Archive for the ‘Pentecost 21C’ Category

FAITH ON THE BORDER

Sunday, October 13th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 21-C, October 13th, 2013

Click here for audio of this message

The song you just heard, “On the Border” by the Eagles will serve as our mental hook to hang this message on.  Because, you see our message will be speaking to those of us who live here, on the Border.  Those of us who may forget that there is a whole other existence just waiting for us, outside of this border.

In our gospel reading this morning (Luke 17:11–19), Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem; on His way to die upon a cross.  He will be punished severely and die the death of a criminal even though He had committed no crime.  Jesus knew that this death was waiting for Him; He knew that it was time for His appointed ministry to be completed; to make all things new and right with God the Father.  But before He proceeded to Jerusalem, it was also His appointed time to do something else; something wonderful.  He must confirm to a bunch of sick outcasts that God really did see there suffering and sickness and He really did care!

Jesus had been traveling for the last few days along the border with Samaria.  He zigzagged back and forth across the border, from one side to another and now He is entering a small village somewhere in Galilee, of Judea.  Those of us who have lived any length of time at the border here in San Diego know what the border is like, and we can identify with what comes next in our gospel reading.  Jesus is met by 10 lepers, and one of them is a Samaritan.

Many of you know that prior to my entering ministry as a pastor, I spent 30 years in law enforcement.  My last 23 years were spent right here in San Diego, as a U.S. Border Patrol Agent.  So, I think you will concede that I know a little something about life on the border.  One thing that always amazed me during my time on the border, was how easily and freely the homeless, mentally ill, and addicted mixed and looked out for one another, regardless of what side of the border they were from.  Even language was not enough to separate them.  But I also discovered that this phenomenon was not just limited to just the immediate geographical border area, but it also played out in the surrounding cities.

There is an area many of you may be unfamiliar with here in this beautiful city of San Diego; you see, it is not so beautiful.  It is an area that surrounds 12th Street and Imperial Avenue, and its know by those who exist in it as “the Bottoms.”  I say exist, because that is about all we “normal” folks, you know, we who are truly blessed with so much stuff, would call the lives of those who live in the bottoms; they simply exist.  There you will find those folks that the government calls disenfranchised; that is they have been cut off from many privileges of our enlightened society.  Hence the name “the Bottoms!”

Even there, in the bottoms, those poor little ones look out for and take care of one another.  And that is the situation we encounter in our gospel reading.  The Samaritan is accepted by the Judeans like part of the family.  And do you know why?  All 10 of them are considered already dead by the rest of society.  They have each contracted what was then an incurable disease that would shortly claim their lives.  They are lepers; the disease they had, we now know as Hanson’s disease.  They are unclean and may not mix with the “normal” enlightened folks or they will be punished with an even quicker death.

And now, along comes Jesus, the master and Rabbi that everyone is talking about.  He is the healer that the disenfranchised have heard comes to them; why they heard that He even touches and heals lepers!  Imagine that, and now there He was just in front of them.  Wow, talk about luck, they must have thought that this was indeed their lucky day.  So they “lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”

Now this is the amazing part of the encounter; Jesus simply looks at them and says, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” (So that the priest could declare them clean and healed.)

Now can you imagine the looks on their faces?!  They must have stood and looked at each other and then argued over just what Jesus meant by that.  Imagine what response you would get if you went down to “the Bottoms” and said those words to the hungry, the homeless, the mentally ill and addicted!

But they did eventually go; they did what Jesus told them to do.  And when they turned to find a priest, just like that, each was healed.  They must have looked at each other saying something like, “Dude, your healed!”  And the others saying, “So are you bro!”

“And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan.  Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine?  Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” [Vs. 14b-19]

Dear friends, you who live on the border are also those who were once disenfranchised.  You live on the border, not because you are in San Diego, but because you have one foot in the kingdom of man, and one in the kingdom of God.   You are simultaneously saint and sinner.  You, who were once blind, now see.  You who were once sick with sin, which ate up your entire existence, are now clean.  You who were once a foreigner to God are now adopted as His very son and daughter.  You are just like the 10 lepers who was healed, the only question is, which one are you?  Are you in the group of the nine who left rejoicing at their good fortune, or are you represented by the Samaritan who returns and falls at Jesus feet in worship and praise?

Here is the good news; which one you are and will be is entirely in the hands of Jesus Himself!  You cannot will yourself to have faith in the One who has healed you; faith is simply a gift that your empty beggar’s hand receives and clings to every day.  What is it that you cling to?  It is the Word of God, the message of Jesus Christ, the very Son of God!

In our epistle reading (2 Timothy 2:1–13), Paul declares this same message, that strong doctrine to Timothy and He commands and entreats him to trust in it as well.  But more than that, he instructs Timothy in the way that God has determined to ensure that His Word is never bound, lost, or deteriorated.  That is, Timothy is to pass this strong doctrine along to other men, who will pass it on to others, until the end of this sinful age, thus ensuring that you and I today would hear it and be healed by it, just as the leper was healed that day when he encountered Jesus.

What is that message?  It is Jesus Christ true God and true man, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in Paul’s gospel; the very gospel that Paul was about to be executed for!  Paul may be in chains, but the message about Christ’s atoning death could not be shackled.  It will never be bound, because God has determined that it is the only message that can set us free from our prison of sin and the sentence of death.  It is a message that declares, “Christ died to save the world from sin!”  It is a message that is completely objective, that is it is not bound to any ethnicity or social status; it is not restricted to the religious or to genders.  It is for all people, even those who are trapped on the border; those disenfranchised who live in the bottoms!

But while it is objective, as a free gift for all, it is also very subjective, that is, it’s a personal gift that must be received and lived out.  In your baptism, you were not only washed clean of your leprosy of sin, you were also recreated.  That is you were crucified with Christ Jesus.  His death was an atoning one and yours is a repentant death.  Every day you are to put to death your sinful nature so that your new perfected nature may live free and become stronger.  Or as Paul says it in our Epistle reading, “If we have died with Him, we will also live with Him; if we endure (that is if we cling to Christ), we will also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He will also deny us; if we are faithless, He remains faithful—for He cannot deny Himself.”

Dear friends, Jesus is with you here on the border.  Even though at times you embrace the part of the border that rejects God’s love and Christ’s passion upon the cross, Jesus will not forget you.  The offer of grace is always yours if you will have it.  His Spirit still calls you to repent; to turn to Him and His cross; to remember the mighty work of your baptism.  And when you do, you will always find Him faithful to complete the work that He began in you long ago in your baptism.  For you see, you are part of His body, the church, and He cannot deny Himself.  He ensures that the church will always exists along with His Word that can never be bound on this side of the border.  It is that Word alone, which gives you the peace of forgiveness, and the love and strength of God.

Jesus is here with you on this side of the border.  He knows what it is like to be lost in the bottoms; to be part of the disenfranchised.  And to prove it, He chose to have His death upon the cross occur outside of the walls of the holy city Jerusalem.  He died on the border; as a foreigner he died the death of a leprous sinner.  It was a suffering of agonies that we will never have to endure, because He died it for us.

Jesus is calling to you now.  He is telling you that one day soon enough you too will cross the border and enter the Holy City of Heaven, where  you will be called to show yourself to Him, your High Priest and in the presence of His Heavenly Father, He will declare you CLEAN!  May you cling to this message of faith through the work of Christ alone, always… AMEN!

“Wrestling with God”

Sunday, October 17th, 2010

21st Sunday after Pentecost C, October 17, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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Would you agree with me that living out our Christian faith is a battle?  Sometimes when stuff happens, when life happens, it can seem as if we are actually wrestling with God.  The truth is, bad things happen in this world all the time!  Yes, there are plenty of good things too; happy endings so to speak.  Why just look at the miraculous rescue of those 33 miners in Chile.  Do you think their families are praising God for their blessings?  Sure they are, but there is one family member in Chile who might think that God is punishing her.  I am talking about the wife of the one cheating miner who discovered that her husband’s mistress would be there to meet him when he was lifted out of the dark pit of despair and into the joyful and thankful world.  How joyful and thankful do you think that wife was?

In hard times and tragedy, we might be tempted to ask ourselves something like this: “What’s wrong with my faith in God?  Maybe I don’t love Him enough.  Maybe He’s punishing me?  If God loves me as much as the Bible and the preacher say, then why is my life so hard?  Have you ever thought like this?  I think we all have had these thoughts.   At some time in life we have mistakenly learned to associate God’s grace and love with living the “easy” life; a life without struggle and pain.  And when struggle and pain come into our lives, when things don’t seem to be going our way; when our faith in God doesn’t reward us with the American dream, we begin to question whether our faith in God is sufficient, as if we are being punished for little faith.  We may even begin to wonder whether our God is the real God!  This dear friends is one way we wrestle with God!

The truth is, bad things do happen to Christians, even strong, faithful, and hardworking ones.  Sometimes we look at all of our faithful service as some magical force field that should protect us from the bad things that happen in life.  I have heard more than once, a faithful Christian parent say to me when their child gets in trouble or turns away from their faith, “I don’t understand why this is happening pastor.  I am a good parent.  I raised my child in the church, I taught them to pray, I read the Bible to them; I taught them by example through my giving of my time, talent, and money, and now this is happening!  Why?”  But friends, this is the wrong way to think about God’s love and grace.  It isn’t what you do or don’t do that brings you peace with God, instead it is what He has done and is doing for you that brings you these things.

In our Old Testament reading this morning [Genesis 32:22-30] we join Jacob wrestling with a strange man who he latter discovers to be God Himself.  Oh they wrestled all night long!  Finally the sun began to shine and the God-man said to Jacob, “Let me go (man), for (its morning already).  But Jacob said, (I’m not letting lose) unless you bless me!”  You see, even Jacob thought like we do sometimes.  He figured that since He fought with God all night long there had to be a reward in it for Him.  Now why would God bless a deceitful man like Jacob?  Yes, I said deceitful.  He was called a liar at birth.  His very name means deceitful.  Think back now… how did Jacob get the blessing of His father Isaac?  He got it by deceiving his father and pretending to be Esau, his older brother.  And yet God was still with him; He still loved him!  And God told him to leave the country of his father Abraham and go out into parts unknown, to a strange country, where God would bless him.  And God did bless him!  He gave him a beautiful family and made him rich beyond belief.  He had more things than he knew what to do with.  He had angels attending to him and God Himself speaking to him in dreams.  And when it was time to go back to the land of his father and come to terms with his brother, the same brother he stole the birthright from, he fell back to his deceitful ways.  He sent all of this things and his family ahead of him as a gift to his brother Esau, hoping to spare his own life.  He was avoiding the time of reckoning that he knew he had to face; he was trying to avoid the struggle that waited for him on the other side of the river.

And now, he was left alone.  Stripped of all of his stuff and all of his family.  He must have felt that he had lost everything as he sat there alone on the bank of the river.  But he wasn’t alone; God was with Him; God proved this to Him by coming to him in a struggle.  And as Jacob and the God-man wrestled, God proved to Him that He was still with Him and He that still loved him, even though he didn’t deserve that love.  God’s blessing of love became apparent to Jacob after hours of struggle and a dislocated hip, but it came nonetheless.  And during a break in the wrestling action, God asked Jacob a simple question: “What is your name?”  And in a moment of honesty, Jacob answers, “(I am) Jacob (the deceiver).  And in answer to that confession of sin, God pronounced the absolution with these Words: “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob but Israel, (which means) you have wrestled with God and with men, and you have prevailed.”

This morning friends, God is asking each of us, “Who are you?”  And like Jacob, we must answer, “I am a deceiver; I am a sinner in need of a savior!”    Just as Jacob was left stripped of all of his earthly riches, we too must be striped of anything the world calls good, and we must turn to God alone and receive only what He gives to us.  And what does He give us?  He gives us the absolution; He gives us forgiveness of sins and salvation.  This gift of salvation doesn’t find its source not in our efforts but in the will and heart of God and the work of His only Son, the God-man Jesus Christ, who died for you!

How can we know this is true?  Well, we must have faith that God is for us!  Ok, but believe me when I tell you that all of the other religions will claim the same thing.  Let’s look at this truth in a more familiar context.

Many people love to quote that salvation and God’s blessings come when we have faith, and they’re right.  They like to point out that God’s love is simply a gift that we neither earned nor deserved, and that’s also right!  But they forget that this faith doesn’t come naturally but supernaturally.  They forget that it isn’t something that you just inherit from your parents, if that were the case, then only children raised in a Christian home would become Christians.  No, there must be something more if we are to truly be able to have and hold onto our faith in God!  And there is something more.  It’s not just something it is the only thing that gives you faith, grace, and Jesus; it is of course the Holy Word of God!

In our epistle reading [2 Timothy 3:14-4:5], St. Paul is in the middle of perhaps the greatest struggle of his life.  He is rotting away in a Roman prison, and soon his life will be ended by execution.  At the bottom of a dark, wet, and smelly pit he is still rejoicing in his blessing of grace and love from God.  There in a place where others would find only despair and fear Paul has found joy and hope, and he wants his young assistant Timothy to be assured of that same joy and hope that he has.  Yes his hope is in God’s grace and Jesus Christ.  Yes, he had great faith that God would complete the work of grace and faith within Him, but how did He know about God’s grace and how did he receive faith?  Through God’s Holy Word; through the Holy Scriptures!  Listen to what he tells Timothy: “Continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it.”  Where did Timothy learn about God’s love and grace; how did he receive faith to believe that Jesus was HIS savior?  It wasn’t something his mother or grandmother gave to him; instead it was God’s own Word that taught him these truths.  It was God’s Word alone and the presence of the Holy Spirit that was able to make him wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ!

All scripture is breathed out by God through the wind of the Holy Spirit, and able to create faith.  It is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.  This breathing of the Holy Spirit is direct and its personal.  Children can and do receive the Word of God from their parents, neighbors do receive a testimony and witness from a Christian neighbor, but faithful parents and faithful neighbors always lead others to the source, the living Word of God!

But what makes the Christian Bible the true Word of God?  In this question is another way we struggle or wrestle with God!  And during the struggle we discover that it’s God Himself who makes the Word the true Word.  It is the Holy Spirit who teaches you that this Holy Book is like no other.  It is only through this Word alone that the entire world is taught that they are a lost in sin with no hope of salvation outside of God’s grace that is theirs through Jesus Christ.  Through each and every Word of the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments, God Spirit speaks life through direct inspiration into every sinful heart.  But each of us must read it for ourselves, and as we read we will discover through the work of the Holy Spirit that this Word alone is indeed profitable for teaching, refuting error, and restoring anyone lost in sin!  By the very faith produced by God’s Word, the true child of God believes that “All Scripture is God-breathed.  “No prophecy of Scripture comes from a sinful person’s own interpretation.  For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit!”

Yes friends, we thank God that through His Holy Word, we have been taught about our Savior Jesus; we have been shown His work, His death upon the cross, and because of that work we are saved by grace through faith in that Word.  But as I stated earlier, this belief in grace can sometimes trick us into thinking that a graceful life means an easy life.  There are some within Christ’s church who think that to be saved by faith is to be delivered from not just suffering and sickness, but also deliverance into wealth and prosperity.  These unfortunate Christians are told to name and claim their blessing from God!  And when the blessings don’t come down as they desire, they are left to wonder what is wrong with their faith.

But this wasn’t the life that our Lord had in mind when he called his disciples to take up their cross and follow Him.  He made it clear that His disciples who are saved by His death and resurrection aren’t to live a life of glory now, but instead we are to follow Him and expect suffering as we carry our own cross!

In our gospel reading today [Luke 18:1-8], Jesus is encouraging us not to loose heart.  He wants us to remain faithful.  How do we remain faithful?  By staying in God’s Holy Word and by praying that God will keep us safe!  Keep asking God to protect you from the evil in this world and don’t grow weary of asking.  Even though sometimes you may feel like you’re alone in your walk of faith, even though you may feel that God is not with you, remember that He is always there with you in your struggle.  He has never left nor forsaken you!  Listen to your Savior assure you in these Words: “(Won’t) God give justice to (you His chosen child), (you) who cry (out) to Him day and night?  Will he delay long over (you)?”  Jesus says, “(No) I tell you, he will give justice to you speedily.”   

Jesus ends our gospel lesson with a question, and it is one that each of us must ask ourselves this morning:  “When the Son of Man comes, (that is Jesus), will He find faith on earth?”  That is when you take your last breath on this sinful earth will you open your eyes in heaven?  Will you still have faith the size of a mustard seed that assures you of God’s love and salvation?  If you stay in God’s means of grace, His Holy Word and Sacraments you will.

Dear friends, let me encourage you to struggle against this sinful world.  Fight your doubts and fears.  By faith, grab ahold of God’s grace through Jesus Christ!  How can you do this?  By staying in God’s Word!  Yes I know it’s hard to find time to read the Word, but that’s part of the struggle, part of the wrestling with God.  But when you open His book and begin to read, you will discover along with Jacob that God has always been with you.  And when you see this truth you will also be strengthened to believe that He will never, ever leave you!   So stay in the Word dear friends, stay in the Word.  I ask this very thing for me and you, in Jesus name…. AMEN!