Archive for the ‘Hebrews 3:12-19’ Category

Today Is The Day!

Sunday, October 11th, 2015

20th Sunday in Pentecost B, October 11, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Hebrews 3:13)

The song that you just heard, “No Show Jones” by George Jones and Merle Haggard will act as our mental hook to hang our message on.  Hopefully, the reason for the choice of this song will become clear throughout this message.

There’s a quote that became popular in the 90’s and still is today, and it goes like this: “It takes a village to raise a child.”  For us this morning, we could say that it takes a congregation to help us persevere in the Christian faith; a congregation that shows up as often as possible in God’s house to receive His means of grace that both creates and sustains faith.  But that same faith is what God uses within each of us to encourage, warn, and assist those who are beginning to falter and leave their faith in Jesus Christ.  A faith, that has sustained the church of God since the fall of Adam and Eve.

The threat of course is the temptation to wonder away from the gifts of God and to replace them with the ways of the world.

The threat is real, and it is immediate. It presents itself any time we become more consumed with the things of the world (anything of the world) than the things of God.  Just a quick thought can allow our minds to expand on what these things might be.  I can think of time with family who are visiting from out of town on a Sunday.  We will gladly go to the zoo, a ball game, or the beach, but to church, well that’s something we may not want to subject others to because, well it’s personal.  Or it might be sleep that competes with our time with God and His saints.  But then, maybe your tired on Sunday because you were up all night doing something on Saturday that you wouldn’t want your church family to take part in?

So this morning, God’s Word is giving us a warning that is for right now, and that warning is, “Watch your heart today.”  Another way to say that is “Hold on to the faith that God has given to you; hold onto it tightly.”  But we’re here today; isn’t that what were doing?  I sure hope so.  If you are here because you know that with out God’s Divine service you’ll end up lost again in sin, then great.  If you’re here because God has convinced you in His Word, that without Christ’s death upon the cross, the entire world would be helplessly lost in the condemnation of sin, great! If you are here this morning because you’ve been baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and going to church is the thing that sinners who have been saved do, that’s great too.  But I want to warn you that occasional church service is not enough to protect your heart from the sin that is all around us and within us.

Faith is something that is given freely, but it is something that is contingent upon your consistent and constant use of God’s Word and Sacraments.  It is dependent upon God’s plan to sustain your faith until the day He calls you home.  Think of Church and the study of God’s Word as part of God’s Divine Scheduled maintenance program.  Much as corrosion, grime, and constant use can wear down and wear out our vehicle, the same thing can happen to our faith throughout the week, due to the sin that surrounds us in our daily living.  So just as we must care for our vehicles with regularly scheduled maintenance, so it is God’s order that we daily care for our souls.

Warning! Whether you’re a 15 year old boy or a 80 year old woman, no one is exempt from the corrosion of sin; no one on their own can detect and overcome the allure and power of sin.  No one is exempt from sin’s deceit.

The people of Israel certainly weren’t able to do it.  Think of the great miracles they witnessed as God arranged for their deliverance from slavery in Egypt.  Think of the plagues that tortured many but never bothered them.  Think of the Red Sea that was parted so that they could escape the pursuing army of Egypt.  Think of the Manna from heaven and the water from the rock they were nurtured with when they hungered and thirst.  Think of the thundering voice of God they heard from the mountain top as Moses spoke with God.  Think of the pillar of fire that led them as they trekked through the wilderness.  And then think of how they grumbled and how they tested God with their unbelief and lack of trust in God’s care and God’s prophet, Moses.  And now think of the millions who due to God’s displeasure with their faithlessness, were allowed to fall and die in that wilderness.  Think of the millions of sun bleached bones that littered the path they followed, all because they forgot who the God of deliverance was.  So you see, Israel heard and witnessed God’s grace and still fell.

What we learn from this is that yesterdays faith does not save a person today. The fact that you are baptized proves that God saves through His chosen means.  Your baptism is not a one time entrance into God’s kingdom, but rather it is a source of Divine power and a certainty of faith that God has chosen you for today; for this moment.  Your baptism is not meant to simply be a milestone that allows you to check out of the life of faith, simply living on the memories of the past when you were once active in your attendance at church and your service to your church and community in the name of Jesus.  Living in the past does not guarantee anything today!

Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as those children of Israel.  Today, there is a need for fresh and new faith, in order to meet and defeat the threat of sin that is lurking at the door of your heart right now!

Today, there is a need for us to encourage one another, to hold onto the faith once taught and to fan that spark of faith into a flame of love for God and His means of grace.  Today, let us look at one another and admit that we need each other to overcome the attacks of sin and the devil.  Let us not be afraid to both encourage and rebuke one another when we begin to neglect the meeting of the saints on Sunday; when we begin to allow other things to take first place in our hearts above God’s Word and our family of faith.  This strategy is a sure defense against unfaith, but it is a strategy that many will resist and even attack you for.

In our Old Testament lesson, Amos says as much when he declares, “They hate him who reproves in the gate, and they abhor him who speaks the truth.”  So once again we find that God’s way is the difficult way; it is the way of the cross and a way that brings discomfort and pain.  This is why we must not attempt to walk this way alone; we need to act as a community of faith.  We need to resist becoming a “No Show Jones” and remember that we are part of that village or congregation that is called to help raise God’s children of faith.

Today, we must remember that what we were yesterday belongs to yesterday.  We must remember who God says we are today through Jesus Christ.  We must remember that we have been baptized for this moment.  And we must remember our tendency to base who we are today on what we have done yesterday and what we hope to do tomorrow.  Like the rich young man in our gospel lesson, we must understand our hearts natural desire to base our identity on our doing and not on the gift of faith that God has given us through Christ.

The rich young man became so enamored by the many regulations he felt he kept since he was a youth, that he seemed completely oblivious to the very relationship of faith and love that he was searching for; He could not and he would not see the great gift that Jesus offered him through faith in who Jesus is.

This morning, God is warning each of us that we too may get lost if we neglect the meeting of the saints; if we allow anything else to take first place over the time and place that God does His Divine Service for us and within us.
The truth is friends, every “today” becomes part of a long line of todays.  On their own they seem insignificant, but collectively they are the very thing that has and will sustain us until God calls us home to paradise restored.

When we live each day for today simply because God says that it is urgent to live this way, over time we find that we have been creating a legacy.  And the legacy we’ve created is not for us; it is not our way of showing God we are worthy of salvation, because that is a gift He has already freely given to us through Christ.  No, instead our legacy is a gift for those who follow us; for those who come after us.  It is a legacy of a life lived by faith, proving to other sinners that the only way back to God is living life one day at a time by faith.  It is a legacy for others to emulate and a legacy for us, that in the end leads to eternity, the eternal today!

Today is the first day of the rest of your life.  It is the day that the Lord has made for you to rejoice in and be glad.  Yesterday is gone and tomorrow may never come, so all we have is today.  Today, you are not a “No Show Jones” and with God’s strength and the encouragement of this congregation, I pray you will also be in place and in service tomorrow, as God provides.  So, What day is it?  Well then, go and do the work of today!  In Jesus name… AMEN!

Too Much, Too Little, Too Late

Sunday, October 14th, 2012

20th Sunday in Pentecost B, October 14, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to Him, Then who can be saved?”  [Mark 10:17-27]

That’s the million dollar question, pardon the pun.  If that rich dude who did a pretty fair job at keeping the law had the same chance of getting into heaven as a camel walking through the eye of a needle, then who can be saved.

Now, I chose the song “So Close and Yet So Far” as our mental hook to put the message on.  I could have also chose the Johnny Mathis song with the same title as our message, “Too much, too little too late,” but I like the idea that the rich young ruler was so close to heaven and yet so far.  The proof of that is in his question and how he received Jesus answer.  “How do I get to heaven?”  And to that Jesus says, “Sell everything you’ve got, give the money to the poor, and then come on and follow me.”

There’s your answer young man; and if Jesus says it’s the way for you, well then, you can take that to the bank.  Oops, pardon the pun again!

A Sunday school teacher was examining her pupils after a series of lessons on God’s omnipotence.  She asked, “Is there anything God can’t do?”  There was an appropriate silence in the room.  Finally, one young boy raised his hand.  The teacher, disappointed that the young boy still did not learn the lesson’s point, asked somewhat in a disappointed tone, “Well, just what is it that God can’t do?”  “Well,” replied the boy, “He can’t please everybody.”

Maybe a better way of saying that, is that Jesus knows a way that should please everyone, but most folks think they know more than Him, so they strike off to please themselves in a way that seems right to them, but in the end… well it just leads to judgment and death.

Throughout our lives God is consistently calling out to us; He’s asking us to take a truthful look into our hearts and admit that our transgressions are many, and our sins are great. But we don’t want to see those things.  He wants us to see that we live in an evil time, and that there is evil all around us.  He’s telling us to seek good, and not evil so we will live; He’s telling us to hate evil, love good, and then spend our lives not just loving God’s goodness, but also working to spread it throughout our community. [Amos 5:6-15]

Sounds like a plan, doesn’t it?  Yet, while we might agree with the plan, secretly, within our hearts, we can never accept that plan.  We can’t accept it, because it requires a complete surrender of everything that we have come to believe is important and necessary in this life.  The truth is, money, fame, prestige, and possessions are the things that society has taught us to seek and trust in.

Some years ago there appeared in the daily paper an account of two separate women.  One woman was a rich debutant who spent millions of dollars on clothes and possessions, including a bill for a $70,000 dress from Paris; the other woman, a modest Christian woman who once was rich, but now poor, admitted that she had given most of her millions to her church and various charities.  She was asked how she could so easily give away her estate and yet the other woman, could not do the same, and she replied, “Well, I guess it is a matter of taste—Paris gowns or heavenly crowns.”

Was giving her money away the key to pleasing God or was there something more that pleased her all powerful Creator.

Before the rich young ruler asked Jesus the million dollar question, he said something that caused Jesus to begin teaching with His own question.  The young man in complete sincerity ran up to Jesus, knelt down before Him and said, “Hello good teacher.”

Now I want you to understand what the young man means when he calls Jesus good.  It means that he respects Jesus; he admires Him, because He is wiser and better than him; or as my grandson Gabriel says, Jesus was “gooder” than him.  And because of this perception of his, He came to Jesus with a question that he’d been wrestling with for years: “What must I do to be saved?”

And what is Jesus response?  ‘Why are you calling me good?  You know that in our tradition, we never call anyone good but God, right?  So what is the reason you call me good?  You are struggling with a great concern; you want to go to heaven, but you don’t quiet know how to guarantee your place, right?  Now stop right there and remember, you called me good, on your own; that’s a description that you would usually only use for your Creator.  So, if I am truly good, then hear what I am about to say.’

‘You know the commandments that relate to your neighbor; those in your family and community, right?  Just do them.’  And the rich young ruler said to Him, “Teacher, all of those commandments I have kept from my youth.”  And what did Jesus do next?  Did He give Him a theological teaching on the inherit sinfulness of the human heart?  No, instead He looked at the young man and loved him.  He knew that this person was sincere in his belief that he was living a God pleasing life.  The problem wasn’t in His sincerity but in the reality.  While everyone looking at this young man on the outside would agree that he was living an exemplary life, Jesus who is God and looks into the heart, looked and saw judgment and pain.  Jesus knew that this young man had been duped by the world into thinking that doing your best is what pleases God instead of trusting your best with God.

So Jesus helps the young man see who his real God is; the one he really trusts in.  Jesus says, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me.”

What Jesus was trying to get the young man to see, was that the one thing needful that he lacked was a real relationship with His Creator.  He lacked an intimacy with God that can only come through trust; through God’s undeserved love and kindness, which is always a gift on God’s terms.  It’s always a free gift and never earned.

When I was a young man, my grandfather corrected me on a hymn I was singing.  The hymn was “Trust and obey.”  I was singing it like this, “Trust and OK”.  But now that I am older, I still like those words much better.  If I can just keep learning to trust God’s care for me and His plan for my life, then everything will be OK.  There is no other way.  But that kind of trust in the true God is impossible if you are already trusting in something else.

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”  The truth is friends, the real reason that the rich young ruler, and you and I have such a hard time receiving Jesus Words this morning is because when He speaks He is messing with our value system.  I mean, let’s be honest here; we all like to believe that what we have is ours, because we earned it; we worked hard for it.  We all like to look at our stuff, as proof of our success, and indicators of God’s approval and blessing in our lives.  And now Jesus is telling us that our “stuff” may not be a blessing at all.

What is it that really matters in life?  If it isn’t money and possessions; if it isn’t financial security, then what?  This morning, Jesus wants you to connect with the only One who is Good!  The rich young ruler was speaking to Him, and you do too!  Maybe like that rich young man, you also are asking God what the secret to eternal life is.  How can I know for sure that I am saved?  Well, like that young man, once you hear God speak and you listen, you have what God calls the beginning of wisdom unto salvation.

Then what about our doing good?  Doesn’t that count for something?  Well, the truth is that all of our own righteousness, our good deeds are simply like soiled rags before God, because we still have our sinful nature clinging to us.  And while we continue deceiving ourselves, thinking that we can please God by good behavior, Jesus looks at us and He loves us.  He loves us and dies for us upon the cross.  And from the cross He says follow me.  I have done all things good; all things good for you.  I am your treasure; your true wealth.

So who can be saved if there is nothing we can do to please God?  All can be saved.  All of us have been promised that salvation is ours for the taking, if we will just trust in God’s way; trust then ok.  All things are possible with God.  God alone is greater than our fears and our worries.  In His Word He gives us great treasures that make us rich.  In His Word He gives us Jesus and His righteousness.  By Jesus poverty we are made rich.

In God’s time, at just the right time Jesus died for the world.  He who emptied Himself and gave up His life on the cross, was also raised from the dead.  And in Jesus alone we have life, an abundant life and the promise of eternal peace and happiness.

This morning, Jesus is asking us to be vulnerable before God.  “Come and follow me,” He says.  Amos cries out to us this morning that we should “Seek the Lord and live,” but the truth is, we don’t have to seek Him this morning, because He’s already sought us and found us.  In the cross, God is revealed; more than that, the depth of God’s love is shown to us.  In the cross, God demonstrates the truth that He will never leave you or forsake you.

Jesus who loved the young man loves us as well.  He has declared us forgiven as He splashes water over us.  We are transformed as God’s Word of grace is spoken to us.  We eat the bread of life, we drink the cup of salvation and He tells us again that our sins are forgiven.  Through it all we experience God’s loving purpose for us revealed in the cross of Jesus.

I would like to think that eventually the rich young ruler understood that what he had to offer God on His own, was too much of too little.  I would like to think that he realized this before it was too late.  I trust that each of us has learned to place our own security on Christ, the solid rock.

So too, each of us who have been transformed, have come to discover that the giving of our time, talent, and treasure, isn’t something we must do to receive God’s forgiving love, instead it is something we will do because we already have his forgiving love.  We’ve discovered that “hating evil and loving the good”, as Amos says, is the result of our relationship with God.  Selling possessions and giving up all, even life itself, is possible only in the light of Jesus sacrifice for us upon the cross.

Through Jesus and His cross, through the waters of our own baptism, we discover that a camel really can go through the eye of a needle; we really can be saved, on Christ the solid rock we stand, all other ground is sinking sand!