Archive for the ‘Pentecost 2C’ Category

Our Balm in Gilead

Sunday, June 2nd, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 2C, June 2nd, 2013

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Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of the daughter of my people not been restored? [Jeremiah 8:22]

So speaks God through the prophet Jeremiah. Why don’t my people come to me when they are in need; why do they trust in other things, things of man but not the God who creates and sustains all things  created? Why can they not see that I, the God who creates them am the same God who sustains them?

Instead of trust in God, as our money says, we as Americans seem to trust in our own resourcefulness. We want to pick ourselves up by our own bootstraps, so to speak. We hear people say things like good  people practice religion, but they don’t take it too seriously. Welcome to Hypocrite Township, where science and positive thoughts sustain life and happiness!

But there isn’t a chance that we good Christians will go down that road, is there? I mean, Hypocrite Township is the home of those who look to all other forms of health and happiness but Jesus and His  means of grace. They don’t need, nor do they want handouts and giveaways. They work for what they need and want. They are proud that they earn their way in life; why they deserve what they have!

We Christians know that as a false gospel of prosperity; it’s a perversion of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We all know that the gospel is a free gift of Christ sacrificially giving Himself to rescue and deliver  sinners like us from sin, death, and the devil, even this sinful age we live in. No sir, we’re going to steer clear of Hypocrite Township, because we know that the devil runs that territory.

Yes sir, we Christians follow Christ, because we love Him. We worship Him and we read and hear His Word. We don’t look for people’s approval but instead we are servants of Christ. You see, we Christians are a praying people. And we pray, “Lord, I thank you that I’m not like those other people who keep on moving to and living in Hypocrite Township. I thank you that you bless me, because I’ve got a strong faith; faith that you said can move mountains.”

Well, neighbor… welcome to Hypocrite Township. You’ll fit right in! Isn’t it amazing how easily we get there with all of the other hypocrites? Even when that is precisely where we don’t want to go. Who is responsible for our continued detour to Hypocrite Township? Is it the devil? Well sure, but that is just a tad to easy to blame it all on him; after all, you have a Savior who has promised you that He has defeated that ancient foe. So is it society, with its promises of health and happiness outside of what they say is an antiquated religion, that only divides people? Or maybe it is the phony word of faith and name it and claim it preachers that mix religion with the occult? Well sure they can preach a powerful message of false hope, but in the end, you’re the one who stopped to listen and then buy into what they were peddling. No, I’m afraid that you’re at fault; you’re the one who forgot about your true Balm in Gilead!

In the end, we Christians are the ones who convince ourselves that it is logical and obvious, that we don’t get something for nothing. Since we received something from God, namely forgiveness of sins and a relationship of love with Him through Christ, we think that it must be because we deserve it. Good is for the good and bad is for bad. That’s the white wash that we paint over our dark dirty grey casket, which contains the dead bones of our own righteousness. But what happens when God’s own righteousness rains down? What happens when our clean white illusion is washed away by God’s Word, and our own evil is revealed? We and the message of false prosperity and health we’ve been following are shown for what it is… and evil illusion! Our entire hypocritical motto is uncovered… “Look out for number one, and do unto others before they do unto you.”

Once God moves you to see this truth about who you really are without Him, you will then and only then turn to Him alone as not only your source of salvation, but also as your only source of happiness and health, peace and prosperity. Then and only then will you learn to be happy with what ever He gives to you, or allows to come your way.

It’s a matter of having spiritual eyes to recognize Christ’s authority and a trust or faith in His tender care.

The Centurion in our gospel lesson (Luke 7:1–10) was given both of these things from God. Somehow, we are told that He heard of Jesus; he heard the Word of God about the Son of God and He recognized Jesus for who He was; He was Lord! And that Centurion, a foreigner to God’s presence and providence desired to reach out to Jesus as God’s authority, as God’s means of salvation and health. So He sent a delegation of Jewish elders to plead with Jesus to heal His servant. And what happened next? Did the elders dismiss that request? No! God in His special providence moved the heart of these men to approach Jesus with the request of healing. And what of Jesus? Did Jesus tell them to let the Centurion know that He did not come to save gentiles but only the good “God fearing” Jews of the Land? No! In fact Jesus had them take Him directly to the home of the gentile, the unclean gentile’s home.

Amazing isn’t it? God’s love really is for all! But the most amazing part is what comes next. We learned that Jesus never made it to the home of the Centurion, instead the Centurion had another delegation meet Jesus before he arrived to his home, and they related this message: “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

Now that dear friends is faith. A kind of trust in Jesus authority that is real and alive. It cannot be bought and it cannot be obtained outside of the Word of God. It is solely a work of grace and it comes alive as God determines through the work of His Spirit. It is a kind of faith that simply lays down its request at the feet of Jesus and believes that the God of Creation and Salvation is also the God that determines ones fate. It is the kind of faith that accepts what ever Word Jesus gives. I am convinced that even if Jesus had not healed the servant’s body but healed the servant’s soul as He had obviously done for the Centurion, both would have rested peacefully in God’s gracious love and presence.

A poor middle-aged woman with poor health, a broken spirit, and a criminal record responds to an invitation to attend church with the comment, “Church is for good people, not people like me.” A young man, who many would call a hoodlum asks, “I’ve done some bad things. Can I still join your church?” A couple living together, but not married ask the pastor, “Can we get our child baptized even if we are not married?” All of these questions and many more are simply opportunities for us to step outside of the city limits of Hypocrite Township and begin a relationship of sharing God’s Word, Law and Gospel with strangers, people who are foreigners to God’s grace. Questions like these present opportunities for us to present Christ’s church not as a white washed mausoleum of saints, but as a hospital for sinners; a place where the very worst of us have found the balm of Gilead, and where they too can find forgiveness and healing.

Forgiveness is an unbelievable gift. “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the Word, and let my servant be healed.” But the Lord did, and does put Himself to trouble, a whole lot of trouble. And He comes to live a long side of us, He says the Word and we are forgiven… we are healed of a sin sick soul. He initiates the new relationship of love and forgiveness by coming to us in His Word of Law which shows us our terrible sin of pride and self sufficiency, and when we have been destroyed by His displeasure, by His righteous anger, He speaks the Gospel Word of forgiveness and, by His stripes, we are healed; we are created into the very image of Christ!

The gospel of Christ is the message of His cross. It is a message about His sacrificial giving of Himself to rescue and deliver us from the power of this sinful and evil age. The gospel is the gift of a new relationship of love and forgiveness with God and each other. It is the entire message that is spoken to us in our worship: Jesus accepts foreigners. Jesus hears the prayers of sinners that seek His forgiving love. And Jesus desires to hear our prayers about others who need His intervening presence in their lives as well.

Jesus offers grace, powerful and wonderworking grace to all who see a need. For whom shall we pray for this week? For whom shall you intercede for and say, “He or she is worthy to have you come to them. They need your forgiving touch and then your touch of healing strength.” Who has God put in your life so that you can tell them about a Balm in Gilead? If you can not preach like Peter, if you cannot pray like Paul, you can tell the love of Jesus and say He died for all” even a hypocrite like them and like you! AMEN!

Christ’s Compassionate Touch

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

Sunday, June 6, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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 “The unthinkable!  My son is gone!  My only son is ad and I am alone.  Why has God done this to me?  Now who will take care of me?  I have….no one.  Is their truly a God who loves me?” 

While the Bible is silent on the worries and concerns of the two widows in our scripture lessons, it makes two things clear:  They were widows, and their only child had just died.  In the Jewish culture, they were considered abandoned to the charity of others.  They couldn’t work, because they were women.  We assume that because the Bible does not mention any other relatives, they were essentially left alone. 

Do you think that these two woman were feeling abandoned by God?  Let’s turn to our gospel reading and see if we can empathetically relate to them.  Jewish custom dictated that when a person dies, they must be buried as soon as possible, usually within 24 hours.  The widow in our gospel reading is alone.  With no other family, the task of preparing her son for burial was hers and hers alone.  You see, Jewish custom also dictated that if anyone had contact with a dead body, they were ceremonially unclean for seven days.  There were no morticians in those days.  Preparation of the dead always fell upon family members.  And so this heartbroken mother had to wash the cold, lifeless body of a son who was not just her pride and joy, but her very life.  His hair and nails had to be trimmed, and the new suit of clothes she made for his future wedding, would finally be worn for the first and last time.  Her very pride and joy was gone, indeed the hopes of her entire future lay lifeless on the floor. 

We can only imagine how much sorrow this woman was going through.  Our text tells us that “she was a widow.” Think of it; this was the second time the crowd had carried out a dead man from her home—the first was her husband. After that sad day, she had only one comfort left, she had her son. But now her son, her only source of support is gone as well. No wonder “a large crowd” had gathered to accompany her out of the city to the cemetery; they felt sorry for her. But this sympathy couldn’t make-up for her terrible loss!  We can imagine that this poor woman was left faithless and broken… that is until Jesus touched her son’s coffin with His hand and his dead body with His life-giving Word.  “Young man, I say to you, arise.”  Yes, that mother needed the touch of Christ!

I. Who Else Needs The Touch Of Christ?  Well anyone separated from God by sin and the brokenness of sin.  What kind of sins?  Well how about pride.  “The LORD detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished.”  (Prov. 16:5) “Before his downfall a man’s heart is proud, but humility comes before honor.  (Prov. 18:12)  Or perhaps sexual sins are the cause of someone’s separation from God.  “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” [Heb. 13:4]  But wait, what about greed and theft?  “Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint.  Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.”  [Prov. 23:4,5]  Then there are always those who put their best strength and energy into chasing after the pleasures of this world.  “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”  [1 Cor. 6:9,10]

But it isn’t just those burdened by sin that Jesus wants to touch; He also wants to touch anyone burdened by the troubles and sorrows caused by sin!  He calls out to anyone who is suffering from the death of a loved one or the reckless life of a family member who seems to have lost their Christian faith that they were taught as a child.  Jesus reaches out to touch anyone who has been scared by tragedy, sickness, and financial worries.  But He also reaches out to touch any of you who have lost your passion for Christ.  Listen: “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.” [Rev. 2:4,5a]

II. How do we receive the touch of Christ?  In your baptism, “you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” [1 Cor. 6:11]  “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” [Rom. 6:3-4]  You see, “in Christ Jesus you are all (children) of God, through faith.  For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” [Gal. 3:26-28]  The truth is friends, in your baptism; Christ touched you in a way that no one else could ever touch you.  In your baptism, Christ gave to you His entire suffering, death, and resurrection, so that He might bring you to God.  Your baptism has put to death your flesh and made you alive in the spirit.  In your baptism, Christ not only touches you but He saves you! [1 Pet. 18-21]

 III. What Happens When We Live Out The Touch Of Christ?  Well, our old way of thinking and living dies more and more every day.  “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5:17)   But we also begin to experience what Jesus calls rebirth.  “Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (John 3:3)  When you begin to live out these spiritual realities, God’s Word promises that you will experience a powerful renewal.  “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus.”  (Acts 3:19,20)   And after God renews you, He promises just one more surprise… restoration!  “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”  (1 John 1:9)

IV. Why Does Jesus Want To Touch Us?  Because God loves to decorate our hearts.  Let him live long enough within you, and your heart will begin to change.  Portraits of hurt hanging upon the wall of your heart will be replaced by landscapes of grace.  Walls of anger that once stood strong will be demolished and your shaky foundation will be restored.  God can no more leave a life unchanged than a mother can leave her child’s tear untouched.  It’s not enough for him to win you; he wants to change you.  Where you and I might be satisfied with an unfurnished studio apartment, he refuses to settle for any dwelling short of a mansion.  After all, our bodies are His temple.  No attention to detail is skipped and no corners are cut.  “Oh, the utter extravagance of his work within those of us who trust in Him.”  (Paraphrase of Max Lucado)  Why is that?

Because our God is a God of love and compassion, and because He has come to us in our flesh and lived as one of us, He is sympathetic to each one of our pains, worries, and fears.  He “is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. [2 Peter 3:9]  So Jesus wants to continue His touch.  Touching you in baptism is not enough for Him; He wants to embrace you throughout your entire life.  And He does this by inviting you to daily to live out His touch by staying centered in His Word.

V. What Happens After Jesus Touches?  Lives are changed.  Hope is restored.  Faith is increased.  Love is increased.  We serve the Lord with Joy and we become living examples of Christ’s love to others.

Author and lecturer Leo Buscaglia once talked about a contest he was asked to judge. The purpose of the contest was to find the most caring child. The winner was a four-year-old child, whose next-door neighbor was an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife. Upon seeing the man cry, the little boy went into the old gentleman’s yard, climbed onto his lap and just sat there. When his mother asked him what he had said to the neighbor, the little boy said, “Nothing, I just helped him cry.”

Both of the widows in our readings this morning must have longed for the touch of their sons just one more time.  Instead they got the touch of God!  Therapy, psychoanalysis, ignoring, forgetting just can’t give you what God wants to give.  Our liturgy, hymns, and prayers, our music, art, and architecture are all designed to help us see God’s touch; a touch that confronts the terror of death with the hope—the beautiful dream—of first His resurrection and then our own resurrection.  This is the true balm of Gilead… the balm against deaths mortal wound!

While both widows had their son’s returned to them, the truth is, those boys would die again; sin would once again have its way with them.  But the touch of Jesus, the living Word of God wipes away all of our fears about this ever present enemy   You see dear friends, just when all seems lost to us, the Living Word of God speaks to us and teaches us that God’s own Son rose from the dead and promises us that because He has touched us… because He has touched our loved ones and neighbors, each of us will experience the exact same thing… eternal victory over death!

CONCLUSION: At the end of our Old Testament reading, the widow says a strange thing.  She says to Elijah: “Now I know that you are a man of God and the Word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”  The widow knew the truth when she saw it!  Her son was dead, but now he was alive.  Dear friends, that’s not just truth, that’s eternal truth!  And that eternal truth calls out to us today: “The Word of the Lord in your heart and in your mouth is truth.”  It’s the Word of the Lord you hear in your Baptism; you have been buried and raised with Christ.  It’s the Word of the Lord you have at His table in, with, and under the bread and wine; this is my body and blood given for you for the forgiveness of your many sins!  You hear it in the Absolution; your sins are forgiven!

Dear friends, the Lord wants you to receive this truth, because within it you receive His touch… a touch that promises you not just forgiveness of your many sins but the certainty of your resurrection and the gift of eternal life!  I pray that you will not reject this touch.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!