Archive for the ‘Pentecost 11C’ Category

What Makes You Whole?

Sunday, August 4th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 11C, August 4th, 2013

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“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.  I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity.” [Ecclesiastes 1:2, 18-19]

All hope in material things is vanity.  And that was really the point that Jesus wanted the young man in our gospel lesson (Luke 12:13–21) to understand; it is the lesson that He would have each of  us learn this morning.  But it is a hard lesson for people like us to remember, because we love our stuff.  The lure to acquire more and more stuff can be intoxicating if we are following the wrong  standard of what it means to be blessed.  If we use the worlds standard of success, to be blessed means to have more stuff.  So what will it take to make you whole?  How much stuff do you require,  before you will consider yourself blessed?

Here is a pop quiz to determine whether you are rich in the things of this world or rich in God:  Which disturbs you more… People dying without Jesus or a scratch on your new car? When you miss  worship service or missing a day’s work? A sermon 10 minutes too long or lunch an hour late? A church not growing or your garden not growing? Your Bible unopened or your weekend plans ruined  by bad weather? Church work being neglected … or housework neglected? The multitude of hungry in this world or the closing of your favorite restaurant? Your Sunday offering decreasing … or your  income decreasing?  Be honest, which really disturbs you most?

This morning, Jesus would have us explore the very purpose and meaning of life itself.  He wants us to see that our worth as individuals is not determined by our ability to consume, but instead by a determination that God alone has made.  Our worth as individuals must be seen through God’s Word, that is by God’s Saving action for sinful men and women throughout history and specifically in the event at Calvary when His Son, Jesus Christ died for us sinful men and for our salvation.  This morning, God’s Word will force us to see the truth that we can’t separate our worth and value from this one great event.  He will box us in so that we will understand that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.” [James 1:17]

So again, what standard will we use to measure whether we are successful?  If we will follow the standard set down in our society, we will be following the same pathway that Jesus warned the young man not to follow.  “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” [v.15]

The way of covetousness is one that is sure that life, its values, its goals, its very possibilities are determined by the things that we have or the stuff that we acquire.  But take care when following this path, as it may become the very cause of your downfall and demise.

In North Africa the natives have a very easy way to capture monkeys. A gourd, with a hole cut just big enough so that a monkey can put his hand into it, is filled with nuts and fastened firmly to a branch of a tree at sunset. During the night a monkey will pick up the scent of the treats, find the source, and put his hand into the gourd and grasp a handful of nuts. But the hole is to small for the monkey’s clenched fist, and he doesn’t have sense enough to let go of his prize so he can escape. So he pulls and tugs all night without success, and then when morning comes he is quickly and easily captured.

But we are not monkeys; we have an intellect that protects us.  Or does it?  In Tolstoy’s Man and Dame, Fortune the hero of the story, is told he can have the right to all of the land around which he can plow a furrow in a single day. The man started off excited, full of the possibilities of owning his own land.  At first, he was only going to plow a square of land that he could easily care for. But as the day progressed he wanted more and more land. He plowed and plowed, until at the end of the day there was no possible way he could return to his original point of departure, but that did not stop him from struggling to do so.  In the end, he fell to the ground dead, the victim of a heart attack. The only property he secured was18 square feet of land; the grave he was buried in.

The incessant lure of acquiring the world’s riches and the misuse of the stuff we have can all be linked to a false idea of security; a twisted understanding of what we need to make us happy.  At the very heart of covetousness is the desire for security.

Jesus story about the rich man allows us to see the very heart of covetousness.  It is the picture of a man who has arrived; he is a text book example of success.  This rich man looks out at a new storage facility and all of his stuff and says, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”  You are a success!  But Jesus says that God has something else to say about the matter.

“Fool! This (very) night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”

So what went wrong?  Well, the man in Jesus story made a foolish investment.  He was rich in the things of this world, but poor in the things of God.  He was willing to receive all of the stuff that life brought him, but unwilling to acknowledge the very God who gave them to him.  Why he even thought that his soul belonged to him.

Jesus story is more than a warning to the rich or those who want to be rich in the things of this world.  Isn’t it true that there are plenty of unhappy rich people in our society?  No, this story is about death and it is about life!  In Jesus story, at the moment of death, the moment that the rich man’s soul was returned to God who gave the soul, he is greeted with the words “you fool!”  A fool says in his heart there is no God.  Or a fool decides what his god shall be.  In this case the god of this fool was stuff; things made by human hands that pass away as quickly as they are acquired.

The rich farmer in Jesus story would be considered a real success story in our society today.  No where do we hear that his wealth was acquired illegally or immorally, and yet according to God’s judgment they were immorally acquired.  Why?  Because he failed to see where these things came from.  He failed to see the giver behind the gifts.

When we look at people who seem to have it made, who seem to be blessed we are only seeing the tip of an iceberg so to speak.  But God sees the whole picture, and He would have us see it too.  What we need to see is the iceberg under the water—the emptiness of a life that ignores God as the giver, grasps all that is given, and calls it mine!  This is the heart of an investor that Jesus calls fool!  A fool is someone “who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” [v. 21]

So what must we do to make sure that we are making eternal investments?  Only one thing… repent!  Turn to Jesus Christ and His cross and away from your desire to set up false gods that promise security, but in the end provide only judgment.  Turn away from a desire for what the world calls the “good life” and instead turn to your baptism and see what Paul calls in our epistle reading (Colossians 3:1-11), the good things above in the hidden life.  Listen: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” [vs. 2-3]

In those very words, St. Paul offers wise counsel that is guaranteed to bring good returns.  He says that in our baptism we were not only crucified with Christ, but we were also raised with Christ; so, we should set our minds on things, good things that are already ours; gifts from above.  What kinds of things?  How about complete forgiveness of sins, peace with God, and salvation that assures us that we are united with God by faith in His Son, Jesus Christ!  Through faith in these gifts you are already rich in God; you have the saving gifts that God has given you.  Each time you repent; that is each time you turn away from the temptation to acquire more stuff you are turning instead to Jesus Christ, his atoning death upon the cross and His empty resurrection tomb.  You are turning away from false security that comes through wealth and instead you are turning towards eternal security that was given to you in your baptism.

What is the mark of a successful man or woman?  It is the baptismal life of repentance.  Such a person is truly rich, however little or much they may have acquired of earthly things.

Dear friends, we are Christians.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, we do not look at things of this life like the rich fool.  Instead, we see a God who created all things and created them good.  We see a God who loved so much that He made the greatest investment possible to save us from the disaster that we deserved.  In Jesus Christ, He set our feet back on solid ground; back on the road of life which is secured not in stuff but in His promises and His real presence with us.  You are already whole through Jesus Christ; you lack nothing that is good.  Now go out and live a life of wholeness.  In Jesus name… AMEN!

Faith To Be a Sheep!

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, August 1, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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“Faith… the final frontier.  These are the voyages of the church of Jesus Christ; people who relate to God by faith.  Their on-going mission—to live a life that is completely dependent upon their Creator and Savior; to believe in the unseen as if it has been seen, simply because the Word of God declares it true; to seek out new ways to praise God and help build His kingdom.  To boldly follow Jesus Christ where ever He leads!”

Ok, maybe that’s a bit too much.  How about this then: Faith… is living life as one of Jesus little lambs.  Do you have faith to be a sheep… to be a sheep in God’s flock… the true church?  Jesus wants you to have this kind of faith so He speaks these Words to you: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.  Sell your possessions, and give to the needy.  Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” [Luke 12:32-34]

This morning little flock, your Good Shepherd is expounding on the story He told us last week about the rich fool!  He was rich certainly; he had more wealth than he knew what to do with.  But He was also a fool!  He was a fool because he wasn’t rich towards God.  He was a fool because he failed to understand that His wealth on earth was really God’s wealth; wealth that he was expected to use to build the kingdom of God!

This morning friends, Jesus desires to teach us how to avoid being a fool so that we can be assured that we are a saint.  How?  By being a sheep!  “But sheep are dumb” we argue!  Yes and that’s why they need a shepherd.  Sheep truly are incapable to care for themselves.  They are prone to wander, and when they do, they are prone to be attacked and devoured by wolves.  The smart sheep… or maybe a better way to say this is, the faithful sheep know they need a shepherd.  And when they find their shepherd they know they better learn to know and trust His voice.  But to hear and trust the voice of your Good Shepherd requires faith, and that is precisely what He has been giving to you since your baptism and it is what He is giving to you right now!

What is faith?  Our epistle reading this morning (Hebrews 11:1-16) answers this question for us.  Right away it defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not see.”  Now some may counter, “Hold on now.  I am one that has always believed that faith and logic are equally valid.  In fact I pride myself on the fact that I have learned to rely on both!”  Very well let’s put that to a test.  Remember you are a lamb; you are prone to wander; that’s why you follow your Shepherd.  If all of the sheep followed their Good Shepherd they would always be assured of plenty of food and drink, because that is the job of the Shepherd, to lead them to green pastures and sources of water and safety.  But the sheep that do not have faith alone in their shepherd are lured into wandering off to nearby sources of food and water that the Good Shepherd intentionally bypasses.  The faithless sheep see this contradiction and say to themselves, “This is foolish!  Where is he leading us?  Can’t he see this is good right here?”  So they wander away from the flock only to be attacked and eaten by the wolf.  And that is precisely what will happen to us when we allow logic to interpret the Word of God.

Little lambs, we must remember that we live in a world that is full of dangers and enemies.  As harsh and threatening as this world is, we would be without hope if we did not have a Good Shepherd to guide us.  He sees and knows the dangers that we can’t see and know.  He knows where the traps of the devil are hidden; a devil that is simply waiting for us to leave the safety of the flock and the protection of the Good Shepherd, so he can pounce upon us and devour us!  So the faithful sheep simply follow their Shepherd and place their trust in things hoped for and promises as yet unseen, because they are following their Good Shepherd.

What is it that we are hoping for?  Peace with God and a sense of safety and security in this life certainly, but it is much deeper than that.  We are also placing our faith in the promise of being with our Good Shepherd forever.  We are following the promise of the resurrection of our flesh!  We believe and hope in an eternal life of peace, joy, and happiness.  Why?  Simply because our Shepherd’s Word promises that this will be our reward for trusting in where He is leading us.

Faith, confidence, and conviction are all different ways of describing the same thing.  In these words we are saying that we trust God, and our Good Shepherd Jesus Christ above any and all contradictions!  These words at first seem very subjective and personal, and that is because outside of the Word of God, they are!  You must test and live out faith in order to believe it as fact.  You must trust daily in something in order to be confident in it.  And you must hold onto and practice your convictions in order to keep them strong!  But when the Word of the Good Shepherd is inserted into the equation, all of these words also have something very objective behind them.  Isn’t it true that faith is a hard thing to hold onto, especially in this society that we live in?  Think of all of the people and promises that have disappointed us!  Isn’t it true that confidence is something that is inspired within us?  Yes to all of these.  We need to be assured that we have a true faith and not a false faith.  Eve had great faith in what Satan promised her, even though it was simply a lie dressed up like truth.  The cults and false religions do the very same thing as they twist lies so that they will appear to be the way of God!  No, I am afraid little sheep that there will always be someone or something evil lurking around us, pretending to be genuine, true, reliable and trustworthy; something that wants you to have false hope instead of true faith.

What then?  What are we to do in order to ensure that we are safe and resting in the true faith?  When there is a contradiction between the Word of God and the way of men, we must stay with our Good Shepherd and listen to His voice only.  We must remember that true faith is produce only through the Living Word of God and His Holy Spirit who come to us through His Word and Sacraments.  If we will not trust God’s Word and the promises of His Sacraments then we will inevitably wander from His care and certainly be attacked and devoured by the devil. 

Faith dear sheep is a sure and certain confidence in all of the glorious things promised and hoped for, which are given to us within God’s own Word.  Everything given to us within the Bible is God’s own truth.  All of the past events that are recorded for us are true and all of the future events that are promised will come! 

God’s Word begins with the creation of the world and it ends with the promise that our resurrected and redeemed bodies will live with our Good Shepherd in a new heaven and a new earth.  Every one of these promises is as of yet “unseen,” yet we are to regard them to be as certain and serious as gravity. 

By means of faith we understand that the universe was created solely by the Word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible… instead it was made out of nothing but the Living Word of God! [Heb. 11:3]  “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth… Then God said “Let there be light”; and there was light.” [Gen. 1:1-3]  In the very first paragraph of the Bible we read and we believe it; we believe because the Good Shepherd calls to us and tells us to believe.  Because of faith we need nothing else to go by.  Because of faith we hear these words and believe, that “without faith it is impossible to please (God), for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.” [Heb. 11:6]

By means of faith, Abraham obeyed God when he was called to go out to a place that he had never seen in order to receive an inheritance.  By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise.  Why?  Because he was looking forward to a place that has its foundations in heaven, whose designer and builder is God Himself! [Heb. 11:8-10]  What was the true evidence of Abraham’s faith in God?  He heard the voice of His Good Shepherd and he responded.  He went out into a place that was a complete mystery to receive an inheritance.  He didn’t know where he was going; he only knew he must follow the Word of His God.  Abraham believed God and His promise concerning his Fatherland and future heritage; he had faith to believe in things hoped for and as of yet unseen.  Abraham was walking completely by faith; trust in God.  How could he do this?  Because he was not looking only to an earthly city, but instead he was also looking forward to a city that has its foundations in heaven, one designed for him and his spiritual children who would relate to God by faith.  A city that has been created for you… Jesus little lambs!

Faith dear lambs is what God gives to us through His Word and Sacraments so that we will hear Him and trust in Him; so that we will not wander away following after the things of this world; things which lure us out of the fold… the church of Jesus Christ.  Abraham understood that God’s promise of a Fatherland wasn’t just referring simply to some piece of country in Palestine.  No, Abraham understood that one day his spiritual descendants, you and me would possess as our inheritance a place for eternity where there will be no more suffering, shame, or tears; a place where there will be only the joy of being safe and secure and at peace with our Good Shepherd.

Do you want to have and keep the gift of faith that turns you from a wandering sheep into a little lamb that rests in the flock of the Good Shepherd?  Then rest in the voice of God, the voice of your Good Shepherd found in Holy Scripture, and let it be your greatest source of wisdom and hope.  When you rest in this wisdom you will discover that everything in your life, including your money and possessions are completely safe in the hands of your Creator and Shepherd.  Abraham did this and I pray that you will continue to do this too.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!