Archive for the ‘Pentecost 3B’ Category

Things Are Not Always What They Appear

Sunday, June 14th, 2015

June 14, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

Things are not always what they appear to be, are they?  I am thankful for the warning in the side mirror on my vehicle that states: “Warning, objects in the mirror are closer than they appear to be.”  I tend to forget that, I need that reminder.

I also need to be reminded that the Kingdom of God in eternity is not what it appears to be in our time; it is not what the world supposes it to be.  They see the Kingdom of God as a bunch of superstitious people gathered around and antiquated Bible, a little water, a scrap of bread, and a sip of wine.  And as they scoff, we gather and find forgiveness, peace, and the promise of eternal happiness and joy, within those very things.  Why the disparity?

Faith. Faith is the one thing needful. Lack of faith is what causes a mighty nation, full of life and vigor to decay from within, dry up, and die.  That was the cause of the nation of Israel’s demise, it was the cause of the death of all of the empires that have ever existed, and it will be the demise of our country if its citizens continuously reject faith.

It was the demise of the way of worship for the Jews, which we can call the old church.

Where is their temple worship?  It is gone!  Where is their temple? Destroyed!  Jesus said as much when He said, “The time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.” [Luke 21:6]  WHY?  Again they had lost their faith in the promise of God and the mercy and forgiveness He would bring to all through the Savior who was to come.  And when He did come, they rejected the very means of Salvation that God had promised since the fall of creation.

But you have not lost that faith, have you?  You are still here, so out of love, out of charity I will gladly assume that you still trust God to make all things new; to make all things right.  I trust that you have faith in the Savior who has now come and will come again.  You have faith in Jesus Christ, the very Son of God!

You have Faith in a Who and a Promise! Unlike what the world thinks, things are not as they seem.  Your faith is not simply in some printed words found in a book, but in the living Word of God that both spoke and ensured by the power of His Spirit that His Word would be preserved for you, so that you would have faith.  What kind of faith?  Faith to believe that simple water when combined with the promises of the Word of God would bring both forgiveness and peace with God.  Faith to believe that a scrap of bread and a sip of wine are also, mysteriously the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, broken and shed, eaten and drank for the forgiveness of sins.

You are that sprig that God says in our Old Testament reading (Ezekiel 17:22-24) was removed from the lofty top of the great cedar that was Israel, which is now withered and abandoned.  You are the church, the very mystical body of Christ that has been planted by God Himself upon the high and lofty mountain, which is the long awaited Paradise restored.  You are part of something inconceivably vast and powerful; you are even now part of the Kingdom of God; a Kingdom, which throughout the eons has not only promised but given rest to the weary and joy to the broken hearted.  You are part of the Kingdom of God fulfilled.

The Kingdom of God is the Promise Fulfilled! Yes the promise fulfilled, but also the promise not yet seen.  To be sure, those who have died in the faith, are now absent from the body and present with the Lord; that is they see with their own eyes both the glory of the Lord and the beauty of their eternal home in paradise.  But we are still here; we must still walk by faith and not by sight.  Faith assures us that the promise is fulfilled and there is a place reserved for us too; a body and home, tailor made for us by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

We are holy by faith, because He is holy.  We are holy simply because we are forgiven and loved, so we forgive and love as well.  We are holy because we are sustained by the power of God’s Spirit and the means of grace, which He gives to both create and sustain our ability to see by faith.

And we need that faith to live within God’s promise fulfilled, because things are not always as they seem, and this truth creates tension.

The tension of living by faith and not by sight. In our gospel lesson this morning (Mark 4:26-34), Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God can be compared to a mustard seed, the smallest of seeds commonly known at the time, “yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” And here is precisely where the tension is experienced; there are birds nesting in our branches that bring all kinds of strange and peculiar things with them; things like poverty, sickness and disease, rude behavior and domineering spirits.  Many times they don’t come simply to rest in our gospel tree, but to take it over.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate what I mean is to change Jesus illustration of birds resting in the Mustard tree to one of the Phasmida, or as they are more commonly know as, the “Walking Stick.”  The walking stick insect looks just like a twig of the tree, and it blends in perfectly with the tree.  The camouflage is needed because other animals that live outside of the tree fly around looking to eat the little walking stick.  But when they are within the canopy of the tree, they may rest safe and free from harm, because they look like they are part of the tree.  But they’re not, are they?  And while they rest within the safety of the tree, they begin to eat the leaves and find sustenance from the tree itself.

Are you a part of the tree, or are you like the walking stick simply finding sustenance and safety.  Only you and God know the answer to that, not me.  But I will tell you what I do know; God does not want you to be a walking stick; He wants to graft you within the tree itself.  God wants you to simply quit hiding and surrender to His wonderful grace; his forgiving love and mercy.  And here is the wonderful news, you do not need to do a thing, simply surrender to the same means of grace and mercy that brought the rest of us into the body of Christ.

You may become a branch of this tree, by simply seeing that the safety and security that you have enjoyed for a time, can be yours for eternity by simply surrendering to God and believing that He gives precisely what He promises through His powerful Word, a splash of water, a scrap of bread, and a sip of wine.

What are you waiting for, or better yet, what are you hiding from?  He has already found you; you are here in the gospel tree, the church.  Why not truly belong and become that which the world thinks is both foolish and pathetic?  Why not belong and become what the cross of Jesus Christ has already provided and announced for all sinners throughout the world… you are forgiven and loved by God. [John 3:16]

Look around you; things are not what they appear to be.  You see first with eyes of flesh, and you see sinners.  But now look with eyes of faith at those sinners who have gathered around God’s means of grace and promise, and by faith, you see instead sinners who have become and our becoming saints by faith.  If you can rest in this truth, then you along with all of us struggle together as saints for eternity and sinners only for as long as we live in these tents; these temporary bodies of sin.

We all struggle together with putting to death the sin that is within us, and during this struggle we groan in anticipation for the day that we will be free of that struggle and then rest securely in our new resurrected bodies within our new home.  Each of us together are becoming by grace what God has declared we are through Christ; holy, perfect, and righteous.  And for each of us, the battle to belong and become will not be complete until God calls us to our new home… Paradise.  [2 Corinthians 5:1–10] AMEN!

The Perfect Storm!

Sunday, June 21st, 2009

3rd Sunday of Pentecost, June 21, 2009

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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In October of 1991, the “Andrea Gail” left Gloucester, Mass. and headed for the fishing grounds of the North Atlantic. Two weeks later, an event took place that had never occurred in recorded history. A storm stronger than anything ever recorded hit the coast off of Gloucester, Massachusetts. It was called the “Perfect Storm” —because it was three storms combined into one, and it created an almost apocalyptic situation in the Atlantic Ocean.  Boats in the area encountered waves of 100 feet— the equivalent of a ten-story building. These storms are some of the strongest and most terrifying manifestations of nature’s strength.

JESUS DON’T YOU CARE THAT WE ARE DYING? Dear friends, our central problem isn’t the storms of life, but rather it’s our obsessive focus on the storms alone.  You see, it’s hard to remember that Jesus is in the boat with us when our attention is riveted on the waves outside and the water inside the boat.  Despair and fear develop rapidly when our energy is focused on survival.  Many times, those storms of life seem to be un-survivable — and that’s a fair perception; after all, one day, one of those storms, will be the one that carries us off to heaven.  Within this perspective of fear and despair it’s not easy to believe that God is on the job when the waves are in your face, and your boat is quickly filling with unwelcomed water!  


Sometimes, when we encounter these life storms, we can become like Job and his friends; we want to understand the storms. And so we ask, “God don’t you care that I’m in trouble?”  We desperately want to know “why”.  Why did I lose my job?  Why can’t I find a job?  Why did my love one die?  Why am I so sick? Why, why, WHY!?  We ask why because we hope that knowing the answer will calm our fear about the unknown, but our best efforts to understand the mysterious infinity of God’s Mind are continually frustrated by the feeble limits of our own human intellect.  To our whys, God answers us with His own question, HOW: “How can you the creature ever understand I your Creator?”  But this isn’t the answer we want to hear.  We want God to explain Himself.  So, our sinful nature loses sight of God’s love for us and we instead focus on our worry and fear.


 The truth is friends, God’s love and grace sounds good to all of us at first.  We will quickly trust in His love, but sadly, many Christians have stopped right there and they’ve never really let God’s presence in their lives penetrate and change them, so that the power of God’s love and grace can create a strong faith within them. Then, when the storms of life come, the littleness of their faith appears. And when this weak faith becomes evident, Jesus exclaims, “How cowardly you are!”


Jesus scolded the apostles for their fear.  He had the right to expect more from them.  But they had no right to be afraid even if Jesus wasn’t in the boat with them. Jesus had showed them so many times that as His disciples they were always in His Father’s care. They also should have known that even if they died in that storm, all things would have worked together for their own good because they were Jesus own!  Friends, like the disciples in the boat, we too have no promise that life’s dangers won’t result in our death just because we are Christ’s own. In the counsel of God it may be his will that we die, and if that is the case, then we will die with the great assurance that God’s love sends us what is best. God wants us to die in confidence and not in fear.  So in the middle of our storms of fear and worry, we too are encouraged to wake up the sleeping Savior within us and call to Him for faith and comfort.

To all of these fears and worries, Jesus says, “PEACE BE STILL!”
  Isn’t it amazing that those lifelong fishermen in the boat with Jesus, men who made their living on this very sea should wake up and call out to a land-loving carpenter for help?  They were completely at the end of their resources, skills that they had always taken great pride in; now they humbly threw themselves upon Jesus as their only source of hope. They didn’t care that he had never sailed a boat; they weren’t looking for human help but instead divine hope. They had abandoned all hope in human ability, and instead they placed their trust entirely into the divine hands of Jesus.  That was faith. But their terror, the resorting to Jesus only as their last hope, made their faith little, and that was in glaring contrast with the peace of Jesus who was at that very moment teaching them to rest in the Father’s love.  


This morning dear friends, God wants us to see that one of the ways to see our faith matured is to simply lose confidence in our own strength, and then learn to rely completely on Jesus’ real presence in our lives. That was the lesson that Job learned, when God challenged him to explain the universe and life: ” ‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? … Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding’ ” (38:2, 4). How could Job and how can we ever come close to real knowledge if we don’t first see how God has all things under his control, including the boundaries of the great deep (v. 11)?


This morning friends, at this very moment God wants to strengthen your faith with the gospel… with the good news.  He wants to take away your fear and worry so that you can rest in His love.  But before you can receive this good news, He says to you, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10a).

Whether we come to God with weak faith or strong faith, He wants us to know that whenever we cry out to Him from the storms of life, He hears us. Many years ago, graffiti was found on the walls of a bombed out cellar in Cologne, Germany, and its message illustrates our constant hope in God: “I believe in the sun even when it is not shining.  I believe in love even when I feel it not.  I believe in God even when he is silent.”  Dear friends God does hear you.  And He answers you with the living Words of Jesus Christ!


WHY ARE YOU AFRAID?  HAVE YOU NO FAITH?   For most of us, when we hear this question we tend to think of it as God’s Law accusing us of not trusting in Him, but this question of Jesus should also be heard as the gospel when we remember who is speaking. This is the Christ who has climbed into the boat with us and endured the storms for us. He is the one who has died for all and was raised again for us! It’s not just the wind and sea, but also death and hell that obey him.


Through His completed work for us upon the cross we are a new creation; through His Word and sacraments we are able to trust in His real presence with us when our own storms over power us. Through His presence, our little faith becomes strong faith.  Because of him we don’t ever have to fear the storms of life again, for we know that through Him, God the Father is for us and not against us. Even our own sin is unable to snatch us from Christ’s grasp, and no storm of life can rip us away from his love. The waters of your own baptism have splashed your faces with far more power than all of the world’s storms combined. Because the love of Christ controls us we can trust in God’s kind heart, and through His love for us, all of our fears can be erased.


Dear friends, in response to our cry, “Don’t you care that I am in trouble?” God doesn’t offer us understanding, but instead he offers precious promises. He who said ‘Thus far and no farther” to the surging waves of the angry seas, says to us, “Fear not, for I am with you always.”  He assures us that he knows what we can’t understand, and He is able to handle what we can’t.  

The story is told of a young art student, who was asked by his professor to paint a picture of perfect peace. So he began to do just that. As time was drawing near for his task to be completed his professor made his rounds in the class. And as he approached the young man he was surprised at what he saw. You see the young man had painted storm clouds, war, sickness, and death. But in the middle of it all was this tree, and on one of its branches was a little bird with its wings spread wide, and it looked as if this bird was singing. So his professor scratched his head and said I thought the assignment was to paint perfect peace. And the young man responded by saying “I did.” He went on to say “You see the little bird was at peace with his surroundings because he believed in Christ’s promise that he would not put more on him than he could bear. Unlike some of us, this little bird knew that at any time the God he serves was able to fill his tiny wings with a wind from on high and he could fly away to a better place, a perfect place that was prepared especially for him!”

Today friends, Jesus calls us to go with Him in the boat.  There will be storms, but He will always be in the boat with us as we pass through the storms.  While He is with us He is teaching us to trust Him and have faith—Faith in the Fathers love!  Oh yes, there will be times when it will seem as though God is silent; as if Jesus is sleeping, but fear not little lambs, even though He appears to sleep, He’s with you in the boat.  Take comfort friends, because the one who sleeps is also the one who never sleeps.  He is the God-man.  He has permitted the storms to come your way so that you may know and trust your Savior deeper than you could ever imagine.  But one day your very last life storm will come, and that will be the perfect storm, because it will come to take you to your perfect home where all storms will cease; and this will be according to the perfect love of your Heavenly Father and your Savior and friend, Jesus Christ.

PRAYER: “O God our Defender, there are right now storms raging around us and within us, and they are causing us to be afraid. Rescue your people from despair, deliver your sons and daughters from fear, and preserve us all from unbelief, unbelief that tries so hard to separate us from your eternal love.  We ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!