Archive for the ‘Hebrews 11:16-40’ Category

For The Glory of the Lord!

Sunday, September 1st, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 13C, August 18th, 2013

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“Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great.” [Proverbs 25:6]

One of my favorite sayings I speak to remind myself to choose the good over the indifferent or self-serving path is to say “I’m doing this for the glory of God.”  Now, this little statement has gotten me through a lot of tough times, but I’ve also found that it can also become a dangerous way of drawing glory away from God and to myself.  Let me show you what I mean.

You say to me, “Pastor, that was a good message.”  And I say with great joy in my voice, “Thanks be to God, all glory goes to Him!”  Or, your spouse may say, “I really appreciate the way you’ve been helping out around here.”  And you say, “Yes, if it had not been for the Lord, I certainly would not have been able to do the things that I did.”  Or how about this one; A pro athlete scores on the field, and drops to one knee and points up to the sky.

Now in and of themselves, all of those examples are really harmless.  But, if the reason each responded the way they did, was to create a false sense of humility in order to look better or be perceived in a way that earned favor and respect from others, well, to that, God’s Word says, “Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great.”

Humility is a slippery thing to display before others.  When it is generous, every one knows it, and they will at least silently confess that it is a trait that must be acknowledged and admired.  But it isn’t a trait that can be faked in a consistent fashion.  If it isn’t real, people will know!

I’d like to tell you a story about two brothers who grew up on a farm in Wisconsin. One went away to college, earned a law degree, and became a famous lawyer in a very successful law firm. The other brother stayed on the family farm. One day the brother who was a lawyer came and visited his brother, the farmer. He asked, “Hey bro, why don’t you leave this place and make a name for yourself like I did?  Then you can go anywhere and hold your head up high like me?” The farmer brother pointed out at the wheat fields and said, “Do you see all of that wheat out there? Look at it closely and you will notice that only the stalks that are empty of kernels stand up tall. But the ones that are full always bow low.”

Said differently, “The branch that bears the most fruit is bent the lowest to the ground.”  But for what are we bearing fruit?  Is it for God’s glory or for our own?  Why do we really do the things we do?  Is it for God’s glory, to draw others to His kingdom, or is it for our own reputation and comfort?

When we analyze all of our actions, we must be honest and admit that humility, true humility, is like a slippery watermelon seed. Once you get it under your finger and you think you have it, “plop,” it shoots out of your grasp!

So what is the answer?  How can we be humble in a way that is genuine and pleasing to God?  And the answer is, “You cannot!”  Martin Luther confessed this same thing in his catechism when he taught, “I cannot by my own understanding or effort believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him.  But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel…”  So you see, it is only when the Spirit of Christ has come into our hearts that we can begin to turn away from our self-serving, false humility and show true concern for others.

In our gospel lesson Jesus tells two stories, both of them based on what He is seeing at a dinner party.  Both stories are means to get at the motivation behind the actions of those present. Jesus knows the hearts of every one there in a way that no one else could ever know.  So armed with this knowledge He points out how each person is trying to elbow out the other for the best seat at the party.  He says, that instead of fighting over the best seats, simply take the lowest seat and wait to be called up by the host.  We can be certain that each of them knew that Jesus was talking about them.  Jesus sees and He calls a thing what it is… and their thing was pride and a haughty, self-serving spirit.

Now, we might not be able to relate to a scene like this in a way that the guests at the dinner party could, but what if Jesus said, “When you go to Costco and the vendor puts out free samples, don’t elbow your way to the front of the line to get your sample, instead let everyone else go first, so the vendor can say, friend come here; I have saved the best sample for you!”

Remember, Jesus is watching.  “Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great.”

But Jesus is not done teaching about humility.  He has one more story.  He says that “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not (keep) invit(ing) (only) your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid.  But when you give a feast, (also) invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”  [Luke 14:12-13]

Now once again, most of us may not be able to identify with this life style of the rich and famous.  So I want you to let go of the illustration that Jesus used for that specific person and apply the lesson to where you are right now.  Who are your friends and what activities are you involved in?  The point is that if you help or invite only those who will probably help and invite you in return at a latter date, then your gracious spirit is nothing more than a self-serving one.  You will have been paid in full; there is nothing there that God will admire.  So, do the opposite.  Help the poor and needy in a way that no one sees.  You can do things like giving liberally and often to our community pantry here at Trinity, so that your neighbor receives food anonymously.  Give generously with your time, talent, and treasure, in a way that makes a difference for others and not for yourself.  In other words, God knows why you do what you do.  If it is to be noticed and admired by others, to get something out of what may appear to be a selfless act; well then God says you are paid in full.

So how can we ever have true humility?  What is true humility?  Well St. Paul gives us a pretty good list of selfless acts in our Epistle reading (Hebrews 13:1-17).  Let’s look at those: Be kind to strangers, visit or care for those in prison, honor your marriage and the marriage of others, keep your life free of loving money and be happy with what you have.  But again, how can we do that in a way that is God pleasing?  And again, on our own we cannot, but through God’s work we can! “Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great.”  Instead, remember that it is the Lord who is your helper, so don’t be afraid.

This is true humility.  Admitting that on your own you are helpless to please God.   Admitting that without His help you deserve judgment and punishment.  But true humility always bows low and accepts whatever truth God has declared.  And this is the truth you must hear.  It is not about you, but it is about Jesus, God’s Son and your Savior.  Jesus is the one who came and took the lowest position.  Though He is our Creator and God, he became our servant and friend.  He chose to be born a man, he ate with sinners, he stooped down to wash feet, and He bore the scandal and humility of the cross for you!

He brings the proud low, He speaks a Word of judgment to humble those who think they are something for a reason.  So that they and we might see who we really are.  So that we might see ourselves as God sees us.  So that when we see the truth about our sin we might also see God’s only solution to that sin… Jesus Christ!

True humility looks to Jesus alone, but not as some kind of example.  We are not to approach life’s dilemmas by asking “What would Jesus do in this predicament?” but instead we are to ask, “What has Jesus done?”

You see the humble life and struggle of Jesus is not an example but a substitute.  His struggle becomes our struggle, His death our death, His resurrection our resurrection.  He is our Master, our Redeemer, and Savior.  In our baptism He not only called us His own but He in fact gave us His humility.  So we can say you will be humble because you are humble.  And you will know that you are humble when you experience the hardship, suffering, and pain of the many crosses that come in this life, without being overcome with worry, fear, or anger.

“Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great.”  That is a work and an assignment only God can perform, and He has done that very thing for you, through His Son, Jesus Christ.  This morning, before we leave this place, Jesus would have you remember that through your baptism He has called to you with these words, “Friend move up higher.”  When you leave this world of struggle, and you enter into the resurrection of the justified, you will have left the cross behind and entered into Jesus’ kingdom of glory.  And there, you will be welcomed with a holy kiss and asked to take your place of honor at Christ’s banquet table.  How good it is to be called forward in the King’s presence and stand in the place of the great, and it is all through Christ alone!  AMEN!

A Gospel That Causes Division

Sunday, August 18th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 13C, August 18th, 2013

Click here for audio of this message

“Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” [Luke 12:51]

It appears that Jesus prophecy has been proven true.  Look around; all over there seems to be very little unity, but instead there is division.  Let me show you what I mean.

Who do you support in Egypt, the supposed democratically elected militant Muslim government in Egypt or the supposed temporary Military imposed government, which only wants to bring back economic stability?  Are you a democrat or a republican?  Are you for more social “welfare” programs or do you favor “work-fare”.   Should the Word of God determine what is or is not a legitimate marriage, or is it merely a social institution regulated by government?

In case I did not peak your interest yet, let me try hitting a little closer to home.  Are you for open communion at the Lord’s table for all who are baptized, or is it something that should only be shared by those who are walking together in doctrine?  Wait, one more example if I may.  Should women be allowed to preach and teach in the church?

Now for some people, these questions are open for discussion and even vigorous debate.  For others, these things are easily answered; in fact they would say that the Word of God has already answered them.  But what do you do when there are equally sincere people, each proclaiming to have answers centered on the counsel of God.  Who do you listen to?

This morning, through the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 23:1-29), God answers us.  Listen: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord.” [v. 16]

The Lord’s advice was then, and is today, direct and simple, “Do not listen [to them].” The prophets in Judah were not preaching messages from the Lord. That was plain to see, for what they were saying contradicted everything the Lord had said in the rest of his Word.  Where God demanded repentance, the false prophets had repeatedly called for tolerance of sin.  When God condemned the worship of false Gods, the false prophets instead counseled an acceptance of false worship so that peace and harmony could be sustained.  And now, here is Jeremiah prophesying the impending punishment of God; the captivity of the Jews. And how did the false prophets of glory and prosperity respond?  They accused Jeremiah, the true prophet of God as being a false prophet.  And to this conflict, to this division God proclaimed: “And when your people say, ‘Why has the Lord our God done all these things to us?’ you shall say to them, ‘As you have forsaken me and served foreign gods in your land, so you shall serve foreigners in a land that is not yours.'” [Jeremiah 5:19]

The false prophets gave false hope to those who despised and refused to believe the Lord’s Word. They encouraged the sinner to remain in his sin by making it seem less sinful. They dismissed God’s threatening judgment with the words “no harm will come to you”—hell and damnation are mere delusions of the false preacher. They were the false prophets, because they gave false hope; they left the impenitent with the impression that their sin was no big deal; God didn’t care. So, according to them, there was no need to worry about repentance.  Don’t worry, be happy!

But Jeremiah was a true prophet of God.  He had stood in the council of the Lord, and what He heard God say He was compelled to repeat.  If the people then and the people today listened to the Word of God, they would not have missed the heart of all of God’s Word, the center of all Scripture: Repent! The Lord means what he says!  Or as God spoke through the prophet Ezekiel, “The soul who sins is the one who will die.” [Ezekiel 18:4] Salvation and righteousness are found in the Lord alone and in the Word that brings his forgiveness.

So how can we take this message from our Old Testament lesson and apply it to our lives today?  What determines whether a prophet or teacher’s message can be trusted?  Well it all depends on where the message comes from.  Is it’s origin from within the desires of their own hearts or is it a message from the heart of God?

When I was a teenager, my friends and I use to be guilty of playing pranks on people.  Many of our ideas came from television programs like, “Candid Camera.”  One day, on a busy downtown sidewalk, we decided to play the prank, “Look Up!”  It went like this: One of us would stand in the middle of the sidewalk looking up into the distant sky.  Another would come and stand next to him and ask “What are you looking at?”  The first prankster would point up.  Then another of our team would join the ranks as the first two pointed up.  Then another and another.  What always happened was a gathered and growing crowd would each invite additional people into the group by pointing up.  Eventually, we pranksters would slip out of the crowd, back away and crack up with laughter as we watched those clueless people watching nothing.

So what are you looking at?  I could ask you the same question about what you think our Epistle text (Hebrews 11:17-40) wants us to look at.  Are we supposed to look at and admire those heroes of the faith, and see them as great role models?  If that’s what we are looking at then I’m afraid we are in for disappointment.  You see those great heroes of the faith weren’t any better than you and me; they too were sinners.  They too needed to repent of their sin and lack of trust in God’s care.  Moses, that mighty man of God who led God’s people out of Egypt also doubted God’s decision to use him.  David, the Lord’s mighty king who was declared to be a man after God’s own heart, was an adulterer and murderer.  The list of disappointments goes on and on through out the pages of scripture.  In too many instances to recount, the mighty people of God often had their eyes of things other than God’s call to repent and to trust in Him alone.  Instead of placing their eyes of faith on the promises of God, they had cast their gaze upon things that satisfied their own desires and wants.  Like us today, they just couldn’t find time to listen to God; they were too busy running away from things that frightened them, and running to things that promised security and peace.

So what is the point?  Well the point is to answer the question, “What were those heroes of faith looking at and trusting in?  What are you looking at?  What is it that you are trusting in?”  And the answer is of course, we must look to and trust in only Jesus!  The heroes of faith all knew and trusted the promise of God that a Savior would come to make all sinful things in this world right.  Each time their hearts were turned away from the promise of the coming Savior, God’s Word redirected their gaze back to Him and His promise of redemption.  And today, this morning, we do the very same thing.

We who are sinful agree with God that He is right and we are wrong.  We too allow the Word of God to show us our sin and we too repent.  But we do not turn to the promise of a coming Savior, we turn to a Savior who has already come and set us free. He is a Savior who promises that He will come again to take us home!  When the heroes of faith repented, they turned to God’s promise of mercy and forgiveness.  When we, who are God’s heroes of faith today, repent, we turn to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.

Do you want to know what Jesus was looking at when He was dying upon the cross?  He was looking at you!  Your life of faith; your struggle to hold on to Him and Him alone as your only true hope of pleasing God and knowing the promise of forgiveness of sins and eternal life.  For you, and the “joy set before Him, (He) endured the cross, despising its shame, and is (now) seated at the right hand of God.” [Hebrews 12:2]

How does this change things?  It gives you hope.  Hope to continue following Jesus; hope to agree with the Word of God, even when it means disagreeing with family, friends, and even the entire community.  It means even in the middle of divisions, which the painful consequences of sin cause, you are not alone.  Jesus is watching and helping.  He cares and He will prove it to you!  Hold on; cling to Jesus.  Look to His cross and trust that His Word and His will is ultimately and always what is best for you.  Lay aside your sin that clings so closely to you and look to where He took that sin… the cross!  Look to your baptism as the day He taught you to look up at His death, resurrection, and ascension.  You are clean and free.  Run your race of faith but know that you aren’t running alone, even when the devil and the sinful philosophies of this world tell you otherwise.  Yes, Jesus is right there beside you, but then so are those great heroes of faith; so are we, the rest of the saints who agree with God and repent daily by turning to Jesus.

Who do we listen to?  We listen to Jesus even if it means division!  Yes of course we listen to Jesus, but which prophet of God is the right one?  Well, it’s the one that consistently speaks the message of repentance… the message of the cross.  The one who agrees with God’s Word in all things, and calls a sinful thing sinful, and a God pleasing thing good.  I pray that this message brings you clarity and peace, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!