Archive for the ‘Pentecost 16B’ Category

Who is this Suffering Servant?

Sunday, September 16th, 2012

16th Sunday in Pentecost B, September 16, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, I believe; help my unbelief!””[Mark 9:24]

For a Christian, these are perhaps the most emotional words we could ever speak.  They are emotional because they are words of truth.  We believe, yet we know that on our own we cannot believe.  We are found yet we are lost.  We see, yet we are blind!  These words are truth and they are words of both hope and desperation.

Each one of you here this morning are here by faith; you believe that God loves you and cares for you, yet you also know that you are completely  dependent on God to sustain your faith; you know that if left on your own for even a moment, you would abandon your hope of God’s love and be  completely consumed by the hopelessness that defines this generation that we live in!

In our Gospel reading Jesus speaks this very truth when He is confronted by a mob led by some of His enemies, the scribes, who are the  professional interpreters of the law.  They are delighted that Jesus apostles cannot drive out the demon that possesses a little boy.  But Jesus is  also met by a father; a father who feels desperate, afraid, and alone, but yet he is not hopeless.  This father could care a less about the animosity  between the scribes and the disciples of Jesus; He wants only two things… he wants to get to Jesus and he wants to ask for mercy and deliverance  for his son.

“Jesus please hear my request I beg you!  I brought my son to you because he is possessed by an evil spirit.  When I arrived here to meet you they  said you weren’t here but away with some of your disciples.  Your other disciples heard my plea for mercy and deliverance for my boy and they  tried to help him, but they could not; it seemed that they just weren’t strong enough to defeat the demon.”

And to this report, Jesus looks out at the crowd, first to the scribes then to His disciples and He says in complete honesty with pain and disappointment soaked into every Word, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” [Mark 9:19]

So what went wrong?  Why weren’t the apostles able to cast out the demon?  They believed yet they did not!  They had faith in Jesus; they still recalled the time when they returned from a missionary trip and were able to cast out many demons in Jesus name, and yet this time they could not.  They could not because they believed not!  They believed not because they asked not, but now Jesus would teach them the one thing missing; the one thing needful that they neglected to include was prayer.  And now Jesus will illustrate that one thing needful as it is found in the plea of a desperate and loving father!

Jesus looked at the father and asked him, “How long has this been happening to your son?” Now let me point out, that Jesus asked this not because he was gathering information like a physician who seeks a diagnosis so that he can prescribe treatment, but rather he asked so the father would realize along with the disciples how desperate the situation really was; he asks so that all of us will understand that only God could free this young boy; so that you will understand that only God can save you.

The father answered Jesus and said, “He’s been like this since childhood. Since he has been a small boy, the demon has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “ ‘If you can’!   Listen to your own words and think about them.  All things are possible for one who believes.  For a person who calls out to God in prayer and believes that the same God who created this boy can deliver this boy!”

“Immediately, the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe (Lord); help my unbelief!”  And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.”

Why couldn’t the disciples drive out that filthy demon?  Because they lacked faith; they could not because they asked not.  They had no faith because they did not call out to the author and perfecter of their faith.  Jesus latter told apostles in private that the specific demon that possessed the boy could only be driven out by prayer; in other words it could only be driven out by directly asking God in prayer to remove it.  The father of the boy did that very thing when He came to Jesus; he simply made his request and waited for Jesus to help.

You see, the father knew that he was one of those that Jesus called the unbelieving generation, but he saw what the scribes, the sinful crowd, and the disciples would not see; he saw that without Jesus and his mercy he was lost and without hope.  But he also knew because of the small faith that he had, that if he could get to Jesus, all would be well.  So he made his petition and he rested in that hope alone.

Do you see yourself as part of this unbelieving generation?  Do you see how fragile and dangerous the condition of your faith is?  If so, then what are you to do?  You are to call out to Jesus so that God can fight for you.

In our Old Testament reading, the prophet Isaiah writes, “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 awakes me; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught.”

Do you also have the tongue of someone who is intimate with God?  Do you study His Word and allow it to change and sustain you?  And are you able to lead others to this same source of hope and salvation?  You can if you call out to God as the father of the demon possessed boy did; “I believe Lord; help me with my unbelief.”  I know that your Word alone is truth; I know that in it is my only hope, but I also know that on my own I can never desire it or trust it.  On my own I am truly part of this faithless generation.”

And how does God answer your confession of faithless sin and your plea for faith?  He speaks to you the Words of His suffering Servant.  Listen: “The Lord God 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. 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.” [Isaiah 35:4]

God answers your prayer by showing you His Suffering Servant; He shows you His Son, Jesus Christ!  God shows you His Son who is the author and perfecter of your faith.  He shows you His Son’s passion; His suffering and death for you, for your sins, and as the only solution to your faithlessness.

In the cross God shows you just how much He loves you.  The Father loves you enough to allow His Son to be beaten, humiliated, and executed so that you would know that you will never suffer the same punishment from Him on account of your sins.  At the cross you see God’s love, you see Jesus suffering and death for you, and you call out, “I believe Lord; help me with my unbelief.”  At the cross, God opens your ears and your heart so that you will see Jesus and know that He loves you; so that you will see Jesus and you will be given faith; faith that opens your ears and your hearts to hear and believe!

But something else happens at the cross; something wonderful and mysterious.  At the cross, God also shows you that you too have been called to be a suffering servant.  As you look to the cross you see Jesus and you hear Him calling you to follow Him.  He calls you to follow Him into the middle of enemy territory; you follow into the valley of the shadow of death.  And there in that dark valley Jesus calls you to speak; to pray and rebuke the darkness around you.  He has empowered you to speak Words of hope in a valley of fear.  And when we are afraid or begin to think we have lost our way, He reminds us to call out to Him, “I believe Lord; help my unbelief!”

And how does He help your unbelief?  In the promise of His Word and in the hope of His presence within the sacraments.  Jesus has been with you since your baptism and His Word promises that He will never leave you.  He is with you in His Supper where He sustains you with His body and blood which are the very essence of His promise.

Jesus your Savior, God’s Suffering Servant has found you and restored you, but He found you on His terms, according to His means.  Through others who once were part of the unbelieving generation He has brought you out of the darkness of unbelief and into His glorious light of faith.  Just as it took the small faith of a worried father to bring his possessed son to Jesus and call out for faith, Jesus now asks you to do the same.  Just as the boy could not come to or call out to Jesus alone, there are many today in our community, even in our own families that are just as lost.  They are in the valley of death, the darkness of unbelief.  What can you do?  Rebuke the darkness; call out to Jesus in prayer and ask Him to drive away the evil from your neighbors and friends.  If you won’t do this who then will?  You can do it, because morning by morning He awakens your ear to hear His Word.  Each day he lives in you and works in you.

So speak to your neighbors.  Tell them about the Suffering Servant who alone can give faith and hope and sustain it!  Invite them to come with you to God’s house and experience His Divine Service within them and among them, and then watch as those who walk in darkness also trust in the name of the LORD and rely on their true God, Jesus Christ!  Amen!

Don’t Be Araid to Ask!

Sunday, September 20th, 2009

16th Sunday after Pentecost, September 20, 2009
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

 Our text this morning is verses 31 and 32 of our Gospel lesson.  “He was teaching his disciples and saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him.  And when He is killed, after three days He will rise.”  But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask Him. [Mark 9:31, 32]

Why were the disciples afraid to ask Jesus what He meant when He said that He would be killed and after three days He would rise?  Well, for three reasons: First, because they did not understand.  Think about it, why would anyone want to continually predict their own death and not do anything to prevent it?  I mean, if you know what actions or activities are a threat to your personal safety then change your behavior, right?  But they didn’t understand that the Son of man is also the Son of God.  When God speaks it isn’t something to be discussed and analyzed as to its merits and faults, no, it’s something to be obeyed. 

 The second reason they were afraid to ask Jesus what He meant, was because they would not understand.  They had big plans for Jesus and His church.  Jesus was going to be their political savior, who would right all the wrongs in their world, and they would be there right along with Him in this new utopia as His most trusted allies.  No, what He was predicting wouldn’t mean victory, power and prestige, but instead, in their way of thinking, it would clearly mean defeat, weakness, and shame; no that wouldn’t do at all! 

 The third reason they were afraid to ask Him what He meant was the simple truth that they could not understand it until they experienced the cross.  Without the cross, all of God’s other plans could never make sense.  Without the sacrifice of His Son, there could be no forgiveness for the sins of the world.  Without the cross, there could be no resurrection, and without the resurrection, there could be no victory over sin, death, and the devil.

 Clearly, God’s way of thinking was not their way of thinking.  They needed to be adjusted.  They needed to be recreated in their spirit and mind, so that they could be part of God’s plan with confidence and excitement.  They needed the cross, and so do we.

 We need the cross because without the cross we can have no victory.  Without the cross we could never have confidence that our sins, our many sins have been forgiven.  Without the cross, we could never put to death our self-centered sinful nature.  Without the cross, God’s baptismal promise of new life in Christ could never be fulfilled.  Without the cross, the love of God and the power of the Holy Spirit could not change us.  Without the cross, we would still be held prisoner by things like envy, pride, bitter jealousy, and selfish ambition.  You see friends; we really do need the cross because it is the power, God’s power to save us.  But like the disciples we too are many times afraid of the cross because the cross ALWAYS comes with a price.

 The disciples were afraid to ask because they were afraid of what it would mean for them.  They were afraid of how the cross would dramatically change their lives.  We also are afraid to ask God what the cross means for our lives, because we know that it will also mean change… real change; it will mean self sacrifice.  This is what we Lutherans have always called the Theology of the Cross, or simply living under the cross.

 This life under the cross is communicated and lived out in all aspects of our lives.  Through the cross we can sincerely ask a family member or close friend if we can help with some chore or task their doing and not be afraid that they will say yes, and then we are tied up for most of the day.  Through the cross, we aren’t afraid to ask our neighbor who’s lost his job if we can help them get by through providing for some of their food or clothing needs, and we aren’t afraid if they say yes!  Through the cross, you can boldly ask your pastor if there is some way you can serve in the ministry of the church, without fear of him saying yes.  And it is this same cross that moves you to boldly respond to one of the needs that he makes known to you.

 How can you have a happy life?  Go to the cross!  How can you be freed from worry and fear?  Go to the cross!  How can your life really make a difference to others?  Go to the cross.  But going to the cross frightens us, because we know that the cross requires us to surrender our own self interests and by faith live every day with a heart and mind that wants to be doing the things God wants done.  St. James teaches about this life under the cross in our epistle lesson this morning, “Who is wise and understanding among you?  By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.  But if you have bitter jealously and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.  This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but it is earthly, unspiritual, (it is) demonic. [James 3:13-16]  “The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, (it is) impartial and sincere.” [vs. 17] 

 Dear friends, God made peace with us by sending His Son Jesus Christ to die for us.  Through the cross, Jesus death nailed every one of our sins to the cross… now and for eternity.  But that is not the end of the power of the cross, because with the cross comes life.  Through His death on the cross Jesus rose from the dead, proving that sin, death, and the devil had no power over Him nor over us.  Through the cross and then Christ’s resurrection came our promise of new life—A life without the worry of God’s judgment.  And through the cross came the fulfillment of God’s baptismal promise to us that He would give us a new heart.  A heart that freely and without fear asks God to give a cross. 

 Because of the Jesus’ cross friends, God has guaranteed us that we need never be afraid to ask Him for anything.  We can come to Him with all of our needs and know for certain that He always hears and answers us, but the first request we should always be bringing before Him is one for forgiveness. 

 We must confess to Him that we have been living a self-centered life.  We have been following selfish ambition instead of an ambition to do the things God wants done.  “But pastor” you say, “I do confess these things.  Why am I still living a life that seems to lack victory?”  Well friend, “You do not have, because you do not ask.  You ask and do not receive from God, because you are asking for the wrong things.”  Friends, instead of asking God to allow you to experience joy and happiness in your present life, why not ask for joy and happiness in a changed life—a life changed by the cross?  Many times we do not have joy and happiness because we are afraid to ask for our own cross. 

 Next time friends, when you confess your sins to God, instead of simply hearing the words of forgiveness in the absolution and then going about your happy way, ask yourself this question: “What does it mean to be forgiven?  How does this forgiveness impact my life?  Does it change my life?”  If the answer is no, then confess that also.  Be truthful with God, but don’t be happy just admitting that you fall short, ask Him to change you.  Ask Him to give you a servant’s heart.  Ask Him to give you a heart that gladly sacrifices its own self interest for God and for others.  Ask Him to show you your own cross.

 Finally fiends, we as a congregation also need to ask for forgiveness.  We need to ask for a cross too.  We need to ask collectively for a servant’s heart.  We need to be doing the things that God wants done.  What has God called us at Trinity to do?  “Simple” you say, “we’re to seek and save the lost!”  But what does that really mean?  Friends it means that we must be actively demonstrating the cross of Christ to everyone in all ways.  The cross is the very reason that we exist as a congregation.  We’ve been marked by the cross of Christ forever.  It is the very answer to the question that every church should be asking themselves: “Why do we exist?”  Why is Trinity here at 7210 Lisbon Street?  Friends, we are here to demonstrate the power of the cross.

 We are not here to serve ourselves, but rather to serve God and our neighbor.  We don’t have our own mission but instead we have been created, gathered, and sent to participate in God’s mission.  God’s mission sends us out into our community as His agents of healing and reconciliation in a broken world; we are sent out to share the love of God through Jesus Christ with everyone, everywhere, especially those who are right outside the doors of this church!  Friends, Trinity Lutheran Church is to bear witness to the redemptive reign of God in the world by becoming and being a community that demonstrates in life and ministry God’s grace, mercy, and peace in everything we do!

 Let me close with a story that I think demonstrates this point.  It’s a story about a lighthouse that was built on a cliff above a treacherous stretch of coastline.  Many ships crashed upon the rocks and many lives were lost at sea.  Eventually, it was decided to form a lighthouse society whose sole purpose was to tend to the light in order to warn sailors of the pending danger and save lives.  Very soon, the society became so effective that their stretch of the coast became known as the safest around.  After a while however, those who were members of the society became distracted with other tasks.  Some of them formed a social club so that members could enjoy one another’s company.  Others were involved in fund-raising in order to help finance the social gatherings.  And so they grew happy and content with their little society, until one day someone forgot to check on the fuel for the light in the lighthouse and the light went out.  Because the light was no longer warning the ships and only darkness remained on THEIR section of the coastline, several ships were lost at sea, and hundreds of sailors lost their lives.

 Dear friends, we as individuals and as a congregation need to always be reminded that we have been saved by the cross so that we can take part in the mission of the cross.  We need to be reminded that we have been saved, gathered, and feed so that we can be sent.  We need to remember that we have been sent with a mission—a mission to bear witness to God’s presence and to His wonderful work of reconciliation—being made right with God through the death of Jesus Christ upon the cross.  We need to be reminded that we are all called to participate in making God’s redemption—His work of forgiveness and love available to everyone, everywhere, while we lead a life that demonstrates that same redemption.

 If God’s mission to seek and save the lost, even you and me is what God is up to in our community, then each of us as individuals and as a congregation need to be asking, “What am I doing, and what are we doing to participate in a meaningful way in God’s mission?”  As we pray about this…as we think about it and discuss it, let us always remember that it is through the cross that we are saved and it is through the cross that we are always sent. 

Let’s pray now, and ask the Lord to do that work in us right now.  “Lord help us to remember that there is true freedom in asking for and living out a sacrificial faith.  Help us to always live through your cross and embrace our own, in Jesus name….AMEN!”