Archive for the ‘Pentecost 17B’ Category

From the Cross to Glory

Sunday, September 20th, 2015

17th Sunday after Pentecost, September 20, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Evangelical Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.” [James 3:13]

When we read our gospel lesson this morning (Mark 9:30-37), did the apostles strike you as wise?  Is it ever proper or wise for Christians to argue over who is the greatest?  And yet, here we have the pillars of the church falling for one of the devils greatest allures; a diversion designed to cause the Christian to turn away from the cross that leads to eternal glory, and instead take a path of the world, the path of Satan, which promises that you can have the glory right now!  Do you want to avoid that dark path?  If so then pay attention to this message and understand that the devil will do everything he can to get you to follow his way and not the way of the cross.

Our Plea: This morning, each of us must understand the danger that surrounds us on our pilgrimage we call life.  We must seek to forever have this prayer, this plea on our lips: “Save me, O God, by your name; vindicate me by your might.  Hear my prayer, O God; listen to the words of my mouth.” [Psalm 54:1, 2]

All around us are folks that hunger for more and more earthly things.  They try to scratch an itch and feed a hunger that they can’t even truly identify.  For some, the allure is simply gathering more things, and for others its money, and for others it’s power and prestige.  They work to be noticed and clamor when they feel they are being ignored or devalued.  But what did Jesus tell his disciples was the key to being great in heaven?  Listen: “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

Is that Word from God enough to stifle your desire for a greater reward here on earth?  Now before you answer that question, let me simply say that if you lack faith, the answer will be “No!”  But take heart, the good news for you this morning is the truth that the very Word of God you have been hearing, a word which has already been delivered to you, is the same word within you, which creates that kind of faith.  There’s just one thing standing in the way of you and this faith, and it is what we will call…

Our problem: “Strangers are attacking me; ruthless men seek my life—men without regard for God.” [Psalm 54:3]  The Prophet Jeremiah, in our Old Testament lesson, like King David, was familiar with enemies who wanted to shut him up and shut him down.  Jeremiah was speaking out against the sin of the people.  He was warning that God was getting ready to take away their kingdom and lead them away in captivity.

In the people’s minds this could not be right; they had made great progress with their struggle to include God in their lives and government, and now all God had to do was cosign their plans for greatness.  So, if Jeremiah was going to continue living and speaking to them as if they were still gross sinners, well then they would just have to shut him up!

Jeremiah had what appeared to be a problem.  The people wanted one thing and God wanted another.  On the one hand, if Jeremiah simply shut up and went along with the plan of the people, life would certainly be easy for him; he would win his popularity back and most certainly would be well taken care of.  This path is what we will call the way of glory.  But God has a special word for double minded people like that, and Jeremiah certainly did not want to have God declare him to be an “adulterer!”

Does that sound a little harsh to you?  Well in our Epistle lesson [James 2:13-4:10], James addresses the Christians of his time who were grumbling against God.  They were upset that God had not blessed them with the “good life” as it appeared the Godless were enjoying.  So he answered them like this: “You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.  You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?”

Truth be told, we are a lot like those early Christians.  Doesn’t our real problem lie within our own hearts?  Sure the devil is prowling like a lion seeking to devour all he can, but he can’t have us, because we have already been saved through Christ; we already have been washed with the water and the Word.  We already have been given and claimed the wonderful promises of eternal life; promises that come directly from God.

So what is our problem?  Is it other people; folks that just want to trip us up and shut us down?  No, they’re just tools of the devil, and remember the devil has been defeated.  Friends, our real problem comes from within our own hearts; those passions and desires that are modeled by the unbelieving world that has deceived us into thinking are necessary in order to be a success.  We have been tricked into thinking that we have to have it, but God won’t provide it, so instead of taking our anger to God, we take it out on our neighbor in the form of fighting and quarreling.  As a result, we become distant with God and quit talking to Him.  And so, because we don’t ask we don’t receive.  Or we ask and don’t receive, because we are asking in a way that is not God pleasing; a way that seeks only to satisfy our passions and desires but gives God no glory and offers no help to our neighbors in need.

When we embrace a life like this, we have become a friend of the world, and a traveler along the way of glory. And to this life style God indeed calls us adulterers.  We have left our first love and embraced the selfish path of self fulfillment; we have become a friend of the world, and a friend of the world is an enemy of God.

So what are we to do?  We are to embrace…

Our Solution: “Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me.  Let evil recoil on those who slander me; in your faithfulness destroy them.” [vs.4, 5]

Long ago, David was persecuted by Saul relentlessly, but never captured by him; David always was given a way of escape by God.  Jeremiah like wise was persecuted by his own family and friends, from the very town he was from, but God saved him.  And now like those dear saints that went before us, it is our turn to trust in God as our great helper and sustainer.  It is our turn to ask God to destroy both the evil and the slanderer that surrounds us.  And it is our turn to realize that our prayer has already been answered.

At the cross, we see that Jesus allowed the crowd of accusers and glory road travelers to load both their accusations and their sins upon His shoulders.  He allowed them to ridicule and humiliate Him by hanging him upon the cross.  He listened as the devil laughed and the glory mongers cheered.  And as He drew His last breath, He sighed and said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  And then with His final words He proclaimed, “It is finished.  Their debt of sin is paid in full.  They are made right and new with the Heavenly Father.”

In His life and in His death, Jesus Christ the very Son of God, traveled the way of the cross.  The Lord of glory became the least of men so that you could become the greatest.  And all He asks of each of us is that we believe that this is enough to guarantee the world of an eternal glory that far out does any glory promised in this life time.  He asks you to walk with Him from the cross to your baptism, where all of His work upon the cross is given to you.  All of your fears, worries, and frustrations have been replaced with faith, salvation, and joy, if you will just walk this way of the cross; if you will walk by faith and trust in Christ.

While your sin may be great, and your faith weak, Jesus asks us this morning to understand that His grace, that is the Father’s love unearned by you is greater.  Through the way of the cross, God is asking each of us this morning to submit ourselves to Him.  To humble ourselves before the Lord, so that when our travel on the way of the cross is finished, each of us will finally realize…

The Promised Outcome: “He has delivered me from all of my troubles, and my eyes have looked in triumph upon the defeat of evil and the glory that awaits me in Paradise!” (Psalm 54:6)

The Lord alone will lift us up into a resurrected life of glory within God’s Paradise restored.  There within Paradise each of us will once again walk with our LORD in peace forever.  This is an outcome guaranteed for the travelers who follow the way of the cross.  It is an outcome realized by faith but not yet by sight.

I pray that faith is enough to sustain you on this journey of life.  I pray that it is enough to continue bringing you back regularly to this house of prayer for God’s Divine Service of Word and Sacrament.  And I pray that through His Service you will allow Him to equip you to live a life of thanksgiving and praise to His holy name.  I pray that when asked by those who are not yet traveling this way of the cross, you would always be ready to answer when asked why you travel such a lonely way simply as David responded in our Psalm this morning: “Because He has delivered me from all of my troubles, and my eyes have looked in triumph upon the defeat of evil and the glory that awaits me in Paradise… AMEN!”

Salt is Good

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

17th Sunday after Pentecost, September 27, 2009
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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 Our text this morning is the 50th verse of our Gospel lesson.  “Salt is good, but it if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? [Mark 9:38-50]

What is the kingdom of God?  Where is the kingdom of God?  These are a couple of questions I want you to keep in the front of your minds as we receive God’s message this morning.  As I told you last week, the apostles thought that it would be a brand new world order, where Jesus would rule, destroy the reign of Cesar and the Roman Empire, and make all things right.  They wanted the Kingdom of God now, and they wanted it according to their estimation.  In their minds, it was Jesus and them against the world!  But Jesus had other ideas.  He always does…He is God.  Where they see the kingdom of God consisting in a select few, Jesus has other ideas: “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he wasn’t one of us.”  But Jesus had other plans…”Don’t stop him” he said.  “Don’t you see that anyone who does a mighty work in my name will not be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.  Listen, the one who is not against us is for us.” 

 And there you have it…the kingdom of God is a lot bigger than we think.  So some might say this is proof that denominational differences are unimportant—as long as your heart is in the right place.  Right?  Well, let’s keep reading and see if Jesus agrees with that.  Remember the child Jesus took into His arms in our gospel reading last week?  Well, this is a discussion that continues that teaching.  The child is still in His arms, and now He looks at His disciples and says: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”  What causes children to sin?  What causes adult Christians with a simple faith, like the stranger that was casting out demons to sin?  In both examples it is a lack of knowing and understanding God’s Word, both the Law and the gospel.  How can you help protect the young and the simple?  Teach them biblical truths…good doctrine.  Teach them that there aren’t many ways to the kingdom of Heaven.  Teach them that God doesn’t require any work from us before He will give us Jesus’ kingdom of Heaven.  Without faith in the true gospel, a faith that clings to Jesus alone friends, you cannot be saved.  In fact, bad doctrine can actually give us the opposite of salvation…it can lead to damnation.  An eternity in hell!

What is hell?  Jesus compared it to the garbage dump right outside of the city of Jerusalem.  It was called the Gehenna.  There, trash fires were always burning as refuse was disposed of.  In essence, Jesus was saying, “Imagine that the Gehenna is like a picture of hell with one big difference.  Where the fires of Gehenna are temporary, in hell they are eternal.  Where maggots eat rotting flesh until the flesh is no more or the maggots die, in hell the fire never goes out, there is an endless supply of flesh, and the maggot never dies.  So what?  Well friends, the fire isn’t burning the demons that are in hell, and the maggots are eating them either, because demons are spirit and they do not have flesh.  So who is burning, and who is being consumed?  People!  People who willing rejected God’s simple method of salvation—the cross of Jesus Christ!  People who refused to cling to Jesus alone and decided there was a better way to the kingdom of Heaven.  These are poor fools who decided that doctrine didn’t matter, and because of that they willing set aside the kingdom of God and embraced a lie!

What is hell?  Scripture says that it is the place where people are eternally banished from the sight of God—eternally excluded from communion with Jesus Christ.  To these damned souls, Jesus says “Depart from Me” [Matt. 25:41]; (and) “They shall be cast out into outer darkness.”  [Matt. 25:42]  Friends, we were made for God; that is we were made to have communion with God.  That is the supreme joy and delight of man—that is the kingdom of God.  But sadly, many people reject the offer of peace with God the Father, because they reject the means to that peace…God the Son, Jesus Christ.  Through their own sinful choice they have embraced a state of damnation where they will experience intense agony of body and soul that scripture calls “tribulation and anguish” [Rom. 2:9], “being in torment” [Lk. 17:4], “tormented in flames” [Lk. 16:24], “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” [Matt. 8:12; 13:50]  There in hell, those poor damned souls will see “the smoke of their torment ascending up forever and ever; and they (will) have no rest day or night. [Rev. 14:11]  Friends, think of the horror that awaits those poor souls… for an eternity they shall be tormented day and night forever and ever” [Rev. 20:10] simply because they have rejected God’s only means to save them.

 Friends, it doesn’t matter whether you believe that the fire of hell is real fire or a metaphor for unspeakable torment, the point is God doesn’t want you there; He wants you to escape the agony of hell.  It wasn’t designed for people created in His image—it was created for the rebellious and fallen angels…the devils.

How do we make sure that we never go to hell? Listen to Jesus answer: “And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to hell, to the unquenchable fire.  And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell.  And if your eye cause you to sin, tear it out.  It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” [Mark 9:43-48]

 Does that sound crazy to you?  It should, it was meant to be absurd.  Jesus was addressing the mindset that people in that time had about sin.  They like many others in their day were trivializing their personal sins, much like many of us do today.  “I guess I can’t help steeling, I was born with itchy hands and sticky fingers.”  OK, cut them off!  “I can’t help looking at women that way, I must have been born with a wondering eye.”  OK, pluck it out!  “What do you mean?  I can’t” you say.  Friend, do you want to go to hell?  Well then get rid of the offending body part.  If you had diabetes, and your foot or leg was diseased you would let the doctor amputate it so you could live wouldn’t you?  Well…go ahead, cut it off and pluck it out.  Keep cutting and plucking until there is nothing left of your body!

 Absurd and ridiculous isn’t it?  And that is the point Jesus is making.  Your hand, foot, eye, tongue, or any other body part is not to blame.  They can’t think independent of you!  You are to blame…you have a wicked heart, and there is only one cure for a wicked heart… YOU MUST BE SALTED!

 You must be salted with fire.  In the time of Jesus, salt was both a preservative and an antiseptic. When someone had an infected wound they would pour salt on it.  It burned like fire, but that was good because it meant that there was still some life in the tissue that could be saved.  We must be salted too, because we carry with us dead tissue that must be removed.  How are we salted?  With the Word of God!  God’s Law must be applied to our sin so that we will feel the fire and wrath of God.  We must know that we are sinful thoughout every fiber of our being.  We must stand before God knowing that we deserve all of the punishments of hell.  We must be silenced and simply surrender to His perfection and Holiness!  That is the work and sting of God’s Law.  It is at this time, when the Law has had its way with us that we are moved to cry out to God, “Have mercy Lord!  Forgive me!”  And then…then when we feel our very life slipping away, we must listen—we must listen to God’s mercy.  “Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us. That we should be called the children of God.”   How are we made the children of God?  Through the salting of His Word.  And it is that Word that tells us about the cross—the cross where He allowed His Son Jesus Christ to willingly and in agony give up His life for those very same sins that condemn us.  And then by faith, we must hear His Son shout loudly from the cross, “IT IS FINISHED!”  “What is finished Lord” we ask?  “My Father’s anger for your many sins” He says.  “How” we ask? “Friend” he says, “the Father no longer sees your many sins because I have covered then with my precious blood.  The blood I, Jesus Christ, your Lord and Savior, your brother and friend shed for you.” 

 Will you be salted?  Will you teach your children about this salt, this life saving Word of God that both terrifies and saves us?  This Word has been with you since your own baptism…will you grab onto it and live it out until your last breath is taken on this earth?  Will you remember that in your baptism God made you a mortal enemy of sin, death, and all the devils? 

 Friends, think about what we have done this morning at the baptism of baby Justin.  We have made him Satan’s mortal enemy.  We have made him a deserter from the forces of evil, and now it is as if he has a sign around his neck that says, “I hate Satan!”  He along with you who are baptized are truly Satan’s enemy!  How will baby Justin survive the constant attacks and temptations of those devils?  By being salted constantly with the Word of God. 

 Now do you understand how important it is to always be in God’s Word?  Do you finally understand how important it is for parents to bring their children to church, Sunday School, and to read and share the Word of God with them?  Do you understand how important it is for you to live this kind of life that clings to God’s Word and Sacraments?  Do you understand that God’s kingdom can only be found at the cross?  Do you understand that the kingdom of God, Jesus’ kingdom was given to you at the font?  And do you understand that every time you hear the Word preached and taught, every time you come to His table of mercy, you are being reminded that you are even now part of that kingdom of God?

Friends, don’t lose your saltiness.  Seek this salt in your life always.  I pray that you do.  I pray that you will hunger for this salt, and be at peace…peace with God and peace with each other.  In Jesus name…AMEN!