Archive for the ‘Pentecost 3C’ Category

Where Did You Hear That From?

Sunday, June 9th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 3C, June 9th, 2013

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For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. [Galatians 1:11]

And neither is what I am about to preach; so you know what that means, don’t you?  We all better pay attention; we all need to hear God’s voice.  But hearing God’s voice, hearing the clear call of the  gospel can be hard sometimes, especially in our society today when there are so many other voices, messages vying for our attention.

Ask a young person a question today, and you’re likely to hear this as a response: “I don’t know.  Let me “Google” it!”  Some of you might be asking, “What’s a Google?”  Well it is a search engine, one of  many available on the Internet, which promises to find an answer to almost any question.  In this information age, that can be a good thing, but it can also be a bad thing.  You see there is no quality  control on the Internet.  Not in Google, or anywhere else for that matter.  Anyone, and I mean anyone can put anything out there and claim it as the gospel truth.  Did you know that on the Internet, you  will learn that former Pres. George W. Bush was responsible for the 9-11 tragedy?  Yep, according to the Internet it was our own president who ordered the attacks and not Al Qaida.  Oh, and did you  also know that President Obama is secretly a Muslim and that he is preparing to replace our constitution with Sharia Law.  Yep, it’s all right there on the Internet.

So, again, in this day and age when someone says something and swears that it is the truth, we need to look into it a little deeper and ask, “Where did you hear that from?”

In our Epistle lesson (Galatians 1:11-24) St. Paul answers that question from the very beginning; before he shares the Good News about salvation, grace, and the forgiveness of sins.  He says, “For I  would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel.  For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus  Christ.” [Vs. 11-12]

Then, in an attempt to keep you from looking to him as the source of the “good news” and keep your eyes on Christ, he completely disqualifies himself as being worthy of the title “Apostle” by giving you  a look into his background.  Listen: “For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it.  And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many  of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.” [Vs. 13-14]

In those words, Paul is telling us that as a Pharisee, that as a teacher of Judaism, he was also a defender of it; his call was to hunt down any voices that taught against the traditions of Judaism.  Mind you, he wasn’t defending the Word of God, but the accepted rules of practicing the worship and interpretation of God’s Word.  And the chief target of were those who called themselves Christians.  Why?  Because of what they preached, taught, and confessed as the truth.  And the dangerous message that they proclaimed as good news was this: God was not impressed or moved to show mercy by what we do, which is called active, or civil righteousness, but instead, God’s mercy is given to us by a righteousness completely foreign to us; a righteousness that comes to sinners solely by believing in Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, who suffered and died upon the cross, to forgive the sins of the world!

But then after a successful career of hunting down the Christian troublemakers, Paul, who was then called Saul, met Jesus!  By the way, did you know that Paul was not only present when the first Christian martyr Stephen was stoned and killed, but that he actually supervised it? (Acts 7:58)

So why did Jesus choose Paul?  Was it because of his great training in the traditions of Judaism?  Was it because of his intimate knowledge with the languages of the day?  Was it because he was zealous for the things he thought came from God?  No, it was none of those things.  It was because everything that Paul was not, Jesus was.  It was because in weakness and sin, God could come to Paul in power and grace.  Listen to how Paul puts it: “But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone”. [Vs. 15, 16]  Did you hear those wonderful words of grace.  God set Paul apart, before he was born; He called Paul by grace, not by anything Paul did or did not do, but by the undeserved love and mercy of God.  By grace, Paul was introduced to the Son of God Jesus Christ.  Why?  So that he could preach Jesus crucified and resurrected to the world!  Paul was given the complete gospel of Christ, by Jesus Himself.  The message that he was to preach was identical to the message of the other apostles; it was given by the same Holy Spirit, but it was given independently.  Why?  So that we today, would hear this gospel Word and believe that it comes directly from the mouth of God!  So that we will hear about the forgiveness of sins and hold onto that message above all other messages.

Today, as I said earlier there are a lot of messages out there, and unfortunately there are also a lot of false gospels as well.

Some teach a universal gospel, or in other words they say that there are many paths to heaven, not just the Christian way.

Others think that they must defend God, or explain every mystery in life.  The widow in our Old Testament lesson (1 Kings 17:17-24) tried to do that.  She spoke for God by making the assumption that her son was taken from her at such a young age, because of her sins.  Many false preachers of God do the same thing today.  We ask, “Why did God let this happen to me?” And they are quick with an answer.  Sometimes they blame our lack of faith, sometimes they blame our nation, and sometimes, like the widow speaking to Elijah, they blame our sins.   The truth is, like Paul’s call to faith and like our own call, we do not know why God does what He does, but we do know what motivates His action; it is His great love for us.  In love God speaks His Word and then leads us to the waters of baptism, and then every day thereafter, that same Word shows us again and again, the cross of Jesus Christ and continually encourages us to receive the undeserved gift of forgiveness of sins, and then simply trust that God loves us and is ultimately in control of all things.

But it is in our sinful human nature not to trust; not to rest in anything so easy and free, so sinful preachers and teachers attempt to tweak the Word of God so that it gives us credit for earning some of God’s free gift of grace.  This kind of false gospel is probably the most dangerous for us who call ourselves Christian, because it takes our eyes off of what Christ has done, and instead encourages us to look at what we are doing.

Usually, this false gospel is based in a human-tradition and it has been handed down throughout many generations.  In time, after the false message has been repeated so many times, it becomes the truth and replaces the pure Word of God, and those who continue to teach this false gospel, along with those who blindly follow it, eventually break away from Christ’s true church, and condemn everyone else who won’t follow them.

Scripture teaches that by their fruit you will know them, and their fruit usually calls for the true Christian to “do the right thing” rather than trusting in Jesus’s righteousness.  It presumes that doing a good thing makes us better (more righteous) than those who fail to do the good thing.  Thus God’s law, written in the human heart, is at work but it becomes twisted into a game of pilling up of good deeds, in order to impress not a God of love, but an angry God who is chomping at the bit to punish all sinners.  In the process, real sins, which sometimes only God sees and knows about are ignored as though they never happened, and the sinner feels safe and secure, while in reality, they are going straight to hell.  Where did this version of religious life come from?  People made it up!  Why?  Because it feels and tastes good.

Mixing and confusing Law and Gospel always makes for a very poisonous and deadly mixture.  It’s kind of like ethylene glycol, or anti-freeze to a dog.  It tastes sweet but it will kill him.

But the gospel is the true sweetness of God.  It is given to you through no merit of your own; you did not earn it nor did you deserve it.  But instead, while you were still a sinner, a dog who will stupidly lap up anything that tastes sweet but in truth is deadly, Christ died for you! [Acts 5:8]  He died for you so that you need never wonder if you are forgiven.  He led you to the waters of baptism, so that you need never wonder whether you are truly saved.  He surrounds you with His Word and His Holy Supper so that as often as you have the opportunity, you can take and eat and take and drink of His body and blood, and know for certain that you are loved and never abandoned!  That is the gospel of Jesus Christ, and none other should ever take its place in your heart.

In the call of St. Paul and in your own call, Jesus gives us the Way of God’s mercy, He shows us His cross and His empty tomb; He gives us forgiveness for all of our sins; He gives us a new beginning.  Each morning this beginning is fresh and vibrant.  In this new beginning, we are constantly shown a new way to live; a way that agrees with the Word of God, which declares that doing something right is not enough because, “all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.  (Instead, we have learned that) God judges the secrets of men by Jesus Christ.” (Romans 2:12, 16)  But this is the true gospel, the good news, “The righteousness of God comes “through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”

This is the message that brings new life.  It is the message that touched the dead sons of the widows in both our old testament and gospel readings, and it is the message that touches ourselves and our children and brings life where before only death ruled.  I pray that you will forever cling to this message and no other, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Crucified With Christ!

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

Sunday, June 13, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.
And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God,  who loved me and gave himself for me.” [Gal. 2:20]

These Words from our text are perhaps the best news you could ever hear.  They’re the Words you were first given in your baptism, and they are the Word’s you hear each time you listen to the Holy Absolution… You are forgiven!  Another way to say this is that these words are God’s reset button in your life.  When I bought my first computerized phone I accidentally downloaded a virus.  The phone completely shut down.  I thought I had fried it, and I didn’t even have insurance.  I took it to the store where I had just purchased it and the tech fooled around with it for a while.  He scratched his head and then stuck a pen in a small hole in the side of the phone he called the reset button.  In a few moments the screen began to twinkle and then “ta-dah” it was working again!  “Oh I’m sorry to have to tell you this” he said, “but you lost all of the data on your phone.  You’ll have to reload all of your programs.  Just try not to load the virus again!”

In our Epistle lesson this morning, St. Paul is showing us so to speak where our spiritual reset button is.  We’ve been crucified with Christ!  It’s no longer you who live but Christ who lives in you.  And oh yes, you know the life you are now living in this fleshy body?  Well you are actually living it by faith in the Son of God… Jesus Christ, who proved that He loves you by giving Himself for you in death; death upon the cross!

St. Paul first communicated this message in order to fix false doctrine, from a false teacher.  And who do you think that false teacher was?  It was St. Peter!  I know that may come as a shock to some of you but it is true.  You see Paul and Peter were in a Greek city named Antioch, and they were ministering to a group of non-Jewish Christians.  They ate with them, worked with them they… lived with them as one of them!  No big deal you say?  Well for Jew it was a huge deal.  They were taught since childhood to avoid all contact with anyone who was not a Jew.  But God had continuously revealed to both of them that there was now NO separation between Jew or gentile.  He revealed that they were all under a new Law, the Law of Grace!

So what happened?  Well it seems some of the Jewish Christians came down from Jerusalem to pay Paul and Peter a little visit (that’s code for… they came to spy)!  They came to kill the freedom that this little church had in Christ Jesus, and they intended to do it with the law!  When they saw Peter and Paul living like and with the Greek gentiles they immediately communicated their disdain.  Well that was enough to intimidate Peter.  He immediately separated himself from his Greek brothers and sisters, and began following the Jewish customs again; customs that were supposed to keep him ceremonially clean and separated from sinners.

Paul immediately went into action and rebuked Peter to his face and in front of the other hypocrites.  Well, Peter repented of this false teaching, because he stood condemned (vs. 11), and so he did what any true Christian would do; he turned away from his sin of false doctrin and turned to Christ and His grace!  What did Paul say to Peter?  He reminded him of the most important doctrinal principle ever spoken.  In Christ we are saved by grace alone.  We are justified solely on account of what Jesus has done for us and not what we do for Him!  We have been crucified with Christ!  Through the leading of the Holy Spirit, Paul confronted Peter and pushed his spiritual reset button!

Like Peter, we too must be reminded that we can never be pronounced righteous and holy by God because we are trying to follow His law.  Oh we try; we do our best to live a good life and then we tell ourselves that because we’re trying, and because were better than most people, that should count for something in God’s eyes.  But it doesn’t!  It doesn’t gain us any favor with God.  No matter how many good things we try to do, we will always discover within God’s law and our own hearts that it is never enough.   The only way we can ever find peace with God is to fall into His loving arms which are only opened by means of faith in Jesus Christ!  If you come before the judgment seat of God with Jesus Christ, God the Father immediately pronounces you holy and righteous.

“Ah hah” you say!  “I see; I must have faith!”  Yes, but not just any faith.  You can’t simply have faith in your desire to please God by doing good things, as we learned, that will get you nowhere.  Instead, you must have faith in Jesus Christ alone!  Think of faith as a drinking cup.  If I am dying of thirst and you offer me an ice cold cup of bleach, not only will it not satisfy my thirst, it will kill me!  But if there is water in the cup, you would be saving my life! You see, it is the content of faith that justifies and saves us, and never faith alone.  It is Jesus in the faith that saves you and never faith without Him.  So you see, faith in Jesus is the opposite of all good deeds and kind acts.  Good works and faith, in regards to salvation excluded each other.  To be justified… to be saved because of faith in Christ is the complete opposite of being saved because of your good deeds.  In regards to your salvation, the two can never be mixed!

“But what about doing good and not evil?  Are you saying there is no place for that?”  No, not until you’ve been crucified with Christ!  When Paul said that He was crucified with Christ, he was speaking a spiritual reality that each one of us must live out.  What Paul is saying is that you must see yourself as being crucified together with Jesus.  “But how can that be?  Jesus was crucified long ago!”  Yes that’s true, but the amount of time that’s passed is immaterial.  But there is a difference as you suspected.  You see, Christ’s crucifixion was done as a physical sacrifice for you; Paul’s crucifixion and ours if we will live it out is spiritual.  And in this spiritual crucifixion we were allowed to escape the judgment that comes through God’s Holy law and our own sin.  This is the reality, no; this is the gift that God has given to the whole world.  Of course, the next step is to have faith in this crucifixion and enter into a joint life with Jesus. [Romans 6:4]  The ability to do this was given to you in your baptism.  There you were given the living waters of Jesus Christ as the object of your faith.  There in your baptism you were crucified and buried with Him.  You have been crucified with Christ!  You must be crucified with Christ friends, it’s the only way you can escape the punishment of death that your sinful flesh deserves.  If you are crucified in Christ then simply put, you die to the condemnation of God’s Holy law.  You see, your death is the only means of escaping judgment.  If you refuse to die to your old sinful self, then I am afraid that the law will grab you by the throat and destroy you.

But now comes the good news.  You may have died with Christ.  Your old sinful flesh may no longer be alive in the eyes of God, but Christ lives within you.  And the life you are now free to live in the flesh, you are living by faith in the Son of God, who loved you and gave Himself for you!  Do you hear this wonderful Word of life?  Do you see what a gift God has given you?  Christ lives in you so that your mind and heart will always respond to Him in your thoughts, words, and actions.  Now you can now do the good that you want to do,  because the work that your heart is leading you to do isn’t interested in saving your own skin, but to please God because you love Him who first loved you!

Dear friends, if your mind is focused on this world and the hunger of your dead sinful flesh then you are choosing to live a life that is hostile to God.  You see, your flesh will never submit  to God’s will or be able to please Him.  But for each one of us who are living for God by faith in Jesus Christ; to each one of us who have faith in the name of Jesus, we have been given the power to become children of God; children who are not born of flesh or of the will of man, but of God! [Jn. 3: 14-16]  Because we see Christ crucified for us; because you see Him high and lifted up for you, God promises that you will not perish but instead you will have eternal life!

If you will hold onto this most important truth of Christianity, the truth that assures you that you are saved by faith in Christ alone, then your relationship with God will remain pure and your salvation sure.  So in times of trouble, when the law and your conscience whispers and accuses you of being outside of God’s love because of your sin, simply answer: So what!  I admit that I am a sinner.  What’s that to me?  Point out my sin all you like!  I admit that I’ve committed so many sins that I can’t even count them.  I also admit that I will most certainly sin again.  That does not affect me at all!  I can’t hear you, so there’s no point in accusing me, because I have died to you.  But if you insist on bothering me about my sins, then go talk to my flesh.  Talk to my hands, feet, and body; teach them to be afraid; hound them and crucify them.  But you can never trouble my spirit, because you see I have died to you, and now I am alive in Christ Jesus.  Friends, let’s never leave God’s gift of grace and go back to the law, because if righteousness came through the law, then Christ died for no purpose!  Instead let’s remember that we’re saved by grace alone and faith in Jesus Christ who has allowed us to be crucified with Him!  In Jesus name… AMEN!