Archive for the ‘Pentecost 18C’ Category

Are You In Business for God?

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 18C, September 22nd, 2013

Click here for audio of this message

The song you just heard, “For the Love of Money” by the OJ’s will give you a mental hook  to hang our message on.  It is a play on the old saying, “Money isn’t evil, only the love of  money is!”  Why is that?  Well, it is a First Commandment issue; “You shall have no other  god.  In other words, “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”

Maybe some of you have read the title of our message this morning, “Are you in business  for God,” and you’ve already decided to tune out, thinking that you’re about to hear  another stewardship message.  Or maybe because you don’t own a business or because you  aren’t in business, you have decided that this message isn’t for you.  I submit to you that if  you have money, earn money, or use money you are in business; you are either in the  business of living and working for yourself or for the Kingdom of God. In other words, no  matter what station of life we find ourselves in, each of us are in the gospel business.

In each of your callings, you are first and foremost God’s steward of grace, or another way to say this is, you work for God—you are His businessman or woman.  Now a person in business has no business being in business just to make money. And that brings us to the danger that everyone in business faces; we face the danger of making money, or the pursuit of making money our god. Whenever we make a decision in favor of our pursuit of making money at the expense of God’s will, we have made money our god for that moment.

This morning, in all of our readings God confronts us with two world views: One is rooted firmly in the kingdom of man, and the other in the Kingdom of God.  In all areas of our lives, God desires to be first, especially in areas that involve money and possessions.

One of the greatest lies of the devil is that we should not mix Christianity and business, when the truth is, our business, whatever it might be, should not only be inseparable from our Christian faith, it should be directed by it. Money and possessions either complement or oppose God’s Kingdom of Grace.

In our Old Testament reading (Amos 8:4–7), God declares first, that He sees those who are in great need.  He is aware of their suffering in poverty.  But He also wants us to know that He sees the secret actions of other people, people who have the power to alleviate the suffering of the poor, but do nothing!  He knows what they do and why they do it.

God is saying that He looks down upon men, and He see’s both groups attending worship; one group has come to call out to Him for relief from their suffering.  Mixed together with their petitions and prayers for help, they also offer up praises to Him not only for what He has already done, but for what He will do in the future, simply because they know that God hears and loves His children.  The other group of people who attend worship gather for another reason.  They are there as a pretense, with a secret desire to appear godly in front of others so that they may continue to make friends and influence the right people.  Why?  Well, because it’s good for business… the business of making money.  They sit in church and watch the clock, and they can’t wait for God’s Divine Service to end so that they can get back out into the real world to further their kingdom.  But beware, you who think that God does not see or know, because He has “sworn by the pride of Jacob: “Surely I will never forget any of their deeds (or their pretend worship).” [v.7]

Does that message sound sharp to you?  Jesus preached a similar message to the Pharisees who were listening to Him teach His disciples in our Gospel reading (Luke 16:1-15).  They, who were so often chasing after money and prestige, were confronted with a harsh truth, which declares “You can not serve God and money.”  One will be your God and the other your tormentor.

In our Gospel reading, (Luke 16:1–15), Jesus was speaking a message of reassurance and comfort.  “God knows your hearts”, He sees and knows your hardships.  He sees you struggling to put food on your table and care for your children.  God cares and He will provide, and you are blessed because you have put your trust in His love and mercy.  “But” says Jesus, “the people of the world are different!”

Now many of us have read and heard read the story about the unrighteous steward many times.  Unfortunately, this parable has been given so many different meanings that it’s very mention can cause grown men to cry like a baby, and bring fear and confusion to not just those in the pews who listen, but to the preacher who must teach and declare as well.  So I offer you a very simple way to receive these words, this parable of our Lord.

Jesus is speaking to two different groups; His disciples and His declared enemies, the Pharisees.  His disciples are led by faith and realize all that they are and all that they have to sustain them comes from the heart of a merciful God.  He is a God that not only has given them a new heart that loves the Kingdom of God, but He is also a God of grace that continues to protect their hearts and increase their faith as they daily learn to rest in His Kingdom.  The other group, who are the Pharisees, are there for other reasons.  They have no interest in becoming a disciple of Jesus or entering into His kingdom of grace.

So in my mind, I can see Jesus looking directly at the Pharisees and telling His story about the unrighteous steward.  The point that Jesus wants His disciples to receive is that even the worst of sinners, like those faithless Pharisees know how to be wise with their time, talent, and treasure, to further their own security and increase their personal happiness.  Now that being true, shouldn’t you who live primarily in God’s Kingdom of grace do the same?  Shouldn’t we as righteous stewards ask our selves the same question as the unrighteous steward: “What shall I do?”  What shall I do in order to rest in the security of God’s greater Kingdom of Grace?

Jesus makes a wonderful point and He turns it into a challenge for us; He says, “The sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.  (So) I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails (and it will when you die) they may receive you into eternal dwellings.”

Let’s be clear, Jesus is not scolding His disciples for being “less” shrewd than worldly people, He is simply pointing out how adept worldly people are at looking out for themselves and their own security in this world.  It is as if He silently asks, “What can we learn from this?”

What we can learn is that our money is not for our own use but for the use of working with God to help others, influence hearts, and prepare others to receive the Word of God unto eternal life just as we have.  When we use our unrighteous wealth, that is wealth of this world for a righteous cause, which is to further the gospel, we can rest assured that our Triune God is pleased and we will one day join Him in His eternal Kingdom of Heaven.

So how do we know that we are a righteous steward and not an unrighteous one?  And that dear friends is the very questions that allows the gospel, the good news about forgiveness of sins to take away all of our fears and bring in exchange eternal hope and comfort.  How can you know that you are secure in God’s kingdom?  Because He has given you His Son, Jesus Christ, and with Him He has also given you a new heart; a heart of faith that rests in His promises of mercy.  You have been given a strong and empty hand of faith that simply reaches out and clings to Jesus, the very Son of God, and by that strength of faith you shall never tire of holding onto Him alone.

In our epistle reading (1 Timothy 2:1-6), Paul makes sure that we know what our hope is based upon.  It is in a Heavenly Father who desires for all people to be saved (v.4).  A God who sees the misery of His people; He is the God who sent His Son to them on a mission of mercy.  Jesus Christ, took on that mission and gave Himself (upon the cross) as a ransom for all. (v.6) It is this same Jesus, who alone is our mediator, the one Who brings peace in place of punishment for our cursed sins, because it is He alone who can by His life-blood, by His suffering and death pay for those sins.  And at just the right moment in time, God came to you and took this completed work of Jesus Christ and applied it towards your debt of sin in the waters of your baptism.  Your debt has been paid in full!

Now through the work of the only true righteous steward, you have complete access to the unlimited resources and riches of the very Kingdom of Heaven… you have complete forgiveness of sins!  There are no barriers between you and God.  Complete forgiveness of all your sins is yours!

In His life giving Word, God continually and intentionally takes us back to the day of our baptism, so that we will know that “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” [Revelation 7:10]  It is not contingent on what you have done or failed to do, but it is simply a gift of God, so that no one can boast! [Ephesians 2:8-9]  It was there, in the waters of your baptism where you were recreated into the image of His Son; the image of the truly righteous steward.

In His Word, God continually moves our eyes and hearts from our baptism to the drama that unfolds on His cross.  There at the cross, we see the sinful people in the crowd shouting “Crucify Him,” so that someone besides themselves would suffer and pay for the anger of Rome.  Herod and others were hoping for a magic show of some kind.  Pilot wanted a way out and the priests in attendance just wanted Jesus dead and gone.  And the executioners, well they just wanted it over so that they could get back to their lives.  So after they beat Him within an inch of His life, they shoved that massive crossbeam onto His shoulders and led Him to the Place of the Skull and promptly nailed Him to the wood.  And there hung the Son of God who was also the champion and Son of men, all because He gave Himself as a ransom for your sins.

But that is not the end of the story is it?  No, on the third day He rose from the dead and later ascended and returned to where He has always been, in the Kingdom of Heaven at the right hand of the Father.  And now, because He has returned to the Father, through the presence of His Holy Spirit who is ever with you, you and I have constant access to all of God’s treasures of grace; we are assured of His forgiving love and mercy.  You are saved!  So why would you ever want to live as if you have no hope?  Why would you want to live as if it is up to you to provide for your own security?

There is money and possessions all around us, but our love is not centered in those things, but for the God who provides all that we need in this life and the life to come.  May each of us continue to serve Him who first served and continues to serve us… Jesus Christ, the very Son of God.  AMEN!

Abraham’s Bosom?

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 26, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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This morning God’s word jumps out at us like a Hollywood movie.  It’s a story of contrasts and a story of tragedy.  If it was a movie, we might call it “Rich Man-Poor Man” or “Eternally Trading Places”.  Remember from last week’s gospel lesson that there are three different groups of people listening to Jesus teachings.  There are Jesus disciples, the open sinners who are drawn to Jesus Word because they really hungered for a life of forgiveness and peace with God, and then there are the Pharisees who have been eavesdropping.  Well eavesdrop no more you brood of self-righteous vipers, because now Jesus is going to talk directly to you, but in doing so He is also talking to everyone else who longs for God’s love and forgiveness.  In short, He is talking to you and me!

Jesus sets the stage for His parable by telling a story of two men.  Both were Jews who worshiped the same God.  One was empty but would be satisfied and full; the other was already satisfied and full but would be emptied.

The first character that we are introduced to is the “Rich Man”.  Jesus says that he was “clothed in (a) purple (robe and wore) fine linen (under his robe), and (he) feasted sumptuously every day!” [Luke 16:19]  In other words he was living large; he was living a lifestyle of the rich and famous.  His lifestyle was so opulent that even Robin Leach would have blushed!

The second character that we’re introduced to is Lazarus, who was more than poor; he was a terminally ill beggar who counted on the pity and care of others.  Listen to how Jesus introduces and describes him: “And at (the rich man’s) gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table.  Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores.” [vs. 20-21]

Like a Hollywood script, these two men are flashed before our eyes.  One lives in the lap of luxury and the other in extreme poverty.  Now we must remember that being rich is no sin, but how you use your riches can be!  The Pharisees were lovers of money in addition to being self-righteous, so they knew that Jesus was talking to them.  They knew that Jesus was forcing them to look into their own hearts and they didn’t like it one bit! 

Now, did you notice that the rich man had no name but the poor man did?  His name was Lazarus.  Do you know what that name means?  It means “God helps”!  This was a direct appeal to Levitical Law where God commanded that the poor be taken care of by those who had plenty.  You can be sure that the Pharisees knew that this story was aimed at their hearts.  In the character of the rich man, Jesus had put his finger or their love of money by comparing it to the nameless rich man’s greed and opulence. 

Poor old Lazarus!  He was dumped at the rich man’s front gate by some people who thought, “Surely this rich man will give him a little something!”  Did he?  No, not one thing!  I’m sure that a lot of other rich people came by every day to visit, and none of them gave him a thing.  The only comfort that Lazarus found was the companionship of roaming dogs that licked his sores with their soft tongues!  God provided brute comfort when human comfort failed!

Now Jesus moves us to a place where all good stories and Hollywood movies seem to start and end… in death!  We are at a cemetery.  On one side of the grounds we find well-kept and peaceful tombs.  This is where the body of the rich man is laid.  Oh, you can be sure that his tomb was the finest that money could buy and that all of his rich friends were there to say their last good-byes.  If this was a Hollywood movie, they would all have on designer suits and dresses and their Limousines, Bentleys, and Rolls Royces would be lined up as far as the eye could see!  And on the other side of the grounds, where the poor people were laid to rest, there is another burial taking place.  But unlike the rich man’s funeral no one attends.  Like the Beatle’s song Eleanor Rigby, nobody came… nobody cared!  There was only the grave digger and the Rabbi and the body of Lazarus.  How sad!  Was the good life only a dream for poor old Lazarus; a dream that never became a reality?  No, because Jesus’ story flashes to another reality; not an alternate reality but an eternal one. 

“The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom.  The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.  And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.” [vs. 22-24]  Like a bit of Hollywood magic, Jesus’ parable somehow combines two places into one.  Now we are simultaneously taken to heaven and to hell, and there we observe both the rich man who still has no name because God has forgotten him, and Lazarus, who once was hungry, poor, and pitiful but now is rich, blessed, and seated at God’s heavenly banquet table leaning on Father Abraham himself! 

What determined the fate of these two characters in Jesus’ story and what determines our fate?  This was the question that Jesus was confronting the self-righteous Pharisees with; it’s the answer to this question that we all must hear and learn from this morning.   And to get that answer, let’s get back to the story. 

“But Abraham said (to the rich man), ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime receive your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are (there) in anguish.  And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’  And (the rich man) said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send (Lazarus) to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’  But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.  And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’  He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets (that is holy scripture), neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’’” [Vs. 25-31]

Dear friends, Jesus is teaching us that it is God’s selected and declared means of grace alone that will save us from sin, death, and the devil.  It is His holy Word alone that has saved us, is saving us, and will save us!  It is God’s means alone that not only directs our lives here on earth but determines where we will spend eternity.  Jesus wants us to understand that it is God’s Word alone and our treatment of it which creates faith and the ability to do two things: Please God and to have a desire to be with God!

We please God when we desire to hear His Word and receive His Sacrament.  When we receive these things, they change us by giving us not just forgiveness of sins but the faith to believe in that forgiveness.  Hearing God’s Word and believing it are the only way to please God.  His Word is the only way that a sinful heart, your sinful heart can be cleansed.  But our sinful hearts don’t like to hear this, so we invent new means, our own means that we think God should have provided but didn’t, so we take it upon ourselves to fix what we feel God overlooked.  This is why the rich man wanted a miraculous raising of Lazarus’ dead body.  He wanted the dead to do the proper work of the living Word of God!  He wanted Lazarus to bring repentance and faith unto salvation instead of God’s law and gospel!

Friends, God’s means of grace, His Word and Sacraments and nothing else, are the very things alone that change our hearts so that they desire to do the things that please God.  How do we please God?  By hearing His Word and then building His kingdom!  How do we build His kingdom here on earth?  We do it by hearing His Word and then sharing that same Word with whomever He puts in our lives!  When we share His Word with those who are living without it we are opening the very gate of heaven to them.  Will they enter and be saved or will they reject His Word and only know the torments of Hell?  God alone knows and not us, so we continue to feed them God’s only means of salvation!

But what of those who are physically poor and pitiful like Lazarus?  What does God want us to do for them?  Well they too need the Word of God, so we also speak it to them, but they also need acts of loving kindness here on this sinful earth, so we feed them and care for their physical needs as well!  You know, our church pantry is a wonderful way to do this very thing!  We can always use donations of food and even financial support so that we can continue to show simple human kindness and compassion to them.  But we could also use your time there as well!  What a wonderful way to spend a few hours, sharing God’s Word and a sack of groceries with some of our neighbors!

Dear friends when we become centered in God’s Word, we will also begin to see it changing us and leading us.  And when that happens we will begin to find ourselves doing the things that need God.  And as you are doing the things that God wants done you will begin to see something else wonderful happening within your heart… you will begin to want to be with God!

When we desire to be with God we will also desire to stay in His Word and receive His sacrament, and when we stay in His Word and are fed in His Sacrament we discover that we are already with God!  Friends, through His Holy Word God draws all men, all sinners unto Himself, even you and me!  Through His Word He creates our desire to come to His heavenly banquet table and feast on a meal of forgiveness!  At His table and through His Word we discover that we’re already where we shall always be… at Abraham’s Bosom!

 What is Abraham’s bosom?  It is the living Word of God; the very person who has just shared this wonderful story with us; it is Jesus Himself!  He alone is Abraham’s heart and He is ours as well!  His living Words are real food and drink and they are the only thing that moves us not just to the gate of heaven but into heaven itself where we will discover that our place at His banquet table has always been our place.  It is a place where we have been communing with Him and we will continue to commune with Him.  It is the only place where we are assured of real rest and peace and peace with God!  I pray that God’s Word continues to do this mighty work within our hearts.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!