Archive for the ‘Epiphany 5A’ Category

Living Out the Third Choice

Sunday, February 9th, 2014

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany (A), February 12, 2014
Rev. Brian HendersonPastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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Our Gospel lesson declares a wonderful truth… “You are the salt of the earth… and “You are the light of the world.”  Who is?  You dear Christians, each and everyone of you who Christ has redeemed and washed clean in the waters of baptism.  How do you know that this is true?  Because you are living out God’s choice… the way He has chosen for you.

There are other choices you can live by, two of them to be exact, but they will not enable you to be salt and light for a decaying world darkened by sin.  Let’s look at those two choices first, and then we will look at God’s third choice.

On our own, when confronted with God’s demand of perfection we could, and many do as a matter of fact, minimize our sinfulness and say we’re doing our best.  But I’m afraid that our best, your best isn’t good enough.  “Oh yeah?  Who says?!”  Well, God says of course, within His Holy Law.  You see, the 10 Commandments aren’t the “10 Suggestions” or “10 Ideals;”  They are God’s commandments.  In other words, they are nonnegotiable; YOU MUST DO THEM TO LIVE!

Sinful, human tendency, our tendency when confronted by the harsh demands of God’s holy law is to negotiate with God; to point to the “good things” we’ve done in hopes that they will tip the balance of some divine scale in our favor.  This kind of choice is what Jesus called self-righteousness.  It’s the kind of false righteousness that the world celebrates but God deplores.  It’s the kind of righteousness that demands that God take notice of the good and religious things it does; its as if it is saying “Listen to me God!  Look at all I’ve done and take notice!” And to this, God hears and He has responded.  Listen to His answer in our Old Testament reading (Isaiah 58:3-9a): “Is not this the fast (the religion) that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?  Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness”. [Vs. 6-9]

So there is your answer from God.  He is saying, don’t tell me to notice you and the things you do, because that is exactly what I will do.  I have looked, I have taken notice and not only do I see the sinful things you do but I also see the things you have failed to do.

So now we see that we can’t get away from our sinfulness; we can’t deflect the harsh demand of God’s law and think that we can please Him by our “good deeds.”  So what are we to do?  And this question leads us to our second choice, which is…

Despair.  Thefreedictionary.com online, defines despair this way: To loose all hope; to be overcome by a sense of futility or defeat; a complete loss of hope.  The church has always defined despair as a complete abandonment of all hope of saving one’s soul and of having the means required towards that salvation.  It isn’t a passive state of mind, but rather it involves a positive act of the will where a person deliberately gives up any hope of ever pleasing God or attaining eternal life with Him.

A famous poem made movie, and even cartoon is that work of Dante Alighieri’s 14th Century work now known as Dante’s Inferno.  The poem takes place on Maundy Thursday during Holy Week when Dante finds himself on a journey into hell itself.  As Dante and his guide were entering Hell, they see an inscription on the gate of Hell, which says, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”  What is despair?  That condition of a person’s soul, which is consumed with the reality that all hope of being at peace with God is gone!  So on our own, it seems we only have two choices: self-righteousness that God says always fall short of his perfection, or despair.

But God says that both of these choices are false choices; that is, they are not God’s choice for you.  God’s will for you is that when confronted with your sin, your self-righteousness and despair you would turn to Him for forgiveness of sins, and then allow Him to transform your heart into a new heart that is loving, humble, generous, and kind.  And that transformation can only come when the Spirit of God works within it and provides God’s grace.  God’s grace… that is His undeserved forgiving love and kindness, which comes only through God’s choice, our third choice, Jesus Christ!

In or gospel reading, Jesus says this about the holy and perfect law of God, which many wish did not exist because of its impossible demands: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”  You see Jesus is our third choice, because only the perfect Son of God had the ability to fulfill all of God’s Word completely and perfectly.  But He did not fulfill them for Himself; He did it for you!  He fulfilled them so that you would have a new kind of righteousness to exchange with your sinful self-righteousness.  He gives to you His own righteousness.

In your baptism God gave you the fruits of Christ’s own cross.  One of those fruits is the righteousness of Christ.  But He also gave you another fruit, which is the promise that He would never leave nor forsake you.  He promised that no one could snatch you out of God’s hand of salvation.  In other words, you don’t have to worry about abandoning all hope; you do not need to despair.  Why?  Because as Jesus hung upon the cross He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” [Mark 15:34]  Jesus experienced complete abandonment from God for you so that you never would.  He experienced it so that you need not ever despair.

So now, this very morning God has given you this third choice.  So what does this mean?  It means that we should fear and love God so that we continue to allow His Word to expose our hypocrisy and our audacity to think that we could earn His forgiveness and blessing, and then turn to and cling to His only choice, our third choice Jesus Christ.  It means that we will turn to that third choice as our only choice and allow it to transform how we live our lives.  By faith we commit ourselves with the help of God to trust in Him alone to provide all of life’s blessings that will influence how we live.  In other words we will speak as God speaks and not as the world desires.  Our words will be salt to a dying world, even though the world would rather have us be honey.  We will not simply go along with the latest sinful trend simply to avoid discomfort in this life.  But we will also be light in a dark world.  How?  By allowing God to both capture our hearts and then motivate our minds to do the good things that God calls true religion.

In verses 6 and 7 of our Old Testament reading, we are given an impressive list of what God calls true religion.  On our own, this list can seem overwhelming and even impossible; after all we are just one little light!  But God tells us not to despair, that is don’t hide your light under a basket, but put it on a stand, and let it shine so that others will see your good works and give glory not to you, but to your Father in Heaven.  And remember, you are not a lone ranger Christian; you are not alone.  You are part of the church that is, the body of Christ Himself.  Or as Jesus said, “You are a city on a hill, (and you the church) can not be hidden.”

The church collectively can fight to loosen the bonds of the devil and free those trapped in sin.  The church can bring both physical bread and spiritual bread to the hungry and thirsty, especially those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.  We do this as we are being salt and light.

At a Bible study one day, some young people were discussing what it means to be “the salt of the earth.” One young person observed that “Salt creates flavor.” Another observed that “Salt preserves things from decay.” But then a young Chinese Christian exchange student spoke out of an experience none of the others had thought of. She said, “Salt creates thirst.” There was a sudden hush in the room, because all of those young people were thinking: “Have I ever made anyone thirsty for the Lord Jesus Christ?”

How do we help people thirst for God?  We can’t on our own, but God can if we continue to live lives of faith and repentance, the very thing we were baptized to do.  We can if we demonstrate a trust in His Word even when things seem hopeless.  And when our little bit of salt and our little bit of light draws the attention of others, we can invite them to that city on a hill, our own little church and allow God’s Word to invite them to live out along with us, God’s third choice… eternal life through Jesus Christ!   I pray this for each of you, and this city on a hill, and I ask this in Jesus name… Amen!

Salt and Light

Sunday, February 6th, 2011

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany (A), February 6, 2011
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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INTRODUCTION: Have you ever wondered why we start every Divine Service with our confession of sins?  It is so we can give God glory for what He has done for us, what He is doing for us, and what He will do for us.  What is that great thing?  Friends, He has saved us from ourselves; He is saving us from sin, and He will save us from death and the devil!  In our confession of sins we are admitting to God our complete spiritual poverty.  We are agreeing with Him that we are so hopelessly lost in sin that only He can save us!  And then after our declaration of poverty and hopelessness God’s kingdom breaks through in a mighty way and gives us the gospel; He gives us pardon and forgiveness in the Words of the absolution.  Listen to these wonderful words of Good News: “Almighty God, our heavenly Father, has had mercy upon us and has given His only Son to die for us and for His sake forgives us all our sins.  To those who believe on His name He gives power to become the children of God and has promised them His Holy Spirit.  He that believes and is baptized shall be saved!”

Dear friends, this essentially was our message last week.  It is the door that we must always walk through in order to correctly understand God’s Word and live by it.  It is the very means that God uses to help us differentiate His Law from His Gospel.  If we can admit that we are broken, empty and poor in spirit, then we will receive the help of Jesus Christ, who is our God in human flesh.  If we come to Jesus in confession, He promises that He will in no means cast us away from Him!  This is why we are blessed, because Jesus has come to us in His Word and Sacraments and saved us.  Jesus is coming to us in His means and is still saving us!  And Jesus will come to us on the last day, on our last day and He will save us!  If we understand this divine truth, then we will also understand that Jesus is with us, within us, and around us performing His mighty works of mercy so that God will be glorified.  So what does it mean to say that Jesus is working through us; what will that look like?  That’s what we want to look at this morning.  Because Jesus is working through us we will see Him being salt and light in our congregation and in our personal lives.

I. This morning our Lord speaks to our congregation with these words: “Dear Trinity Lutheran Church, I blessed you long ago as a tiny mission congregation by giving you my Word and Sacraments and a faithful preacher.  I blessed you with the power to take My living Word out into the little sleepy coastal town of San Diego, California.  You admitted to me in your confession of sins that you were not able to serve me as you must; you admitted your sinfulness but you also joyfully heard my word of forgiveness, which brought to you my love and peace so that you could rest in My Father’s love.  And because you were faithful in trusting in my real presence, I called you to do spectacular work for my kingdom.  In 1896 I gave you your calling as a congregation; a calling which came directly from my heart.  I called you to be salt and light in this sinful world.  You were called then and you are called now to be the salt of the earth, the salt in San Diego, CA.  And even now, because of my Word that you faithfully preach and teach, I am still the very thing that is preserving you and flavoring your community with my grace.  This is a marvelous thing.  So you must continue to speak My Word, both the Law and the Gospel to those who do not know Me or even refuse to know Me.  Teach My Word correctly and administer My Sacraments faithfully and I will continue to bless you.”

“Dear Trinity Lutheran Church, you are the light of the world.  Just as you must never cease being salt that flavors and preserves, you must also never quit letting my light shine out from this little church.  In my eyes you are not little but great; you are a city set on a hill.  You are like the city of Zion high on the Lord’s mountain.  I have made you a sanctuary of peace for your neighbors.  Continue to allow my light to shine brightly from 7210 Lisbon Street.  Continue to feed and clothe the poor, educate the youth, protect and care for the helpless and needy.  I see your school that is slowly taking shape around My Word and Sacraments and I am well pleased.  I see your pantry feeding your neighbors and I celebrate with you.  I see your ministry to the seniors and I am empowering that work.  I see you becoming all things to all people so that you may share my Word of Law and Gospel with them and I bless you for that.  Dear Trinity, continue to let my light shine so that others will see your good works, your works of faith and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

II. This morning dear friends, our Lord isn’t just talking to our church, but He is also talking to each of us as individuals.  He is saying to you and to me that “You are the salt of the earth, but if (the salt that I have given to you) has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?  It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” 

Do you hear a threat, the thundering of God’s Law within these Words?  If you do then you aren’t listening with a new heart; a heart that has been made new.  If you hear threats and punishment, then you must go back to the door of invitation where Christ asked you to enter into His gospel peace of love, mercy and forgiveness.  You must go back to your confession of sin and hear again the absolution and His proclamation which has assured you that because you are forgiven He will by no means cast you out!  You must rest in the work that Jesus alone has done, is doing, and will do within you.  You must only look to Jesus and let His real presence change you.

This morning dear friends, Jesus says to each of us: “You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

In these Words friends, Jesus reminds us that because we have been blessed with the gospel promise, we are not just blessed for ourselves but we have been blessed so that we are a blessing for others.  Because He has blessed us He has now called us to bless our neighbors and even our entire community.  In whatever place we find ourselves we are to be a great light that demonstrates righteousness.  But as you have confessed you have no righteousness to demonstrate because you are spiritually poor.  Then what light are you to let shine?  Only the light of Jesus Christ; He alone is the light of the world; He is our sun and we are His moon.  His light is to shine and be reflected out of us in such a way that others will see that light and give glory to our Father in heaven.

To let our light shine before others means that we must let it shine in a spectacular way.  If you are a parent or grandparent, be an extraordinary.  If you are a child, be an extraordinary child.  In whatever career or vocation you find yourself in, let your calling as a Christian, as salt and light be your central vision; let Christ be your purpose and your goal, and you will experience His light shining from within you.  But for what purpose are we to be the salt and light of this world?  Only for this, so that we may see Jesus ever expanding and building His Kingdom through us and among us!

CONCLUSION: How can we do all of this?  We can’t and we must admit this.  We must let go of all of our self-righteousness and then simply receive and be filled by Jesus’ own righteousness.  And friends, we can only do this by living in and living out the Word of God.  With Jesus leading us we can’t help but share the word of God with whomever He brings us to.  And what shall we say?  Friends, through us, He will speak the same word of peace that He speaks to us; the same word that saved us and brought us into His kingdom!  And as we speak this Word of peace we will also rest in it, and by resting in God’s Word we will also be empowered to demonstrate it in how we live.  Jesus Christ Himself, who is living and dwelling richly within us, will be the One doing all of the works of love through us!  And with Christ living within us and changing us, others will certainly see His presence and His works of love.  And when they ask why you do these things, simply explain to them that it is Christ alone who does them through you for them; simply share with them God’s love and His desire to give to them that same presence and peace.  Invite them into a relationship of friendship with you so you can continue to share the Word and love of God, and then invite them to our city on a hill; invite them to come to Trinity with you so that they too can be changed and blessed with a purpose; with a calling!  And what is that calling?  To be that same blessing to others!

Dear friends, I pray that as a congregation and as individuals we will let God’s light within us continue to break forth within our community like the dawn, so that God’s healing and life giving Word of the gospel will spread His righteousness.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!