Archive for the ‘Pentecost 16A’ Category

What Are You Seeking?

Sunday, September 24th, 2017

Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost-A, September 24th, 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 her for audio of this message

“Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near” [Isaiah 55:6]

The title of our message this morning is a question; it is a question from God! What is it that you are seeking? Why did you come here? Are you here for the one thing you really need… forgiveness, or are you here for other reasons?

One of the biggest hurdles to faith that I encounter as a pastor is a person’s lack of forgiveness; either they feel that God won’t forgive them or they can’t forgive someone else.

Really, the two issues are just different sides of the same coin, because they represent a heart that won’t let God change it. Let me give you a general conversation I’ve had with many people: “Why don’t you feel God loves you?” Well, I did something a long time ago that I never dealt with and now that I’m older, well… I think it’s just too late! “Why do you think that?” I don’t know really, I just feel that its true!

At this point, my job is simply to assure them with scripture that God’s call to come to Him, to seek His love and forgiveness is really for them and it’s a lifelong process. As long as we keep coming and seeking Him, He keeps forgiving. Listen to the words of King David as He confirms this same truth in a very personal and experiential way: “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord” – and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” [Psalm 32:3-5]

This morning we come to God, we come to His Church seeking His forgiveness within His Word and Sacraments, and miracle upon miracle, He keeps forgiving us! Our response to this is simply falling down at the foot of the cross in a spirit of worship. And as we worship we hear God’s still soft voice assure us that we are changed, but we are changed with a purpose. We are changed to serve Him and reflect His love and forgiveness to others.

Before we seek forgiveness we must first see a need to be forgiven, and the only way we can see this is if we come to God in His Word.

In His Word we hear first that we are sinful and unclean. That means that as we are, God won’t love us! When we see this truth and admit it, it does something terrible but wonderful in our hearts and minds… it destroys us! God’s Law takes away any hope we have in knowing happiness and peace and it assures us that no matter what we try to do to remove our feeling of guilt, it will never work! But then the call of the gospel comes to us and reminds us that God not only will forgive us but He has forgiven us; all God asks us to do is simply agree with His Word that we are sinners in both what we’ve done and what we have left undone. If we can admit this then He gives us ears of faith to hear the gospel…

You are forgiven! Let those words of God sink in; understand what they really mean. And then, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon!” [Isaiah 55:7] This is God’s call to each of us to turn to the only way He has opened in order to be right with Him… and that way is through the cross of Jesus! We must turn to Jesus alone for God’s assurance that all of our sins are paid for… forgiven… covered with the blood of God’s Lamb of Sacrifice, Jesus Christ.

In both the Law and Gospel of God we are taught that sin is real and it needs to be dealt with. Either God covers it or we cover it up! And there’s a big difference between the two. As Rudyard Kipling said, “Nothing is ever settled until it’s settled right.” When the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ becomes our only source of peace and happiness, well a true joy comes over us, because we know when God covers our sin, it’s settled forever!

So what is the reason God wants us to come to His church? For His Divine Service! We come to receive God’s work of forgiveness. And when we receive this work, this gift of forgiveness, all we can do is simply fall down at the feet of Jesus and worship Him as our Savior and God! So are you here for the right reason? Have you dealt with your sin? If not, what is it that you’re waiting for?

The story is told about a farmer who hated the church and his Christian neighbors. When he died he left a will giving all that he had to the devil. The will was contested by his family and the court was forced to make a decision. After several months of deliberation it handed down the following verdict: “It is decided that the best way to carry out the wish of the deceased is to allow the farm to grow weeds, the soil to erode, and the house and barn to rot. In our opinion the best way to leave something to the devil is to do nothing.”

So there is the truth that some here face this morning. To put off allowing God’s Word to change your heart is like willing your soul to the devil! So God is saying that today is the day that you should settle any feelings of abandonment, anger, bitterness, and hate. Today is the day that you should seek His love, because “the Lord is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth. He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; He also hears their cry and saves them. [Psalm 145:18, 19] So come to Jesus. Let your desire for forgiveness lead you to seek Jesus; demand Him as your only means of help. Strive after Him and run to His cross. Let God’s Word move your heart to stretch out your arms of faith toward Him and then embrace Him and cling to Him alone.

In our gospel lesson (Matthew 20:1-16) Jesus tells us a story about what God’s Kingdom of Grace, His Kingdom of Forgiveness is like.

In the story He presents two groups of people. The first group of people are the last group to be called to work in God’s Kingdom of Grace. They are real Christians, with real sin that they know must be dealt with by God’s means. They entered the church with no conditions; they simply came for forgiveness and a right relationship with their God; then they gladly worked in His kingdom by sharing the very same thing with the people that were in their lives. The second group of people is the first group that was called to work in God’s Kingdom of Grace. They are phony Christians; lip service Christians who are members of a congregation for reasons other than dealing with their own sin. God’s vineyard simply represents the church, even our own little congregation here. The work that each of us is to perform is that of Kingdom Building, or allowing God to use us to expand His Kingdom throughout our community; it’s the very same work that brought each of us into His Kingdom; it is the work of forgiveness of sins through the Word of God which tells about the Savior of the World Jesus Christ!

The payment, or the denarius is first the privilege of living and working in the church, and second it is an eternity in heaven or hell! One group lives in God’s kingdom but doesn’t really do the work of God’s Kingdom; they are forgiven but they will not forgive as God has forgiven them. They are in the Kingdom simply to receive the recognition and praise that the Kingdom brings to them while they live here on this earth. Long ago they lost sight of their own sin and their need of forgiveness, so asking them to forgive as they have been forgiven is ridiculous. The other group, the true Christians, have been humbled by their sinfulness and the gospel truth, which declares that God not only loves them but forgives them for Christ’s sake; it is their belief in this truth that is forever changing them as it brings them new life and peace with God. And now because they’re changed; because they have peace with God, they share that same forgiveness with whoever God put’s in their path.

When the workers are called together on judgment day, one group is told to enter and receive all the riches of God’s Kingdom as joint heirs with Jesus, the Son of God. The other group, the lip service Christians are told that they’ve been paid in full! They had their entire lives as a gift resting in the church and receiving God’s means of grace. The Word was always speaking to them, but they would not listen; they would not turn to Jesus and God’s means of grace and new birth. So Jesus tells this group that on the judgment day they have received all that they will get. On that terrible Day of Judgment, they will be told to run along; run straight to hell, forever separated from God’s love and kindness.

So which one of these groups do you belong to? Well didn’t we start God’s Divine Service with our confession of sins? Didn’t we hear His Word of forgiveness? Doesn’t He inviting us to His table of mercy; a table where we will eat and drink forgiveness? In these very things God not only gives you assurance that your sins are forgiven but He gives you assurance that you have nothing to fear. How can this be? Well to this question, God answers, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” [Isaiah 55:8, 9] Do you believe this? If you are struggling with faith to believe, then God says keep coming to my church; keep hearing my Word and seek me in the person and cross of Jesus Christ. And when you hear that you are forgiven, simply worship me with a thankful heart. And after worship, leave this place changed with a purpose and a mission… give that same Word of forgiveness to all that you meet. May this be the work that God does in each of us, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

The Power of God’s Love!

Sunday, August 31st, 2008

Sixteenth Sunday in Pentecost, August 31st, 2008

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message


“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
” [Romans 12:12]

 

INTRODUCTION: Why would anyone set out to suffer and die?  Why would anyone choose humiliation over triumph?  To the world this is a ridiculous concept!  That’s why in our gospel reading, when Jesus said that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed Peter answered, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”  The other disciples must have been thinking, “Good for you Peter!  This can’t happen to the one we love.  How can a suffering, humiliated, or worse yet, a dead Mesiah save us!”  But to this, Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Poor Peter, just days before this our Lord had praised him as being the model confessor of the church, because he confessed Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  How could someone who seemed to have everything so right, now be so terribly wrong?  Our Lord answers that question so that we can see the error: “You aren’t looking at things from God’s plan, but from the plans of men!”  Well what’s the difference?  Both ways of thinking identify Jesus as the Savior, right?  Well yes, but the difference is in the kind of Savior!  Peter and the others wanted to glory in victory now!  They wanted a majestic conqueror—one that would by the power and might of man make all things right in the world.  They were appalled when Jesus said it was necessary for him to suffer and die.  They were so appalled that they missed the part that came next—the gospel!  “On the third day I will be raised from the dead!” 

 

The truth is friends, God’s love is always demonstrated as sacrificial love, and that is why Jesus said that “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  Without the self-sacrifice of Jesus, there would be no victory over sin death and the devil; without self sacrifice there can be no power in love.  And for us, if we want to truly live a life transformed by the “Power of God’s love” we must pick up our cross, and follow Jesus in the way of sacrificial love.  This is the truth that we will explore this morning in our Epistle lesson.  Please take out your Bibles and turn with me to Romans Chapter 12.

 

(Vs. 9) “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.”    Right from the beginning of our Epistle lesson this morning, Paul is making it clear to us that everything that follows is centered in love.  But this kind of love is not your run of the mill, here today gone tomorrow kind of love; you know the kind I mean don’t you?  The kind of love that is ablaze with passion on the wedding day, but cold as ice on the 5th anniversary of that wedding night.  No this is the kind of love that is the ultimate fruit of God’s love for us.  It is the kind of love that gives you faith to believe that Jesus is your Lord and Savior because “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son on the cross so that you would be saved!”  This isn’t the fake kind of Hollywood love, no this is the giving kind of love.  It gives everything it has so that the person receiving it knows they are loved.  With this kind of love, God chose to love you a sinner, and with this kind of love, as we will see latter, we are enabled to choose to love our enemies.  This is real love.  This love isn’t just words, but its action and truth! [1 Jn. 3:18]  So how do we demonstrate this genuine kind of love? “Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.”  Hate everything evil and sinful and be permanently stuck to everything that’s good!

 

ILLUS: Perhaps the best way to demonstrate this truth is to illustrate its opposite.  Within our own community, just a couple miles down Imperial Avenue, you will be in neighborhoods that are plagued by drugs of all kinds, including the worst drug of all, Crystal Methamphetamine.  Hundreds of our neighbors are addicted to a drug that contains, phosphorus, methylamine, acetone, chloroform, iodine, ammonia, hydrogen chloride, lithium, ether, and muriatic acid.   When all of this is mixed together and cooked, it creates a crude version of Methamphetamine, and when smoked or snorted it produces an intoxicating euphoria that causes one to feel that everything is good and right in the world.  Friends, the truth is for these poor souls, nothing is right!  Any one of those ingredients alone can cause death.  These poor people have learned to love the very thing that is killing them, and they hate anyone that comes between them and their drug.  How many families have been destroyed because of this drug?  How many lives have been lost?  Yet these poor souls have become addicted to it!  They are living out the opposite mindset that Paul is asking us to live out.  When Paul says that we should hold fast to what is good, he means that we should be permanently stuck to it!  We should be addicted to what is good, and we know that there is no one or nothing good but God Himself!  Friends, we hate illegal drugs because they are evil and because we love God!  Now because we love God, we find ourselves hating anything and everything that separates anyone from the love of God which is ours in Christ Jesus!  Now Paul will show us how this type of love will work in our church.

(Vs.10-13)Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, and serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” Be devoted to one another with warm family affection and brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.  These words sound good; everyone wants that kind of love in our lives and in our church.  To Paul, this family-type devotion to one another is much more than friendship. It’s the type of love that involves commitment like that experienced in a good family.  When one person in a family is hurting, sick, or in trouble, all of the other family members rally around that person and help in any way possible.  This type of sacrificial, self giving love then is the fulfillment of “Honoring one another above ourselves”. When one of us is in trouble all of us respond.  But the truth is, this type of love can be a real inconvenient; it can even intrude into our personal lives at the worst moment, but this is God’s way, the way of sacrificial love.  It is God’s will that if one of us is in a time of testing, due to financial crisis, sickness, sorrow, or pain, rather than try to hide our tribulation, we should rather embrace the love and support of our church family,  and pray, waiting on God to supply our needs.  It is precisely during these moments when Christ’s church becomes the model of true love to the whole world.  This kind of love is a radical concept to the unbelieving world, but it is the only kind of love that matters to the church.  Paul says that the only way we can demonstrate this kind of love is if we are “fervent in spirit”. 

 

The actual Greek word that is translated fervent means “seething—be seething in spirit.”  Just as water and steam  violently bubbles and seeths out of a covered pot of boiling water, so too we are to be seething in the Spirit.  If you find yourself lacking that fervent, seething spirit,  Paul has just the way to obtain it—“Be constant in prayer!”  Through God’s Word we are given faith and empowered by a relationship of love that allows us to call our God and Creator, Father!  And because of this loving relationship, we are not only encouraged to bring to Him all of our own needs but the needs of others as well!    When we pray for a Christian brother or sister, God’s Spirit is active in our own hearts causing us to be seething in the spirit, so that He may love and care for that person through us, and when God is working through us it is not a chore to love someone, instead it becomes a blessing. 

 

ILLUS: Some years ago a Lutheran church in Oklahoma, divided. The split was so bad that one faction began a lawsuit to dispossess the other and claim the property for itself. The local newspapers picked up the story, and the locals followed what was happening with a lot of interest. The judge decided that it wouldn’t be a matter for the civil courts until the church authorities had made a ruling. After much discussion, the church authorities awarded the property to one of the two factions, and the losers withdrew and formed another church in the area.  Think about how different things would have been had those in that church followed Paul’s call to mutual commitment: Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.   Be seething in the spirit!”  Now that we have an idea of what our love should look like inside of the Church, Paul brings everything together into one picture.  Here now comes the type of love we are to have everywhere.

 

(Vs. 14-16) “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.”  Do these words sound familiar?  They should, because they are a paraphrase of Jesus’ own Words: “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” and “bless those who curse you” )Matt. 5:44; Luke 6:27-28).  Think of Jesus last words upon the cross before he died, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).  “Well He was the Son of God, of course He could bless and forgive.  No man could do that could they?”  Well what about Stephen, who opened his mouth in a blessing upon those who were stoning him to death?  Do you remember the last words that he uttered? “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60)

 

Friends, the way of the world says that we should curse those who are unjustly persecuting us, but the Christian prays for bullies and tormentors.  Why?  So that they might repent, so that God might forgive them.  Bless, Paul says, and do not curse them, don’t speak evil against them behind their back, because it is never right to both bless and to curse at the same time.  No, instead, we Christians must model the same love that Jesus has loved us with.  When we follow the way of our Lord, we learn to “live in harmony with one another”. Oh yes, and Paul adds something else, “Do not be haughty, (that is prideful and stuck-up), but associate with the lowly.  Never be wise in your own sight.”  Just as you don’t like to be bullied or persecuted, be sure that you aren’t doing the same thing to others—by way of neglect or preferential treatment.

 

ILLUS: Have you ever heard of Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes. When he was appointed the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court by President Herbert Hoover in 1930 he moved to Washington, and transferred his church membership to a church there. It was the custom in that church to have all new members come forward during the morning service and be introduced to the congregation. On this particular day the first to be called was a Chinese laundryman named Ah Sing, who had moved to Washington from San Francisco and kept a laundry near the church. He stood at the far side of the pulpit. As others were called, they took positions at the extreme opposite side. When a dozen people had gathered, Ah Sing stood painfully alone. Then Chief Justice Hughes was called, and he significantly stood right next to the laundryman.  Friends, we are Christians, and we are to associate with everyone—the ordinary people, the unimportant, even the outcasts of society; even those who are being persecuted. If we can’t get along with one another, if we can’t be the champions for the oppressed in our own church, how can we ever face our enemies?  And that is precisely where Paul is taking us next…

 

(Vs. 17-20) “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  There is no question that the man who does us evil ought to be paid back with the exact proportion. This is God’s own principle, and Paul isn’t ignoring that. But if God applied only that principle to us, where would we be?  And that is the point, without God’s grace through Jesus Christ we would be damned along with our worst enemy.  Friends, it is God’s work alone that saved us, and we should do everything to glorify Him and bring honor to His presence in our lives by living a life that demonstrates same grace.  Nothing that we do or say, should ever bring shame to our Lord and His gospel, and that is why Paul says, “give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all”. To that same end, Paul tells us, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” That would include peace with believers and nonbelievers, those in the church and outside of the church. You know friends, it takes two to fight, and if you as a believer aren’t seeking revenge, then there should be no long-lasting disruption of peace that involves you.

 

But what about justice?  To this Paul answers, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  Here is Paul’s answer. A juster hand than yours and mine is in control, and He will hand out the most perfect justice that is due to every unrepentant sinner. Friends, by choosing to not avenge ourselves, we aren’t abandoning justice, but rather we have chosen to trust God with the whole matter.  Remember friends, God saved you, and he doesn’t want anyone else to perish either.  So God is restraining his punishment with hope that your enemy will become you brother. So we wait; but while we wait, we aren’t just patiently endure mistreatment, no instead God wants us to seek to change our enemy, if possible, to bring him to repentance.  How?  By feeding him when he is hungry and giving him drink when he is thirsty!  These are only two of many possible examples, but they are good ones.  But why must we be nice to our enemy?  Paul answers that this way, “for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Or we could say that by being nice to him, we allow God’s Law to work within his heart, causing him shame, which will then hopefully cause him to repent of his sin and turn to the same source of love that saved us, Jesus Christ!

 

CONCLUSION: Dear friends, the summary of all of this can be found in Paul’s won words: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” God demonstrated this principle for us long ago, when He sent His only Son to die for you upon the cross.  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us!  Just as Jesus prayed for us long ago upon the cross, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” so too, we must pray for those who hurt us.  We need to pray and ask God for love as we try to show kindness to our enemies. Will they take advantage of us? Will they hate us even more? Only the Lord knows. Our task is not to protect ourselves but to obey the Lord and leave the results with Him.  Friends, even if our enemy refuses God’s love, we will still have experienced the love of God in our own hearts and we will grow in His grace.