Archive for the ‘Pentecost 6C’ Category

You Are Free To…

Sunday, June 30th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 6C, June 30th, 2013

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For freedom Christ has set us free For you were called to freedom, brothers.  But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love.  For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. [Galatians 5:1a, 13-14]

In just a few days, we will be celebrating our American day of independence. Oh it’s true, we Americans, out of all of the other nations in this world truly love our freedom, and this love of freedom is personified in our great Declaration of Independence. But we Christians also love freedom; the freedom that we have in Christ Jesus! But I think, that of all the Christians, we Lutherans love our freedom the most. Why we even have a catch phrase that helps us remember just how free from, sin, death, and the devil we are. It goes like this: faith alone, scripture alone, and grace alone, all under the banner of Christ alone!

So as American Christians, we Lutherans boldly declare to our government and to the accusations of the devil and our own conscience, “Don’t tread on me; don’t mess with us, because we are free men and women.” But freedom, true freedom always comes with responsibilities, isn’t that true?

Well this morning let’s take some time to allow God’s Word to show us some of those responsibilities that come with freedom, by showing us some of the dangers of being free.

We all know that as Christians, we have been freed by the sacrificial life and death of our gracious God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Through His gift of grace, the tyranny of the devils, the cost of sin, and the certainty of death, have been defeated. We are told in the gospel, that we are not required to pile up good deeds in order to please and angry God. We have been freed from this false gospel with the true gospel: Jesus paid it all. He alone gives us salvation! Instead of working to please God, the gospel tells us that we already have God’s love, and now we are free to share that love with our neighbor. Is this the freedom that we are experiencing?

Let’s consider the different conflicts and problems that are in our lives. First, let’s look at our money. You are a free person; you may spend your money any way you like. You don’t need to buy your way into heaven; you don’t need to give all of your “treasure” so to speak to the church in order to appease an angry God. So with this truth being stated, how are you spending your money? If we were to do a pie chart on how you spend your money, what would the biggest slice in that graph show? Would it show that most of your money is going towards selfish, self-serving areas? If you truly are living as a man or woman who has been freed by Christ, shouldn’t we expect to see that freedom played out in how you spend your money? Shouldn’t we expect to see that the bulk of your money is being spent on others; on your family, your church home and to those less fortunate?

Ok, enough talk about money; let’s look at how we use our time and talent. Since we truly are freed from the terrors of the devil and our own conscience, where or on what do we spend most of our time and offer the most of our talent? Where are you dedicating your sense of peace and security; who or what organization is benefiting most from your passion, your talent, and your precious time? Is it spent on others or on yourself? Do you live to please God and your family, or do you find yourself dedicating yourself and your freedom in an endeavor to satisfy your own desires?

This is really the point that Jesus is stressing to the three hopeful disciples and to us in our gospel lesson (Luke 9:51-62). The underlying questions behind all three conversations are: Have you really understood what it means to be my disciple? Do you understand that with great freedom come not just great joy, but hardship as well? Are you really willing to turn your back on what this world says is good and pleasing and instead receive as truth, the things that I say are God pleasing.

Another way to say this is, that the love of God is a proven possession of a Christian, when that love becomes evident in how he or she lives their life.

Christ truly has freed us from the burden of sin, and from our perceived need to earn God’s love and forgiveness. The gospel truly has taught us that the American way of pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps is not God’s way! Instead God’s Word says that if the Son has set you free, well then you are truly free! [John 8:36]

But sadly, many times this is not the image that we portray to those outside of the church. Sometimes our freedom leads us to be so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good in spreading God’s message of forgiveness. What I mean is, our freedom in living out God’s gift of complete forgiveness has the danger of tempting us to disengage from our community and surround ourselves only with other like-minded Christians. Instead of being Christ’s Ambassadors of forgiveness, we might be tempted to avoid our neighbors who are not Christians as if they have the plague. And if we do encounter them in a public forum, we may be tempted to quickly pronounce God’s curse upon them. This is precisely what James and John wanted to do to the people of the Samaritan village, who rejected Jesus. [Luke 9:54-56]

And how did Jesus respond to their zeal? Did He congratulate them on their righteous indignation? No instead, He rebuked them for having a judgmental heart. While it’s true that the villagers rejected Jesus offer to come into their midst, Jesus wanted them to see past this one time rejection, and to see the state of the Samaritans through the eyes of eternity. I believe that Jesus wanted James and John to honestly ask themselves whether they had done anything to win those Samaritans for Christ. Had they presented the gospel? Did they dedicate any of their time, talent, or treasure, towards opening relationships with the people of that Samaritan Village, so that they might open their hearts to hear the words of their Savior? Were they really willing to close God’s offer of repentance, faith, and salvation to them?

What James and John forgot was that Jesus’ great mission, which comes from the heart of the Father, was not to judge men, but to save them; to rescue them from sin and damnation and to then place them into a condition of permanent safety.

This week, many of us are saddened by our Supreme Court’s decision to strike down both the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8, which also sought to define marriage here in California as between a man and a woman. If you are experiencing anger, I ask that you turn your fears and concerns over to the God, who has freed you and asked you to continue the mission of Jesus to save the world with the message of the gospel. I ask you not to pronounce curses upon those who support same sex marriages, but instead work to create relationships of trust with them. You will be able to do this if you avoid name-calling and instead embrace Christ’s call of repentance, and then live out your vocation as a free man or woman. Free to do as you like, but bound as a servant of Christ to speak and live out His truth in love.

For the sake of the church, and for the sake of our neighbors, even those who are militantly living a sinful life, we must learn and live out this simple truth: The whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” [Galatians 5:14]

You and I are free; that is the truth. We are free as Americans to speak our mind and we are free as Christians to check out of the public discussion about marriage; to wipe our hands of the whole mess and let God rain down his fire of judgment upon our entire nation. If that is what you want to do, then as our culture says, “Go for it! Just do it! Don’t let anyone tell you what to do! You are the master of your own ship. Why you might even have the mindset to tell those no good sinners that this country was founded on Judea/Christian principles, and if the sinners don’t like it they can move out and leave! Or…

We could be led by Christ; go after the fruit of the Spirit, which “is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” [Galatians 5:22-25] Why not go for that? We are free! Just do it! Love and serve God and your neighbor by remembering how Christ loved and served you. Look to the cross and remember what the penalty of sin is… death! But then look to the empty tomb and remember what turning to Jesus in repentance means. Look to the font, to your own baptism and remember that you to were once caught up in the bondage of sin, but because Christ has washed you with water and His powerful Word you have been freed; saved from the tyranny of the devil!

True love is always directed at another. We see it expressed in how God operates. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. [John 3:16-17]

You are a Christian. You are truly free, but you are also bound by love to the one who freed you… Jesus Christ! I pray that as this public discussion continues about what marriage is, about what sin is, that you would not shy away. I pray that you would continue the mission of Jesus by speaking God’s Word, both Law and Gospel. And that is exactly how we will close our message this morning. Please listen to these Words and let them transform you:

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself, as He is pure.

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that Jesus appeared in order to take away sins, and in Him there is no sin. No one who abides in Jesus keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen Jesus or known Him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as Jesus is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed (His Spirit) abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.

For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

By this we know love, that He laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” [1 John 3:1-18] AMEN!

“Test Your Own Work!”

Sunday, July 4th, 2010

Sixth Sunday in Pentecost, July 4, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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Forgiveness_186There’s a battle ragging around us and even within us; it is the battle of good vs. evil; the battle of the cross against the sinful world.  In our battle of independence against the British Empire, the enemy was easy to spot; they wore bright red coats and they lined up in battle pickets; they suppressed any attempts at revolution with the hail of bullets and cannon balls.  Today we celebrate our victory over that enemy, who has now become our friend and ally.  But the battle that still rages today is against a completely different enemy; an enemy that will never be our ally or friend… an enemy that has been attacking and seeking to destroy us since the very first sin was committed in the Garden of Eden.

This enemy is lurking within our church, and he is even hidden within our own hearts.  He is working to cause division and discord, even while God is working to create harmony and peace!  God is calling each of us this morning to see the enemy around us and within us for who he really is.  Who is this enemy?  It is the devil and our own sinful desires.  This morning God is calling us to attack this enemy and rest in His truth that tells us through the cross of Jesus Christ, God has already provided the victory!  This morning God wants to show us how to rest in that victory.  Please pick up your Bibles (or bulletins) and turn to Galatians Chapter 6, and let’s get started in the first verse.

I. “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.  Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.  Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.  For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.  But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor.  For each will have to bear his own load.” [Vs. 1-5]  Do these words remind you of something Jesus said?  Let me jog your memory: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” [Matt. 7:3-5]  What Jesus and Paul are saying is essentially the same thing.  Take care of yourself first and then you can help your brother who may need your loving care to get right with God!  Of course in both instances, God’s Word is talking about judgment of others, and it is not telling us to put off  helping or doing good for others.

Do you know a Christian brother or sister who has fallen into sin?  Good, then help them get back on the road that follows Jesus!  You aren’t going to help them by judging them, they already know that they’ve sinned; the law is already accusing them.  But you can help them come back into God’s kingdom of grace by sharing His love for them!

“A friend and I were once traveling on a very muddy border road to do a safety inspection on a facility near the border.  We were in business clothes.  I suppose my friend was going a bit too fast for the condition of the road because our vehicle slid and ended up in a muddy ditch.  Neither one of us wanted to get out of the vehicle and do something helpful because, well we didn’t want to get muddy.  A semi-truck quickly pulled up and offered to pull us out of the ditch, on one condition… we had to get out and put the chain on our rear axle ourselves. What he was saying was that he would help us out of the ditch, but we first had to acknowledge the mess we’d gotten ourselves in by crawling through the mud to get ourselves out of the mud.  He was not willing to cover himself with the mud but he would pull us out!  “OK” we agreed; so in the mud we went.  As we were attaching the chain, the truck driver explained that he wanted the chain on the rear axle because the road conditions ahead of us were not good.  He said if he pulled us that way, he might wind up in the ditch right along with us.”

Friends, that’s what Paul is telling us.  He is telling us to go to our brothers and sisters who have sinned with our hearts and minds centered in reality, our own reality, which tells us that we too are vulnerable to temptation!  Yes that person has fallen into sin, but they are still our brother or sister.  God wants us to help them out of the ditch of sin they are caught in, but… we must be careful not to fall ourselves!  We must remember that each of us has fallen into our own sin-filled ditches so to speak and we are prone to do it again.  We would do well to remember this simple saying: “There but for the grace of God go I!”  If we remember this truth, we will be so busy testing and examining our own lives and work that we have no time nor room to look down on a brother or sister.  In this way, God’s Word teaches us that we can’t use someone else’s sinful life as a lens to make our own lives seem more holy and perfect.  This is what Paul means when he says that we should “bear” our own load.

II. “One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches.  Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.  For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Sprit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.  And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.  So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” [Vs. 6-10]

Now, right off the bat I must correct some bad doctrine that is being passed along by some TV and radio evangelists.  Verse 6 is not, I repeat not a proof text that you should give money to your spiritual teachers.  Instead, it is God’s Word encouraging you to strengthen your fellowship and relationship with that specific man of God.  And of course, this is all predicated on the assumption that you are being instructed by a man that has been rightly called and taught by God… one who has studied to show himself approved before God and men.  In short, your teacher should be teaching you nothing but God’s Word; no opinions and no strategies to help you live a more prosperous life.  The teaching that any pastor is called to provide is for your spirit and not for your flesh!  The purpose of God’s Word is to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to you here on earth, and to point you to the day when you will finally rest in His whole presence in Heaven.  Your pastor has been given the good things from God’s Word, and his job is to give you only those good things.  And your part, is to receive that instruction of spiritual truths and live in, with and under each and every one of them.  You have been called by God to participate in every aspect of that truth.  The riches of God’s Kingdom have all been given to the Church, and you have called your pastor to freely dispense them in this Holy House.  The riches are with the Church and your teacher and the need for these gifts is with the student and even your teacher.  God is calling each of us to come into fellowship with each other by hungering for the things that the church has to give.  And what are those things?  None other than fellowship in Word and Sacrament!  This is why you come to church.  You don’t come to church to get your praise on; you don’t come to church to be entertained; and you don’t come to church to catch up on the latest gossip.  You come to church to receive forgiveness, grace, and love so that you can give the same to others!

And as you regularly attend worship and allow God to feed you His Word, you will undoubtedly discover that His Word is changing you and rearranging you.  You will begin to see that through God’s Word and your investment of time He is bringing your heart and mind out of the reality of this sinful world and into the reality of His Kingdom.  His Kingdom in the here and now and His Kingdom that will come!

III. “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.  For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor un-circumcision, but a new creation.  And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.  From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.” [Vs. 14-17]  Has all of this talk about falling into sin, reaping and sowing, and not mocking God got you afraid?  Good, then you are right where God wants you to be!  Now through the inspired words of St. Paul, God wants to take your eyes off of your fear and put them on the cross!

Paul is asking not just the Galatians, but every true Christian to follow him on the only way path that leads to a life free of worry and fear.  He says, do not boast in yourself or anything that this world holds as important; instead, boast only in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ!  Boast in Jesus alone who purchased and won you as His own.  It is to Christ and His precious cross that you belong.  And under that cross you will find life, faith, and strength.

CONCLUSION: I will close our message this morning exactly how Paul closes his letter to the Galatian church: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers.” [Vs. 18]  Paul and I are closing our message with grace because God wants each of us to live in that grace.  He wants to remind us that it is only by grace that any of us can look forward to not just living in the kingdom of God, but also seeing it grow and expand!  The battle lines have been drawn, and the battle is still ragging.  It is a war just as real as and far more important than the battle that was wagged and won for our physical independence.  This is the battle for our spiritual independence.  It has been fought at the same place for centuries… the cross of Jesus Christ, which is mounted both on Golgotha and within the pure Word of God! 

It is this cross that changes our way of thinking about both the rule and reign of God in our lives—it is through the cross that the world with all of its differences are brought together: the King, our King, grants life through His own death, and with the death of death, creation is born again… even within your own hearts!

Friends, Jesus is leading each one of us out of the kingdom of darkness where sin, death and the devil rule, into another kingdom where the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit rule—not with the threat of war but with the promise of peace… peace which comes through grace, mercy and truth!  To God alone be glory… AMEN!