Archive for the ‘Matthew 5:38-48’ Category

The Way Towards a Strong and Prosperous Life


Monday, February 20th, 2017

Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany (A), February 19, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

Loving-Our-Enemies-600x600This morning we continue our message from within Jesus Sermon from the Mount, and we’ll let these words confront us and comfort us: “You therefore must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” [Matt. 5:48] Here’s a question that I want you to wait until the end of our message to answer: Is this the Law or Gospel? It’s my prayer that by the end of our message you will be able to answer this question, and that the answer will lead you in the way you live out the rest of your life.

In that question we must remember that Jesus’ primary goal isn’t to speak the law and condemn us as sinners, which we are, but instead He is leading our hearts to understand the will of God and our new identity as saints; people He is sending out to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. [Vs. 13-16] Jesus wants us to see our need for living our lives in complete dependence on God’s love and care, which will then compel us to demonstrate or reflect that same love to our neighbors where ever we me meet them. And all of this is done within the tender balance of living a life of repentance and faith, which Jesus provided for us in the Beatitudes [Vs. 3-12], where He assured us of a life strong with blessings. When the reality of these blessing begin to control our very lives, we will begin to have an effect upon our community as salt and light. But we must always remember that our quest for completeness has nothing to do with entering or staying in the Kingdom of God, because Jesus has already given that to us!

Now resting in this promise of blessing, hear the perfect Law of God:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ (Or if someone punches you, punch them back.) But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil.” Lord, are you saying don’t fight back against anyone? “(Yes”, he says,) If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” But Jesus isn’t done yet, He now takes it a step further: “And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” In other words, if part of a settlement to a law suit is your jacket, let them have your shirt also! “And if anyone (say like the government or someone else with power over you) forces you to go one mile (say to carry something), go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” [Vs. 38-41]

“But Lord…. but Lord! Do you know what that will mean to me? That’s not only foolish it’s also impossible!” And dear friends, that is the point. Living the kind of life that Jesus is leading us to is the foolishness of the cross… the impossibility of fulfilling God’s perfect law. Your “but Lord” should be enough to turn you away from any foolish ideas you might have that keeping God’s law is doable! It should be enough to not only turn you to God’s mercy and forgiveness, but keep you there as you learn to follow Jesus!

You see friends, Jesus wants us to understand that it isn’t God’s law that brings about true justice for us but it’s His love and mercy that does that! Now our Lord knows that this is the complete opposite of what the world calls common sense; it goes directly against our natural inclination. You know what I am referring to don’t you? “A tit for a tat! I’m going to make sure I get justice!” That’s the natural way of this sinful world! They think that the law will give them wholeness and security; but we must always remember that the left hand kingdom or the kingdom of God’s law can never bring about any real change; it only demands it. Instead, it is God’s way to provide justice by inviting His children to trust in His plan for them and then turn to Him in prayer. And when we rest in God’s plan of justice, He then asks us to absorb the evil attacks of our neighbor and let it die there! He is asking us not to live a life of revenge, but instead live a life of sacrificially turning the other cheek and trusting that God will repay!

What we must remember is that this is ultimately not about you and me, but it is about Jesus Christ! He is the one who truly did turn the other cheek when He was struck by the Sanhedrin. He truly did let them take both His tunic and His cloak as they rolled dice deciding who would keep them. He truly did pick up His cross and walk more than a mile to the ominous poverty of Golgotha; with the sins we placed on Him.
But we must not ever say or even think that because Jesus lived this life perfectly for us, we no longer need to!
No friends, just the opposite is true; what Jesus did for us, demonstrates for us what it means to love! He demonstrates to us the highest form of love… God’s own love; a love of intellect and choice. As God has loved us, so we are to love our neighbor.

This kind of love means that we will stand against evil not by taking a physical and reactionary stand against it but by submitting to the one who is evil; by absorbing the evil and not matching it with our own form of pay back. Why would we do this? Because of God’s mercy and love that has been given to us through Jesus Christ!

Now I know, when we hear these words, we want to close our ears; we don’t want to do it! We desperately look for another way to explain this hard teaching of Jesus, but the truth is friends there is no other way to explain it and no other way to follow Jesus; He always leads us to the cross!

This isn’t a new teaching friends, nor is it without those who truly understood it and lived out its truth.

Martin Luther understood it along with those who went before Him and became martyrs. Mohandas Gandhi and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. also saw and lived out the beauty of this teaching, and they absorbed so much hate and evil that it eventually took their lives. Martin Luther King Jr. not only walked the way of the cross but He taught others to do the same, and because of that obedience, God brought about great change. He changed the injustice of hate not with the sword but with mercy and forgiveness, and this change is still in motion today!

Through Jesus we find true power and truth in the cross. And that truth is that you don’t overcome evil by violently standing against it but by turning the other cheek. But don’t mistake this turning of the cheek with weakness or tolerance! Nowhere does Jesus say to turn the other cheek and refuse to speak up for what is right; nowhere does He say not to protect and take on the cause of those who are being overcome by evil! As salt and light, we are to speak the truth, God’s truth in love; a kind of love that moves us to take the evil action of another upon ourselves; the kind of love that moves under the burden of the cross another is bearing and help them shoulder the load. We are to take all of the evil action upon ourselves and let it die there, never bringing it up again!

Do you want to learn to be obedient? Do you want to become what God has already said that you are… holy? Then follow Jesus to the cross and agree with this teaching and pursue it! This is the way of the cross!

So are you looking for a “how to” part of this sermon?

Good, then I have only one step for you to follow: turn to Jesus and His cross! How? Well you’ve already been given the heart of Jesus, so follow that heart; follow that love of God that has been put within you. Love your enemy; pray for him. You will be surprised just how much change and rearrangement God will do when your heart first agrees that He’s right and you’re wrong. Once you learn to admit this, then praying for your enemy isn’t really that difficult.
But why must we do this? Well, Jesus answers this question as well. Listen: “(You will do this) so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” [vs. 45] But that sounds like some kind of works righteousness! Is it? Is Jesus saying that I must work at loving my enemies here on earth so that my Heavenly Father can reward me by making me His son or daughter? No, not at all!
Jesus is saying that when we are loving our enemies we are showing them the love of the Father; we are showing them that we ARE sons and daughters of the Father! Through our acts of love that find their source in the heart of Jesus we are showing everyone, including our enemies that our God is also their God; a God who “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” We are showing them that not only are God and His love real, but also His Law that threatens anyone who refuses to follow that love through Jesus Christ! We are showing them that the same God who saved and changed us wants to do the very same work within them.

“For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors (or open sinners) do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” [Vs. 46-47] You see friends, Jesus is telling us that we are not to think that our Christianity is something nice that we share with those who are part of our congregation; He’s not saying that your Christian love is reserved for anyone else who calls themselves Christian; He’s not even saying that our Christian love should be shared with those who do nice things for us! We are called not to love just those who love us, but to love those who hate us! This is the way of the cross; this is the path Jesus traveled and invites us to travel with Him.

Listen to Jesus final Words upon the cross and let them lead and guide you. As he was dying upon the cross, Jesus prayed: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!” Who did He pray forgiveness for? Was it for those who placed Him on the cross? Yes, He prayed for all those present, He even prayed for you, and He prayed for your enemy, because it was all of our sins that placed Him there! And as He prepared to take His last breath He shouted: “IT IS FINISHED… it is perfect… it is complete!” What is? God’s plan to remove the sins of the world, even your sins!

Jesus closes our teaching this morning with these words:

“You therefore must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” [Vs. 48] Is that Law or Gospel? I say that it is both! You must be complete as your Heavenly Father is complete. You must be finished and you must be complete; this is the true meaning of perfect. And that is what you are because Jesus has blessed you with His completion! Through the beatitudes or God’s pronouncement of blessing at the beginning of Jesus Sermon, He gives you the very thing that He now tells you that you must have… completion! What wonderful news! Now take this blessing of completion and live a strong and prosperous life… prosper for the Kingdom of Heaven is upon you! AMEN!

You Will Be Holy

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014

Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany (A), February 23, 2014
Rev. Brian HendersonPastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.” [Leviticus 19:1, 2]

Does that bit of scripture from our Old Testament lesson make you nervous?  It could if you read it with a sinful heart, or if you didn’t understand what new life in Christ really means.  If that was the case, you would read it more like this: “You will be holy… or else!”  Now that can be terrifying because of who is speaking… the Holy God of the universe!   But as we said last week, that is not God’s will for you Christians.  He has given you a new heart; a heart that will hear those words in a different way; a way like this: “You will be holy because I who am holy, am with you always.  I am holy for you, so… be Holy!

The gospel song we just heard by the Highway QC’s encouraged us to live holy, or to be “Working on the Building.”  Or to paraphrase St. Paul in our Epistle lesson (1 Corinthians 3:10-23), discover how God gives us both warning and hope as we take caution in how we build upon the foundation of our lives, that is the source of our holiness, Jesus Christ! [1 Cor. 3:10, 11]

This morning, before I speak one Word about our Old Testament lesson, I want to assure that you little ones who belong to Jesus Christ receive these Words within the proper context; so I share with you this reminder from St. Paul: “You were bought with a price.  So glorify God in your body.” [1 Cor. 6:20]  The price of your salvation was the very lifeblood of Jesus, the Son of God.  The way you glorify God in your body is to be holy, that is you will live out the freedom that Christ’s sacrifice has brought you.

In verses 9 through 16 God shows us what holiness looks like in three places: The field; the community; and the courts.  It was meant to cover all aspects of life for the young nation of Israel as they prepared to enter the land promised them by God.  The Law of God represented the hedge of protection so to speak that He had set up for them so that they would not become enslaved again by the world, but instead remain holy as they lived to please Him.  Within each directive were two major premises that summed up all of God’s law: You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind, body, and soul, and you shall love your neighbor as your self.  In other words, God was teaching them how to “work on their building” or, he was teaching them how to maintain their relationship of holiness with Him and each other.

In all of these prohibitions for the field, the community, and the courts, what God is saying is that people matter to Him, especially the widows, the orphans, the poor, and the down trodden.  And since they matter to Him, they must matter to us!  They were the ones that had neither land nor meaningful employment, which forced them to labor at the will of others as they attempted to scratch out just enough to provide for the basics of life.  To ensure that they were provided for, God’s Word established rules for those who had farms and vineyards; God established a simple way for those who had much to provide for those who had little; they must leave some of the bounty of their harvest for the poor.  When I lived in Louisiana many years ago, I observed this practice still being followed, as the poor went out with their large cloth bags to pick the cotton growing at the edge of the fields and at the fence lines so that they could then sell it and have money to care for their families.  What we Christians know today, is the very thing that Moses and his flock knew then, God cares about the poor and so should we!  But God also cares about those folks who can easily fall prey to others who are more cunning and self-centered.  These are the ones that trust that God will protect them through the holiness and love of others.  And that is where God’s Word takes us next…

The community!  Perhaps one of the most despicable things you will witness in our community is when others take advantage of those who can’t protect themselves.  I remember one incident where I witnessed children teasing and taking advantage of another child with Down’s Syndrome.  My natural reaction was to rush over to that child and protect him.  My second response was to scold the other children and teach them what it meant to fear and love God and love each other.  This is precisely what God is doing for us and to us in this portion of our reading, where He insists that living out His holiness will protect those who are deaf and the blind.  If we take this as a metaphor, then, God is directing us to apply His holiness to anyone who is weak and vulnerable.  This gives a whole new appreciation to the old illustration of the Boy Scout helping the old lady cross the street, while also carrying her groceries.

And Jesus says to us this morning: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” [Matt. 26:40]  So… “Do not steal.  Do not lie.  Do not deceive one another.  Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God.  Do not defraud your neighbor or rob him.  Do not hold back the wages of a hired man (or someone who is living hand to mouth) over night.  Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God.  I am the LORD.”

Well the final area of life addressed in our Old Testament lesson is ready for us to examine, and it is represented by the place where justice is found.  For the Israelites, that place was the council of the Elders.  They were both the municipal government and the court system.

Have you ever seen the statue that represents our legal system?  It is the image of the Roman goddess Justitia.  She stands blindfolded with weight scales in one hand and a sword resting in the other.  It is suppose to represent both our government and our legal system.  It is suppose to remind us that government and justice must serve and hand out justice equally; they are blind to status and influence, and empowered by God Himself to both protect and take vengeance against those who act contrary to the law.  But ask any victim of a crime who has not had justice served, and they will paint a different picture of lady Justice for you.  Their idea of that old Lady is a picture where she is peaking out of the blindfold, with scales tipped to favor the fortunate and influential, and a sword not at rest but poised to strike anyone who disagrees with her.

But God is not blind; He sees all things, and today He declares to those of us who go to the government or the courts for help, and to those who would misuse our system: “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.  Do not go about spreading slander among your people.  Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life.  I am the LORD.”

Well, following the theme of building our lives and our community upon God’s holiness, we could say that it is time for the building inspector to come along and evaluate our building process thus far.

If your roof is leaking and the walls are caving in, it is a good bet that you have not been building according to God’s plan.  But conversely, if your roof appears water tight, and the walls are intact, it means nothing if your foundation is cracked!  And that takes us to the final area, which our Old Testament lesson addresses…

Our Hearts!  When God spoke the words of our Old Testament lesson to His people through Moses, it was a foretaste of the very Words Jesus would speak to the church, listen: “I am the vine; you are the branches.  Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” [John 15:5]  And, “Everyone who hears these Words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” [Matt. 7:24]  You see God always ties His people’s holiness to His Word that turns His people back to Him; back to His promise to save them through His Son, Jesus Christ!  Jesus alone is our foundation, our source of holiness, life, and salvation.  God attaches Himself to us through His means of grace.  The Word of God and the Sacraments feed and nourish us as surely as a vine feeds and nourishes the branches and as strong as a solid foundation supports the building!

Do you want to live a holy life?  Good then look to Jesus!  Look to Jesus upon the cross between two thieves, hear those who He came to save and die for hurl insults at Him and mock Him, and then hear Him say, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  And then look within your own heart and find those corrupt, sinful things that do not belong in the vine and allow God’s Spirit to pluck them out.  Find any thing that will corrupt the foundation of Christ alone, and allow God to remove them.

Do you struggle with anger and the desire to take revenge?  Are you at times overwhelmed with the apparent unfairness of life?  Then again, look to Jesus.  Look to Jesus and remember that it is God alone who pays back evildoers.  Cyprian, one of the early church fathers in the 3rd Century said: “When a wrong is received, patience is to be maintained, and vengeance is to be left to God.”  Today, on the Sunday that we are about to gather for our potluck in remembrance of Black History Month, we remember also the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who lived out that same belief.  Within the crucible of pain and the path of the cross of Jesus, Dr. King also worked on his building as he continued by faith to follow His Lord.  He saw a day when all of God’s children regardless of their race or condition in life would be able to praise God in one voice saying… “Free at last; free at last.  Thank God almighty, free at last!”

For us dear Christians that time has already come upon us; we have been freed, but we still live in a world that is held in bondage to sin.  We still experience the sinfulness and unfairness of this fallen world, but we know that this is the very reason that we are still here!  We are here to display God’s holiness; to be salt and light in a dying world.  We are blessed for this moment and for this generation.  We are the baptized; we are the church, that great city on a hill that can not be hidden.  We are not under the Law but we follow the One who fulfilled it, Jesus Christ.  We are under His Law and that is the Law of love.  He is our very foundation and that foundation is love; love for God and mutual law for each other.  Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you.”  And “By this all men will know that you are my disciples.” [Jn. 13:34, 35]  To love does not mean to simply wish well for others, but instead it means that we bear each others burdens, that is to bear what is burdensome to you, something you would rather not carry.  So as our sainted Dr. Martin Luther said, “A Christian must have broad shoulders and husky bones to carry the flesh, that is the weakness of the brethren.”  In other words, we need God’s holiness to be holy for each other; we need Jesus Christ!

Do you by the work of God have Jesus?  Will you with the help of God confess your need for Him always in your life?  Will you, also with the help of God value His Word and Sacraments as your very source of life and strength?  Do you long to hear His Word speak forgiveness to your heart, and do you see His church as the very embodiment of His presence in this dying world?  Good, then you are holy.  Now in Jesus name, go out and be holy!  AMEN!

Transfigured by God’s Word

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

The Transfiguration of Our Lord, March 6, 2011
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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INTRODUCTION:  What do you do, how do you feel when you are standing in the middle of God’s glory?  In our gospel reading this morning, we see what the three apostles did; they hid their faces in terror!  What would you do?  Well let’s try to put a more practical application to this question; think about your eyes and your ears for a moment.  Aren’t they wonderful?  With the ear we can listen to God’s Word.  We can hear about His law, which terrifies us because it shows how much God hates and punishes sin… our sin!  But then, we can also hear His gospel, which assures us that God is love, and that through faith in Jesus Christ, God has forgiven us of our many sins!  And then through our eyes, we can actually read this Word of God for ourselves.  We can discover and understand God in a way that is personal and real!  But what if, what if the eye and the ear fail us through disease or old age?  Does that mean that we should be afraid that God is angry with us?  Should we feel that God is punishing us?  Would God do that?  Could He do that?  Yes He could and He’s done it in the past!  Are you beginning to get a sense of the terror that the three apostles had?  Good!  That’s how a creature should feel about its Creator.  But to this terror, Jesus in that same Word taps you on your shoulder and says, “Rise, and have no fear.”  I AM with you!  So this presence and special protection of Jesus is what we will look at this morning.  And to do this, we will answer three primary questions: 1. What is the Transfiguration?  2. What is the Word of God?  3. What is the purpose of the Word of God?

I. What is the Transfiguration?  Well, the word “transfiguration” finds its origin in the Greek word “metamorpho” and it means to transform, or to metamorphose, or to change into another form. In the case of the transfiguration of our Lord, it means that the outward reality of His Human nature was changed to match the inward reality of His divine nature; a nature that was “veiled” (Hebrews 10:20) in human form.  So Jesus’ transfiguration was a glimpse at Jesus’ true glory; the Shekinah glory of God which has always belonged to the Son of God. And to make sure we understand this eternal reality, the voice of God the Father speaks to us with these Words: “This is my beloved Son, with who I am well pleased; listen to Him.” [Matthew 17:5b]

Through the audible voice of God, God’s Word explains His Work.  He is telling us essentially this: “I have sent my Son to you in your flesh!  I did this not to punish you but to lead and save you.  You must listen to Him if you wish to know and rest in my love and favor.”  So here dear friends is the wonderful Word of God first speaking in an audible voice to the three apostles, and now from the written Word of God He speaks to you!  Through this Living Word of God you like the three apostles are taken to a place where heaven and earth become one; you actually are allowed to experience a joining of heaven and earth!  But how can this be?  Simply because God’s Word, His means of grace and salvation are with you now!  They are with you to comfort you, to counsel and guide you!

II. But what really is the Word of God?  How can we be sure that our Bibles alone are truly God’s Holy Word?  Well friends, you can be sure because God has given you His own testimony to this truth in our Gospel reading this morning.  Think now; who appeared with Jesus and the three on that mountain top long ago?  It was Moses and Elijah!  Moses the great law-giver who promised that the Lord our God would raise up for us a great prophet from among us and it is this one that we should listen to! [Deut. 18:15] And Elijah the greatest of prophets of old is there with Moses to make sure that we understand that neither he nor any of the other prophets were the one that we were to look for!  And how do they appear?  Gathered around Jesus… listening to Jesus, all the while enveloped in the cloud of God’s glory.  And as Jesus, Moses, Elijah, and the three apostles are gathered in that place where heaven and earth join, the Word of the Father rings out like thunder: “This is my beloved Son!  (One who is far greater than the prophets and kings of old.)  Listen to Him!” [Vs.5]

And how do we listen to Him?  We listen to Him by hearing and reading the Word of God; both the Law and the prophets.  Now, some will say that there are many ways to know God, say like going to the beach or to the mountains.  But friends these things only speak about God in muffled tones and may I say they mainly speak to deaf ears and blind eyes!  What do you do when the sea becomes a Tsunami and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea because of a catastrophic earthquake?  How do you make sense of these things and find God’s wisdom when it seems that the whole earth around you and beneath you is going to hell in a hand basket?  You listen to God speak in the way that He has chosen to reveal Himself; you look to His Word which comes to us in our own history!  God has always been involved and even intervened in our history.  He has done it in mighty acts of judgment and even mightier acts of liberation!  Another way to say this is that God’s people always experience God among them saving them.  But why?  And that friends is the point; without the leading of God’s Holy Spirit calling up prophetic voices to explain what God is up to, all of this would remain a mystery and it would be subject to the whim of sinful human speculation!

But God did speak and He assures us that we can know what He has said.  To do this He has used many different voices of prophets to convey His message to His people of faith.  He has spoken and they have repeated in their own style exactly what God has said.  We can explain this use of prophets in a different ways.  In one way they are like a UN translator who takes the Words of a heavenly language and repeats their meaning into our language.  Or we can think of the prophets as different musical instruments.  As a flute or a trumpet, it is God who blows into them and pushes the different keys so that His musical composition can be heard each in the style of the instrument.  Or maybe He plucks the strings of a guitar or pounds the strings of a piano, but in each case it is God’s music singing into our hearts!  In the case of His Word, God choses to use language; He brings His Word to us in our own language. 

You know, there’s one thing each of us has in common, we like to talk; why we even talk even to ourselves.  We even think in words!  God has created us so that we organize our lives in words.  Because God designed us that way, He not only acted out His love in human history, He also explained those actions through the prophets in our own words.  Through the prophets we have both the promise and the power of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The entire Bible was recorded so that we would have something sure; so that we would have the prophetic and perfect Word of God, delivered to us exactly as God wanted it to be delivered!  And it is this Word that St. Peter tells us to pay attention to; he tells us to use it like a lamp that will shine God’s own light first in our dark hearts and then in a world that has been darkened by sin!  We are to use God’s Word with complete confidence knowing that no prophecy of Scripture, which is your Holy Bible ever came from someone’s own interpretation.  God assures you that nothing in your Bibles ever came by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit!  And what did they speak of?  They spoke of the very reason that God moved men to record His Word: So that you right now would know Jesus Christ as God’s only begotten Son and as your Savior! [2 Peter 1:19-21]

III. What is the purpose of the Word of God?  That you would know Jesus and by knowing Jesus know God!  This dear friends is also the purpose of our Lord’s Transfiguration.  It is God’s way of helping you make sense of the mystery which is the two natures of Jesus Christ.  It is God’s way of reassuring you that Jesus who is fully God and fully man is your Savior!  It is God’s way and means of telling us who Jesus is and what Jesus is doing; God is teaching us about Jesus mission and His ministry!  He is teaching us that Jesus was born to die for our sins and for our transgressions!  He is teaching us that Jesus is God’s beloved Son with whom He is well pleased and that we must listen to Him.

And when we listen to Him we discover that we have a God who is not only always with us but for us.  We discover that we have a mighty champion who fights for us and protects us.  When we listen to Jesus we find comfort and hope in a Savior who spoke these Words: “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.  For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.  And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.  For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” [Jn. 6:37-40]  This dear friends is the fulfillment of the same promise that God has consistently made from the very first pages of our Bibles.  This is the promise that God has made yours in the waters of your own baptism.  And in this fulfilled promise, God’s heavenly glory has come to you on earth; it is a glory that envelopes you in His Word and Sacrament.  As you knell at His table you know that for that brief moment you are being given a glimpse of His eternal glory to come.  As you dine with all the company of heaven you know that this is a foretaste of the feast to come!  And as His glory surrounds you, through His Word, by faith know that you are in the miraculous presence of your Great Prophet and King. 

CONCLUSION: Now for some, to be in the presence of God is a terrifying thing.  But for us, we know that because we are with Jesus, everything will be alright.  We know that because Jesus is with us, we have a God who is for us and never against us.  So let the oceans roar and let the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.  Let the eyes and the ears fail; we will not fear because we know that we have a God who has made all things new.  And when we doubt, Jesus through the Word of God tap us on our shoulder and says, “Rise, and have no fear.”  And when we lift up our eyes we will see no real threat, but instead we will only see Jesus!  May God grant this faith to each of us.  AMEN!

Live Strong and Prosper!

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany (A), February 20, 2011
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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INTRODUCTION:  This morning we continue our message from within Jesus Sermon from the Mount, and we’ll let these words confront us and comfort us: “You therefore must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” [Matt. 5:48]  Here’s a question that I want you to wait until the end of our message to answer: Is this the Law or Gospel?  It’s my prayer that by the end of our message you will be able to answer this question, and that the answer will lead you in how you will live out the rest of your life.

In that question we must remember that  Jesus’ primary goal isn’t to speak the law and condemn us as sinners, which we are, but instead He is leading our hearts to understand the will of God and our new identity as saints; people He is sending out to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. [Vs. 13-16]  Jesus wants us to see our need for living our lives in complete dependence on God’s love and care, which will then compel us to demonstrate or reflect that same love to our neighbors where ever we me meet them.  And all of this is done within the tender balance of living a life of repentance and faith, which Jesus provided for us in the Beatitudes [Vs. 3-12], where He assured us of a life strong blessings.  When the reality of these blessing begin to control our very lives, we will begin to have an effect upon our community as salt and light.  But we must always remember that our quest for completeness has nothing to do with entering or staying in the Kingdom of God, because Jesus has already given that to us!

I. Now resting in this promise of blessing, hear the perfect Law of God: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  (Or if someone punches you, punch them back.)  But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil.”  Lord, are you saying don’t fight back against anyone?  “(Yes”, he says,) If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”  But Jesus isn’t done yet, He now takes it a step further: “And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.”  In other words, if part of a settlement to a law suit is your jacket, let them have your shirt also!  “And if anyone (say like the government or someone else with power over you) forces you to go one mile (say to carry something), go with him two miles.  Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” [Vs. 38-41]

“But Lord…. But Lord!  Do you know what that will mean to me?  That’s not only foolish it’s also impossible!”  And dear friends, that is the point.  Living the kind of life that Jesus is leading us to is the foolishness of the cross… the impossibility of fulfilling God’s perfect law.  Your “but Lord” should be enough to turn you away from any foolish ideas you might have that doing God’s law is doable!  It should be enough to not only turn you to God’s mercy and forgiveness, but keep you there as you learn to follow Jesus! 

You see friends, Jesus wants us to understand that it isn’t God’s law that brings about true justice for us but it’s His love and mercy that does that!  Now our Lord knows that this is the complete opposite of what the world calls common sense; it goes directly against our natural inclination.  You know what I am referring to don’t you?  “A tit for a tat!   I’m going to make sure I get justice!”  That’s the natural way of this sinful world!  They think that the law will give them wholeness and security; but we must always remember that the left hand kingdom or the kingdom of God’s law can never bring about any real change; it only demands it.  Instead, it is God’s way to provide justice by inviting His children to trust in His plan for them and then turn to Him in prayer.  And when we rest in God’s plan of justice, He then asks us to absorb the evil attacks of our neighbor and let it die there!  He is asking us not to live a life of tit for tat, but instead live a life of sacrificially turning the other cheek and trusting that God will repay!

What we must remember is that this is ultimately not about you and me, but it is about Jesus Christ!  He is the one who truly did turn the other cheek when He was struck by the Sanhedrin.  He truly did let them take both His tunic and His cloak as they rolled dice deciding who would keep them.  He truly did pick up His cross and walk more than a mile to the ominous poverty of Golgotha; with the sins we placed on Him.  But we must not ever say or even think that because Jesus lived this life perfectly for us, we no longer need to!  No friends, just the opposite is true; what Jesus did for us, demonstrates for us what it means to love!  He demonstrates to us the highest form of love… God’s own love; a love of intellect and choice.  As God has loved us, so we are to love our neighbor.  This kind of love means that we will stand against evil not by taking a physical and reactionary stand against it but by submitting to the one who is evil; by absorbing the evil and not matching it with our own form of pay back.  Why would we do this?  Because of God’s mercy and love that has been given to us through Jesus Christ!

Now I know, when we hear these words, we want to close our ears; we don’t want to do it!  We desperately look for another way to explain this hard teaching of Jesus, but the truth is friends there is no other way to explain it and no other way to follow Jesus; He always leads us to the cross!

ILLUSTRATION: This isn’t a new teaching friends, nor is it without those who truly understood it and lived out its truth.  Martin Luther understood it along with those who went before Him and became martyrs.  Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. also saw and lived out the beauty of this teaching, and they absorbed so much hate and evil that it eventually took their lives.  Martin Luther King Jr. not only walked the way of the cross but He taught others to do the same, and because of that obedience, God brought about great change.  He changed the injustice of hate not with the sword but with mercy and forgiveness, and this change is still in motion today!

Through Jesus we find true power and truth in the cross.  And that truth is that you don’t overcome evil by violently standing against it but by turning the other cheek.  But don’t mistake this turning of the cheek with weakness or tolerance!  Nowhere does Jesus say to turn the other cheek and refuse to speak up for what is right; nowhere does He say not to take on the cause of those who are being overcome by evil!  As salt and light, we are to speak the truth, God’s truth in love; a kind of love that move us to take the evil action of another upon ourselves; the kind of love that moves under the burden of the cross another is bearing and help them shoulder the load.  We are to take all of the evil action upon ourselves and let it die there, never bringing it up again!

ILLUSTRATION: Do you remember the movie that came out 10 years ago called “Pay it Forward”?  The premise was this: An 11 year-old boy named Trevor McKinney was given a class assignment to devise and put into action a plan that would change the world for the better. Trevor’s plan was to create a charitable pyramid scheme, based on good deeds rather than profit. He called his plan “Pay it forward”, which means the recipient of a favor does a favor for a third party instead of paying the favor back.  Well it is Jesus desire that those He brings into the Kingdom of God with Him would do something similar but different.  Jesus is telling us not to pay evil forward but let it end with you!  This is the love He demonstrated upon the cross and it’s the kind of love that He wants us to live in and demonstrate to others.

Do you want to learn to be obedient?  Do you want to become what God has already said that you are… holy?  Then don’t pay it forward; follow Jesus to the cross and agree with this teaching and pursue it!  This is the way of the cross!  So are you looking for a “how to” part of this sermon?  Good, then I have only one step for you to follow: turn to Jesus and His cross!  How?  Well you’ve already been given the heart of Jesus, so follow that heart; follow that love of God that has been put within you.  Love your enemy; pray for him.  You will be surprised just how much change and rearrangement God will do when your heart first agrees that He’s right and you’re wrong.  Once you learn to admit this, then praying for your enemy isn’t really that difficult.

But why must we do this?  Well, Jesus answers this question as well.  Listen: “(You will do this) so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” [vs. 45]  But that sounds like some kind of works righteousness!  Is it?  Is Jesus saying that I must work at loving my enemies here on earth so that my Heavenly Father can reward me by making me His son or daughter?  No, not at all!  Jesus is saying that when we are loving our enemies we are showing them the love of the Father; we are showing them that we ARE sons and daughters of the Father!  Through our acts of love that find their source in the heart of Jesus we are showing everyone, including our enemies that our God is also their God; a God who “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”  We are showing them that not only are God and His love real, but also His Law that threatens anyone who refuses to follow that love through Jesus Christ!  We are showing them that the same God who saved and changed us wants to do the very same work within them.

“For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?  Do not even the tax collectors (or open sinners) do the same?  And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others?  Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” [Vs. 46-47]  You see friends, Jesus is telling us that we are not to think that our Christianity is something nice that we share with those who are part of our congregation; He’s not saying that your Christian love is reserved for anyone else who calls themselves Christian; He’s not even saying that our Christian love should be shared with those who do nice things for us!  We are called not to love just those who love us, but to love those who hate us!  This is the way of the cross; this is the path Jesus traveled and invites us to travel with Him.

CONCLUSION: Listen to Jesus final Words upon the cross and let them lead and guide you.  As he was dying upon the cross, Jesus prayed: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!”  Who did He pray forgiveness for?  Was it only for those who placed Him on the cross?  Yes, He prayed for all those present, He prayed for you, and He prayed for your enemy, because it was all of our sins that placed Him there!  And as He prepared to take His last breath He shouted: “IT IS FINISHED… it is perfect… it is complete!”  What is?  God’s plan to remove the sins of the world, even your sins!

Jesus closes our teaching this morning with these words: “You therefore must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” [Vs. 48]  You must be complete as your Heavenly Father is complete.  You must be finished and you must be complete; this is the true meaning of perfect.  And that is what you are because Jesus has blessed you with His completion!  Through the beatitudes or God’s pronouncement of blessing at the beginning of Jesus Sermon, He gives you the very thing that He now tells you that you must have… completion!  What wonderful news!  Now take this blessing and live strong and prosper… prosper for the Kingdom of Heaven is upon you!  AMEN!