Archive for the ‘Pentecost 4C’ Category

God’s True Curse and Blessing

Sunday, June 16th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 4C, June 16th, 2013

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Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for usfor it is written, Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. [Galatians 3:13-14]

What is a curse, really? Is it something real, that we should take serious, or is it something that only superstitious people believe in? Well it depends on what you consider a curse. For instance, if you are talking about  Hollywood type curses; curses that are based in folklore and superstition, say like a Voodoo or Hoodoo curse, well, I wouldn’t worry to much about that. But if you are talking about the things, the curses that God has spoken  of, well then, in the words of Hollywood, you should be afraid… very afraid.

We should always take anything that God says very seriously, for it is true, and it will come to pass; every word of if. This is what St. Paul is telling us in verse 10 thru 12 of our Epistle lesson. Listen: “For all who rely on  works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for  “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” [Gal 3:10-12]

Make no mistake; Paul is not talking about a trivial curse, as if there were such a thing. He’s not saying there’s a curse only upon you and your entire family; and he’s not even saying that this is a generational curse that  pertains to this fallen and sinful generation; no this curse that Paul is talking about is much larger in scope than that. It is a curse that covers all of creation; everyone and everything that has ever been, or ever shall be. It is  God’s great curse that is over all.

Listen to how this great curse came to be and just how inclusive it really is: But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was  afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she   gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (v. 15) To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” [Genesis 3:9-19]

And so entered sin, death and the devil; this is precisely where our first parents exchanged God’s blessing for God’s curse.  But within in the curse of God, there are also Words of hope; the promise of a blessing to come when God says to the devil: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”  In those Words alone there is the hope of a coming Savior who shall snatch all of mankind out of the grasp of our true enemies, which are sin, death, and the devil.

But many will not hear this promise; they will think that they can earn God’s love, by doing their best, by being a good person. So, like the serpent, they are forever separated from God’s goodness.  For those who will not hear the good news, they are cursed to repeat the very sin that has always separated creation from its Creator.  Oh, what wretched sinners we are! Who will deliver us from this curse of death?  Thanks be to God for faithfully completing His promise of a coming Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord! [Romans 7:24-25]

In God’s mercy, the only curse that matters has been placed upon someone besides you; it’s been placed upon God’s own Son, Jesus Christ. Listen to how St. Paul explains this: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” (Gal 3:13). Please hear those words clearly. Christ has purchased your freedom; He alone has redeemed you from the curse of sin, death, and the devil, by becoming a curse and taking on your sin; by taking your place upon the cross. This isn’t a limited atonement for only select few; it is for the world; for all who will believe in this completed promise of God and receive it as a gift.

In essence, you were being held hostage by your sin and death, through the management of the devil, and God the Father paid your ransom Himself, through the lifeblood of His Son, Jesus Christ.  You are free!  The curse is removed!  But how can this be?  Jesus did it and none other.  He became the curse, or He took on your curse by dying on the cross.  But why?  Because, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; (so to save us) the Lord has laid on (His Son) the (sin) of us all.” [Isaiah 53:6]

You are forgiven; in the work of Christ upon the cross, the world has been freed from the curse. In Christ alone the curse has been removed and a great blessing is being offered to you instead. But, how can we obtain this great blessing and live within it? By looking to Abraham; we must believe in God’s fulfillment of His promise long ago, and live out that blessing by faith—

So that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we (too) might receive the promised Spirit through faith. [Galatians 3:14]

The promise God gave to Abraham and his descendants was not centered around Abraham’s righteousness, but around his faith in God’s faithfulness to fulfill his promise of redemption and restoration of fallen mankind. And like Abraham, we too, through faith in Jesus Christ, receive this promised blessing; or as Paul calls it, the blessed indwelling of God’s own Holy Spirit.

The church has always only known of only one way to receive this personal blessing… through Holy Baptism. In Baptism, you have been called God’s own child. In baptism you have been infused, covered up, or re-identified with the Son of God’s own righteousness. It is a righteousness that is provided solely by Jesus Christ, and given to you as a gift, as a blessing of baptism.

In this world, people use the word blessing in such a cheap way. “I sure am blessed.” “I was blessed to be chosen for that new job.” “I was blessed with healthy children.” Or, (Ha-chew) God bless you!” We say the word blessing so easily, but seldom is the God who alone gives the blessing behind the word.

But God has blessed us first with the promise of a Savior, and then from the very mouth of the Savior as He died upon the cross. “It is finished!” Their debt has been paid in full and the curse as it has fallen upon me is paid in full!

God has blessed us within the waters of our own baptism, where everyone of the merits of Christ have been poured out upon us. And what is that great blessing? It is complete forgiveness of all of our sins! It is having a new heart that is led by the law of God, like King David’s in our Old Testament reading (2 Samuel 11:26-12:14). Like David, we too, are shown our sin in God’s law, and by the Holy Spirit, we are led to confess it so that the Holy One can remove the curse of sin, which is death, and exchange it for a blessing, which is forgiveness and eternal life!

What does this blessing of forgiveness look like? For the answer to that question, we need look no further than the sinful woman who was forgiven by Jesus in our Gospel reading (Luke 7:36-8:3). Once she heard the proclamation of the gospel, the forgiveness of sins, she was changed and compelled to serve Jesus and His church through acts of love and kindness. Through faith, she was saved and because of faith she was compelled to be with Jesus and serve Him always.

Today, we celebrate Father’s Day, and we look to our Great Father who has undone the curse given upon our first earthly father, Adam.  He was absent from the struggle, which Eve, his wife blindly entered into.  Sadly, today, there still are many men who are absent as well.  They have either abandoned their baptismal call to embrace the great blessing Jesus has provided, or they have never received that call.  Today, God calls out to each of us to live under that great blessing, and to look forward to that great eternal day to come when all of sinful creation will be restored to it’s original splendor.  A day when there will be no more sorrow or pain; when every tear shall be dried and the sounds of joyful celebration will fill the new heaven and earth and surround God’s own banquet table.  “And (on that day) there shall be no more curse.” [Revelations 22:3]  AMEN!

“Away from us!” Cries Our Sinful Flesh!

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

Fourth Sunday in Pentecost, June 20, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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jesushealsthedemonpossessedman“Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear.” [Gal. 2:20]

This morning, these words cause me to wonder how many people turn away from a real relationship with God because they are afraid of Jesus.  How many people are afraid of the change that they know will come once Jesus is truly Lord of their lives?  But I also wonder how many people are afraid to follow Jesus because they think that God is angry with them.  Maybe they received Him and His love, saw real change take place in their lives only to fall back into the same sinful behavior that He once freed them from. 

At this very moment, God’s Word declares to each of us who have been harassed, captivated, and even possessed by sin, that He is spreading out His hands “to a rebellious people”; people who aren’t even seeking Him or asking for Him.  He calls out to you with an invitation to come to Him in peace through His Living Word, Jesus Christ.  Will you listen?  Will you come?

I. In our gospel reading this morning we are taken to a rural area outside of Galilee, on the shore of Lake Galilee.  Jesus has just gotten out of a boat with his apostles when he’s immediately confronted by a man who’s been possessed by a demon.  Where did this guy come from and why is he confronting Jesus?

Well, he came from some vacant tombs near the shore of the lake.  Yes there were vacant tombs there and occupied ones as well, because you see, this was a cemetery.  In the Jewish mindset, this was unclean land, because it housed the dead.  Isn’t it fitting that an unclean spirit would be inhabiting an unclean… and unholy place?  But why has this demon possessed a person and why is it confronting Jesus?

We don’t know how this poor man came to be possessed by a demon; in fact we don’t know much about him other than he was most likely from one of the two towns close by.  We don’t know what his life was like before he became possessed, but we do know one thing… he wasn’t alone!  In Matthew and Mark’s accounts of this same incident, we know that there was still one more man living in the tombs with him who was also possessed.  We know that they demonstrated both supernatural strength and a foul disposition.  We know that they were naked!  Ok, you would expect these things from someone who isn’t in their right minds… someone who’s possessed by an unclean spirit, but why confront Jesus?  Wouldn’t you think that the minute they saw Jesus from a distance they’d run away and hide from Him?  Why are these demons drawn to Him like a magnet?  They actually run up to Him and scream, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?  I beg you do not torment me.” [vs. 28]

Friends, isn’t it apparent that the very will and power of Jesus drew the demon to Him?  This shouldn’t surprise us at all, because you see, just as Jesus is the supreme master of the wind and waves, He is also the Supreme Master of even the demon world.  When and how He determines to summon anything in creation, that thing must respond, because He is the Creator, the Son of the Most High God!  The demons know this and they can only tremble in fear and acknowledge His control over them when He calls.  And so it was in this case as well.  But why did He think that Jesus would torment him?  Because that is the inevitable future of all evil spirits; each and every demon knows that they have no future other than eternal suffering and torment in the very pit of hell where their leader Satan is already bound!  So the demon begs not to be sent away before the appointed time of final judgment.

And what is Jesus response?  He asks the demon his name.  And what is the demons response?  Legion!  The reading says that many demons had entered this poor man.  Legion is actually a Roman term.  It refers to a Roman Legion that signifies more than 6,000 soldiers.  Imagine, this poor guy had over 6,000 demons inside of him!  And now because they are being confronted by the very Living Word of God, they are in a panic wondering if this was in fact the end of them. 

“And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.” [Vs. 31-32]  What a fitting place for these demons… they fled into an animal that God had designated for the Jews as being unclean!  These demons had no place living in a child of God, a man created after the very image of God.  The truth is, they possessed this poor man only to mock God.  And now, God mocks them; He places within their hearts, the desire to inhabit pigs.  “Done!”  Jesus says, then they left the man and entered the pigs, and everyone of them ran off a cliff and into the lake and were drowned!  But why?  Why destroy the only home they had left?  Because dear friends, it is in complete harmony with their nature.  They are self destructive.  They destroy anything that they possess, because anything they can possess is a creation of God, and remember, demons hate God and because they hate God they hate all of His creation; they hate you!

 II. “When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country. Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. [vs. 34-35]  Dear friends, that is you sitting at the feet of Jesus!  You have been clothed in the robe of Jesus own righteousness, washed clean in the waters of your baptism, given a new mind and a right spirit; you’ve been placed at the feet of Jesus here in this Holy house to hear Him speak to you and teach you with His Living Word!  Each one of us have been freed from the bondage of sin, death, and the devil.  Each one of us can and should give an account of just what evil we have faced in our lives; what evil spirit has harassed us and for some even possessed us!  But Christ has set us free!  By His stripes, by His suffering and death we have been healed.  And because of His resurrection and our own promised resurrection which He gives us within our baptism, He asks us to believe that He will never abandon us within the very pit where each and every demon and unclean spirit will inevitably be sent!  God does not want you to go to hell… that place was not meant for you!  He has freed you!

But some may say, “I know that Jesus loves me, and I know that He wants me to be free, but the demons that chase me are just too strong to resist!  I keep falling to the same temptations.  At some point He will just give up on me.  Maybe that point is now?!  And to this, God answers, “No!”  He will never leave or forsake you in that pit of hopelessness.  Whether the unclean spirit has moved you into addiction, lust, depression, or pride, God shall never abandon you because He has sealed you for eternity in the waters of your baptism as His very own!  All of us, with no exception, have been enslaved and driven mad by the attacks and accusations of the devil, and each of us has been set free by the Word of Jesus Christ!  He has drown and destroyed the old Adam within us and each day He brings out of that death a new creation, the new you that was born in the waters of Holy Baptism.  We are no longer living naked in our shame amongst the dead; instead we have been brought into the kingdom of God, the Lord’s house, fully clothed by Christ.  And all He asks us to do is to not give up; don’t lose hope! He asks us to daily put to death our old sinful nature and walk in his forgiveness and love.  He wants us to walk in His Gospel Word that ensures us that no matter how many times we sin, no matter how many times we fall, we are forgiven!  But not just forgiven…

 III. We are forgiven with a purpose!  “The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.” [vs. 38-39] Dear friends, when we come to church and hear the sweet words of the gospel and listen to the Holy Absolution, when we eat and drink the Lord’s body and blood at His table and taste forgiveness, we have a tendency to wish we could stay in this protective environment and be with Jesus.  We want to stay where we feel protected and loved.  But Jesus says, “Return to your home, and declare how much I have done for you.”  But Lord, those are the same people that continually reject you and ask those of us who love you to shut up!  “Yes, that’s true.  But they only do that because they are afraid of Me.  That’s why I am sending you to them.  Through you, they will know about my love for them.  They will see Me in you, and they will hear your story, your witness about My love for you and then they will hunger for the same thing, and I will never turn away any of them who come to me.”  Remember, just as your sinful flesh does not want to die, neither does theirs!  Just as God works to kill the sin within you every day, He wants to do the same work within them.  So tell your story!  Proclaim it to anyone who will listen, and then watch Jesus give them freedom and a new life just as He gave it to you!  I pray that each of us will take on this calling and always declare how much God has done for us!  In Jesus name… AMEN!