Archive for the ‘Pentecost 15B’ Category

On Taming the Tongue

Sunday, September 13th, 2015

16th Sunday after Pentecost, September 6, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Evangelical Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114

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“And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.” [James 3:6]

With our mouths we both bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse our neighbor, who is made in the likeness of God.  Brothers and sisters, this should not be.  Who among you fears the Lord and obeys His servant?

If some who here are listening to this message this morning are struggling with this sin, and we all struggle, then allow this message to lead you out of the darkness of sin and into the light of God Himself.  Trust in the name of God; rely on this message to speak freedom from this sin.

(James 3:1-12) Isn’t it interesting that James, compares a sinful tongue to a spark of fire, that is able to burn down an entire forest?  Listen: “How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.”

With the wild-fires blazing throughout the western United States this is a powerful illustration.  Think of all of the devastation that is being caused by these fires.  What started them?  Who started them?  They don’t know yet, but we can go back just one year ago and have an answer to the “who” question for another serious fire.

Do you remember the Coco’s fire from May of 2014?  That fire caused more than $10 million in damages and threatened the entire San Marcos area and parts of Escondido.  Did you know that the fire was caused by a 13 year old girl who was simply playing with a lighter, and wanted to see what would happen if she set a few leaves of a tree in her yard on fire.  It is hard to believe that just a few leaves caused all of that damage.  Thank God no one was killed.  But if we are talking about fires that take lives, let’s consider perhaps one of the worst fires in our nation’s history, the Great Chicago Fire.

It was started on October 8, 1871 and it burned a full two days until it was finally extinguished.  That fire ripped through the urban residential area of Chicago and left an estimated 300 people dead and another 100,000 others homeless.  More than 17,000 structures were destroyed and damages were estimated at $200 million dollars.  The cause of that fire was never determined, but experts agree that it probably was not O’Malley’s cow, as urban myth would have us believe.

Back to the truth behind the illustrations, the tongue is like that lighter in the hand of the child, or like the spark that set off the Great Chicago fire.  When it set’s off a spark by way of a word of anger, gossip, or untruth about a person or an organization, the results can be devastating.  It defiles both the source, that is the one speaking the word, and the target, that is the one the word is spoken against, setting on fire the entire course of peoples lives, and it is a fire that finds it’s source from the very fires of hell, and the devil himself.

When the word of fire is spoken within a Christian congregation the effects can be, and usually are devastating to that precious gathering of saints.  The wicked tongue defiles not just the one speaking but the whole body of believers, because the sin of gossip and slander is carried from one mouth to another until it has devastated the entire congregation or community.

Martin Luther in his explanation of the Ten Commandments specifically in regards to the 8th Commandment (Thou Shall Not Lie), wrote that Christians are absolutely forbidden to speak evil of other people—even if what they say is technically “true.” The only exceptions are those who in their God-given vocations (civil judges, parents, pastors), are asked to judge others so that evil does not go unpunished. But Luther also points out that the commandment also directs us to perform a lot of positive works of love and service to others.  He says, “We should use our tongue to speak only the best of all people, to cover the sins and infirmities of our neighbors, to justify their actions, and to cloak and veil them with our own honor.” Luther then closes with this thought, “There is nothing around us or in us that can do greater good or greater harm in temporal or spiritual matters than the tongue, although it is the smallest and weakest member.”

It is not hard to find modern proof of the evil that comes from the human tongue. Simple lies are everywhere; they mask our selfishness, cover our sins, and destroy our relationships. We lie to other people and we even lie to ourselves. But the evil of the tongue isn’t just limited to lies: many times we manipulate the truth (to our advantage) and use it like a weapon or an untamed fire. And then we justify the damage and pain we cause by saying, “I just spoke the truth!” In fact, we might even be tempted more strongly to excuse and justify our slander, backbiting and lies by claiming that we are defending God’s Truth.

Sadly, in today’s world, what James called a sin of the “tongue” has taken on a whole new identity. Today the tongue has been extended to things like text messages, Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, email, and many other things that serve as powerful amplifiers for our flaming, poisonous tongues—or rather, our flaming, poisonous hearts. In fact, technology seems to give us license to fling nasty words out into the world that we might be ashamed or embarrassed to say aloud, to someone’s face. Every day we are invited to slander people and spread lies and filth by simply clicking “like” or “share.”

Here is a truth worth remembering: The “tongue” itself is not the real root of the problem. Our words are a vicious, contagious symptom, but the disease itself comes from our hearts.  Jesus taught us this when He said, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” [Mark 7:21–23]

“From the same mouth”—our mouth—“come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.”  So what are we to do?  We are to take our sinful mouths and hearts to the Lord.

(Mark 9:14–29) In our gospel lesson, Jesus is joined by His disciples and a great crowd.  What is interesting to note is He had just left the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter, James, and John, and He had just informed them that now was the time for them to make their way to Jerusalem so that He could suffer and die for the sins of the world.

From within the crowd, an unnamed father of a boy who was possessed by a demon, approaches Jesus and says in the form of a request for help, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “ All things are possible for one who believes.”  To that statement, the father replied, “I believe.  Help me with my unbelief.”  And to that request for faith, Jesus cast out that demon with a simple Word, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

After that, in a private time and place, the disciples demonstrated both their amazement and frustration with this simple question: “Why couldn’t we cast the demon out?”  And Jesus answered, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”  What kind?  The kind that is beyond your ability to control; the kind that is too powerful for you to defeat.

Dear friends, I submit to you that our tongues are this very kind.  We have already proven that the fire of the tongue and the damage it causes finds it’s very source from within the fires of hell.  Try as you might, you can never on your own cage that venomous reptile and prevent its escape and damage; even though the cage that it is in is your own mouth, and all you need to do is shut the door; that is shut your mouth.  So what are we to do?  Cry out to Jesus in prayer, and confess the truth that you are powerless to master this sin, and by faith trust that He will give you victory by walking with you.  Look to Jesus, the Master and teacher and He will speak the very Words that will give you victory.

(Isaiah 50:4–10) In our Old Testament lesson, we are given the very source and type of help.  Listen: “The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary.  Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught.”

These Words are not only for you to hear, but it is God’s desire that they come from within your own heart; out of your own mouth.  Here God tells you what work He desires to do within you.  But this work is completely dependent upon the work of Another.  Listen: “The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward. I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting.”

This Servant willingly suffered the treatment reserved for criminals in the ancient East.  This servant willingly gave His back to those who struck him; He was whipped within an inch of His life.  No natural human being, no Christian, so long as they are still in the flesh could endure all of  this mistreatment without anger or desire of revenge.  Is there any doubt who this Servant that has come before us is?  This Servant is Jesus Christ, the Holy Son of God, Champion of the Father, the Savior of the Church, who alone could endure that much suffering and pain for others. He is the very One that drives out demons with a Word.

In His passion, within His suffering and death upon the cross, Jesus knew that He was doing all of that for you.  He desired that you would receive His Work as payment for your many sins along with His gift of faith.  He desired that You would then speak the Words of Isaiah as your own Words on account of His Word and Work.  Listen: “But the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me?  Let us stand up together. Who is my adversary? Let him come near to me. Behold, the Lord God helps me; who will declare me guilty? Behold, all of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up.”

In His passion Jesus has defeated our lying tongues and the sinful heart that controls that serpent of fire.  Through His suffering, death, and resurrection He gives victory over the judgment of this sin, and within your baptism, He gives to each of you both the ability and the desire to master the tongue and the heart.

Dear friends, Jesus has given us the victory over sin, even over the evil that comes out of our hearts and from our tongues.  And now, he asks you to fight to live out what He has already given to you… victory.  This victory is both received and held onto by us when we walk in the fear of the Lord.  The fear of the Lord is in reality, respect for our God who gives us free and faithful grace.

The Lord has graciously promised deliverance from sin, death, and hell. As God’s prophet Isaiah and all of Scripture tells us, the Lord has and will fulfill His promise through his Servant, Jesus Christ. Because we are all sinners, we must have this deliverance from the hand of the Lord of grace. Before God, all of us stand in absolute terror of the punishment we deserve because of our sins. But the Lord of free and faithful grace has declared all sinners not guilty because of this great Servant.

And now, we live our lives here in this sinful world as believers who possess deep respect and awe for our Lord; and because of this, we listen to his Word and allow it to change us. By His grace, every day we become captivated and interested in the Word of this Servant, Jesus Christ. And we prove our redemption and eternal salvation to others by showing appropriate fear of the Lord and allowing the Word of his great Suffering Servant to change us as a light and example of one who agrees with God and struggles to control both our tongues and our actions. This Servant, our Savior Jesus Christ has redemption and victory for everyone. That’s why he asks the world to listen to Him.

May all who fear the Lord and trust in the Word of His Servant find deliverance, forgiveness, and life.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Help For Our Unbelief!

Sunday, September 13th, 2009

15th Sunday after Pentecost, September 13, 2009
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA 
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Our text this morning is the 24th verse of our Gospel lesson.  “Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” [Mark 9:14-29]

Introduction: The Christian life is “a land of hills and valleys” isn’t it?  In one day, we can move from the glory of heaven to the attacks of hell. In our gospel lesson this morning, we join our Lord returning from the Mt. of Transfiguration, where 3 of the apostle were allowed to see Jesus in His heavenly glory; a glory that would once again be His forever as He began His painful walk to the cross—a cross where He would once and for all free us from sin, death, and the devil.  He would do this through His own death.  When they came down off the mountain and joined the other nine disciples, Jesus found them involved in a dual problem: they were unable to deliver a boy from demonic control, and the scribes were debating with them and perhaps even taunting them because of their failure, and the demon was doing its best to destroy him.  As always, it was Jesus who stepped in to solve the problem.

What happened?  What went wrong?  Jesus had given all of His disciples authority to cast out demons [Mark 6:7, 13], and yet their ministry to the boy was a failure. Well, there was no time to dwell on their failure because the desperate father was now begging Jesus to help.  Wouldn’t you if that was your child?  But that poor father was not even sure that Jesus could succeed; after all His disciples had failed.  That’s why he said, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us.” [Mark 9:22] But something interesting is learned here, the father was honest enough to admit that he was having trouble believing in Jesus, and he asked the Lord to help him believe.  

The main lesson of this miracle is that faith in Jesus alone gives us the power to overcome worry and the fear of sin, death, and the devil. Why had the nine disciples failed? Because they were afraid and worried.  Why was the father successful in seeing his son healed by Jesus?  Because he was afraid and worried.  Both are examples of how worry and fear can either have a negative or a positive effect on our faith. 

 I. The nine apostles were worried because things weren’t working out the way Jesus had said they would.  He said that He gave them the authority to drive out demons, “It worked before when He sent us out,” they must have said, why isn’t it working now?  Oh where is Jesus?  Why did he have to leave us alone like this?  What if He doesn’t come back soon?  Well if he doesn’t it won’t be our fault, after all, we’ve tried everything!”  Worry and panic began to take over.  But that wasn’t all; that demon was starting to get nasty with them, and to top it all off, those hypocrites called “the scribes” saw the whole thing and now they were ridiculing them.  OK, now their worry was giving way to fear.  “What if we actually did harm to the boy by angering the demon?  Look at the way that demon is throwing him around—Oh where is Jesus?  Somebody do something…!”  And to this, the devil sneers and taunts them saying, “Where’s your pride now?  Where’s your pride now?”

Help was so close.  Jesus had taught them that with the faith the size of a mustard seed they could call out to God and if it was according to the Father’s will they could order a mountain to fall into the sea and it would! [Matt. 17:20]    Yet because of their fear and worry, they forgot that help was just a prayer away. 

 Have you been there before?  So sure of yourself; so certain that you had everything under control and then– “BAMB”… everything falls apart?  What the nine apostles forgot, and what we so very often forget, St. James gladly reminds us of in our epistle reading: “We all stumble in many ways.  And if anyone does not stumble in what he says (or in what he does), he is a perfect man…”  Oh how easily because of our pride, we forget that everything we have, all of our talents, all of our gifts, and all of our finances are just a gift from God—every second of our lives are being guided by His loving hand.  And when things stop going the way we think they should go, when we’re done coasting downhill and seem to be stuck in the dark valley, we seem to always demand, “Where is God?  Why isn’t He here helping me?”

 Friends, what do you do when you’re smack dab in the middle of a crisis?  Well let me tell you what Jesus expects you to do.  Stop, remember God’s gospel promise that He will never leave you, take a deep breath, relax, and then pray.  That’s what the disciple forgot to do, and so many times when tragedy strikes, that is also what we forget to do.  Why is that important?  Because prayer invites God into your dilemma and your small faith says, “Here Lord, take over.  I’m tired and ready to give up.  If you want this done please work through me and do it.”  The father of the boy told Jesus that His disciples didn’t have the strength to drive the demon out.  They did not have the strength because they didn’t ask for it.  So remember, stop and pray for God’s strength!

 II. What the disciples forgot, the father of the demon possessed boy remembered.  “Teacher, I’ve brought my son to you.”  Faith in Christ is compelled to bring its dilemmas and tragedies to Christ.  And when by faith we bring these things to our Lord, He asks us, “Do you believe I can help you?  Do you believe I will help you?  Remember, all things are possible for one who believes.”  And then, little faith, small almost unobservable faith calls out in the same anguish as that father had for his only son, “I believe Lord; help my unbelief!  Teach me to believe….teach me to trust you.   You Lord Jesus Christ are my only source of hope!”

 In these words friends, we hear pain; we hear worry and fear, but we also hear a confession.  “Forgive me for my unbelief O Lord, and help me to believe!”  Dear baptized friends, that is your confession—your confession when you know you should believe; you know you should believe, because of the many promises God has given you, you know you must believe, but for some reason your faith is very small, you are afraid, and you find it hard to believe.  Your privilege friend, as a baptized child of God, is that you can call out to Him and confess all of your sins, including the sin of doubt and then know with a great certainty that He has heard your prayer.  He wants you to know that not only does He forgive your doubt, but for the sake of your Savior Jesus Christ, He also gives you what you are asking for because He loves you and because what you are asking for is in keeping with His will.  Friends, God wants you to believe unto eternal life!

III. But what if you pray and pray; what if you are always confessing your many sins and you don’t feel peace—you don’t feel comforted?  What if you still feel fear and worry?  Did you do something wrong?  Does that mean that God isn’t listening to you?  No!!  Dear friends, faith—your faith is not based on how you feel, but on Jesus’ real presence in your life.  Just because one person feels peace and another still feels fear doesn’t mean that God is closer to one and farther from another.  God stands by all of His children…He stands by you!  Listen friends, since faith is so important and vital to our spiritual well being don’t think for a moment that God wants you to remain captivated by your fear.  Don’t try to talk yourself out of your emotions, instead confess them to Him and then rest in His presence in your life.  It is the God of peace that will comfort you.  How?  By helping you to trust in His work in you!  Friends, through His Holy Spirit, God is moving your heart to turn away from your sin—to turn away from your lack of faith and turn to Him.  He wants you to turn away from your sinful lack of trust in His presence in your life and look to Jesus Christ, the lamb who takes away the sin of the world—even the sin of doubt and fear; then you will find big faith friends…very big faith!

 But pastor, you said last week that even small personal faith is saving faith?  Yes, that’s right, but don’t be happy with only small faith, instead let the Lord grow your faith.  Your faith will grow every day as you learn to rest in His love and then trust in His presence.  You will need that big faith friends, because when you least expect it, the devil will attack your heart and try to take away that little faith.  When will this attack happen?  I can’t answer that for you, but I do know this, sooner or later we will all have our faith tested.  For sure, when it comes time for you to face your own death, or the death of a loved one, your faith will be tested!  It is at this time that you must already be trained to turn your eyes to God, because that is where we will all end our walk of faith.  This is the narrow gate, the straight path that our Lord taught us about. [Matt. 7:14]  God desires for all of us to joyfully walk down this path and excitedly enter through that narrow gate.

 This narrow passage of death is very similar to the physical birth of a child; like Jesus said, “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.” [Jn. 16:21]  And that is how it will be in our death and the death of a loved one who dies in Christ.  We know that in dying we must bear with great fear and worry in order to reach our very big mansion in heaven.  And that is the job of faith, to help you overcome your fear and worry by trusting in our Lord’s promise of joy and love that awaits you!

 CONCLUSON: How do you prepare for this journey?  By staying in God’s Word; by allowing the Holy Spirit to give you a hunger to read and hear it as often as possible.  You prepare for this journey by daily confessing your sins and knowing for certain that because of your baptism the sweet Words of absolution are really intended for you.  You prepare for this journey by feeding your hunger to know God’s love and forgiveness through the eating and drinking of His holy and true body and blood.  Receive all of these by faith and know beyond doubt that He truly is giving you not just the forgiveness of your many sins, but a new life… an eternal life of joy and peace.

 Dear friends, though our faith is weak, let us pray with great passion along with the apostles, “Lord increase our faith” and let us pray with the child’s father, “Lord I believe; help my unbelief!”  In Jesus name…AMEN!