Archive for the ‘Pentecost 15C’ Category

For The Glory of the Lord!

Sunday, September 1st, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living a Cross Culture Life

Sunday, September 5th, 2010

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 5, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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 “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” [Luke 14:35b]  Let him really hear; let him listen!  Do you have ears?  Good, then Jesus says, “Listen!”  But even now, some of you aren’t listening.  You’re thinking about what you need to do this afternoon.  It’s the Labor Day weekend, so maybe you have a family barbeque planned.  Perhaps people are coming over, so you’re thinking about cleaning your house?  Well listen to what Jesus is saying.  Do you have ears to hear?  Then listen!  Maybe the title of the sermon has turned you off: Living a cross culture life.  Maybe you’re thinking, “Oh here he goes again, another sermon on the cross!”  And to this Jesus again asks, “Do you have ears to hear?  Good, then listen!”

This morning God wants us to hear Him with our ears so that His Word can continue to touch and change our hearts, because only then will we be able to really listen.  You see Jesus knows something that we seem to forget, and that is that because our hearts are essentially sinful they are prone to wander from His grace; grace which comes by the gift of faith, which He has given to us through His Word!  It’s this gift of faith that creates within us a desire to hear His Word and believe it; believe that God loves us and will never leave us!  This is the most important thing He wants you to believe and rest in!

This morning God wants you to know that if you will not continue to hear and listen to His Word then you are choosing not to rest in His love and grace.  He wants you to know that there is an eternal cost in leaving Him!  Listen to His warning that comes to us in our Old Testament lesson this morning: “But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish… I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse.  Therefore choose life that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days”. [Deut. 30:17-20b]

God’s message is simple!  The God of Holy Scripture is your God!  He is the God of your salvation and your very life.  His promises of blessings and love are true and more than that, they’re yours.  In His Word He assures you that He chose you to be His child; He proved this by ensuring that you were saved in the waters of your baptism.  In His Holy Supper He feeds you His very body and blood for the forgiveness of all of your sins!  And even more amazing, He promises that this forgiveness even extends into the future, to your children and your children’s children if they too will walk by faith according to His means.  But you can’t have any other gods; in fact He is saying you don’t need any other gods!  But what does it mean to have another god?  Well to have a god is to have something that is most important to you; something that you place your hope and trust in… something that you would fight to hold onto.  And if it’s anything that takes first place over God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit well… then you have a false god!

If you continue to choose to follow a sinful lifestyle and you refuse to embrace holy living then your sinful life style has become your god, and you have chosen death!  If you continue to place your family and friends above your relationship with God, well then they’ve become your false god and the instrument of your death and damnation!  Now listen; do you have ears?  Of course you do!  So God is calling you to hear Him and listen with your heart.  He’s telling you to turn away from your false gods and turn to Him.  What He’s saying is “Choose life!”

Now, for those of you who attend our Wednesday morning bible study, your ears may have perked up and you may be saying, “Choose life?  I thought our sinful flesh can only choose death.  I thought that the Law of God was impossible to follow?”  And to that, may I say, congratulations… you are right!

The words choice and freewill are a little misleading.  You see, God really does give you the freedom to choose, but your choices are very limited.  You can only choose to live to please the desires of your sinful flesh.  Think of it this way; let’s say that you are in a burning building.  It’s fully engulfed in fire and it’s ready to burn you alive.  In front of you are two doors.  One leads deeper into the flames and the other leads outside; it leads to freedom and life.  There’s one problem though, that door is chained, locked, and barricaded shut.  So go ahead, choose!  “Not fair” you say, “there is really only one choice and that’s death!”  And to that observation, God says, “Very good.  Now you are hearing; now you are listening!”

Friends, the truth is, there really is only one choice; you will always choose what is in your sinful heart to do, and that’s a sad truth.  In your heart are all the things that you love and wish for, and those things are always self serving and never God serving!  So you see damnation and judgment are your destiny and future unless something miraculous is done by God to change your heart!  And now enters a second choice, a divine choice; God has changed your heart and He chose life for you!  So how do we choose life?  By resting and trusting in God’s mercy and His means of grace that He has given to us!  In keeping with our burning building illustration, God’s means, His Word and Sacraments are the only way the door to eternal life can be opened.  Jesus alone is the key that unlocks the door and removes the barricade of sin in your life! 

Moses told the people that the Word of God was in their mouth and in their heart.  Then he gave them a simple command… do it!  But how?  Well, you have ears to hear, so listen.  Listen to the Word of life that tells you about God’s love and forgiveness.  Dear friends, Jesus is the Word of life in human flesh.  He is a Word that assures us that we will have an abundant life, even an eternally abundant life.  How do you choose life?  By continuously choosing to stay in a relationship of love with God through Jesus Christ!  You have ears to hear, so listen to Jesus, the Word of eternal life and live!  “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light”. [Matt. 11:28-30]

How do we choose life?  By continuing to choose to hear the Word of God; by resting in the choice that Jesus made for you.  Listen friends, the Son of God always has been and always will be the Word of God, but He chose to become so much more than that… He chose to come to us in our flesh.  He chose to be incarnate by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary and take on the name and person of Jesus.  He chose to suffer and die under Pontius Pilot; He chose to die a terrible and agonizing death upon the cross; a death you deserved to die and a death you certainly will die if you do not continue to choose life; if you do not choose to use the ears He has given to you to hear the Words of eternal life; words that bring faith and salvation.  How do we choose?  By staying in the relationship of love that He has already given to us!  Jesus is your God and you are part of His people.  In your baptism you have been promised that God has chosen you!  So your choice is simple: Either choose to continue to walk in this relationship of grace or choose to walk away from it.  Friends, God has already chosen life for you, will you rest in that choice or will you make the only other choice that you are capable of making?  God encourages you to choose life and since you are here, hearing and listening to His Word then God simply asks you to rest in His choice of life for you!  But Jesus warns us this morning that there is a cost in continually choosing to rest in God’s grace!

 In our gospel reading, Jesus clearly defines that cost with a warning similar to the one Moses gave long ago.  We must protect our relationship with Jesus and have no other gods; even if it means that we must leave the company of family and friends, wealth and comfort, and even at the expense of our own life!  Listen: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.  Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” [Lk. 14:25-27]

Now perhaps it is the ears of our catechism students that are perking up!  “What about the 4th Commandment, which says that we are to honor our Father and Mother?”  Dear friends, God hasn’t set aside that commandment, instead he is simply allowing you understand that there’s one that is more important… the 1st Commandment!  “You shall have no other gods before or beside me!”  You see friends, Jesus is not just God, He is your God.  He is God for you, and you are His child.  He bought you with a great price.  And because He is your God and you are His child, you must hate anything that would seek to separate you from that eternal relationship.  You must even hate your own sinful flesh!  This hating is simply keeping God first and protecting that relationship from all other relationships.  But our challenge is living out that relationship in a sinful world.  And this is where your cross comes in; this is the counting of the cost of living a Cross Culture Life!  Following Jesus and bearing your cross means that that it’s your desire to put God first, even if it means that you will lose the love and respect of family and friends; you’ll fight to place Him first even if it means you could lose your employment.  But this fight to keep God first doesn’t mean that you’ll quit being a loving father, mother, wife, husband, child, brother, sister, or neighbor.  It doesn’t mean that because you are tired of fighting your own sinful flesh, you’ll take your own life.  No, instead it means that you will continue to choose living a life that trusts in God no matter the cost!  Counting the cost friends means that you will continue to fear, love and trust God above all things, even above your own family and your personal comfort.  Hating your life then means walking with God even if it requires you to die for Him!

Have you counted the cost of being a disciple of Jesus Christ, of keeping God first?  God did!  In Christ, He not only proved that He counted the cost of saving you, but He also proved that He loves you… He gave you forgiveness and peace with Him.  Through His living Word and Sacraments He has assured you that He not only loves you but that He will never leave you or forsake you.  Through His love that was given to you through the cross He calls you to follow Him and bear your own cross.  I pray that you will continue to choose life and make it a wonderful and holy cross culture life! I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!