Archive for the ‘Epiphany 6A’ Category

Live Long and Prosper

Sunday, February 16th, 2014

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany (A), February 19, 2014
Rev. Brian HendersonPastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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Last week, God’s Word invited us to live out our third choice, His choice, Jesus Christ.  Today we continue that journey, that choice of living everyday with God’s mercy and forgiving love which is ours through Christ’s death and resurrection as our baptismal identity.

This morning in our Old Testament lesson, God spoke through Moses to the people of Israel an urgent message of repentance, but He is also speaking to us, listen: “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.  If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. 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. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess.” [Deuteronomy 30:15-18]

So this morning, like the people of Israel, God gives us two choices: 1. Choose life in Me and you will live long and prosper, or; 2. Choose life in the world and you will surely perish.

What Israel could not have known yet, because God had not yet warned them through the prophets, was the truth that even though they were on their way to the promised land, they would sin against God by choosing the way of the world and they would be taken back into bondage through exile to foreign lands, and then, they would be given an opportunity to repent and once again know God’s grace, that is His mercy and forgiving love.  Then and only then, would they be able to live a life surrounded by God’s blessings and the daily choice to remain obedient to the will of God and His commandments.  If they would choose God’s way they would have something greater than a long life, they would have an eternal life.  But failure to receive all of God’s Word would most certainly result in death; that is eternal separation from God.

So we see, what God was really saying to the people of Israel and to us today is “Choose Me and you will be choosing a long, eternal, and prosperous life!  If you choose to stay with Me, I will always be with you just as I went with my people in the desert as a pillar of light by night and pillar of cloud by day.  I did that so you would know that I would never leave you or forsake you.  But not only was I with you, but I provided all that you needed to survive.  I gave you both food and drink.”  What Israel was to remember was that God chose them, they did not choose Him.  So now, all that He was asking them to do was rest in that choice; sadly many did not.  They did not choose God because they preferred to choose the way of the world.

Whenever Israel chose the way of the world, they were choosing sin; in essence they were declaring their independence from the God who not only created them, but redeemed them.  They chose death, evil, and the curse that went with death and evil… eternal separation from their only source of salvation.  Here is a trust worthy saying: When ever God’s children choose sin over Him and His gift of faith, which He has given to them, they also loose the ability to be obedient to His will, and then very quickly they will unite with their new masters, sin, death, and the devil.  If you reject God who creates life, then it only makes sense that you embrace death.

So what we discover is that choice is not something we do to get something we want, but something God has done and then invites us to rest in; something that gives purpose and meaning to life… and that something is the life of Jesus Christ.  Jesus life, death, and resurrection reminds us that we did not choose God, He chose us.

This morning, Jesus, the Son of God says: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another. [John 15:16-17]

Dear friends, I pray that you understand how blessed you are to be living in the time that you are living.  God does not speak to your through a burning bush, nor is He present with you in a pillar of fire or cloud.  He is with you now through His Son, Jesus Christ.  In His Word He speaks life into you.  By the power of His Spirit, God’s Word becomes strong and living within you.  In that Word you hear how God came to a sinful world that would not repent, that is they would not come to Him and choose life.  They would not choose Him so He came to them.  He came to them through His Son Jesus, and through the death and resurrection of Jesus, God made all things new!  But God did not just choose to save the world; He chose to save you personally.

In your baptism, God took the power of Christ’s death, a gift for the world and He applied it to you personally.  In your baptism, you have been saved from the bondage of sin, death, and the devil, and you have been told that your time of exile is over; that is your separation from God is over.  Now all that is left for you to do dear Christian is to continue following Jesus and His way, the way of the cross.

The way of the cross is the way of the baptized.  Martin Luther throughout His life encouraged Christians to embark on this journey every morning by rising out of bed, making the sign of the cross, and then saying, “I am baptized into Christ.”  That is your old sinful nature has been buried with Christ, and your new baptized nature has been resurrected with Him.  In other words you are reaffirming every morning that you choose life; you choose to live out God’s choice of life for you and then demonstrate that life to others that you will encounter throughout the day.

Just as Israel long ago was commanded to choose life so too are we.  By choosing life God means for us to choose to rest in His source to save us, Jesus Christ.  He is the source of both our choice and the purpose for the lives we live under this choice.  In other words, Jesus gives our lives meaning; He gives us the ability to live lives of faith and obedience to the will of God.  As Israel was invited to choose life, so are we.  With Jesus as the source of our life, we discover that our life has a purpose here on this earth.  And that purpose is to witness to God’s mercy and forgiving love.  We can do this because everyday we are experiencing it through God’s grace, which has become His gift to us through our baptism.  We choose life because He who was crucified and resurrected has assured us of the true life we have in Him.

Dear friends, you will not choose death because Jesus has destroyed death through the cross and the empty tomb.  You are not your own; you have been bought with a price.  You no longer live to please yourself, but your Father in Heaven.  Your life in Christ is now about caring for God and for your neighbor.  You choose life for yourself when you choose the will of God over your own will.  Your life will not be consumed with satisfying your own sinful desires but instead, you will become conscience of the will of God and the needs of your neighbor, and their greatest need is to know Jesus unto eternal life.

Everyday, we who call ourselves Christians are confronted with all kinds of choices as we live out our lives here in a dying world.  All to often, our sinful flesh over powers our new nature and caves into the world’s definition of choice.  We find ourselves picking and choosing the things that will benefit ourselves at the expense of pleasing God and helping out our neighbors within our community.  But choice within God’s definition of choice is not a matter of picking and choosing; it is a covenant term or a promise from God to us.  We know that those who refuse to receive God’s promise of life through Jesus Christ will only know death.  But we who are baptized, that is those of us who are saved by God’s grace through faith, choose to live out that baptismal grace every day.  We choose to continue to live out our lives in Christ, and we are assured of His presence and strength through out our lives in this world of exile.  We cling to the promise of Jesus that says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you”.

I pray that as you continue living out God’s choice you would know that eternal life is yours.  I pray that you would live a life of peace with God and peace with your neighbor.  I pray that you would live long and prosper, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Have You Had Your Heart Checked Lately?

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany (A), February 13, 2011
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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INTRODUCTION:  Maybe you are feeling a little like me this morning, tired of all the commercialism around Valentine’s Day. For the last few weeks we have been bombarded with images and messages that say love is measured  by how much we spend on those we love.  But this has never been God’s idea of love.  God’s Word clearly teaches us that the quality of love isn’t measured by our pocket book, but instead by our hearts.

This morning the Words of Jesus come 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; the disease that requires corrective surgery.  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! 

I. We must remember the context in which these Words come to us.  Our message this morning is still part of a large sermon we call “The Sermon on the Mount”.  Hopefully, we are still resting in our confession that we are spiritually empty and dead inside.  And if we are, then God’s Word assures us that we have found forgiveness and peace with Him.  So 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 or you can take a deep breath of the Word of God and fall helplessly to its work and let that same Word perform a major spiritual surgery on you.  What is that 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 let our Great Physician perform this procedure, but you must be warned that the result will be eternal death; eternal separation from God.  But if you will simply let go of your own self-centered interest and turn to Jesus and His love for you, you will never be the same.

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!

II. “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, domestic violence and DWI’s in the mix.  “No” says Jesus, “your still to narrow.”  Ok, so we will include unjust actions by our 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 the 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, which 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 yes, if you feel that is what God is asking you to do!  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.  And by no means are you to approach our Lord’s Supper unless you are 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 these words: “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]  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 of 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 actually 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 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, “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.  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!” 

III. 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.  First we agree that all of our sins, past, present and future have been forgiven.  Second we agree that as salt and light in this sinful world we need to always turn to Jesus and allow His heart within us to teach us how to live a life that agrees with God’s Word.  We know that while it’s true that we live among people who want to do us harm, people we have every right to see as our enemies, we must learn to trust in God’s protection; His work around us and within us.  We know that even if we suffer great violence and loss, our Heavenly Father is always working to 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.

CONCLUSION: So here is a picture of what salt and light looks like within us, our congregation, and even within our community.  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, and we ask for the strength of God’s Spirit to always turn us to Jesus our Great Physician.  And friends, God’s Word assures us that when we turn to Jesus and hunger to let His heart beat within us, we are also turning away from our old sinful diseased heart.  And 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!