences is not enough to carry us through. Jesus and His disciples had to live in the real world, and so do we!  But Jesus knew that the experience was necessary for His innermost circle of apostles and because it is recorded for us in scripture, He is telling us that it is important for us as well!  Peter, James, and John needed to see His glory, and so do we!

What does it mean to see Jesus’ glory?  

Well I think our gospel lesson this morning gives us a pretty good picture of that.  Out of thin air, or maybe better put, out of the fog of prayer, appeared Moses and Elijah.  Our text says that they were talking to Jesus about His departure.  What departure?  Well His death upon the cross… his departure from this sinful world!  Why was that important?  Because it signified the fulfillment of all the promises that God had ever made about forgiveness and eternal life!  Those promises began way back in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:15) when God first promised Adam and Eve that their descendant, the Messiah, would smash the head of the serpent (Satan), and rip away his ability to separate men and women from God’s love due to their sin!  But why Moses and Elijah?  Because they represented at the time all of God’s recorded Word, a Word which promised that their Savior was coming; a Savior Who would utterly destroy the power of sin, death, and the devil !  

Moses represented God’s Law which was given to Moses and the church to demonstrate that no one can find God’s love and presence outside of His mercy and forgiveness!  Through the Law, all of mankind  was to see that on their own, they are condemned to eternal death unless God intervenes!  And Elijah represents all of the prophets of God who continually warned God’s people that they were not keeping God’s Law, and frankly they didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of keeping it!  But each of the prophets also promised something special, they promised that God’s means of rescue was coming to save them.  A messiah who was first promised to Adam and Eve would come and destroy Satan’s authority and release sinners from the captivity of sin and death if they would but wait in faith for the fulfillment of that promise, and trust in God’s forgiveness and love!

Peter, James, and John needed to see these two Old Testament Saints surrounded by Jesus’ glory because it meant that the promise was about to be fulfilled.  It meant that He didn’t come to simply rescue them from the temporary tyranny of a Caesar, but from the eternal tormenting of sin, death, and the devil!  The cavalry had arrived, and the counter attack was about to begin; not against an invading and occupying government of men, but against the spiritual and eternal occupation and captivity of evil!

Jesus knew that they must see His glory so that they could tell others about that glory… so that those who heard would have faith and know that God who is faithful had not left them alone to struggle against their enemies!  Jesus knew that they must see His glory so that when they saw Him suffering in great agony upon the cross, they would not lose hope; so that when He lay in the belly of the earth for three days they would not be afraid; and so that when He rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven they would know that they were not alone!  He was still with them in His glory!

Jesus wanted them to understand once and for all that His glory has always been His and always shall be.  Yes He walked and talked with them, as one of them, but He never stopped being God… He never stopped being their Redeemer.  It was His glory; it was His to reveal or not to reveal as He desired.  They must have asked themselves as He hung upon the cross in agony and humiliation: “Why don’t you reveal your glory?  What are you doing?  You don’t have to do this!”  And to these thoughts, Jesus quietly reassures their fears and ours… “It is my glory.  Have faith.  Trust me and know that I will reveal my glory according to my own will and in my own means.  Accept my means of grace, and you will see my glory; the promise fulfilled… the promise of your salvation!”  

This is why they must see His glory, but none of this would make sense until He conquered sin and death once and for all.  None of it would make sense until they witnessed His resurrection from the dead and His ascension into heaven!

We too, must see His glory.  

Just like the apostles, we also need to learn to let go of our own sinful thoughts that get in the way of God’s work of salvation within our own hearts.  We need to admit that there is nothing we can do to please God or make things right with Him.  So to see Jesus’ glory is to first see our own sin… to see how hopeless we are without His rescue. To see His glory is to admit that we too are being held in bondage by the very same enemies that conquered and destroyed all men and women since the fall of Adam and Eve!  And second, if we are to see Jesus’ glory, we must see Him for who He really is for us personally… He is our only means of salvation… our only means of eternal life.  He is God our Savior!

And how does He save us?  How does He show us His glory?  This friends is the best part of all, He does it in an “out of this world” way… He does it according to His means and according to His will!  He does it with Words, His Holy Word’s, and He does it with simple elements; a splash of water, a scrap of bread, and a sip of wine.  The same God that spoke the world into existence speaks new life into you with the sweet words of the gospel… “You are forgiven!”  And with that same simple Word He takes even simpler things like water, bread, and wine, and He not only gives you forgiveness but the ability to believe in that forgiveness as well!  Dear friends, hear this good news and hear it well… You are forgiven!  You are loved by God!  Do you receive this message?  Will you let it change you?  

So now, let all God’s people say AMEN!  Can I get a witness?!?   Peter had it right; the mountain top is good!  

Hey, let’s stay with this feeling as long as we can!  Peter wanted to do just that… he wanted to pitch a few tents so that the experience would last, so that his little glimpse into heaven would continue. But then He heard the voice of God speak, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to Him!”  And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone…. alone with Peter, James, and John, just as He will be alone with you when you leave this sanctuary.  And just as He led the three down the mountaintop into the “real” world where real life is happening, He is leading you out into that same world.  A world that is still being held captive by sin, death, and the devil.  A broken world that is still living in fear and stressed out with the worries of this life!  

On Monday morning, you will find yourself in enemy territory… behind enemy lines, but have no fear Jesus is with you.  His glory remains upon you, even within you because you have been forgiven and saved by His Holy Word, washed clean by His Holy baptismal waters, and nourished by His very body and blood within His supper, and all of this was done for a purpose.  So that you may bring others into His presence, into His glory here in this very sanctuary so that they too may say by faith, “Master, it is good that we are here!” Amen.