Archive for the ‘Deuteronomy 30:15-20’ Category

How’s Your Heart?

Monday, February 13th, 2017

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany (A), February 12, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

IMG_0640This morning the Words of Jesus are a continuation of His Sermon that we have listened to the last two weeks. If you recall last week He informed us that we are both the salt and light of the world, and this week He demonstrates what that salt and light will look like. His Word comes to us like a scalpel in the hand of a renowned surgeon. Make no mistake, while these Words are spiritual in nature they are nonetheless real and they are God’s own truth. So the surgery that Jesus will perform on each of us will be spiritual in nature and the focus of that surgery will be our very hearts! But like any great surgeon, Jesus wants us to understand the nature of our disease; if left untreated it is eternally fatal. And to help us see the need for this surgery Jesus speaks some strong words to demonstrate to us that our physical hearts are diseased and in fact, already dead!

Our message this morning is still part of Jesus proclamation that in spite of our battle with Sin, through our faith in Him we are both forgiven and blessed.

So within our baptized reality of complete forgiveness, the procedure Jesus is performing this morning is simply corrective surgery because we’ve already been given a new heart and assured of our place in Jesus’ Heavenly Kingdom. But, if you haven’t yet entered the Kingdom of God through your confession of sin and hopelessness, you will find this whole procedure worrisome, frightful, and intimidating.

You have two choices, you can push away the hand that will skillfully wield the scalpel and cancel the surgery, or you can take a deep breath of the Word of God and allow God to have His way with you. What is this surgery? To be honest, it’s nothing less than a heart transplant. Jesus wants to remove your diseased heart of stone and replace it with a healthy heart… His own heart! Now you can refuse to allow our Great Physician to perform this procedure and choose death, or you can choose to simply let go of your own self-centered interest and allow Jesus to give you new and eternal life.

Now I know that for all of us, this will be an uncomfortable time in Jesus’ spiritual OR, but we must remember who it is that is caring for us. He promises that if we will simply trust Him, and let His Word work within us, we will be eternally changed and rearranged. Well, are we ready? Then let’s let the Master do His work!

Listen as Jesus picks up His scalpel, which is His Word.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” [Matt. 5:21-22] Now, what we need to keep in mind in this entire message is that there is a common thread that connects all of Jesus teaching.

If we stay with our analogy of heart disease, then we can see Jesus directing our attention to one of the proofs that we have a diseased heart. He does this by showing us how we incorrectly look at the 5th Commandment. Just like the people in Jesus time, we too have a very narrow interpretation of murder. Generally we think of it as raising our hand against our neighbor in a way that ends in violence and death. Images of Charlie Manson, Ted Bundy and John Gardner come to mind. But Jesus says, “No, that’s too narrow.” OK, so let’s include drive-by shootings, terrorism, and domestic violence in the mix. “No” says Jesus, “your still to narrow.” Ok, so we will include unjust actions by police officers that take a life, or an unjust war! And to this Jesus says, “No you still do not understand that this is a matter of the heart. What the heart feels and thinks is what gives birth to sin. If you are angry with your Christian brother or sister, or even your neighbor, and if you will not let go of that anger you are guilty of murder!”

“You see” says Jesus, “your anger at first is hidden away in your heart. You think that no one can see it, but I can. I know what will happen if you don’t get rid of it; if you don’t let me cut it out. It will turn to bitterness, which will overflow into hurtful words, that may then result in some type of action on your part. I see all of this, and I am warning you that if you don’t let me cut this disease out, you will die eternally and end up in Hell!”

Now each of us may be tempted to think that Jesus is speaking of a procedure that we can put off until later. Certainly He doesn’t have to perform this work right now?! And to this Jesus says: “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” What does Jesus mean by this? Is He telling me that I should get up right now and confess my sin to my brother and sister? What if my brother or sister that I have sinned against is right now in this very sanctuary? Am I supposed to interrupt the sermon and approach them? Well maybe not, but by no means should you approach our Lord’s Holy Table and eat and drink forgiveness if you are unable to confess your sin to the one you have hurt or are unable to forgive the one that hurt you. By the work of the Holy Spirit, you must be willing to forgive as Jesus has forgiven you!

Now some of us may have heard the wisdom in these words, we may have seen the need for a new and changed heart, but we want to have time to consider the ramifications of just what such a radical procedure will mean. So, we will want to put it off until the right time. And to this procrastinating Jesus brings the spiritual urgency of His Words into our physical reality with more teaching: “Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” [Vs. 25-26]

Here is where our spiritual and physical realities combine. Here Jesus is assuring us that if we damage our relationship with our neighbor and do not take steps to repair that damage, it will also have an eternal effect on our relationship with Him! “So” He says, “do everything that is within your power to live in peace with your neighbor, especially with fellow believers!”

OK, that part of the surgery is complete, so now let’s move onto the next procedure.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’”

“But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” [Vs. 27-30]

Wait, what? Who’s the surgeon here anyways? Why does Jesus want us to remove our eye and cut off our hand? Well haven’t you ever heard someone say, “I can’t help it, I just have a wondering eye.” Or when it comes to stealing they might say, “I just have sticky fingers.” So Jesus is saying, “Go ahead and pluck and cut, cut and pluck until there’s nothing left to remove! Or” He says, “you can just let me finish this surgery on your heart, which is the real cause of all of your problems!”

Friends, here Jesus is showing us once again that the root of all our sins can be found in the terminal condition of our hearts. If we want to be free of sin, even the sin of adultery, we must first admit that we have that disease within us. And to make this confession easier for us, Jesus has shown us that just thinking impure sexual thoughts is the same as carrying them out. Looking at impure material on the internet and fantasizing about it and looking at a person of the opposite sex and imagining any contact outside of neighborly love is the same thing as actually performing the sinful act! So who is guilty of such adultery? All of us! What is the cure for such a propensity to sin? A new heart! And that’s just what Jesus has done for us and is doing for us.

Well, we’ve reached the final portion of our surgery. And very soon we’ll be in the recovery room. But Jesus has just one more major procedure to perform. Listen:

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” [Vs. 31-32]

Now I know for a fact that this part of the surgery is perhaps the hardest and most difficult portion to sit through. Divorce has become so acceptable in our society that we no longer think of it as a sin. We can actually be tempted to tell our Great Physician that this is an antiquated procedure and it has no place in a modern society. We might be tempted to quote to Him all of the reasons why divorce is needed. We might be tempted to begin to rise off of the operating table and tell Him were done! And to this Jesus gently pushes us back down onto the table and says, “Remember, you are baptized, forgiven of all sin, but I say to you friend that unless your divorce was caused by unfaithfulness you have already committed adultery. So lay back down and let me finish! Hear what I will tell you now and confess that I am right and you are wrong. Divorce is sin. It shatters the lives of both parties as well as the innocent children and family members that are part of that relationship. From now on, do not divorce. Instead, be faithful to your marriage vows and love and serve one another as if you are loving and serving me.”

Now our Lord is finishing the surgery, and He closes the incision with these Words: “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. [Vs. 37] And when you say you will do something simply do it!”

How do we feel now? Well like how we would feel after any major surgery, we are groggy and sore.

The strong medicine of God’s Law has done its work within us. But now it’s time for the healing Word of His Gospel to do its work. Now we are reminded that we have already been forgiven and saved from our sins; we have already been given a new heart. This procedure, while painful was necessary in order to continue the transformation that Jesus began within us after we were recreated and washed clean in the waters of our baptism. Then and now, Jesus is asking us to live a life in agreement with God’s Word.

And when we live this kind of life, we are truly being salt and light in this sinful world; we choose to live a life that agrees with God’s Word. And as we live this kind of life, we know that our Heavenly Father is always working to perfect us and protect us from our greatest threat, and that is our own sins within us that seek to destroy our new heart, Jesus’ heart that He has placed within us.

So now we have a picture of what salt and light looks like. It is a picture of how we live with each other. Will we sin and fall short of God’s demand of perfection? Yes, we certainly will! And confronted with this reality we take our sin and shortcomings to Jesus and His cross. We repent and confess our sins of thought and attitude, word and deed, to God, asking forgiveness for Jesus’ sake, as we also ask our neighbor for forgiveness just as we stand ready to forgive them. And throughout or lives we constantly asking God to grant us faith to receive the strength of His Spirit Who always turns our hearts and minds towards Jesus our Great Physician, and His cross. Because we do this, God assures us that we will be at peace with Him and each other, loving with a true love, and serving each other as Christ Jesus continues to love and forgive us!

May you always live out this new heart and mind of Jesus. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…. AMEN!

Living a Cross Culture Life

Sunday, September 5th, 2010

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 5, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

 “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” [Luke 14:35b]  Let him really hear; let him listen!  Do you have ears?  Good, then Jesus says, “Listen!”  But even now, some of you aren’t listening.  You’re thinking about what you need to do this afternoon.  It’s the Labor Day weekend, so maybe you have a family barbeque planned.  Perhaps people are coming over, so you’re thinking about cleaning your house?  Well listen to what Jesus is saying.  Do you have ears to hear?  Then listen!  Maybe the title of the sermon has turned you off: Living a cross culture life.  Maybe you’re thinking, “Oh here he goes again, another sermon on the cross!”  And to this Jesus again asks, “Do you have ears to hear?  Good, then listen!”

This morning God wants us to hear Him with our ears so that His Word can continue to touch and change our hearts, because only then will we be able to really listen.  You see Jesus knows something that we seem to forget, and that is that because our hearts are essentially sinful they are prone to wander from His grace; grace which comes by the gift of faith, which He has given to us through His Word!  It’s this gift of faith that creates within us a desire to hear His Word and believe it; believe that God loves us and will never leave us!  This is the most important thing He wants you to believe and rest in!

This morning God wants you to know that if you will not continue to hear and listen to His Word then you are choosing not to rest in His love and grace.  He wants you to know that there is an eternal cost in leaving Him!  Listen to His warning that comes to us in our Old Testament lesson this morning: “But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish… I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse.  Therefore choose life that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days”. [Deut. 30:17-20b]

God’s message is simple!  The God of Holy Scripture is your God!  He is the God of your salvation and your very life.  His promises of blessings and love are true and more than that, they’re yours.  In His Word He assures you that He chose you to be His child; He proved this by ensuring that you were saved in the waters of your baptism.  In His Holy Supper He feeds you His very body and blood for the forgiveness of all of your sins!  And even more amazing, He promises that this forgiveness even extends into the future, to your children and your children’s children if they too will walk by faith according to His means.  But you can’t have any other gods; in fact He is saying you don’t need any other gods!  But what does it mean to have another god?  Well to have a god is to have something that is most important to you; something that you place your hope and trust in… something that you would fight to hold onto.  And if it’s anything that takes first place over God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit well… then you have a false god!

If you continue to choose to follow a sinful lifestyle and you refuse to embrace holy living then your sinful life style has become your god, and you have chosen death!  If you continue to place your family and friends above your relationship with God, well then they’ve become your false god and the instrument of your death and damnation!  Now listen; do you have ears?  Of course you do!  So God is calling you to hear Him and listen with your heart.  He’s telling you to turn away from your false gods and turn to Him.  What He’s saying is “Choose life!”

Now, for those of you who attend our Wednesday morning bible study, your ears may have perked up and you may be saying, “Choose life?  I thought our sinful flesh can only choose death.  I thought that the Law of God was impossible to follow?”  And to that, may I say, congratulations… you are right!

The words choice and freewill are a little misleading.  You see, God really does give you the freedom to choose, but your choices are very limited.  You can only choose to live to please the desires of your sinful flesh.  Think of it this way; let’s say that you are in a burning building.  It’s fully engulfed in fire and it’s ready to burn you alive.  In front of you are two doors.  One leads deeper into the flames and the other leads outside; it leads to freedom and life.  There’s one problem though, that door is chained, locked, and barricaded shut.  So go ahead, choose!  “Not fair” you say, “there is really only one choice and that’s death!”  And to that observation, God says, “Very good.  Now you are hearing; now you are listening!”

Friends, the truth is, there really is only one choice; you will always choose what is in your sinful heart to do, and that’s a sad truth.  In your heart are all the things that you love and wish for, and those things are always self serving and never God serving!  So you see damnation and judgment are your destiny and future unless something miraculous is done by God to change your heart!  And now enters a second choice, a divine choice; God has changed your heart and He chose life for you!  So how do we choose life?  By resting and trusting in God’s mercy and His means of grace that He has given to us!  In keeping with our burning building illustration, God’s means, His Word and Sacraments are the only way the door to eternal life can be opened.  Jesus alone is the key that unlocks the door and removes the barricade of sin in your life! 

Moses told the people that the Word of God was in their mouth and in their heart.  Then he gave them a simple command… do it!  But how?  Well, you have ears to hear, so listen.  Listen to the Word of life that tells you about God’s love and forgiveness.  Dear friends, Jesus is the Word of life in human flesh.  He is a Word that assures us that we will have an abundant life, even an eternally abundant life.  How do you choose life?  By continuously choosing to stay in a relationship of love with God through Jesus Christ!  You have ears to hear, so listen to Jesus, the Word of eternal life and live!  “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light”. [Matt. 11:28-30]

How do we choose life?  By continuing to choose to hear the Word of God; by resting in the choice that Jesus made for you.  Listen friends, the Son of God always has been and always will be the Word of God, but He chose to become so much more than that… He chose to come to us in our flesh.  He chose to be incarnate by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary and take on the name and person of Jesus.  He chose to suffer and die under Pontius Pilot; He chose to die a terrible and agonizing death upon the cross; a death you deserved to die and a death you certainly will die if you do not continue to choose life; if you do not choose to use the ears He has given to you to hear the Words of eternal life; words that bring faith and salvation.  How do we choose?  By staying in the relationship of love that He has already given to us!  Jesus is your God and you are part of His people.  In your baptism you have been promised that God has chosen you!  So your choice is simple: Either choose to continue to walk in this relationship of grace or choose to walk away from it.  Friends, God has already chosen life for you, will you rest in that choice or will you make the only other choice that you are capable of making?  God encourages you to choose life and since you are here, hearing and listening to His Word then God simply asks you to rest in His choice of life for you!  But Jesus warns us this morning that there is a cost in continually choosing to rest in God’s grace!

 In our gospel reading, Jesus clearly defines that cost with a warning similar to the one Moses gave long ago.  We must protect our relationship with Jesus and have no other gods; even if it means that we must leave the company of family and friends, wealth and comfort, and even at the expense of our own life!  Listen: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.  Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” [Lk. 14:25-27]

Now perhaps it is the ears of our catechism students that are perking up!  “What about the 4th Commandment, which says that we are to honor our Father and Mother?”  Dear friends, God hasn’t set aside that commandment, instead he is simply allowing you understand that there’s one that is more important… the 1st Commandment!  “You shall have no other gods before or beside me!”  You see friends, Jesus is not just God, He is your God.  He is God for you, and you are His child.  He bought you with a great price.  And because He is your God and you are His child, you must hate anything that would seek to separate you from that eternal relationship.  You must even hate your own sinful flesh!  This hating is simply keeping God first and protecting that relationship from all other relationships.  But our challenge is living out that relationship in a sinful world.  And this is where your cross comes in; this is the counting of the cost of living a Cross Culture Life!  Following Jesus and bearing your cross means that that it’s your desire to put God first, even if it means that you will lose the love and respect of family and friends; you’ll fight to place Him first even if it means you could lose your employment.  But this fight to keep God first doesn’t mean that you’ll quit being a loving father, mother, wife, husband, child, brother, sister, or neighbor.  It doesn’t mean that because you are tired of fighting your own sinful flesh, you’ll take your own life.  No, instead it means that you will continue to choose living a life that trusts in God no matter the cost!  Counting the cost friends means that you will continue to fear, love and trust God above all things, even above your own family and your personal comfort.  Hating your life then means walking with God even if it requires you to die for Him!

Have you counted the cost of being a disciple of Jesus Christ, of keeping God first?  God did!  In Christ, He not only proved that He counted the cost of saving you, but He also proved that He loves you… He gave you forgiveness and peace with Him.  Through His living Word and Sacraments He has assured you that He not only loves you but that He will never leave you or forsake you.  Through His love that was given to you through the cross He calls you to follow Him and bear your own cross.  I pray that you will continue to choose life and make it a wonderful and holy cross culture life! I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!